Friday, August 23, 2013


The accusation by a certain FB "friend" that those who oppose the removal of Fr. Gofigan as pastor of Santa Barbara Parish (and also his removal as Director of Vocations and Director of Diaconate Formation) are being "disobedient" to the Archbishop, has provoked several responses. I am copying one of those responses below with the permission of the author who wishes to remain anonymous.


What does obedience mean? Does it mean to obey even if the directive of a priest, bishop, or superior is wrong? If a bishop tells a priest to take this woman(the priest is the confessor) and abort her child(the bishop is the father), should the priest obey? How about if a bishop tells a priest to steal divert money from his parish and give it to him? What if a priest discovers that a bishop has abused a child and the bishop orders him to not disclose this fact to anyone? These are extreme examples I know(or are they really?), but they illustrate that obedience cannot be blind on the assumption that God will not allow a bishop to err. God will allow it as he allowed Adam and Eve to err. 

The second reading of the Office of the Readings on August 15th states in part:

“God, who is all-knowing and all-wise, knows best what we should do to increase his glory. Through his representatives on earth he continually reveals his will to us; thus it is obedience and obedience alone that is the sure sign to us of the divine will. A superior may, it is true, make a mistake; but it is impossible for us to be mistaken in obeying a superior’s command. The only exception to this rule is the case of a superior commanding something that in even the slightest way would contravene God’s law. Such a superior would not be conveying God’s will.”

It is clear that “Only the doctrines and teachings of the Church are to be our sole guide and rule of our faith.” So, when a bishop knowingly violates Canon Law, which is based on the doctrines and teachings of the Church, should a priest be obedient still despite the bishop’s crime?

The Code of Canon Law is the codification of the policies and process established by the Church over two thousand years. It was codified in 1917 and revised in 1983. It governs the actions and administration of the Church, from bishop and down. It was constituted on the “doctrines and teachings of the Church.” Every canon reflects the wisdom and experience of the Church. To violate a canon is a crime under Church law. The Church, in its wisdom and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, codified a section on the removal of pastors as well as how a decree of removal is to be issued, all of this are to be strictly followed.  The commentaries clearly state that these canons were promulgated not only to prevent a bishop from abusing its authority(and therefore in violation of the very oath it took to protect and shepherd his flock), but to give priests and subordinates the opportunity and right to defend themselves and to report said abuses to a hierarchical superior.

Yes, we could say that a priest should be obedient and suffer the ignominies and injustices of false allegations and unjust sanctions by a bishop, but how does that fulfill God’s will if the bishop’s actions clearly violates Church laws and teachings? It may be good for the bishop, but I think not for the priest and the Church. In the history of the Church, heresies promulgated by bishops were challenged and defeated by priests who later became saints and even Doctors of the Church. To not fight evil and to allow it to happen is worse than if you were the perpetrator of the evil deed itself. If priests had spoken up (they looked or were told to look the other way) about the sexual abuses going on around them, and on the subsequent cover-ups perpetrated by their bishops and cardinals (e.g. Cardinals Law and Mahoney), the lives of many young boys and their families would not have been destroyed. Yes, God allowed it to happen, as he has allowed any of us, including bishops, to do evil, but God will never condone it. God never condones evil or sin, and I think that when we see evil or sin being perpetrated, it is incumbent upon us as Christians not to be obedient.  

Should Fr. Paul have simply acceded to the demand of the Archbishop to resign knowing full well that the demand of the Archbishop was not only unjustified but illegal under Church law? Should a priest be disobedient if instructed to stay quiet, or look the other way, of a bishop sexually abusing a minor? Or, if that bishop is violating Church law? I think blind obedience does not fulfill God’s will but destroys it.

Fr. Paul Gofigan spoke the truth, and if the truth humiliates the archbishop, then so be it. The truth should never be denied, and no archbishop stands above the truth because the truth is God. Jesus spoke the truth and he was crucified because of it.  The truth cleanses and perhaps the Gofigan affair will help cleanse the Church in Guam.

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