Pastoral Issues

Topic: Episcopal Scandals


I would like to ask you a question in regards to your article, "A Confused Protestant".  Let me quote the part that I want to address:

Confused Protestant: Do I talk to my Jewish neighbor about his need to trust in Jesus Christ and the Church or not? Does my Jewish neighbor even need Jesus or not? Faithful Catholics are telling me that I should talk to him about Jesus, and yet according to the catechism, a faithful Catholic is to submit to the teachings of the local bishops who've told me that Jews don't need Jesus.

You: That's right, obey your bishop. That way you show deference for those who have authority over you, while at the same time letting them know of your objections.

Now here is my question: Does one owe obedience to a Modernist Bishop who not only does not thwart heresy in his own diocese, but actually promotes it through words and or actions?  Let's say for instance that your local Bishop bowes down in a Mosque to worship a false god (St. Francis would have rather been drawn & quartered than to do such a thing).  Is this not apostasy?  Is this not adulterous to the One True God?  Now we have a confused layman, who in good conscience, absolutely refuses to engage in such behavior, one who will not participate in false worship/prayer meetings.  In refusing to do this, is the layman guilty of "schism"?  Is he guilty of rebellion or insubordination?  But, not only does he not participate, but openly chastizes the Bishop for his scandalous actions and sin against the Faith.  In addition to this, should he ignore past papal teachings and the ordinary magisterium that have consistently and repeatedly condemned this very thing down through the centuries, in order to be obedient to our Bishop?  To sum up, if your Bishop says it's o.k. to engage in false worship and you refuse to do so, would you be guilty of schism or even a 'schismatic mentality'?   Here is some food for thought while you formulate an answer:

"Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God, therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things." -- St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, Summa Theologica II-IIQ. 104

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." -- Galatians 1:8

"When the Supreme Pontiff pronounces a sentence of excommunication which is unjust or null, it must not be accepted, without, however, straying from the respect due to the Holy See." --St. Robert Bellarmine

 "All disciplinary authority, all obedience to a bishop presupposes the pure teaching of the Holy Church. Obedience to the bishop is grounded in complete faith in the teaching of the Holy Church. As soon as the ecclesiastical authority yields to pluralism in questions of faith, it has lost the right to claim obedience to its disciplinary ordinances." --Professor Dietrich von Hildenbrand, The Devastated Vineyard (Chicago, 1973), pp.3-5

"Where there is a proximate danger to the faith, prelates must be rebuked, even publicly, by subjects. Thus, St. Paul who was subject to St. Peter, rebuked him publicly." --St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians 2:14

"And there is no reason why those who obey God rather than men should be accused of refusing obedience; for if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, these rulers exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice, nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null." -- Leo XIII, Diuturnum Illud.

 "And immediately the cock crew again. And Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said unto him: Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt thrice deny me. And he began to weep." --Mark 14:72


Thank you for your question, Matthew. I can sympathize with your frustration at the current state of the Church. These are definitely difficult times for Catholics, but it is precisely during these tulmultous times in Church history that our Faith and Hope in the Church must not fail. During any trial, there is as much opportunity for evangelization as there is the threat of public scandal.

Now to your question...First, let me cite a few paragraphs from Vatican II's Christus Dominus (Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church) to give us a bit of context:

2. The bishops also have been designated by the Holy Spirit to take the place of the apostles as pastors of souls and together with the Supreme Pontiff and subject to his authority, they are commissioned to perpetuate the work of Christ, the eternal Pastor.

3. United in one college or body for the instruction and direction of the universal Church, the bishops, sharing in the solicitude of all the churches, exercise this their episcopal function, which they have received by virtue of their episcopal consecration in communion with the Supreme Pontiff and subject to his authority.

Bishops, as legitimate successors of the apostles and members of the episcopal college, should appreciate that they are closely united to each other and should be solicitous for all the churches. By divine institution and by virtue of their apostolic office, all of them jointly are responsible for the Church.

8.(a) Bishops, as the successors of the apostles, enjoy as of right in the dioceses assigned to them all ordinary, special and immediate power which is necessary for the exercise of their pastoral office, but always without prejudice to the power which the Roman Pontiff possesses, by virtue of his office, of reserving certain matters to himself or to some other authority.

8.(b) Individual diocesan bishops have the power to dispense from the general law of the Church in particular cases those faithful over whom they normally exercise authority. It must, however, be to their spiritual benefit and may not cover a matter which has been specially reversed by the supreme authority of the Church.

Canon Law also spells out the submission that Catholics owe to the bishop:

Canon 753. Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a religious assent of soul.

Having therefore established clearly the Bishop's authority, we can now look to a lay Catholic's rights within the Church:

So here we find two truths presented before us:

(1) We are to submit to our local ordinary (our Bishop).

(2) We are entitled, as children of the Church, to receive authentic Catholic teaching from our bishop.

In light of these two simple but equally necessary truths, we are ready to approach your question. If the local bishop causes the faithful to be scandalized in his teaching office, the faithful have the canonical right to approach the bishop or higher ecclesiastical office and address the perceived scandal. In fact, the situation you have described above is really not all that different from the scene in Antioch:

"When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?" (Galatians 2:11-14)

There, St. Paul rebuked Peter's hypocrisy by not living up to the Council's decision in Acts 15 concerning the Gentiles and the Mosaic Law. In the scenario which you have described, the bishop appears to have been engaging in something scandalous. (I say appears because it is important not to judge by appearance or questions someone's motiviations before affording him a response.)

In such a situation, we are to take our direction from Holy Scripture:

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)

Therefore, applying these principles to the case at hand, this is the course of action that I would take:

When you get the answer (and you will), submit to it - even if it is not what you expected. You are no more holier than the saints before you who were treated "roughly" by their superiors - even by Rome. Two instances come to mind - St. "Padre" Pio and St. Faustina. Take their example of humility and accept any rejection you might receive - and do it with a smile on your face. You've only been slapped on one side of the face. The other side still needs a good bruising. And be happy that you can share with Christ in rejection and marginalization. You want the crown? Fine. Take the cross first because that's how it works. If you are not prepared to do this, then the Lord will lift that cross off your shoulders and give it someone else who will carry it the rest of the way. Crucifixion is for all. Few accept it. And still fewer endure it.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
January 26, 2003