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Kevin McDonald wrote:

Mr. Humphrey,

Pax vobiscum.

I just sent your great site to a Protestant in Hungary who is thinking of returning to the Faith; he never left really — he's confirmed.

I only sent it as a concession, as he wants to complain about something. I tried to teach him what protocol is and suggested that he talk to a priest before writing to a bishop he is angry with, or to Rome.

  • Do you think a short note on protocol might even make life easier for the curial folk who sort every letter that really should not go to His Holiness first, but up the chain of command?

I don't know, I'm just curious. It might make life easier for others and educate Catholics and non-Catholics, even if most protocol is informal. There might be some good writings out there about how to complain [and/or] report an offense.

Kevin McDonald
Halifax, Nova Scotia

  { What is Catholic protocol when you have a complaint with the Church? }

Mike replied:

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the e-mail.

My two cents on the issue follows:

It depends on what issue he is complaining about. Most of the time it is better to share your concerns by starting with the priest or pastor of the local church. He is the extension of the bishop in that diocese and is responsible for the care and spiritual growth of the souls he shepherds. As you said: It might make life easier for others and educate Catholics but I think my reply and that of my colleagues should be enough without posting a Catholic protocol note.

Reasons to bring issues to the attention of the Vatican should probably include:

  1. any issue that concerns sacramental validity or the doctrine of the Church.
  2. any issue stated in #1. where there is no Catholic priest or bishop loyal to the Holy See with whom one can bring up his concerns.

If the issue deals with traditions, with a small "t", or local practices, I would, as you said, go up the chain of authority, starting with a priest or pastor. Personally, when I step back and look at some of the difficulties I've had with my pastors and priests, over an array of issues, I see them as instants where we are just having a mini "family fight", and you have to ask the question:

  • What family that has the effects of original sin, along with its temptation, won't have its family fights?

The solution: Knowing which issues are better suited for praying for that priest ... so that:

  • they will see your viewpoint ... or
  • we will see their viewpoint, and
  • which issues need a more effective response.

Hope this helps,

Mike

Note: You are welcome to call me Mr. Humphrey, but my immediate family calls me either:

  • Mike, Michael
  • Ugly or
  • Poopy-face

I prefer Ugly : ). Like my colleague John says,

"Mr. Humphrey" makes me sound like I should be collecting Social Security.

Richard replied:

Along with Mike's answer, I have to say: "It depends"!

Here's a case where I think it makes sense to go directly to the bishop. Just tonight I drafted a letter about a certain dubious speaker who has taken up residence in this state. He has been appearing at multiple local parishes, and at parishes in neighboring dioceses, and talking about his (phony) mystical experiences — even having them at the parish on schedule!

In this case, I'm skipping the respective pastors and sending it straight to Cardinal O'Malley. Ideally, I hope he will confer with the other New England bishops and make a common decision.

— RC

Kevin replied:

Mr. Humphrey:

Thanks. I encouraged him to find an English-speaking priest in Hungary, or to contact the diocese in which he lives in order to advise him.

He probably needs to hear from a canonist or priest about what his rights are — what he may complain about, and his obligations, and how he may proceed.

Right now he thinks he can publicize real or alleged "scandals", or episcopal incompetence, in press releases to Protestants and Catholics who don't know they may not also behave as such.
I did my best to explain to him that this is unscriptural and uncharitable. He has agreed to stop harming us.

My thinking was that putting the addresses on the web is good, but that this man notwithstanding, even many Catholics who are not lapsed and still in communion with the Church, really don't know the most basic protocols.

Maybe it is good to put it on such a site since it is a process that includes a canonical legislation. Most of it is a matter of common sense and is not specifically mandated, i.e., What is the chain of authority when reporting a grievance? It might not be worth it.

I would be interested in hearing what the priests think about it, or what Rome advises or has written about it.

We live in democracies and too many assume that they can air grievances in the secular media.
It is increasing to the point that democratic impulses (a form of mental rot) might combine with liberal ideas, like abortion and pro-homosexualism, to form schismatic "national" churches or synod-combined associations of post-Catholic or pope-less Catholicism. Perhaps I think too much about this problem.

Please pray for the American in Budapest. His two siblings have returned to the Faith after years away and I think he is considering it too. He is pretty close to swimming the Tiber.

Thanks again, and good luck with the apostolate. It is an interesting question and one I think that will bedevil (pun intended) the Church as we get less hierarchical in our secular politics and thus expect "instant answers" from those we owe ecclesial fealty to.

Kevin McDonald
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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