ASK FATHER: What to do if sermons are heretical?

From a reader.


What does a laywoman do if the Priest or layperson (this has happened) giving the homily at a mission starts promoting so called “same sex marraige” or trashing the teachings of the Church? Walk out? Take detailed notes on content in pew for letter to the CDF? Do something in passive protest? Start praying the rosary to disrupt error? What should I do? I’m either going to err doing tooo much or not enough and I really need your advice because things are not right and its becoming more and more common. Bishop is very timid man.

Tough question. There are many particulars to be weighed.

Ideally, I suppose, you could record it, or at least take good notes and pass it on to the authorities. That presumes that the diocesan bishop will actually do something about it.

If the bishop is a “very timid man” that might not be the case.

Sending the evidence to the Nuncio or to Rome would most likely result in the evidence being remanded again to the diocesan bishop.

I like the idea of a passive protest: standing up, silently, rosary in hand, walking out to the vestibule.

Another option is to cut one’s donation significantly, and then to inform the pastor and the bishop of why you are doing this and to what orthodox group you’ve chosen to send the majority of your Church contribution.  You should note that the donation will return to the parish when Church teaching returns to the pulpit.

This is a tough one, however, especially if it’s a mission (by which I take it it’s a small place and probably not a lot of alternatives nearby).


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jlong says:

    So I guess you would be against standing up and shouting heretic at the sound of your lungs. Although, standing up with your phone recording the event would be interesting, especially if the person sees you.

    I like your suggestion of silently going to the vestibule.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    At Notre Dame in the mid-80s, Fr. McBrien gave an infamous sermon (I was there) on how it did not matter whether we believed that the Resurrection was true or symbolic. A symbolic Resurrection was just as important as the physical one which may or may not have happened. One man in the back of the Basilica got up and walked out. I stayed at the Mass as I could not get to another one that day.

    I had to take my son out of churches in Iowa, especially, and other states, when sermons were heretical, and find another Mass if the words of Consecration were “changed”. I did not want him to hear rubbish. Finally, when he was about 9, we started playing the “heresy watch” game in the car. I taught him the modernist and other main heresies in home schooling as well as the real Catechism, the Baltimore. Anyway, I would ask him if he thought Father said anything wrong in the sermon today, and son would respond thus, “He said that Jesus did not know He was God until His baptism” or “Mary is no longer important as she was just like any other single mom” and so on.

    We finally moved to an area where there were TLMs and that ended “heresy watch”. I gave up complaining to bishops, to be honest, as nothing was ever done. The worse I ever heard, on par with McBrien, was a denial of Transubstantiation. Of course, we had to leave that parish, as the priest had removed himself from the Church is a serious way and he also changed the words of Consecration. Personally, things have, imo, gotten better and there is less heresy from the pulpit. Have not heard any since, sadly, a priest (not TLM) say something about “We are church” which is a movement which wants women priests and the acceptance of homosexuality.

  3. mamajen says:

    It takes a lot of guts to protest in any manner. In college I witnessed a priest use his homily to sneer at one lady who dared object to his support of women’s ordination. I was appalled. Unfortunately I was less brave than she, and didn’t write to the bishop for fear of similar repercussion. I wish I had at least walked out.

  4. Longinus says:

    You may consider confronting the homilist privately in a polite but firm manner. While asking him for the authoritative source that he considers justification for his statements will not endear you to him, it will put the speaker on notice that someone in the congregation knows the truth and is willing to challenge those who contradict the truth.
    This will take courage and requires the foreknowledge that you will be branded a “cook”, a “throw back” etc. If that happens (and it will!) “rejoice and be glad” that you suffer for Christ.

  5. Cordelio says:

    “Let us flee lest the room should fall in, for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”

  6. Bob B. says:

    How about complaining to the pastor about a principal who changed lyrics (As I kneel Before Thee to As I Bow Before Thee) because Catholics “worship” Mary too much; classrooms looking “too Catholic;” not knowing the Memorare; stopping Morning and Lunch prayers and the Angelus; etc. I was let go for being too conservative?!?!?

  7. Darren says:

    I have been thinking of the same situation. I have fortunately not had to deal with outright heresy at my parish, but there have been a few things here and there that border (usually in matters pertaining to protestants and non-Christians).

  8. Netmilsmom says:

    What about if your parish had been know for being truly “Exact VII” Catholic, even with a TLM, then suddenly introduces Charismatic worship, begins changing Stations and Benediction, and introducing Protestant programs for the youth?
    And the Pastor loves it.

  9. Ed the Roman says:

    It might have been a parish mission.

  10. Silently walking out sounds right to me. No muttering, no stage whispers. I would suggest keeping a poker face as well; because the issue isn’t whether Father “has it coming” but whether you to cause him to be viewed sympathetically.

    If you do walk out, don’t leave the church; just “sit out” the homily and return. In my own judgment, given the provocation, you haven’t “missed Mass” but have, in fact, dealt with the matter as best you could. I’m not a canonist, but I think the obligation to hear Mass (in the old way of saying it) doesn’t include hearing heresy.

    That said, a caution. Please, let’s be judicious in our assessments. I would reserve any sort of protest for something really blatant, not something inadvertent or of less weight.

  11. Gaetano says:

    I’ve walked out on one homily because I was in grave danger of sinning against the 6th Commandment. I should have walked out of a second one, but stood fast since it was the only Mass I could have attended.

    I tend to hit people at the collection box. I’ve never done it at a parish, but more than one Catholic school has received a letter from me with a check for a dollar and a note telling them where the rest of the donation went. This year’s charity went to support Catholic communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

    You’d be amazed at how fast they call or send you a letter when you do that.

  12. vandalia says:

    The only point I will add is that before you accuse someone of heresy/a litugical abuse, make sure that it actually is.

    Several years ago a woman called the diocese and complained that the “new priest” at her parish was not wearing his stole correctly. That person was me, and I was a transitional deacon at the time. And I was wearing the stole exactly as I should be. However, apparently she was not use to such an exotic creature.

    Of course some things are obvious. However, other actions may not be. For example, if you actually do exposition/benediction “by the book” it would be very different than the norm (at least in the US).

  13. OrthodoxChick says:

    You folks are all much more well-disciplined than I am. I have a hard time keeping my big mouth shut in such situations. Thankfully, I haven’t been in this type of homily lately, but if I should experience it again in the future, I’ll be keeping both Fr. Z. and Fr. Fox’s advice in mind.

  14. pvmkmyer says:

    Unfortunately this has happened to my family as well. We were in the same parish for 24 years. My kids grew up there, went to the school, we were active parishioners and members of the choir. I put up with the so-so liturgy, endless foot-washing on Holy Thursday, etc. But I couldn’t remain after hearing our pastor spout heresy on at least 2 occasions: one in which he dissented from the Church’s teachings on divorce (all the while claiming he was just citing Cardinal Martini of Milan); and a second in which he denied the existence of Satan, the exact quote being “…if you believe in that sort of thing”. As I was in the choir loft I didn’t walk out. I recorded one of the sermons but it was not a good recording since I was so far away from the altar. I did not write to the bishop as I live in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, and I am pretty sure it would get me nowhere. I did stop supporting the parish.

    We now go to a much more traditional parish about 10-15 minutes further from home, staffed by Discalced Carmelite fathers. They are very faithful to the Magisterium, and in the short time we’ve been going (less than 3 months) I’ve heard no less than 3 sermons denouncing abortion and contraception. In the 34 years since I converted that is 3 more sermons on these topics than I ever heard before.

    Good luck to you on finding a parish which adheres to Church teachings. I know I was lucky to find St. Therese. Hopefully you’ll find one too.

  15. Uncle Miltie 615 says:

    So Fr. Z and Fr. Fox don’t endorse the St. Nicholas approach to heretics……

    What if you raised your hand and asked for clarification? “Oh lauded and wise lecturer, you said z-y-x, but doesn’t the Church teach a-b-c?”

  16. Lepidus says:

    @Gaetano – I hope you’re using a different numbering system for the commandments than I am. That would be a mighty interesting sermon to say the least if it leads to that type of temptation…. (FYI I have #5 down for “killing”). :-)

  17. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    If a priest declines to give the people their due, which is acting in the person of Christ, and who knowingly allows a layman to preside at the Divine Liturgy, even if not speaking the words of consecration, is committing directly or committing indirectly by assisting or both, a grave and public sacrilege. He is not intending to do what the Church does when She celebrates the Mass. Heresy preached by a priest from the pulpit likewise is a grave sacrilege. The Priest is under interdict, laetae sententia. The Mass is not being celebrated, it is being perverted and abused, and it may not licitly be completed. Sacrilege upon sacrilege.

    Don’t be complicit by silence or partaking. Stand up and say loudly, “Sacrilege! Heresy! Lies!”

  18. I think it is ill mannered to interrupt any point in Mass, even if something is being done wrong. Jumping up and yelling doesn’t get you much; but it may gain sympathy for the one doing wrong.

  19. Uncle Miltie 615 says:

    Hypothesis: Manners are why heretics feel comfortable preaching. They know that people do like to be rude or be viewed as rude.

    If I’m supposed to die for the Truth, shouldn’t I be willing to yell for it?

  20. Jumping up and yelling during Mass may also be a criminal offense. Disrupting religious services is against the law in many places. It will probably make no difference at all to the civil authorities that the service was sacrilegious.

    Nor, I think, should we be quick to judge the validity of a Mass, except in the most blatant of circumstances. We laymen should be circumspect about leaping to conclusions on issues that a tribunal of trained canonists might spend a lot of time sorting out. If you think something bad is happening, then walk out and lodge a complaint with the relevant authorities.

  21. Uxixu says:

    @UncleMilte “So Fr. Z and Fr. Fox don’t endorse the St. Nicholas approach to heretics……”

    Most would not. That does remind me of the tears of laughter I get from this story:

    Oh most Holy Saint Nicholas, who punched the Heresiarch Arius in the face, pray for us.

  22. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    Read more carefully, Miss Moore. I refer to a defect in the licitness of the liturgy, not the validity of the sacrament confected. Fr. Fox’s comment is well taken. But where does one draw the line. Would it be okay to speak up against a naked woman dancing on the altar with “I am God” blazoned on her décolletage? Would it be okay to physically stop a man trampling on the Blessed Sacrament or taking it away from the altar for later sacrilege?

    I have never be blessed with the courage to speak up so strongly in the middle of a Mass. But I cannot praise highly enough the old response of hissing. It’s discreet, but never missed by its intended recipients. A I have taken great personal satisfaction in embellishing heterodox preaching with a long, loudish “…….sssssssss.” Give it a try.

  23. Gail F says:

    I’ve gotten up and walked into the vestibule — and once all the way out onto the front steps. In each case I went back in after the homily ended. Yes, I think the priest noticed, he knew that we did not see eye to eye. I did not want to make things more contentious than they were and for various reasons stayed at the parish. However, after the last one I stopped giving much money to the parish and now give it to other Catholic charities instead.

  24. BigCath22 says:

    Think about subsidiary. Solve it at the lowest level. Go and talk to the priest first. Bishops are busy – let’s try to solve things ourselves before burdening them with more drama.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    Anita Moore, it is not rocket science if a Eucharist is illicit, rather than invalid, if the priest says as I have heard, adding brothers AND SISTERS to those there on the night before Christ died, or still using the word “cup” or dropping the word “eternal” from covenant. And the same applies to invalidity. I have witnessed more than once the use pita bread or honey bread made by people in the congregation (finally after years and years stopped by a bishop) or muffins used for the Communion bread, or even saying “I give you this bread as.. instead of Take” Or, “This is my resurrected body”.

    I have heard so many variations I lost count.

  26. While I don’t live in an area chock full of traditionalists, I guess I have been fairly fortunate. While I have seen more than my share of practices that are in bad taste, and while I have heard hints and insinuations and broad remarks that one could easily construe as support for heretical ideas such as women’s ordination, rarely do I hear out-and-out heresy at Mass, and rarely have I witnessed out-and-out invalidity.

    I would like to propose another concept. Those who stand for what is right should not have to defend themselves; the heretics should answer for their offenses, and I would be interested to know how courageous they are. If they want to preach heresy, they should be bold and be more than willing to stand behind what they believe. I would consider going to such a person after the service with a sheet of paper listing the heresies that were offered and ask if the person would be willing to “autograph” such a document. It should then be forwarded to the appropriate authorities. Of course, I suspect that many of them would then hem and haw and backtrack or hedge or deny outright what they said only a few minutes earlier.

  27. MikeD says:

    In the recent obituary of the great analytic philosopher Peter Geach, we learn that he “was famously irascible and failed to suffer gladly anything he considered to conflict with Catholic doctrine, even if uttered by respected clerics. He once stood up during a sermon, shouting ‘This is heresy’, and marched his family out of the church.”

    But how many people are as lucid in their understanding of Catholic doctrine as Peter Geach and his wife, Elizabeth Anscombe. Not many, I’d wager.

  28. HyacinthClare says:

    I walked out once. The priest said that taking communion meant you go to heaven so if you’re in mortal sin, don’t wait until confession before taking communion; communion will “fix you up.” I wrote the bishop and was promised a “correction” would be made in the church bulletin. Never happened. Now I go to an FSSP TLM and of course we never hear any nonsense; but I think so sadly of that other parish.

  29. Rich says:

    Walking out is a powerful form of protesting, but it is one of those ways which we will never really know how much of an impact it had. When people see just one person walk out, it suddenly makes them listen to what they are hearing from the pulpit a little more critically, as if the ideas being preached are to be critically analyzed as a opposed to those which they will sit back and listen to and allow themselves to be spoonfed. Walking out thus creates a tenuous atmosphere which makes it much harder for the heretical ideas being preached to really take hold, giving people the belief that such may not necessarily be the status quo, after all.

  30. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    How can walking out of the church during an objectionable homily be a powerful form of protest when the homilist plus 95% of any members of the congregation upon whom your departure registers, will most likely assume that you’re going to “spend a penny,” (as the British used to say)? And by the time it becomes apparent that you didn’t go to the “Ladies'” or the “Gents'”, that you’re not returning to your place, 100% of all of them will have forgotten you were ever there!

    Some statement!

  31. Catholics need to know their faith so they can recognize heresy when they hear it.Good to know there are some.
    Perhaps contact other persons at this parish and form a group who would be willing to speak to the priest with you?
    I would give the priest the benefit of the doubt first when speaking with him IF it’s possible he doesn’t realize he’s teaching heresy.I can’t think of any reason a priest wouldn’t be aware but is it also possible? If he knows and is DELIBERATELY teaching this then it’s another story. I would think if he realized that many of his parishioners were calling him to task he might think twice.It’s his soul at stake and the people he could be leading astray. I may be wrong in the approach. Obviously something needs done and thank God you care!

  32. JenRey says:

    I tend to clear my throat somewhat loudly, sometimes cross my arms and look around to see if anyone else is uncomfortable. I like the idea of walking out somewhat, but unless you tell someone why, it just looks like you need to use the restroom or something. I think it is a good idea to ask the priest about the topic and voice one’s concerns (charitably of course). It’s probably better than just grumbling under my breath and discussing the topic on the way home. ;)

  33. John Nolan says:

    I have never heard a priest openly dissent from Church teaching from the pulpit. However, should it happen, and were I absolutely sure of my ground, I would interrupt on what would be called in debating terms a “point of information”. Since most preachers assume that they have a mute and captive audience, the surprise of being asked to defend or clarify a point would be considerable. Since they would be compelled to do so coram publico they would not be able easily to wriggle off the hook.

    This would only be a last resort, would only apply if the distortion was a grave and deliberate one, and would need to be done in a calm and measured manner.

  34. Ben Kenobi says:

    I faced this problem myself – as I was in a mission area too – where sometimes the priest would have his ‘special lady friend'(!) preach for him. Always the same lady. I only wish I were kidding. I spoke with him after the first time it happened. He responded to it by publishing a handout which he distributed to everyone in the congregation explaining why it was ok for him to do what he did. I kept a copy and made copies to bump it up the chain. I ended up having to confront the priest after mass and we had a rather heated conversation where I informed him that this was an irregularity that could not be tolerated. He asked me to leave. I told him I was fine with that outcome and ended up attending the cathedral downtown.

    Last I went, they had finally replaced him with one of the new preists they had brought in from abroad since his complaint was that, ‘he had insufficient help’, and he relocated to a different parish but still within the same diocese. To not put a fine point on it – my old Anglican priest who had also been exiled from his vicarage had attended there because he had relished, ‘returning to his faith. (!) Again, I wish I were kidding.

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