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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  • There’s a boatload of difference between the promise of obedience diocesan priests make (and the vow religious order priests make) and that of lay people.

    If a bishop tells me I must not do what the Church says I have a right to do, must I obey him?

    Of course not.

    Interesting story though. Where’s the source, who was the bishop, and what was the controversy?

  • We had an interesting discussion on this topic in our parish apologetics discussion group. One gentleman remembers a bishop of his childhood requiring that all the Catholic school uniforms be purchased from a specific vendor even though his prices were higher than his competitors because this vendor was a big financial donor to the diocese. We came to the same conclusion as Kelly. Obedience by the laity is very different than obedience by the diocesan priests.

  • Parents of Roman Rite Catholic children going through a CCD program that is teaching impure subjects
    should absolutely withdraw their child from the program.

    If your child is expelled from CCD, then find a Eastern Rite Priest and get your child confirmed that way. There are several options.
    Maronite, Ukrainian etc…

    One need NOT switch rites, but a Roman Rite Catholic is allowed to register and ATTEND a Eastern rite parish if they find the local Novus Ordo parish is a impediment to their faith journey and growth, and their children’s spiritual well being. 

    The Eastern rite Churches are in full communion with Rome, so one is not leaving the ARK OF SALVATION.

    Eastern rite church often will confirm at a very young age, so a parent can get that responsibilty over with early, instead of waiting until their child is high school age.

    Registering at a Eastern Rite Parish, and attending Divine Liturgy each Sunday,  does not in any way change the status of a Roman Rite Catholic.