Obedience and the Priest

This past Sunday I preached about faith, and where your faith lies. Dies it lie with the Institutional Church or with Jesus Christ? This is the question each of us needs to ask ourselves.

The past few weeks have seen another flare up in the Roman Catholic Church clergy abuse situation. Who knew what and who did what and what not. Once again we see the media thrashing the church, but as I told my congregation on Sunday, the media is not about telling the truth the media is about profit. The media is about whatever will sell papers or get you to tune in and watch. That’s their job. Like it or not the days of true journalistic ethics is gone. If it bleeds it leads!

Yesterday the Boston Globe ran a story about Fr. James Scahill priest at St. Michael Roman Catholic Church in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. During his Sunday homily Fr. James called for the resignation of Pope Benedict. I am not going way into the fray here on weather he should or should not resign. I will say they need a better media strategy but that is for another day. The interesting this about the story yesterday, and the follow up story today, is people are mad at Fr. James for telling the truth. This is where the title of this post comes in.

In the comments section on Facebook where I posted this story, someone brought up the question of priestly obedience and the vows they make at their ordination. At the ordination of a priest in the Roman Church, they place their hand in the hands of the bishop, look into their eye and promise obedience to that bishops and their successors. We Orthodox do not make such a vow, if face we make no vows at our ordination. I always say they are implied. Sort of the fine print in the contract.

But what does this obedience mean?

When I was in the seminary, at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. That’s the Roman Catholic Seminary of the Archdiocese of Boston, I was there when the scandal broke wide open in Boston. At first it looked like it was a few cases but as time went on the true horror of the entire thing came out. Not to diminish the effects of sexual abuse, but to me the large scandal was the cover up. Moving priests from place to place. The stone walling of local authorities trying to investigate crimes that had been committed and using legal tactics that could only have been learned at the Bill Clinton School of Law. “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.

As time went on, a group of 50 priests signed a letter calling for the resignation of then Archbishop Law of Boston. Almost immediately, the church machine went into action and started to leak stories about each priest that signed the letter and one by one they started to lose position in the church. There are many stories of priests who spoke out, or tried to speak out, before, during, and after all of this and how they were thrown on the pile. It is amazing how fast a priest who speaks out is dispatched but one who rapes is not. Makes one think.

So what about obedience?

My personal feeling is that this vow of obedience is not blind obedience. What if the bishop went off the reservation so to speak and started preaching and teaching things against the faith? Would a priest have to be obedient and follow his instructions? Where does ones obedience to man end and your obedience to the church or better yet your obedience to Jesus Christ begin?

I have said this before. Our job as preachers and teachers is to speak the truth and speak for those who have no voice. This will not make up popular, but then again we are not supposed to be popular. Being a Christian is not easy, and leading a Christian community is not easy either.

There is an old saying in the Orthodox world that goes something like this. You take man, dress his up like a Byzantine Emperor, place him in the center of the Church, and sing that he lives for ever, no wonder it goes to their heads. This saying has to do with Bishops.

We need more brave priests and lay people who will speak out when they see things that are wrong. However, one also has to understand that the Church does not run by polls and doctrine is not changed because of the latest fad. The message of the church is eternal and should never change. The way we speak about it needs to change, but the message should remain the same. The church does not need to change because society demands it, no the church needs to change society. Those churches that have watered down their theology, and never speak about sin, the Devil, or hell, are going the way of to Doto bird. We need to speak the truth in a loud and clear voice.

My advice to Rome, of they are willing to hear it. Open wide the doors and clean house. If there is a priest, bishop, Pope or whatever that has molested, covered it up, or anything else they need to be gone. Not tomorrow but today! They need to be turned over to the local authorities and all of their records need to be given to the authorities as well. This needs to be done now!

It is not blind obedience, and if it is blind obedience then that obedience needs to be only to the teachings of Jesus Christ and not another man or to an institutional church.


  1. I'm not sure what child molesting as to do with obedience.
    I guess things to me come easy its either right or wrong and no excuse is a good one when you molest a child.
    Its to bad the media had to bring this up during holy week and easter.
    Seems they don't know much about the Catholic church if they think a pope can just resign.
    God is the head of the church priest and clergy are men who are asked to be Jesus like and pass his word.
    No one can be Jesus there is only one of him just as there is only one of each of us.
    There are all kinds of sick people in the world trying to spread the word of God for their own end,just look at Jim Jones.
    Its to bad because people like this do a great deal of harm to religion and cause people to turn away.

  2. Linda,

    You are right this has nothing to do with obedience it is the quesiton of speaking out.

    Actually according to Canon law the Pope can resign. has it been done, no, but it can happen.

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!