In times of great confusion, such as our own day, many Catholics are baffled on how to react.

questionSome claim that we must obey our leaders no matter what, and that to voice the slightest disagreement with them is a manifestation of disrespect and disobedience. Not only is this way of thinking incorrect, it also paralyzes Catholics into inaction and heightens their confusion. What we hope to demonstrate is that, according to the Saints, and according to the consistent teaching of the Church, Catholics are bound to resist even prelates if they deviate from the unchanging doctrine and Tradition of the Catholic Church.

Many also believe that it is impossible for a Supreme Pontiff to deviate in any way from the straight and narrow. This is partially correct. The Holy Ghost will always protect a Pope from defining error as truth, for example, from teaching error in an ex cathedra pronouncement. (1) That is certain. But it is demonstrable from the teachings and writings of the Saints that even the highest authority in the Church may fail in his duty and may drift into deviations from Church Teaching.

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The Holy Spirit is not the author of the confusion in the Catholic Church – so who is?

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In his magnificent book The Devastated Vineyard (1973), Dietrich von Hildebrand warned against a false loyalty to the Church hierarchy in which Catholics uncritically accept every word and action of their bishop, while failing to acknowledge the harm that may be done to the Church by those words and actions:

A third false response, and perhaps the most dangerous one, would be to imagine that there is no destruction of the vineyard of the Lord, that it only seems so to us — our task as laymen is simply to adhere with complete loyalty to whatever our bishop says….

At the basis of this attitude is a false idea of loyalty to the hierarchy. When the pope speaks ex cathedra on faith or morals, then unconditional acceptance and submission is required of every Catholic. But it is false to extend this loyalty to encyclicals in which new theses are proposed. This is not to deny that the magisterium of the Church extends much farther than the dogmas. If an encyclical deals with a question of faith or morals and is based on the tradition of the holy Church — that is, expresses something which the Church has always taught — then we should humbly accept its teaching. This is the case with the encyclical Humanae Vitae: although we do not have here the strict infallibility of a defined dogma, the content of the encyclical nevertheless belongs to that sphere of the Church’s magisterium which we must accept as true.

But there are many encyclicals which deal with very different (e.g., sociological) questions and which express a response of the Church to certain new conditions. Thus the encyclical of the great Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, with its idea of a corporate state, differs on sociological questions with encyclicals of Paul VI. But when it is a question of practical ordinances such as concordats, or the suppression of the Jesuit order by Pope Clement XIV, or the introduction of the new missal, or the rearrangement of the Church calendar, or the new rubrics for the liturgy, then our obedience (as Vatican I declares), but by no means our agreement, is required….

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At what point does the Catholic duty of obedience to the local bishop cease?

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Listening to bishops has never been easy – nor will it ever be. But obedience to our superiors is inscribed in the word of God: the Decalogue’s command to honor parents includes obedience as a necessary component. And closer to the current subject, the Letter to the Hebrews says “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give an account.” (13:17)

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Editor’s note: This is one of those articles that deals with things – not as they really exist – but as they should be – so most everything contained in it tends towards the theoretical and academic.

When everyone (clerics and laity)  properly holds up their particular Catholic “end” of things – faithfully relying on Traditional, time-tested, Catholic philosophy, worship, sacraments, devotions and principles – then it will be a relatively simple matter to obey the bishop – since the choices the bishop makes will reflect the orderly state of an authentically faithful – and Catholic – world.  But once things have broken down – as they have in the post-Vatican II, world-wide Catholic Church – chaos – not Christ – reigns – and all bets are off!

May God have mercy on our souls.

On Papalotry

Belief and Obedience

My great teacher, Dietrich von Hildebrande wrote four outstanding books on the present crisis in the Church. Recently, his latest book, The Charitable Anathema was published. I wish we could mail a copy to Rome. A chapter in this book contains one of the most important lectures he ever gave to the Roman Forum. It concerns the difference between belief and obedience. He called it the critical difference. It was masterful.
The point is this: if there is a problem on a question of truth, and there’s a big dispute, and finally Rome speaks (invoking its infallible authority) and says, “This statement must be believed de fide”. Then this is the end of the dispute. Roma locuta causa finita. Rome has spoken, the case is finished. That is the end of it. Therefore, we owe assent of belief to statements of truth.

However, practical decisions of Churchmen, even the highest authorities; the Pope, bishops, priests are something quite different. We do not say, for example, that a command of a Pope or decision of a Pope to call a council is true or not. We can say that it is wise or not … it is opportune or not. Such a decision in no way asks us to assent to its truth. It asks us to obey the command or commands that pertain to us. This is what von Hildebrande meant by difference between belief and obedience. And we Catholics are never obliged to believe that a given command, or given decision of anyone, including the Pope, is necessarily that of the Holy Ghost.

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Submitted by Mark H.

Father Dwight Longenecker: Why I Am a Catholic.

I am a Catholic because the Catholic faith stands the world on it’s head. It turns over the tables. It makes you expect the unexpected. Just when you thought you had it figured it out, the Catholic Church, like a mischievous and shrewd old woman, pulls a trick on you, calls you to step out of the comfort zone and be radical once again. In every age and in every place Catholicism has been subversive, and the message of Jesus Christ is only good news when it is subversive.

I’m also Catholic because Catholicism provides a time tested and true method for ascertaining religious truth. It avoids supernatural explanations while not being so dogmatic as to rule them out altogether. It demands that we use our human reason, but then says human reason is not enough. It requires obedience to an authority, but says that this obedience is to true religion as a map is for the journey. Catholicism is inclusive where it should be and exclusive where it should be. I’m Catholic because I wish to affirm all, for a man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.

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Another testimony

Obedience to the Catholic Church? Yes. Blind obedience to the Catholic Church? No.

“What was it in the culture of the Catholic Church in Boston that made such tragically incorrect reading of the evidence possible?” In other words, why for certain bishops of the Archdiocese did “the good name and reputation of the institutional church and its representatives [outrank] all other considerations, even the safety of children”?

While the staunch pro-Catholic might argue that centuries of American anti-Catholicism forced bishops into a self-protective bunker, it turns out that, according to Mass, you really need to know the difference between analogical and dialectical.

This distinction was made over fifty years ago in a classic work by David Tracy, which I have not read but which is the foundation for Massa’s argument. The book The Analogical Imagination explains Catholicism as analogical, meaning that the divine is seen by Catholics as being actually present in the material. This means that God is present concretely, as in the sacraments. Creation, therefore, is good, “revelatory of the Holy.” The Church being “the body of Christ” means that community is key to salvation in the Catholic world view. We Catholics have a “fundamental trust in the goodness of persons and institutions.”

The Protestant—and I was one, and so in a way still am too—is dialectical. Luther, Kierkegaard, Barth, Niebuhr, Tillich—all Protestant thinkers—“insist on the radical difference separating” God and me. This implies that we humans are estranged from God, and must be individually saved. For our salvation, we depend not on a Church but on our individual reading of the Word, the Book, the Scriptures.

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Editor’s note: Be sure to read the first reader comment.

Christopher Ferrara on priestly obedience and bishop’s failings

Bishop Zurek’s power play against Father Pavone is a prime example of why the pro-life movement has yet to win a major victory in America: the Bishops are not behind it.  The closest they have come to unity of action in the public sphere is support for Obama’s “Dream Act”—a federal gift basket for illegal aliens. Their chanceries and seminaries riddled with modernists and homosexuals, the American bishops—of course there are noble exceptions—have betrayed the greatest civil rights movement of our time, just as they have betrayed the defense of Holy Matrimony by their cowardly failure to offer a serious and united opposition to “same-sex marriage” initiatives.

How is it that their demands for “obedience” so rarely  advance the cause of Gospel, but so often advance the Church’s surrender to modernity?

Yet the power of the Catholic episcopacy is not entirely dormant elsewhere. In 2008 one Catholic commentator noted the “seemingly miraculous transformation” of the Brazilian hierarchy, producing a “pro-life Pentecost” that has led the Brazilian bishops to adopt strategies that “are a lesson to the whole Catholic world,” including the direct confrontation of “pro-choice politicians,” the excommunication of doctors performing abortions, and a massive educational campaign depicting abortion  procedures in graphic detail, with the result that “Brazilian lay Catholics  are horrified by what they see, and are inspired to act against abortion.” The Brazilian bishops’ goal is not only to “stop new anti-life legislation, but to eliminate all exceptions in Brazil’s penal code regarding abortion.”

The same commentator asks:

“What effect would such an approach have if all of the Catholic bishops of the world were to imitate the Brazilian bishops, and declare war on abortion, euthanasia, and other offenses against human life?”

While the American population is only twenty-five percent Catholic, he notes, “[i]f this ‘sleeping giant’ were to awaken, galvanized by clear preaching and educational campaigns that clearly reveal the crime of abortion, how could any political party stand against it?” 

How indeed?