How Should We Treat Bishops and Politicians?

A couple months ago, Msgr. Charles Pope had an excellent post warning about a disturbing trend: namely, that conservative, otherwise orthodox Catholics were starting to treat the bishops with disdain:

I am well aware of the (often legitimate) frustrations by some Catholics that the Bishops, either individually or collectively have not always shepherded in a clearer way; a way that both disciplined dissenters and corrected liturgical abuses and also encouraged those who tried to remain faithful. I get that. These have been difficult decades for the Church and for our culture. 

But frustrations should not be permitted to draw us, even subtly, toward a posture that practically speaking severs our union with the bishops. Some of the comments that routinely come in to the blog here are quite shocking in their sweeping dismissal of the bishops, even the Pope. Some of them are so strong that I cannot post them. What makes them particularly shocking is that, these days, most of the comments of this sort come from those who would define themselves as conservative Catholics. That reflects somewhat the readership of this blog (i.e. more conservative), but it is shocking to hear conservative Catholics use the language that I had always associated with dissenters back in the 1970s and 80s.

I know that I haven’t always been innocent of this myself, but I have to say that Msgr. Pope is absolutely right. What’s more, both Scripture and the Church Fathers back him up on this.

Back in about 107 A.D., St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote to the Smyrnaeans, warning them against undermining their bishop:

Ignatius of Antioch
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. […]
Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil.

Over 1900 years later, Ignatius’ words are still apropos.

I anticipate the obvious objection, that our bishops have repeatedly failed us, or betrayed our trust.  I’m sure anyone reading this can immediately think of numerous instances from the past fifty years in which the Catholic laity were wounded by the actions (or inaction) of our bishops. But frankly, this is nothing new.  The Fall didn’t suddenly begin to affect bishops in the 1960s.  Just look at the performance of the English bishops under Henry, or the countless heretical bishops at the time of Athanasius.  For that matter, just look at the Apostles.  Judas betrays Christ, and all of the Apostles other than St. John abandon Him. The Apostles weren’t blind to their own weaknesses, as Galatians 2 makes clear. Yet here’s what Hebrews 13:17-18 tells us to do:

Anthony van Dyck, St Ambrose barring Theodosius
from Milan Cathedral

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.

I’m not going to pretend that this is an easy command. But it is obviously right. As St. Paul explains, all authority (whether political or spiritual) comes from God (Rom. 13:1-2):

All of you must be willing to obey completely those who rule over you. There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God. So when you oppose the authorities, you are opposing those whom God has appointed. Those who do that will be judged.

This is also the clear implication of Jesus’ response to Pilate, as well (John 19:10-11).  Sometimes, God gives us the leaders we need, and other times, He seems to give us the leaders we deserve.

Let’s be clear about a handful of caveats, though: even though St. Paul calls us to “obey completely those who rule over you,” his own life shows one obvious exception to this: we should obey them completely, unless we’re asked to do something contrary to the Gospel.  I would add two more caveats.  First, it’s morally licit to politically oppose the president, and to run against him.  There’s a clear difference between being an opposition party and a traitor, and it’s the latter that Paul warns against. Second, there are instances in which leaders lose all legitimate authority.  Parents can lose custody of their children, we can be loosed from our obligation to obey certain secular leaders, and bishops can be excommunicated.  St. Paul is warning us not to be disobedient citizens and laity; he’s not telling us to blindly worship the Emperor or do whatever Bishop Arius tells us to do.


In summary, there are four major points we should draw from Scripture and the Church Fathers:

  1. Obey the bishops, even if we disagree with their approach.  Many of the issues dividing Catholics are ones on which people can take different views in good conscience.  On these issues, we can have our own opinions, but when the rubber hits the road, we should obey the bishops.  This includes, at a bare minimum, not undermining what the bishops are doing.  That undermining is the behavior that tears at the Body of Christ, and that Ignatius denounces as the work of the devil.
  2. Obey the Gospel, even if an authority teaches otherwise.  While we should exercise complete obedience towards the bishops, this doesn’t mean doing something contrary the Gospel.  As the Church explained in Dignitatis Humane, “In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.”  To simplify: if a person in authority over you (be they a parent, boss, president, priest, or bishop) tells you to do something stupid, you should do it.  But if they tell you to do something evil, you must not.  In a secular context, this means that you should pay your income tax (Mk. 12:17), but not comply with the HHS Mandate.
  3. Fra Angelico, Dispute before Sanhedrin (1449)
  4. Treat the bishops with respect.  Acts 23:1-5 is worth reading carefully.  St. Paul is taken before the Sanhedrin, and protests his innocence.  The high priest orders him to be slapped in the mouth, and St. Paul responds, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” (Acts 23:3). Those around Paul seem shocked by this, and ask, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” (Acts 23:4).  Then, something amazing happens.  Paul apologizes, explaining that he didn’t realize that the man who gave the order was the high priest: “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people’” (Acts 23:5; Paul is quoting Exodus 22:28).  Once he knew who he was dealing with, Paul refused to speak disrespectfully to the high priest — even though the high priest ordered him slapped in the mouth.  And we today cannot even afford to be respectful to our own bishops?
  5. Pray for religious and secular leadership.  President Obama needs our prayers.  So does Congress.  So do bishops, priests, and deacons.  We’re called to pray for them at every Mass, but we should do so even more frequently.  The worse the bishop or politician seems to be, the more they need your prayers.  Plus, if what we believe about prayer is true, this will do a lot more good than simply kvetching about them on the Internet.
One of the central reasons that many of us are Catholic, instead of Protestant, is the episcopacy.  We believe that Christ founded a Church upon the Apostles, and specifically Peter (Mt. 16:17-19), and that the successors of  the Apostles are the Catholic bishops.  If we genuinely believe this, we should start behaving like it.  If we don’t believe this, why call ourselves Catholic?


  1. Thanks for the reminder. Especially for drawing attention to Acts 23:5/Exodus 22:28. It’s very easy to let our frustrations get the better of us to the point that we bad-mouth especially those whose actions are a direct attack on our faith and our dignity as American citizens, but, perhaps like when we’re in pain and we choose to offer that to Jesus for the building up of His Body rather than engaging in the futility of whining and complaining, we need to train ourselves to turn those frustrations into prayers for those hurtful leaders rather than cursing them and in the process making ourselves the type of people who spew curses.

  2. Daniel,

    What do you mean by “theological” union? Certainly, if a bishop teaches something directly opposed to the Gospel, our highest loyalty is to the Gospel. And if he encourages disobedience to the pope, we should follow the pope. And if he has been excommunicated, or is in schism, we are under no obligation to follow him at all. But creating a murky category of subjective “theological union” sounds like a recipe for disaster. It sounds like you’re wanting to excommunicate bishops that the pope hasn’t excommunicated. If that’s the case, you’ve forgotten your place as a son of the Church.



  3. Not at all. I am saying that if a Bishop advocates liberation theology for example, he might not be excommunicated on one hand, but justly be called a bedwetting Bolshevik by me on the other.

  4. Daniel,

    I’m not confident I understand the principle you’re defending. Certainly, if your bishop taught liberation theology, you’d be under no obligation to buy into it, and in fact, an obligation not to, to the extent it’s contrary to Magisterial teaching. But if this same liberation theology-promoting bishop told you to fast on every Wednesday in Advent, for example, you’d be duty-bound to obey him, since he’s a father to you (even if you thought it was stupid to fast on Wednesdays in Advent).

    But your comments seem to be directly at something slightly different: namely, whether we should mock and tear down bishops that we think are in the wrong. I’d ask this:

    (a) Does it build up the Body of Christ?
    (b) Is it the way that a son should talk to (or about) his father?
    (c) Is it consistent with Scripture? Can we square the comment with St. Peter’s admonition that, in defending the faith, we “do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)?
    (d) Is it consistent with the writings of the Fathers? Do we see Church Fathers encouraging people to speak that way about their bishops, for example?
    (e) Is it free from all stain of detraction and calumny (CCC 2477; CCC 2507)?

    There are other factors in play, as well: for example, are you resisting the bishop to his face (Gal. 2:11), or behind his back? But I think this is a good basic rubric.

    Don’t get me wrong: there’s room to vigorously oppose heresy, even if it is taught by a bishop. In some circumstances, a situation is so public that it must be publicly opposed for risk of scandal: Galatians 2 would seem to be an example of this. But name-calling and personal attacks aren’t the way to defend the faith. I don’t think calling a bishop a “bedwetting Bolshevik” is an example of defending the faith “with gentleness and respect.” I think it risks detraction or even calumny, and that it tears down the Body of Christ.

    Also, calling a bishop a bed-wetter is treating him like a child, rather than a father. When you cultivate this level of disrespect, you can hardly complain when the bishops appear to lack moral authority — you’ve just undermined it.



  5. Your link to Msgr Pope’s article seems to be broken.

    Excellent piece here. There does seem to be a lot of blasting a bishop as heretical simply because he chooses a different approach than the critic would prefer.

  6. Brother Joe,

    “Certainly, if a bishop teaches something directly opposed to the Gospel, our highest loyalty is to the Gospel.” Nice! I would enjoy reading a post about what this actually means to you. What happens if the Pope is not loyal to the gospel? What if a bishop is not loyal to the gospel? There does not seem to be much recourse built into the Catholic faith if the Pope or a Bishop is not loyal to the gospel. This is where the obedience practice of the Roman Church is a major problem for my understanding of the gospel. The Pope demands the loyalty/obedience of the bishops. The bishops demand loyalty/obedience of the priests. It is a rather feudal structure. How can we be loyal to the gospel and to the man (bishop or Pope) that we have sworn obedience to at the same time?

    This is not some “Devil’s Advocate” question because this is one of my major issues with the Roman Church. How can we be loyal to the gospel when we have already sworn obedience to a bishop? I understand that this does not always conflict and that there are many faithful and good men serving the church. But this is one of those issues where I see a member of the church or a local priest being caught between two masters (Matthew 6:24). If this is too general for you, then I can provide some real examples from history and the local church today. Sadly, you know one of the examples that I am thinking of already. Have you ever written an article defending the Roman view of obedience?

    Your brother in Christ,

  7. The Bishop of Rome as a matter of history simply cannot defect from the Gospel. Heretical antipopes have schemed and been elected Pope, only to find themselves unable to continue their heresy. See Pope Vigilius and the 3 chapters controversy.

  8. I await Joe’s response to Hans’ post with great anticipation. In the meantime…

    I think what is not being voiced clearly from the “conservative” side is the desire for an apology and an admission of guilt. What disturbs me most about what has happened to the Church in the last 50 years is that no effort has been made by the bishops to admit their complicity in the destruction of the Church during those years. They just keep going, acting like nothing significant has happened, that only minor “tweaks” are necessary every now and then to keep the faith alive in this country.

    If the bishops were to have read in every single parish across the United States a sincere apology and admission of laxity on their part; a promised commitment to preaching and teaching the faith instead of just managing the institutional structure of the Church; a promise to expel forces — from our seminaries, from our religious orders, from our parishes, from the USCCB — within the Church which have been eating away at her, this would go a long way towards diffusing the “right-wing” within the Church.

    I doubt this admission of guilt will ever come. I may not be analyzing the situation correctly, but the hierarchy of the Church seems to be deathly afraid of schism, and has been so since Vatican II. They may be right to fear these possibilities of schism, which are extremely hard to heal once created (e.g. the Great Eastern Schism). Nevertheless, how many wolves have been allowed to run free within the Church? How many sheep have they devoured?

    I pray for our clergy constantly that the Spirit will inspire them with courage to preach the Catholic faith in earnest.

    God bless,

  9. Joe, take the Fr Corapi case as an example, sexual sins aside. Bishop Gracida said Corapi didn’t take a vow of poverty. Bishop Mulvey said to turn over his millions.

    Complying with Mulvey is complicity with theft.

  10. I personally wish my own Bishop would do more… Taking aside Nancy Pelosi and quietly and privately telling her not present herself for Communion, and if she still continues, then excommunicating her would be a great start.

    Heck, I would even love it if our Bishop came out strongly, not in favor of Prop. 8, but instead got the ball rolling on wrestling marriage out of the hands of the state by stating something to the effect that “Marriage is a Sacrament, instituted by Almighty God, and no Earthly power can separate it from that position due to the presence of Jesus Christ at Cana.”

    Although, I’m also willing to give my Bishop a great deal of leeway. This isn’t some middle-of-nowhere diocese, like Bishop Bruskewitz who can excommunicate people right and left. This is a major metropolitan area.

    He has A LOT of things to look over including:

    1. Several dozen parishes each with a few dozen to a few THOUSAND regular attendants stretched over several Masses from Saturday night to Sunday every week.

    2. Multiple Roman Catholic High Schools with their own set of issues with teachers unions and budgeting issues.

    3. Roman Catholic Colleges and the future Deacons and Priests educated within them making sure they’re not creating a new generation of heretical priests.

    4. Catholic Hospitals, and making sure they’re properly staffed with qualified people from the janitors to the brain and heart surgeons.

    5. Homeless shelters/Soup Kitchens that need to be keep staffed with volunteers and stocked with food.

    6. Different orders including Jesuits, Dominicans, Marianists, Christian Brothers, etc. etc. who each have their own little hierarchies within the Archdiocese themselves.

    7. Catholic Politicians that openly support abortion/contraception.

    8. He has Masses/Confession/Other Sacraments not only in English, but also in Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin and Cantonese, and even in some cases Arabic — All of those have their own little headaches that come along with them making sure they’re done right with qualified priests who know those languages well enough to perform the specific ritual.

    9. Not to mention every other administrative and budgeting concerns that comes along with all those issues and more that I can’t even imagine.

    Being a Bishop is not a job I would ever want, and I encourage everyone to pray for their own Bishop.

  11. This is a difficult issue, but pretending that a foolish bishop is wise or that an heretical bishop is orthodox is not helpful. At the very least it is dishonest.

    Yes, we have to obey the lawful authority of the bishops. That is not spelled out by the diocese, though: it is spelled out in canon law — the same law that binds bishops, the same law that can (and has) excommunicate bishops under extreme circumstances.

    Frankly, in hard situations it is probably better to read up on canon law — like we’re Catholics — rather than go sola scriptura.

    We have to pray for our bishops. We have to pray for our enemies. Let us pray they are not the same.

  12. This is a seriously misguided post. The Bishops are advocating things which are simply wrong. Let us count them:
    They were advocating up until recently contributions to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which forwards money to a variety of left wing, even anti-catholic groups, were you obliged to do this? The Bishops typically advocate laws which icnrease the minumum wage, if you are an economist and you thing there is overwhelming evidence that such loss increase unemployment and hurt the poor, should you do it anyway? Suppose the Bishops support socialized medicine under the rubric ehalth care for all. You forsee that in the current political climate a govenrment run health care system will likely be used to mandate objectionable moral practices like the current mandate for contraceptive funding, do you still think we need to Obey the Bishops. Lets think back and Suppose its 1998 and the Bishop tells you not to report that suspected case of child abuse because it will harm the reputation of the Church and the problem has already been dealt with…. do we obey the Bishop? It seems to me you have not thought carefully about the implications of this “obey the Bishop” The Bishops have religious authority when teaching in concert and union with the Pope, otherwise the obedience owed is limited. As Thomas Aquinas put it “It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly”. Now this is not to say that we should be showing needless disrespect to the Bishops, but the idea we should do something “stupid” if they command it is madness. It is the kind of thinking that lead to the Abuse Crisis, not to mention toleration of all kinds of apostasy in the Church. You have got to be kidding!

  13. I believe that we must be faithful, first, to the Gospel, second, to the Magisterium, third, to the bishop. If a bishop supports a sinful course of action, we must not become accomplices in his sin. Of course, the sin must be clearly defined as such. An example: the Archbishop of Westminster for many years tacitly supported the so-called Soho Masses for homosexuals during which no mention has been ever made about the absolute need for chastity. This is contrary both to the New Testament teaching and to the Magisterium. The archbishop’s faithful took up this issue with him only to be told to “hold their tongues”. This is a worthy case for disobedience. (Fortunately, this particular mess seems to be ready for a cleanup now…)

  14. Rev. Hans,

    I didn’t have a post on the subject, so I created one.  In a nutshell, the bishops are father figures for us.  When is it acceptable to disagree with your father?  And just as importantly, when you do disagree, how do you go about expressing that disagreement? I get into more of the nitty gritty in today’s post, with examples from real-life instances in which theologians and even Saints have had to confront bishops or popes who were in the wrong.



  15. I think the problem is inherent in confusing our relationship as American citizens to our government with our relationship as members of the Body of Christ to the Bishops. In our political life all power proceeds from the us (the people) – so power runs from the bottom up, so to speak. This means even the highest officer in the land (the President) is responsible to the electorate. Therefore while we owe obedience to the laws (unless they are unjust like the HHS mandate or segregation) we the people as the ultimate source of power have a duty to judge those we choose to place in power over us.

    The situation in the Church is the exact opposite. Power flows from the top down not because it is a “feudal system” (btw feudalism is an economic system not a political one)but because ultimate authority in the Church rests with Christ NOT with we the people. It is Christ who calls men to the office of bishop not lay Catholics that elect them. Therefore we have the duty to obey, not the power to judge those in authority in the Church.

    The fact that Catholics (“liberal” or “conservative”) take it upon themselves to judge how their bishop is doing is as backwards as a child deciding what mom and dad are doing right and wrong. It simply inverts the relationship Christ established for His Church.

    Could any of you imagine the Corinthians judging Paul’s teachings and deciding where he is right and where he was wrong? Or deciding when Paul was in line with the Gospel and when he was out of line with it?

    If the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15) then the Church, not individual members of the laity will correct those who fall out of line with the Gospel. Our job (as Catholics if not as Americans) is to obey those who Christ has put in authority over us and for that we will be held accountable.

  16. mdepie,

    What, specifically, do you disagree with of the four points I listed? And what Scriptural or Patristic support do you provide in support of the disagreement? I certainly acknowledge St. Thomas’ point, but think I covered that in # 2 of the four points that I concluded with.


    I really liked this comment. I think too often in our criticisms of the bishops, we imagine that our pet peeve is the only thing that they’re dealing with, and that the picture is no bigger than what we’re seeing.


    Who is advocating “pretending that a foolish bishop is wise or that an heretical bishop is orthodox”?



  17. Howard,

    Can I ask who is to judge when a bishop is foolish or heretical? The laity? Or the Church (in this case his brother bishops and ultimately the Pope)? The former is the answer of Luther (and every other protestant) the latter of the Church (and faithful Catholics for 2,000 yrs).

  18. When you have someone like Cardinal Wuerl state that he won’t use Canon 915 (and in Washington, D.C. he can make great use of it), in addition to belittling one of his priests who was bushwacked by a lesbian trying for headlines), one can only come to the realization that the bishops only selectively act on issues.

  19. Bob,

    That’s undeniably true. I don’t think that anyone denies that “the the bishops only selectively act on issues.” I also don’t think anyone will defend all of the bishops’ actions or inaction.

    But frankly, that’s neither here nor there. The question is: how should we, as the laity, respond? I think that the answer is: by praying for the bishops, treating them with respect and humility, not tearing them down unnecessarily, by ultimately deferring to them on those issues that are within their scope of authority (and for which they, not we, will be accountable).

    I’m not suggesting that every bishop’s ideas are equally good. And to clarify, I’m not suggesting we cover up the sexual abuse of children either (contra mdepie‘s characterization).

    Perhaps it would be more productive if those people who disagree with the post point to the part that they actually disagree with?



  20. Ah, but there’s the rub. By their inaction (avoidance, etc), they lend credence to the action or inaction underway. The laity, rightly looking to their bishop for guidance, are forced to come to the conclusion that the action/inaction is acceptable. So the next time Pelosi and company spout out their lack of Catholic knowledge in support of secularism and nothing is done, it’s acceptable?

  21. It would seem that if our good Bishops ( i.e. members of the USCCB )restricted themselves to being the pastoral shepherds that they were ordained to be and got out of national politics, we would have fewer problems. For decades the Church has all but aligned itself openly with the Democratic agenda. This in itself has made for a good deal of the discension among the laity who might disagree with this “party of death’s” agenda. It also has contributed perhaps to the disrepect in general that our Bishops are experiencing. The Gospel tell us we cannot serve two master and assumably that applies also to the hierarchy. Someone here rightfully sited the problem with the Bishops contributing to ACORN via the CCHD. There should be no such political alliances made via funds contributed by the laity. We are reaping the mess with the HHS mandate in part because the Bishops got too cozy with the Dems in general and with the current White House in particular. The Notre Dame fiasco is another example of at least poor judgment on the part of the USCCB and certainly openly divided them. Yet, their inactivity during the sex scandal and the obvious attempts to cover up was extremely unhealthy for the future of the Church. I am sure there were many in the laity that at the time thought they should not speak up…and “criticize” their Bishop. The “pay, pray and obey” attitude is gone and will not be returning anytime soon if ever. That kind of good will has all but dried up thanks in no small part to the arrogancy and flippancy of the USCCB. This is a most unfortunate situation for the Church’s hierarchy but it is nothing new, these unhealthy alliances if you study Church history. Only the mercy of God can be depended upon and the patience of the saints amongst us. The city on the shining hill that is/was supposed to influence the culture has dimmed indeed. Difficult to get the “genie” back into the bottle.
    Taking away our pious devotions seems to have been another bad idea on the part of the USCCB.

  22. Thanks for this article. I remain increasingly alarmed at the seeming openly rebellious and even hateful attitude of some Catholics today and am especially discouraged to see it coming from the right an traditional Catholics. I just don’t know how we can have true unity without the bishop. Some say it is doctrine that unites us, but doctrine like Scripture can be interpreted and there can easily be a pick and choose mentality. Ultimately there must be a living authority and a living unifier. At any rate I can tell you I paid dearly for the post you have cited. I see you also are enduring something of a fire storm. I for one however what to tell you that I appreciate your supportive post and hope it will help Catholics everywhere to stop and think about what they are really saying and doing. God bless you.

  23. We cannot have true unity without the bishops acting as bishops. For example, that means that Cardinal Wuerl should be upholding Father Guarnizo, not throwing him under the bus with that disgusting “apology” to appease the gay mafia. By the way – if anyone is enduring a “firestorm”, it’s Father Guarnizo. I’ve seen my share of profanity-laced comments from the gays regarding his situation, so I can just imagine what’s in his email box. And then he’s reprimanded by the chancery? Disgusting beyond belief! Yes, there must be a “living authority”, but he’s got to really live the authority.

  24. Many good points but we are in this mess (among others) because of Catholic leadership over the last 40 plus years. Obey, yes but the faithful is not required to follow a politcal bent maquerading as “teaching”

  25. Was it not St. John Chrysostom who once said ”The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” I will follow and support the pope and all bishops in communion with him. BUT…..the silence of the bishops has create today’s church and it is not pretty. Catholics contracept and divorce at the same rates as non-Catholics, <30% of
    Catholics in the pew believe in the real presence, <25% of Catholics regularly go to mass, confessions are heard in most parishes for 1/2 on Saturday or by appointment, liturgical abuses abound, reverence has disappeared from the NO mass, the music is protestant pop stuff and it never, never, never stops and on and on.

    For the first time in years there is a sign of unity among the bishops with regard to Obama’s Affordable Health Care diktat.

    I’m going to continue to charitably express myself to priests and bishops who seem tone deaf to the pope.

    Why hasn’t Nancy Pelosi been excommunicated? I think the bishops not lay people who are charitably critizing them will have a lot to answer for.

  26. Mr.Heschmeyer
    I would specifically disagree with statement 1 the need to obey the Bishops, unless you are restricting it to mean on those issue in which the teach in union with the other Bishops, and the Pope on issues regarding faith and morals. So if by obeying the Bishops you mean obey the magisterium I would agree, if you mean we must obey all of the prudential political judgements that come from the USCCB I would say this is nonsense. As the Catholic encylopedia states “On the other hand the obligation to obedience to superiors under God admits of limitations. We are not bound to obey a superior in a matter which does not fall within the limits of his preceptive power.” So I would say a good deal of the statements of the Bishops, more precisely the USCCB fall outside the preceptive power of the Bishops, like for example whether we need a to have a federal universal health care system, and there is no moral obligation to obey this injunction. In fact events have played out to show this was a really bad prudential judgement. Again to the extent we are talking about administrative decisions ( should this or that parish get closed) or magisterial statements re principals of the moral law ( we ahve a duty to care for the poor, etc.. I have no argument the Bishops should be obeyed. But there are issues that extend into the secular world and involve prudential judgement about how to achieve various goals. Obedience does not extend to these.

  27. To say that I have frustrations with the clergy is the understatement of the century. I am regularly in confession because I’m tempted to violence. I pray daily for the Cardinals and Bishops but the one thing you guys never seem to get is that this is MY FAITH! The Catholic religion belongs to me every bit as much as it does to you. You do not have any greater claim on it that the rest of us. You do however have a great responsibility to present it free from error because of your priestly vocation. We, the lowly laity, have made great sacrifices to live our faith and send our children to Catholic schools only to have them taught heresy. Now your infidelity to the Gospel is threatening my grandchildren’s souls, their eternal life, enough is enough! I pray that you get your act together so that you never hear these words: “Be gone you workers of iniquity, for I know you not!” Luke 13:27. Wake Up!!

  28. As a general comment, let me just reiterate that yes, the bishops have failed in the past in various ways, and that we can be respectful and obedient without ignoring the real problems that remain, and are worth addressing. By the tone of the comments, I’m not sure I’ve made that point clearly enough.

    If you wait until the bishops are perfect to begin obeying them and treating them as fathers, you’re just never going to obey Heb. 13:17-18. And you, not the bishops, are going to be accountable for that.

    To address specific points:
    Bob: I agree that the bishops could and should do more in certain regards, but attacking the bishops for inaction is easy. No human being has the capacity to address every evil, or even every evil done by self-proclaimed Catholics. Rob’s comment above is good, in that it expresses this well.

    Adele: I don’t think many Democrats today would view the Catholic bishops as in their back pocket. The USCCB played an invaluable role in organizing early opposition to Roe, and has remained a solid force for the pro-life movement.

    And while I understand the need to speak out more vocally on pro-life issues than prudential ones, bishops are responsible for moral instruction of their flock. It’s absolutely appropriate for them to provide their reasoned judgment on moral issues, even ones that are less than black and white. The idea that the bishops are only allowed to talk about black-and-white moral issues is actually more restrictive of their office than what the Obama Administration is trying to do. Those other issues in question are moral as well as political. Consider, for example, John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s statements against the Iraq war. Was that them pandering to the Democrats? Or standing up as Catholic shepherds of souls?

    Restore-DC-Catholicismand Matt: I don’t think we should settle for finger-pointing. We can complain all we want about how well the bishops are acting as bishops, but honestly, how have we been as laity? And Matt, see my point to Adele. You can’t just call all non-life moral issues “political.” That’s a disturbingly secularist view of contemporary moral issues.

    Iowa Mike: A lot of the things you pointed out were moral failings of the laity. It’s something of a cop-out to blame bishops that laypeople are contracepting. Granted, more could be done from the pulpit, but the individuals bear the ultimate responsibility for that sin. And whether the bishop says something on the subject or not, who’s stopping laypeople from being open to life now? To that point, I think blaming the bishops for everything risks giving us an easy exit to our own moral crisis.

    That said, I agree: I’ve also been heartened to see the bishops act more forcefully (and more in unison with one another) than in the past. And no, that quotation from St. John Chrysostom is almost certainly a misquotation, as I learned recently.


  29. Mdepie: The bishops never ask us to obey every prudential political statement that they issue. Look at their voter’s guide, and you’ll see as much. They provide opinion and analysis on certain issues to better inform our conscience and judgment. But to say that the question of access to healthcare is outside their purview as bishops is wrong. For example, Benedict addresses this in Caritas in Veritate, saying:

    “A link has often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres. The link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties.”

    Tom: That bit about temptation to violence was disturbing. Who was that directed at?

    Msgr. Pope: thanks! I have enjoyed following your blog, and the way you can take secular phenomena as teaching moments for the Faith. Stay strong in your proclamation of the Gospel. If nothing else, the above comments show that the flock is hungry, and that solid priests like yourself are much-needed.

    All: God bless!



  30. A few pertinent and helpful quotes:

    “But when Cephas [Peter] was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” (Galatians 2:11)

    “But Peter and the apostles answering, said: We ought to obey God, rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

    ““It is written: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God. Therefore, superiors are not to be obeyed in all things.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, Q. 104, A. 5)

    “There being an imminent danger for the Faith, prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects. Thus, St. Paul, who was a subject of St. Peter, questioned him publicly on account of an imminent danger of scandal in a matter of Faith. And, as the Glossa of St. Augustine puts it (Ad Galatas 2.14), ‘St. Peter himself gave the example to those who govern so that if sometimes they stray from the right way, they will not reject a correction as unworthy even if it comes from their subjects.” (Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, Q. 33, A. 4)

    “Superiors may be admonished by their subordinates in all humility and charity so that truth may be defended: this is the basis (Galatians 2, 11) on which St. Augustine, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory, St. Thomas and many others who are quoted support this opinion. They teach quite unequivocally that St. Peter, although superior in authority to St. Paul, was admonished by him. St. Gregory rightly states that, “Peter remained silent so that, being first in the hierarchy of the Apostles, he might equally be first in humility.” St. Augustine writes, “By showing that superiors admit that they may be rebuked by their subordinates, St. Peter gave posterity an example of saintliness more noteworthy than that given by St. Paul, although the latter showed, nonetheless, that it is possible for subordinates to have the boldness to resist their superiors without fear, when in all charity they speak out in the defence of truth.”“ (Cornelius a Lapide, Commentary Ad Gal., II, 11.)

    So, contrary to Nathan’s erroneous statement above, the justified disobedience is not a “Protestant thing”…

  31. One last try… The problem is this, some of the precepts of the Bishops can be shown to harm the goals they seek to advance. SO lets take health care. If there was a large body of evidence that demonstrated that government guaranteed and controlled health care resulted in rationed health care of lower quality that health care that was left to private individuals, and a private insurance market what is the individual to do? Side with the Bishops and harm the common good? I frankly know that I know a lot more about health care than Pope Benedict. I am a specialist in this area and he is not. Imagine it like this, suppose I am a heart surgeon. Could the Pope give useful advice regarding whether the best treatment for a patients coronary artery disease is a stent or a coronary artery bypass? Now I hope its obvious that the Pope might tell me to be conscientious and to do my best for the patient, but the technical questions of how to do that would of its nature be left to me. Why do you suppose questions of economic policy are intrinsically different? I would also say they require technical specialized knowledge that the Pope simply does not have. In fact the Bishops manifestly do not have it since obeying them would have hurt the poor. The American Bishops vehemently opposed welfare reform in the late 90s under Clinton, it passed and everyone agrees that the effects were overwhelmingly positive, fewer people in poverty, more people at work and the abortion rate even went down. I would argue that the facts are if you really hate the poor and wish to further grind them into poverty then obey the USCCB economic policy directives. They are frequently and demonstrably incorrect. The problem you are not recognizing is that the Bishops can call us to concern for the poor as a general principal but have no more ability to call for certain political- economic solutions that they have telling a heart surgeon what technique to use. Of course if the state was to attempt something obviously intrinsically evil ( we are going to pass laws allowing people to defraud the poor or some such thing, the Bishops should step in rightfully so, but I do not get the sense this is what you mean

  32. Joe – please, the Bishops have been focusing on politics and not on Cathechesis for well over a generation. My view is the Faithful view rather than the secular view. The Bishops have been playing footsie with the US Gov. for decades and now they are paying the price, at the expense of the laity.

    Henry Hyde- “the USCCB is the prayer wing of the Democratic party”

    Me secular? The Bishops are the ones behaving secular, trusting government to take care of all the problems while telling the laity to “follow us” we know what we are doing. Don’t’ kids yourself, this is a money trail associated with it and the Bishops apparently want some too.

    We have a generation who don’t know their Faith. Who came we blame for that? Do you remember “feed my sheep”. Real renewal usually comes at the hands of the laity rather than the leadership anyway. Let’s get started.

  33. To whom did Jesus say we owe our allegience? Did He not say “Render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar..and to God what belongs to God “? And to whom was He talking at the time? It was not the average Jew-in-the pew He was calling out for their hypocrisy!
    Most conservative Catholics I know plege allegience to the Pope and the Magisterium, first and foremost. Next in line comes their ordinary Bishop followed by their Pastor.
    The USCCB is a modern-day organization that came into existence after the fallout from Vatican II. Remember collegiality? However lofty the original purpose it became mostly a political body which, until this current dust-up with Obama, continued the historic alliance of the American hierachy with the Democratic agenda. Even before the USCCB you can go back as far as 1919 ( The Bishops Plan of 1919) and see this strong alliance between the American hierarch and the Democratic Party. If you need proof of this,look at the writings of Pope Leo XIII’s warnings about what he called Americanism and his thinking on the Church, the hierarchy,the laity and American politics.
    Everyday some committee within the USCCB cranks out a position paper on some political issue further supporting the idea that this group is mostly politics-in-action and less about shepherding the flock spiritually. This is so off-putting to large numbers of Catholics that when the USCCB does issue a pastoral message it goes mostly unheeded.
    Many faithful Catholics are also turned off by the Bishops who seem totally ineffective when dealing with those “Catholic” politicians under their spiritual care who give bad example and cause much mayhem. e.g. the late Senator Ted Kennedy is a classic example.
    We do have some very outstanding Bishops who individually exhibit strong and devout leadership. Some are well known but not all. They have earned our respect..and obedience in these troubling times for the Church.
    I am sure it is humbling for the Bishops to feel they need to “earn” respect today and alarming to them when they do not always receive it,especially from some of “their own”. Since the aftermath of Vatican II or rather since the implementation of the “Spirit of Vatican II” the hierarchy lost much credibility. Add to that the clergy sex scandal and it became almost too much to expect the average Catholic in the pew to continue to “pay, pray and obey”!
    HOWEVER to take to task faithful Catholics who remain loyal to the Pope and the Magisterium but who refuse to support wholeheartedly the political undertakings of the USCCB by calling them (THE FAITHFUL)disloyal and disrespectful is unwise and not helpful…certainly not a compassionate understanding of where all this has left those who wish to remain true to the Faith but feel betrayed and disrespected themselves.
    Obedience to the USCCB organization is not only not required by the faithful, in some circumstances it would seem un-Christian to encourage them Especially regarding the overly biased political stances taken over the last many years.
    To say that the Bishops fought agressively as a united front against Roe V Wade is to mis-read the history. Again, Senator Kennedy, the leading Catholic politician at the time could have been “persuaded” to fight against this atrocity but he was not. Due to this lack of discipline by the hierarchy he became emboldened to pursue his liberal left political ends unchallenged and this heinous bill became the law of the land. Just as further example, how many Bishops do we see on the front lines of the March for Life each January? Alas many have political reasons for not appearing.
    Now we have a chance to come together and save not only our Church but our country. Let’s stop the “I don’t get any respect” war and pray for an effective hierarchy…together!

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