Thoughts on “Disobedient Priests”

April 7, 2012 at 08:50 7 comments

It disturbs me that the Holy Father spoke out against “disobedient priests” who are simply trying to get the hierarchy to address what pastors on the ground see as major problems: e.g., diminishing number of priests available to Eucharistic pastoral service in parishes; not allowing folks married outside the church to share in Eucharist; denial of ordained priesthood to women; not allowing “inactive” priests to serve in parishes; mandatory, as opposed to optional, celibacy. He seems to think that he alone has the power and authority to think, and any who do not agree with him are disobedient and therefore, wrong.

In his homily he said, “Christ himself corrected human traditions which threatened to stifle the word and the will of God; indeed he did, so as to rekindle obedience to the true will of God, to his ever enduring word; His concern was for true obedience, as opposed to human caprice”. It seems to me that priests who question these Church practices are doing so because they feel these practices are stifling the word and will of God. They try to serve their folks pastorally, and are aware of the pain and suffering the institutional Church inflicts on good folks who for any number of reasons run afoul of Church practices. Sometimes marriages fail, and if the circumstances of a marriage do not fit into the neat canonical categories that would allow an annulment, Church practice does not allow the folks involved to share fully in Eucharist. By caring for their people these priests are judged to be acting in human caprice. Men who sit in palaces and offices know more about the human condition than pastors who are with their people day in and day out.

These priests do what they have to do to get the attention of the hierarchy, at least on the local level? Trying to convince anyone in the Vatican about these needs is just about impossible. If there are those who would agree with, they do not seem to be saying much. Perhaps they fear losing their status. When loyalty to an ideal is more important than serving God’s people, perhaps it is time for some serious questioning. Jesus said, “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. Operationally these days it is more that “man is made to serve the hierarchy (or the Vatican), the hierarchy (or the Vatican) is not made to serve man”. Ordinary people exist to serve theological principles and propositional truths. They are not allowed to think for themselves, because they can’t possibly know anything.

When it comes to the diminishing number of priests, the church leaders, such as they are, will not themselves have to face the shortage of priests, because folks of their age will be dead soon. Those who come after them will have to pay for their decisions. There is, therefore, no need for personal involvement on the part of leadership. All they have to do is issue edicts and condemn any who would disagree, as they are now doing. As we used to say, “no skin off their nose”.

It would seem that church leadership is in the business of thought control, determining what we are allowed to think about and exactly how we can think about it, and therefore what we are not allowed to think about. There is only one way to think about approved topics, and that is their way. Topics that are not approved cannot be thought about, or else. Any contravention of these principles is labeled disobedience or human caprice. We have yet to hear what the “or else” is, although the Church has a history of inquisitions. Recent treatment of authors who do not follow the party line or do not use only the approved terminology suggests some possibilities.

Since there does not seem to be any way to get the attention of the current administration and staff in Rome, priests have to try to get the attention of the local bishops. In many dioceses there is no possibility. The bishops have drunk the kool aid. There is no discussion. Civil disobedience has a powerful history not only in our own country with Dr King, but also in other places, such as with Gandhi. It works. It is honorable.

We are all called to be obedient to God. Obedience to God is not necessarily the same as obedience to the church. In fact, often the way the Church treats folks does not seem to have much to do with God at all, only with protecting and maintaining its own power and structure. So it has been through its history. Obedience to God involves our prayerful listening to Jesus as we spend time with him in prayer, and try to live as best we can open to what he calls us to. It is quite possible that he might call us to what Church authorities do not like. This has happened before in the Church’s history.

Often these days Church “leadership” gives the impression of power for its own sake. One wonders how this squares with Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man came to serve, not to be served”. In the Gospel Story of the Last Supper, it is mentioned that Jesus took off his outer garments and put on an apron, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. It said nothing about him taking off his chasuble, ring, or miter, or laying aside his crosier, or stepping down from his throne. Hmm . . .

In many countries these days, certainly in our own, the priests are worn out trying to serve the folks. They also depend on their bishop for a lot. Some bishops are very good pastors to their priests. Many are not. The public perception of bishops’ conferences is not all that great, especially our own. Yet all this is in the name of Jesus, or so we are told. In the Gospels Jesus did not treat the folks they way the institutional Church is treating them now. He drove no one away, did not threaten, and cared for his closest disciples. There does not seem to be much of this in the institutional Church today. Believing the right ideas, following the laws, obeying the whims of the hierarchy seem to be all that matters. It might seem that the Gospels do not apply to church leadership.

For many of us the only real Church is the folks who are, or who used to be, in the pews. The hierarchy, both local and beyond, has become a useless irrelevancy, often a frustrating embarrassment. Jesus came among the folks of his day in love. The Church these days comes with threats and petulance, sowing fear and demanding compliance. The bishops see themselves as the only ones who matter. The laity and the ordinary priests are incapable of any constructive thought. The hierarchy issues the edicts, and the rest of us are expected to comply. Or else.

With all this that is going on, the “Disobedient Priests” really is a badge of honor. They deserve thanks and support, not condemnation. Far from human caprice, they are acting in what they see as obedience to God and care for his people.


Entry filed under: Catholic, Church Leadership, Current Church, Disobedient priests, Forbidden topics, Gospel thoughts, Priest. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Thoughts on Easter 2012 More Thoughts on “Disobedient Priests”

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John W. Greenleaf  |  April 7, 2012 at 09:46

    I find it very strange and disconcerting that the Pope scolds good priests for saying what we all know must be said; and he ignores the immoral priests and bishops who continue to condone the sexual abuse of children and teenagers as well as the sexual use and abuse of women (often women religious) by priests in African countries and elsewhere.

    To say that women cannot be ordained is sheer nonesence. Our Pope is becoming more and more an ignorant and arrogant old bully.

    Happy Easter!


  • 2. John  |  April 7, 2012 at 10:22

    Good Thoughts. And rather well said for a broken down Army chaplain..

  • 3. Bert Rodriguez  |  April 9, 2012 at 23:57

    Are the seeds of Civil Disobedience against the stodgy narrow minded church practices being sewn? Count me in. How soon should I bring my watering can and a ton of fertilizer?

  • 4. Jim Dubik  |  April 11, 2012 at 10:10

    Disagreement is not disrespect. Any organization that does not have a method for internal debate and discussion forces its members to go underground, go public, or just go.

    Sad state for our Church.

  • 5. Karl  |  April 11, 2012 at 11:28

    I am deeply offended by your comments, not scandalized as I understand it because you will not give cause to me sin as a result of my reading what you have written. Nor will I attempt to “fisk” your comments due to time constraints as well as believing that my comments would not lead you to see things differently.

    Do not, however, find any comfort in thinking that the person writing to you is a “Kool Aid” drinking lock-step sychophantic follower of the man and the hierarchy you have so publically called to task.

    I am far from that with my own many personal “experiences” with clergy of all levels that have left me wondering what circumstances in their lives have
    left them in such states that they believe and behave, as I have seen them.

    I am sorry for you and those you may have influence upon.


    • 6. john  |  April 11, 2012 at 16:22

      Huh? Took a long time and lots of words to say nothing

    • 7. phrogge  |  April 11, 2012 at 18:37

      Karl, being offended is your constitutionally guaranteed personal choice. I’m glad I was able to help you exercise your rights.


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