In a heartfelt appeal to the world's bishops, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has recently written a letter concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in which he laments the confusion and misinterpretation surrounding the letter and points to the pain that personal attacks on him and his integrity have caused. He notes that he "was saddened by the fact that even Catholics...thought they had to attack me with open hostility."

We feel a great empathy for our Holy Father. While one may disagree on an action intended to be one of reconciliation and peace, no one is ever justified in vitriolic attacks on a person, least of all the person of the Vicar of Christ.

We in the United States are very familiar with what the Holy Father so strongly and painfully laments. As he said: "At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group...which one can easily attack and hate." Catholic bishops all over the United States experience regularly the smearing of their name and integrity by people who claim to know the motives of bishops and are in a position to denounce them as "cowards" and worse. Arrogant self-righteousness that allows people to divide the Church into the "good" bishops and Catholics and the "bad" bishops and Catholics clearly runs counter to the Gospel.

One message of the Pope's letter - that we should be less prone to point out perceived failures in others and even less ready to condemn them - is a badly needed one today. Hardly a day goes by that there are not magazine articles, newspaper ads, letters to the editor, blogs or other public declarations in which some people are denounced for being less Catholic, less orthodox, less open, less progressive, less faithful, less whatever than the person pointing the finger. Too many people appear to be ready to cast not only the first stone but any stone.

We are called to a higher level of respect for the truth and for each other than is often witnessed in some radio and television talk shows. The intensity of one's opinion is not the same as the truth. Speaking out of anger does not justify falsehood. Frustration and disappointment do not condone a lack of charity. As Pope Benedict wrote in his letter, "Whoever proclaims that God is Love... has to bear witness to love: in loving devotion to the suffering, in the rejection of hatred and enmity..."

We not only sympathize with our Holy Father, but recognizing something of his pain and frustration, pledge our heartfelt prayers for him.