Q. We seemed to have lost the practice of fraternal correction in the Church. Would you please explain the Church’s teaching on fraternal correction and how it is applied between clergy and lay people?
A. An intriguing question. Thank you for asking it. I believe fraternal correction still exists today, especially in relationships between parents and children and employers and employees. It may be a forgotten virtue. St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval master academician, said that fraternal correction is an act of charity.
Many might be hesitant to fraternally correct someone else because the world says in doing so we are “judging.” At the same time, certain things that require a judgment belong to God alone (Luke 6:36-38, Matthew 7:1-5).
However, not all judging between what is right and wrong is bad (Galatians 6:1-2, James 5:19, Leviticus 19:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Scripture actually commands judgment (Matthew 18:15-18). If someone is going astray, then some judgment likely is recommended or required. The approach is outlined for us:
Talk to your brother or sister one-on-one, in private.
If your brother or sister does not listen or realize the seriousness of the matter, then include others in the conversation.
If these two approaches do not work, then the Church should be informed.
Fraternal correction is a delicate matter because none of us is anywhere near perfect and we don’t want to come off as appearing holier than thou. Fraternal correction is easier if we have a genuine relationship with someone.
In conclusion: fraternal correction is sometimes needed and is well-founded in Scripture. Think about and pray on how fraternal correction should be done. Resist the world’s view that in pointing out someone’s fault(s) we are not “judging” people. Correction of a sinner can be charitable and virtuous.
This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.