It would be nice to have Jesus Christ Himself come and be our bishop for a little spell. He could sit and listen patiently to each and every person, not take attacks personally, not let the strain wear him down, and always have the right thing to say. But we have a man named Lennon. A good man, but a man none-the-less and as such he will have imperfections not the least of which is, even after in depth consultation with all kinds of experts and people across the diocese, he cannot be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is doing the exact right thing. Jesus had that assurance, but Bishop Lennon can only do what he thinks is best and having everyone who is interested in talking to him second guessing him must be a terrible strain. H/t to Carol for, in her way, pointing this out yesterday.
Bearing this in mind, Gypsy and Winnipeg Catholic broached the subject of how to go about speaking to a priest about something that he is doing that may not be right. With some priests this is easy. For some men, there will never be a right time. They will take offense no matter how delicately you couch the subject. Either way, you have both a right and sometimes an obligation to make your concerns known. Knowing that there are no guarantees, here are some suggestions that I recommend for engaging a priest in such a case.
Know the importance of your concern. Is your concern something along the lines of a matter of validity of the sacraments or more having to do with personal tastes? For (a silly) example, is the priest using beer instead of wine at the mass? That is a hill worth dying on. If he wearing green clericals instead of black and you make a huge brouhaha of it you will find little meaningful support and your future real concerns, as legitimate as they may be, will have lost their impact.
Make sure that your concern is true for where you are. For example, kneeling after the Agnus Dei in the United States is up to the discretion of the local bishop. The former bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland has mandated that we stand and many a good priest were viciously attacked for being obedient servants to the bishop by well meaning persons who not only did not know of the ruling, but refused to believe it when they were informed. I was once grilled horribly for having a communal penance service. The person who accosted and threatened me thought we were having general absolution, a practice forbidden in the diocese. No explanation was satisfactory. I finally gave him the number of the bishop and told him to tell on me.
Everybody wants their priest to act as a good spiritual father of the parish family. That desire cuts both ways. A good friend of mine stopped in to talk about his kids whom he dearly loves. “But Father, all they are doing now is yelling and fighting, and getting sick. They are driving me crazy!” Is the first time your pastor really hears from you going to be when you have a complaint? As a member of the parish family has he heard from you about what you are willing to do in the parish? “Father, do you need help?” This is welcome news especially for things outside of mass. Bringing communion to the sick, teaching CCD, offering to head up something are ways not only to be involved in your parish but a way to build up trust between you and your pastor and allow the free flow of ideas both ways.
Be careful not to ambush. I’ve seen it all too often. Just stepping off of the altar is a bad time to do anything but shake hands and offer pleasantries. There may be a couple of hundred other people to greet or the next sacrament to get ready for. Also, if you have something meaningful and difficult to talk about it is not a good idea to “catch” your priest as he is out on a friendly errand, sitting at the table in a restaurant, or “not doing anything” when he is in church praying. If you don't have the kind of relationship in which you spend time together and can just talk, make an appointment.
The past liturgist for this diocese was fond of reminding us, “Nobody wakes up in the morning planning to destroy the Roman Rite.” Chances are, even if something is clearly against liturgical law or what have you, the priest (hopefully) has what he believes to be the good of the parish in mind. He may use inclusive language because he feels he can reach more people and bring them closer to Christ by doing so. He may use some aspects of an older rite for funerals because he feels that is what his people know, expect, and are comfortable with. This is not to excuse such actions, but to point out that they are not being done in a nefarious manner. This should be kept in mind when approaching a pastor.
Be sincere in your desire to understand why it is he chooses do something that you find objectionable. You would wish to be heard and understood in a disagreement even if you don’t prevail. At least then you feel respected. Priests are no different.
Understand that there are some things that take place that he also may be uncomfortable with and does not wish to do. Parochial vicars may be under orders to do something at mass. As a good churchman he might keep his mouth shut and do it knowing some day he too will be a pastor and then can do things the (hopefully) right way. He may not be at liberty to make his grievances know to you.
Of course, politeness, courtesy, and friendliness go a long way. Many a position has been held just as a grudge against an angry accusation. Is this right? No. That is why we all need Jesus to save us from our sins.
Lastly, know there are guys just barely holding it together. There are men in charge of parishes much larger than they are qualified for, but there is no one to take their place. Sometimes guys in small parishes are there because they need a more limited ministry in order to function well and being snarky may be their way of coping with life. The snarkier usually mean the more fragile.