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Scripture and Fraternal Correction
Question from anon on 9/13/2001:

Father, I can attest to numerous places in Sacred Scripture where there are passages that say things such as: One who loves danger shall perish in it, and that to place oneself around sinnful people is wrong and I also think there is a passage that says that the failure to correct another's sins makes that person equally guilty for those sins. What is the Church's teaching on fraternal correction? Are there ever instances where someone fails to correct a person's sinnfulness but is justified? For example, I know of many things that people do here at my college that I would consider sinnful but sometimes I find that I don't have the courage to speak out about it out of the fear of what they would think and say towards me. I then find that I worry about the state of my soul for not speaking out. Where does one draw the line between compromise and prudence and what advice do you have for people who seem to find it difficult to determine the difference? Thank you in advance.

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 10/6/2001:

Both the Gospels and Epistles teach us that fraternal correction of a fellow Christian is appropriate and in some cases even an obligation. In the case of a fellow Christian who sins against us, our Lord teaches the following, as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew:

18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 18:16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The correction of a fellow Christian must proceed from the motive of charity and not self-righteous judgment, as we read elsewhere in this same Gospel:

7:1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 7:2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 7:4 Or how can you say to your brother, —Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Clearly our Lord was not precluding all judgments but He requires that we act out of proper motives. St. Paul addresses the issue of fraternal correction—by non association--of other members of the Christian community who are living in a manner radically incompatible with Christ:

5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral men; 5:10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 5:11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber -- not even to eat with such a one. 5:12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 5:13 God judges those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."

As to when and how to exercise fraternal correction, this requires not only a correct motive but also the exercise of prudence. St. Paul did not regard Christians as obliged to correct non-believers in the same manner in which we are to correct fellow Christians. And his correction of fellow Christians was accomplished by a form of isolation from the immoral, so as not to be wrongly influenced and as a witness against such a fallen believer. In some cases but not necessarily all, this might be a course of action for us as well, especially with regards to friendships. The problem today is that so many baptized Christians have so badly been corrupted by fallen secular values that their consciences are terribly dulled. I would not look to convert an entire campus but work one by one in the cases of those for whom there is some reasonable hope of conversion and with whom you have some sort of rapport. Beyond that, pray to the Holy Spirit to guide you in this matter and to provide the grace that is necessary to effect any change for the good. ©

Father Echert

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