Posted January 20, 2006
Fraternal correction in this day and age,
and especially in our priesthood?
Father Eugene Hemrick
Believe it or not, fraternal correction, or as some label it, ‘tough love’,
is one of the main attributes of love according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Other qualities include peace, joy, beneficence, and mercy.
I remember as a child my mother hitting me over the head with a broom and
crying out: “This is tough love! And some day you will thank me for it!”
I would reply: “If you keep breaking brooms over my head, there won’t be a
Traditionally fraternal correction has been utilized in religious life as an
aid to bolstering community spirit. Many spiritual writers see it at the
basis of spiritual progress. It is an excellent catalyst for changing
behaviors and making improvements.
Recently, the priests' council of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., issued
a code of conduct for priests. It encouraged fraternal correction as one way
of maintaining a wholesome priesthood. It strongly recommended also that
priests have mentors for guidance and spiritual reinforcement.
We don't hear much about fraternal correction these days. One reason is that
when an adult is corrected, he or she often is made to feel like a child.
People feel that their adulthood is being questioned. Because of its
belittling sound, "fraternal correction" often isn't mentioned.
Another reason it isn't mentioned is that its application requires a strong
constitution on the part of the person who administers it. It isn't easy to
stand up to a friend and say, "You are wrong in what you are doing. Stop
drinking, stop going with that person, get a better life style." Aware of
our own shortcomings, we are less prone to point out another's failings.
As negative as fraternal correction may sound, its positive benefits far
outweigh its negatives.
Years ago my psychology professor posed this hypothetical question: "What
would happen to the quality of homilies if priests allowed their
parishioners to offer them fraternal correction?"
I actually witnessed a nationally known preacher open himself up to
correction after a homily. It was astonishing, and it seemed very
professional to me. A group of parishioners and he went through his homily
piece by piece, refining it into a masterpiece.
And too, I often wonder if we there might be many less cases of sexual
abuse, alcoholism and violence in homes and our church had someone stepped
up to the plate and spoke to the truth of the matter.
Few ever think of Christ in terms of fraternal correction, yet he did give
his apostles tough reality checks. After they returned from experiencing the
power of preaching and healing, they jubilantly related this to him. Christ
loved their enthusiasm, but in that enthusiasm he also saw possible
downfalls. Hence we hear him say: "Remember I saw Satan fall from heaven
like thunder. The most important thing is to get your names written in the
book of heaven."
“Remember you will not have a place to rest yourself, and remember you are
going out like sheep among wolves!”
These are tough words. And yet, if you love a person, as Christ loved his
apostles, you want the best for them. Unfortunately, the tendency in to put
it off and procrastinate because it takes a strong stomach to apply. But
when love is strong and ours hearts are punctured by it, it compels us to
We may wince when we hear the words "fraternal correction." But my guess is
that some of the best improvements we've made in life were due to it. Was it
not the professor who was toughest on us we remember, and more often than
not, thank years later for being tough? This holds true in all of life. A
tough loving pastor often is the best mentor for a young priest. Tough
loving parents often produce the best disciplined and mannered children.