Lawful orders of legitimate authority

Lawful orders of legitimate authority

While discussing the flap in Orange County, California, over liturgical kneeling,  David Alexander makes a good point about obedience, namely that it is a two-way street. First he relates the story of an Italian priest who was ordered by his bishop to stop preaching on a controversial topic that was embarrassing the bishop. The priest agreed and asked for the order in writing. Knowing that having the order on the record could itself prove embarrassing, the bishop refused and so the priest said that he would then continue to preach on that topic. David then explains the moral of the story:

When an authority gives an order, he takes responsibility for the consequences of that order. It is true in military law (lest senior officers go around “pulling rank” on other officers’ subordinates at will), and it is true in the natural law, as well as in natural justice. More to our point, it applies in canon law. Conversely, when a superior is not empowered to give a particular order, and yet persists in doing so, or when he cannot otherwise take responsibility for the outcome even of a legitimate order, his subjects cannot be held accountable for his loss of credibility over the long haul. Such an authority has done this to himself. That is what is happening in Orange County. It is happening elsewhere in the Church.

This is a very important point. Often we are told we must obey the bishops, that they hold offices of authority and governance within the Church. But is that authority absolute? Are we to act unquestioningly? We must obey lawful orders. We must also obey lawful orders only from those who have legitimate authority over us in areas in which they have competency. If a bishop tells me I must not do what the Church says I have a right to do, must I obey him?

If the bishop says I must enroll my child in a program that will strip her of her innocence and which violates my rights as primary educator of my child and this is a condition of sacramental preparation, must I obey that order?

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