Who Am I to Judge?
I am sick and tired of this “who am I to judge?” silliness. Only God can judge the state of the human soul. But it is pure humbug to suggest we cannot and should not judge human behavior. Reluctance to judge moral behavior is the inevitable consequence of moral relativism and moral subjectivism that has eroded confidence in the ability to determine objective moral truth on which sound judgment is based.
Judgment is an essential component of the exercise of authority. If you do not have the courage to judge, then you should avoid positions of authority. Not being willing to judge is a curse of our age. When I cautioned my teenagers not to hang out with so and so, the standard response was “Oh, Dad, you are so judgmental!” Not to judge is a dereliction of duty that afflicts so much of the Church’s hierarchy. It obscures our Lord’s message, sows confusion among the faithful, and undermines lay efforts to fight against the perversions of the day.
Absence of judgment or inept judgment in regard to the pederasty scandal elevated the deviant behavior of a relatively small number of miscreant priests into an international scandal that subjected the papacy to scorn and crippled the Church for several decades. A recent example of the “who am I to judge?” question involved homosexuality and was uttered by Cardinal Dolan in a very public venue.
Cardinal Dolan said the Bible tells us not to judge people. In response to a question on Meet the Press last year about the announcement that football player Michael Sam was a homosexual, Cardinal Dolan replied: “I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya. I don’t think, look, the same Bible that tells us, that teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say ‘bravo’.”
So, the Bible tells us not to judge people? Consider: “thus says the Lord: you, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me if I tell the wicked, ‘oh, wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked one from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself (Ezekiel 33: 7 – 9).
Neither Peter nor Paul were squeamish about judging others:
Peter said to Simon the magician “Your heart is not upright before God. Repent of this wickedness of yours … for I see that you are filled with bitter gall, and you are in the bonds of iniquity” (Acts 8: 20 – 23).
Paul said to Elymas, “you son of the devil, you enemy of all that is right, full of every sort of deceit and fraud. Will you not stop twisting the straight paths of the Lord?” (Acts 13: 9 – 10).
Here are some excerpts from the epistles that illustrate judgment:
“[W]hen Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he clearly was wrong” (Gal 2:11).
“[B]rothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit…” (Gal 6:1).
“[T]ake no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them…” (Gal 5: 11).
“[R]eprimand publicly those [presbyters] who do sin, so that the rest will also be afraid” (Tim 5:20).
“[T]herefore, admonish them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith…” (Titus 1:13 – 14).
“[E]xhort and correct with all authority…” (Titus 2:15).
“I am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another” (Rom 15:14).
“[I]t is widely reported that there is immorality among you… A man living with his father’s wife.… The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. I … have already, as if present, pronounced judgment on the one who committed this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus…. You are to deliver this man to Satan for the distraction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:1 – 5).
So it is clear that the Bible often encourages judgment of the behavior of others. But those who disdain judgment often cite (Mt 7:1 – 2): “Stop judging that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged…..” This is not an injunction against judgment, but a warning that the judgment should be rendered with a good heart free from hypocrisy, arrogance, meanness of spirit, or hate. Thus “remove the beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5). The principal purpose of a judgment is to help my brother and others avoid debilitating actions and improve. The awesome burden of judging is the realization that we will be “judged as we have judged.” Some cite the incident of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus by those who would stone her as evidence that we should not judge others. Nothing could be further from the truth. The incident manifests God’s mercy and loathing of hypocrisy, but he did judge her behavior as evidenced by his admonition: Go and sin no more.
We honor those men and women throughout the ages, who have had the courage to judge the sinful behavior of others and publicly testify against it. Despite the cost, Sir Thomas More admonished King Henry VIII not to be acclaimed as the supreme head of the Church of England since that would deny papal authority, and he also warned the king that it would be bigamous for him to marry Anne Boleyn. Did not John the Baptist judge when he publicly accused Herod of adultery because he took Herodias for his wife despite her still being married to Herod’s brother Philip? Juries judge defendants all the time.
The quality of a judgment usually depends on the information available to the judge and the impartiality of that judge. A judgment may be positive, negative, or neutral. Once a judgment has been rendered, the question becomes what should we do when asked about it? There are several options. We could say nothing or “no comment” and let the matter drop. We could say nothing publicly and rebuke, admonish, or praise in private. We could announce our judgment in an appropriate forum. Finally, we could use the public forum that posed the question to instruct viewers on precisely what the Catholic position on the subject is and emphasize that we love the sinner but hate the sin.
It is love that sometimes prompts us to speak out when the stakes are high. “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites … will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6: 9 – 10). Cardinal Dolan squandered an opportunity to instruct not only the sinner, but also the confused and ignorant about what the beautiful teaching of the Catholic Church is. How could Cardinal Dolan add “bravo” to the end of his response? This poor homosexual must choose either a lifetime of celibate self-denial or risk eternal damnation for indulging in sexual sin.
Most priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes are good men dedicated to the service of God. But they are subject to error, bias, and vanity like everyone else. Sycophancy is an ever present danger. The Peter Principle that states that people tend to be promoted one level beyond their level of competence clearly applies at times to members of the Church hierarchy. Over recent years, we have seen sound judgment too often impaired by cowardice that masquerades as prudence and by capitulation to the zeitgeist that camouflages itself as pastoral concern.
In the modern world, instant widespread communication in many different kinds of media exposes mercilessly the shortcomings that may occur in public conversations and events. Loquacious people like Cardinal Dolan are especially vulnerable. Transparency and candor are welcome characteristics, but the Church hierarchy must learn to control the narrative.
So let us pray that God will give us the courage to make sound judgments and the wisdom to use those judgments for the benefit of his children. Judges would do well to remember Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will” (2 Tim 2: 23 – 26).
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Christ Expels Money Changers Out of Temple” painted by Cecco del Caravaggio in 1610.