Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I find a growing discussion among serious Catholics on the orthodoxy of their spiritual leaders and of fellow Catholics. While I think this discussion is good and necessary, I believe for some it has taken a place of predominance. A certain scrupulosity has developed beyond correct belief and action into a sort of obsession which threatens to overshadow the true purpose of our spritual lives.

One concrete way in which this happens is by the constant questioning of our religious authorities (namely the priests and bishops) and their motives. I think sometimes we must place obedience above our own display of piety.

It's difficult to draw a line to say people can question this, but not that. However, I would like to offer some of my personal guidelines, while keeping in mind I claim no authority on this matter.

I think if it gets to the point where the main discussion after Mass are the possible violations of the rubrics, there may be an issue. I know some strict Catholics whose ONLY topic of discussion are lay and religious who have violated some rule or regulation.

Obviously, it is important to notice these things and to take steps to avoid them, but when our entire religious discussion is on that topic, it's problematic.

Also, there is a tendency to question the teachings of priests and bishops. While this is good in moderation, it can easily turn into a full time career. It gets to the point where not only do people look for mistakes, they look for "sins of omission". e.g. the priest's homily was morally sound, but he did not have strong enough language about this or that.

Often, bishops are criticized because they do not eliminate every bad apple from the entire faith community of that area. Anything short of 100% orthodoxy from every person is considered a failure of the bishop.

My basic point is that while noticing abuses is a good thing, we cannot place ourselves above the priests and bishops. They do have spiritual authority over us and we must sometimes put our own concerns and opinions second. We cannot make ourselves the lawmaker of the Church. We must humbly submit ourselves to authority, just as priests do for the bishop.

Having said that, we are members of the Church and have the duty to notice grave abuses in order that God is not sacrileged.

So let's practice caution. We are not teachers entering into a Church to evaluate everyone's performance. We are penitents who are striving to do our best to obey God's will, and we must do this with humility and respect.


  1. Hello,

    Perhaps we are in disagreement, perhaps not.
    In reading this article I found no real reason answering the question of "why?" why we shouldn't question so many things.
    I offer Romans 13:1 paraphrased and the following as a possible addition.
    "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

    Given that the papal system claims the title of the church established by christ - they would therefor be God's earthly authority figures.

    I don't think that excludes questioning, just submission to God as we also see in scripture that God wants us to seek him and know him. Like children we can question why we do things or what certain things are of our parents, thus as children of God we can also inquire to the reasons and deeper reason why we practice exactly as we do.
    Even the most persistent questioning is not dissent and there is absolutely nothing problematic about desiring to learn God's truth.

    We've all heard the quote by Dr. Timothy Leary "question authority", but many others have said likewise such as Buddha, Dalai Lama, Thomas Jefferson, Gandhi, Galileo, Confusious, Socrates, Plato, etc.
    In studying each you'll find some are encouraging questioning of tradition, but not advocating abandonment of it, while others are more anarchistic in their statements.
    We can also spin the phrase "question authority" differently too and make it rather "ask authority questions".
    Either way we, our questioning should be about seeking truth, and as you said not simply about condemning or judging authorities such as priests and bishops in order to discredit their authoritative position.

    With all that said, we can also validate through questioning as well. For example the Roman Catholic church and papal system claims authority as the Christ's church (see below for references opposing). We can also question and validate or discredit claims of authority as well. Ultimately we seek God and must discern false prophets or error in claims. The sun revolves around the earth - Galileo and others were condemned by the church and thankfully the church has progressed beyond condemnation of scientific questioning of matters not directly related to its core beliefs. The vatican is alongside the scientific community at the forefront of science and questions about God's creation. In that respect so can we can pose questions to and about leaders on all matters concerning doctrine, dogma, practices and claims of authority.

    There are historical references and evidence that may or may not someday prove the authoritative position the Roman Catholic Church claims thru the papal system. That the Roman Catholic church is not the first church set in place by christ but rather a schism of predating catholicism. The difference between the 2 being the term "Roman". Many questions remain on the factual historical establishment of the Roman Catholic Church as presented in articles pertaining to the history of catholic schisms, nestorian christians and the dead sea scrolls.
    If in my lifetime the Roman Catholic Church is proven to have been NOT the original but a schism, surely there will be an uproar and even many in denial. This should not however be feared. Doctrine is not infalliable - original dogma is not directly affected.

    Do you ever comment on comments?

  2. Great post Phil! Probably your best yet. I believe what he is trying to say is that if you go to Mass to celebrate the Eucharist, than irregardless of what violations of the rubric occurred, the ultimate goal was still achieved. I agree that periodic questioning is helpful, but when we get to the core of our faith it is the Sacraments and if the Church is offering these to us, even if there are mistakes made, we should be thankful for the Signs of God they provide us.

  3. Hi J. Merrick. Not to be insulting, but are you related to the Elephant man? (His name was John Merrick)

    I will answer your questions in a separate blog post because I have written a lot. Thanks for the question. The responses will be posted momentarily.

  4. Correction: The Elephant Man's name was Joseph Merrick, not John.

    And to the other commenter, thanks for your encouraging words!