There is a common misconception that those who are Catholic cannot disagree or go against anything that the pope says because he is the pope and so what he says should obviously go. This, however, is not true. I have written in another article here about papal infallibility ("Matthew 16:18 and Papal Infallibility") and what that does and does not mean, so I will just reiterate here that the Church does not teach that every single thing the pope says is infallible, only those things that have to do with faith and morals and that are preceded by a special statement that the pope is speaking infallibly through the Holy Spirit. There are times where the pope speaks off the cuff, like in interviews on an airplane which Pope Francis has done many times, and these things are said in the moment and don’t require prayer and reflection before they are said. The pope is a human being just like the rest of us and things that he says can be wrong or just his opinion, and it is these things that Catholics are free to disagree with, or even speak out against if the situation requires it.
It is this last point that I wish to elaborate on in this article. When we speak out against certain people for endorsing things that go against Church teaching, we are pointing out an error in judgment that jeopardizes their eternal salvation and calling them back to the fold of the Truth that Christ and His Church teaches. And at certain times, this may even have to be applied to the leaders of the Church. No one is perfect, and a man by no means becomes perfect when he becomes a priest, a bishop, or the pope. Even Jesus scolded Peter for misinterpreting what He taught about His Death, and that was right after He declared him the first pope (Matthew 16:18, 23). Far from being disrespectful to or undermining the authority of our leaders, calling them out reminds them of their duty to uphold the teachings of Christ that they vowed to enforce when they took their office, and of the effect that failing to do so will have on their flock, which they have been chosen to safeguard.
Sadly, there have been instances of bishops and priests who have raised concerns and spoken out concerning some things that Pope Francis has said and they were silenced or reassigned. Bishop Daniel Fernandez Torres of the Diocese of Arecibo in Puerto Rico, was removed from office with no real explanation, although he was told that he had not been in obedience to the pope, supposedly concerning the COVID vaccine mandate, which does not fall under the infallible teaching of the Church. This means that Catholics in good conscience can decide to refuse the vaccine if they wish, especially considering its links to the use of fetal tissue from aborted babies being used in the testing and production of the vaccines. In another instance, Father Jesusmary, a pen name for the African priest Abbe Janvier Gbenou, spoke out in charity when Pope Francis made statements which seemed to endorse civil same-sex unions in October of 2020. He was then expelled from the organization Opus Dei and also suspended as a priest, being told he could only celebrate Mass in private if he stopped criticizing the pope publicly. Whether a marriage is a civil union or a sacramental marriage in the Church, it still should follow God’s natural plan for marriage, which is a man and a woman brought together for life for the procreation and raising of children. Affirming these truths, both of marriage and of a Catholic’s individual right to make medical decisions on their own when it does not conflict with the Church, is what we are all called to do and even more so what bishops and priests have a duty to do.
Jesus told His disciples that the world had persecuted Him and that it would persecute them also (John 15:20). Thus, those who speak out in the defense of Him and His Church will be shunned and criticized for doing what is right, and sadly some of it will even come from within the Church. However, we must continue to be steadfast and speak out because that is true charity. When we are talking about the leaders in the Church, we must make sure that we are keeping our criticisms about the issue at hand, and not make it about attacking the person or their office. Above all, we must continue to pray for the leaders of our Church, especially when they stray from the teachings that they have sworn to uphold, and for the people who are attacked for doing what they should by upholding the truth of these teachings.