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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Obedience: Sometimes it's Wrong

A fella commenting on my posts criticizing the Knights of Columbus and calling for reform got highly incensed and shook the dust off his feet when I had the temerity to suggest that Catholics are not obliged to obey their bishops in all things. Now, don't get me wrong, I think obedience is an important virtue. In fact, obedience is closely connected to the virtue of humility. And, as Fr. John Hardon often said, "Only humble people get into heaven." So I take the virtue of obedience seriously. But there is virtuous obedience, blind obedience, and evil obedience. The wise and the prudent need to make distinctions between them.

Clearly, obedience is evil when the order being obeyed involves committing sin. Soldiers who deliberately murder noncombatant civilians because they were "following orders" are guilty of wartime atrocities. No one may obey an evil order. That's the basis for war crime tribunals. Additionally, no one has an obligation to obey evil laws so those who operated the Underground Railroad or ignored the Jim Crow laws or the Nuremburg laws were morally justified. The Chinese who defy the one-child policy are completely right to disobey their evil government. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, an evil law that defies the law of God is no law at all.

Even lawful authority has limits. Children owe obedience to parents and those who serve in place of parents, like teachers, but a parent may not order a child to marry a particular person or follow a particular path in life, and teachers have no right to assign immoral books or films as required material. St. Clare certainly was not guilty of disobedience when she defied her parents and ran away to become a nun.

Bishops have authority and the duty to teach, govern, and sanctify their flocks in the faith. Their authority is intrinsically linked to the authority of the Pope and the Church. When they teach according to the mind of the Church, the flock is bound to obey. But when a bishop steps outside the deposit of the faith to make up his own rules, the laity, and even his priests, do not owe him obedience. Certainly, the priests under Arian bishops had not only the right, but the duty to disobey. Every heresy in the Church that I can think of originated with a cleric. Nestorius was a bishop. Martin Luther was a priest/monk. Arius was a priest. Not much is known about Pelagius, but he is commonly referred to as a British monk. Should the flock have followed these men because they wore Roman collars?

Of course not! And to suggest that blindly obeying clerics is virtuous is clericalism, the attitude that a Roman collar sets a man above all others and he should be obeyed in all matters both religious and secular. What nonsense when bishops throughout history have been responsible for so much evil. It was a bishop who conspired with the English to burn Joan of Arc at the stake. It was the entire bench of bishops in England minus one, John Fisher, who went along with Henry VIII's evil plan to set aside Catherine, marry Ann Boleyn, and declare himself head of the Church. Bishops used clericalism when they browbeat parents of sexually abused children into silence assuring them the matter would be taken care of and then moving the abusers again and again. They accused parents of wanting to destroy the Church. Sadly, the parents' silence enabled the evil to continue for decades. Failing to sound the alarm multiplied the problem exponentially.

To suggest that bishops should be obeyed in all things is just plain absurd.

As for the Knights of Columbus, they have a constitution and by-laws that require all members to be "practical," i.e., practicing Catholics. Those members who commit public scandal by supporting positions that openly defy Church teaching are not eligible to be Knights according to the Knights' own documents. To allow pro-abortion politicians to maintain membership and use it as they politic for reelection is scandalous and scandal is a serious sin. No bishop or pastor has the authority to order a council to admit or maintain the membership of such a knight. Supreme has no right to order councils to retain such members.

The Knights remove those who do not pay their dues. It is ridiculous to assert that they cannot remove a man who publicly advocates the murder of unborn children. I don't, however, suggest that men should quit the Knights in protest. I think they should stay and try to get Supreme and the state councils to change. If they won't, local councils who love the least of God's little ones waiting to be born would do well to vote to leave the Knights as a group and reestablish themselves as independent men's service groups within their parishes. In most cases, the groups would hardly know the difference except for having a lot less paperwork and keeping all their dues money locally.

And think of the impact of many councils leaving with the promise to return when the Knights begin to honor their own constitution and by-laws. The Knights do great good, but they poison the well when they violate their own rules and allow those who publicly defy the Church to remain Knights in good standing. Abortion laws and same sex marriage laws have, in some cases, only passed because of pro-abortion, pro-homosexual knights. That reality is so shameful as to cast a pall on the good the knights do. It must end!


Old Bob said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this commentary and shining the truth on this matter!

Alice said...

Great post. I think it's pretty simple--be who you say you are. Without excuse or lies.

Στέλιος Σταυρακάκης said...

Hi! Very interesting post!