08/04/2010 09:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Message to Right-Wing Defenders and Left-Wing Critics of the Catholic Church

This post was co-written by Cara McDonough.

Catholic critics of the Church can expect to find themselves attacked by both the left and right wings of the Church and the community at large -- and they are rarely disappointed.

Church defenders from the right tend to view critiques of Church governance as virtual sacrilege, something that cannot be tolerated. For many of them the Church is their personal bedrock of stability. Attacks on it translate to attacks on reasons for living.

Criticism, therefore, cannot be viewed as an attempt to improve the Church. Instead, it must be rejected by any possible means.

These defenders from the right have a long history in the Church. We are reminded of this when walking through the Campo dei Fiori in Rome. There stands the statue of Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive at the stake in 1600 for arguing against Church doctrine.

He died hurling insults and curses at his accusers.

From the community on the left, we hear the common belief that the Church has no relevance in the modern world. The hierarchy is backward. It is hopelessly out of touch. Why even bother to attempt to reform it? So goes the argument.

These leftist critics do not see where the Catholic Church has done or can do any good. And they use the very real current crisis in the Catholic Church to weaken it in every possible way.

Both sides' arguments include major faults.

The right-wing defenders should begin to use the critical faculties given to them by God, not by any man, including the Pope.

The Church has and continues to make serious mistakes that have driven millions away. If you really want to defend the Church, then you should seek to make it what it should be. That would be Catholic conservatism in its purest form.

And to those on the left, learn some history.

Liberation theology would be a good start. Or the role of nuns and priests like Geno Baroni in America's civil rights struggle. Or the 50,000-plus American nuns helping the vulnerable and sick in America.

In responding to both left and right, one might paraphrase Nicholas Kristof, who wrote a New York Times column in May about the Catholic priests, nuns and laity who have risked -- and sometimes lost -- their lives in trouble spots all over the world:

When you, critics and defenders, are willing to put your lives on the line, then you can call for the Church's destruction or its preservation.

Until then, shut up.