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The Authority Of Bishops… Can A Catholic Resist A Wrong Teaching Of His Bishop?

December 2, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 2

In this article, I specifically address Catholic priests who have the duty to work for the salvation of their parishioners.
Suppose that your bishop gives permission to give Communion to people living in adultery, in the context of the ambiguities brought about by Amoris Laetitia. You know that this is forbidden by nearly 2,000 years of consistent Church teaching, from chapter 11 of St. Paul to the Corinthians II, to Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II and Sacramentum Caritatis of Benedict XVI, and even canon 195 of the Code of Canon Law.
Therefore, your well-informed conscience tells you not to give Communion to people living in adultery. Question: Are you obliged to go against that same well-informed conscience in order to obey your bishop? Or do you have the right to resist your bishop’s instruction? In plain English, can you question or even oppose your bishop to follow God’s law?
Let us see what the great Catholic theologians have to say about it. I will quote from five of the best, two Dominicans and three Jesuits.
The first one is the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. He teaches:
“There being an imminent danger for the Faith, Bishops 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 St. Augustine teaches, ‘St. Peter himself gave the example to those who govern, so that if sometime they stray from the right way, they will not reject a correction as unworthy, even if it comes from their subjects’” — Summa Theologiae (Turin/Rome: Marietti), 1948, II. II, q. 33, a. 4.
Yes, St. Thomas affirms that the faithful have the right and the duty to resist teachings that contradict the previous Magisterium.
Still on the same instance when St. Paul resisted St. Peter “to his face,” St. Thomas teaches:
“The reprehension was just and useful, and the reason for it was not trivial: there was a danger for the preservation of evangelical truth….The way it took place was appropriate, since it was public and open. For this reason, St. Paul writes: ‘I spoke to Cephas,’ that is, Peter, ‘before everyone,’ since the simulation practiced by St. Peter was fraught with danger to everyone” — Super Epistulas S. Pauli, Ad Galatas, 2, 11-14, (Taurini/Rome: Marietti, 1953), lec. III, nn. 83-84.
The Angelic Doctor also shows how this passage of the Scriptures contains teachings not only for bishops, but for the faithful as well:
“To the Bishops an example of humility was given so that they do not refuse to accept corrections from their inferiors and subjects; and to the subjects, an example of zeal and liberty, so they will not fear to correct their Bishops, above all when the crime is public and entails a danger for many” (Ibid., n. 77).
Elsewhere, St. Thomas teaches that it is a work of mercy to respectfully correct a bishop who sins: “Eccl. 17:12 says that God ‘imposed on each one duties toward his neighbor.’ Now, a Bishop is our neighbor. Therefore, we must correct him when he sins….
“Some say that fraternal correction does not extend to Bishops either because a man should not raise his voice against Heaven, or because Bishops are easily scandalized if corrected by their subjects.
“However, this is not the case here, since when the Bishops sin, they do not represent Heaven and, therefore, must be corrected. And those who correct them charitably, do not raise their voices against them, but in their favor, since the admonishment is for their own sake….For this reason…the precept of fraternal correction extends also to Bishops, so that they may be corrected by their subjects” — IV Sententiarum, d. 19, q. 2, a. 2.
OK, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that we may and sometimes must resist a wrong decision or teaching of the local Bishop(s). The great St. Thomas More did just that, and today he is known as one of the greatest English Saints, who died for his fidelity to God’s Law against adultery. He also followed the example of the holiest of men, St. John the Baptist.
But the Pope is also a bishop, isn’t he? The Bishop of the Diocese of Rome. Can a faithful Catholic also resist a wrong decision by the Pope? Take, for example, the case, in the eighth century, on account of the ambiguous attitudes of Pope Honorius I in the face of the heresy of monothelitism; in the twelfth century, when Paschal II weakened in relation to the question of investiture; in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries due to the scandals of Alexander VI. Could a faithful Catholic oppose those Popes who did wrong?
The answer is a simple yes. Another great theologian, the Dominican Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, OP, asks these questions: “What should be done when the Pope, because of his bad customs, destroys the Church? What should be done if the Pope wanted without reason to abrogate Positive Law?”
His answer is: “He would certainly sin; he should neither be permitted to act in such fashion nor be obeyed in what was evil; but he should be resisted with a courteous reprehension. Consequently…if the Pope wanted to destroy the Church or the like, he should not be permitted to act in that fashion, but one would be obliged to resist him.
“The reason for this is that he [the Pope] does not have the power to destroy. Therefore, if there is evidence that he is doing so, it is lawful to resist him. The result is, that if the Pope destroys the Church by his commands and actions, he can be resisted and the execution of his commands prevented” — Obras de Francisco de Vitoria (Madrid: BAC, 1960), pp. 486f.
Another great theologian, a Jesuit this time, Fr. Francisco Suarez, SJ, also defends this teaching: “If [the Pope] gives an order contrary to good customs, he should not be obeyed. If he attempts to do something manifestly opposed to justice and the common good, it would be lawful to resist him. If he attacks by force, he could be repelled by force, with the moderation appropriate to a just defense” — De Fide, disp. X, sec. VI, n. 16, in Opera omnia (Paris: Vivès, 1958), volume XII, in Xavier da Silveira, La nouvelle Messe de Paul VI: Qu’en penser? (Chiré-en-Montreuil: Diffusion de la Pensée Française, 1975), pp. 323f.
Another great Jesuit, St. Robert Bellarmine, a doctor of the Church, the outstanding paladin of the Counter Reformation, teaches: “Just as it is lawful to resist a Pontiff that attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist one who attacks the soul or who disturbs civil order or, above all, one who attempts to destroy the Church.
“I say that it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he commands and preventing his will from being executed. It is not lawful, however, to judge, punish, or depose him, since these are actions proper to a superior” — De Romano Pontifice, lib. II, chapter 29, in Opera omnia (Naples/Panormi/Paris: Pedone Lauriel), 1871, volume I, p. 418.
A third great Jesuit, Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, SJ, not a canonized saint but a master scholar on Sacred Scripture, teaches that: “Superiors can, with humble charity, be admonished by their inferiors in the defense of truth; that is what St. Augustine, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory, St. Thomas, and others declare about this passage (Gal. 2:11)” — Commentaria in Scripturam Sacram, Ad Galatas 2:11 (Paris: Ludovicus Vivès, 1876), volume 18, p. 528.
Next article: Does resistance to a wrong decision of the Pope go against papal infallibility?

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www. RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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Fr. James Schall passed away today. A Jesuit priest & Georgetown professor, he served as mentor & model to a numberless many (including me). With penetrating insight & wit, he pointed us to Christ & those great Catholic minds we mustn't forget.

Fr. Schall, requiescat in pace.

Please pray for Raymond DeSousa today, who is a weekly Wanderer columnist who is undergoing serious surgery today.

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