Here's the part about Archbishop LeFebvre having the right to dis-obey the Vatican. When Obedience is Sinful
"All too often we hear people say "You must obey. Your bishop is your superior, you must obey him."
If you look in any of the approved manuals of moral theology, you will find in Prummer, Merkelbach and all the others, what is called the "sin of indiscreet obedience". Sometimes obedience is not a virtue. This is the Catholic moral doctrine. Sometimes it is a sin to obey. If in a poor family, for example, a father commands his daughter to sell her body in prostitution, she is obligated by the law of God to resist and to disobey her legitimate superior, her father.
And if a bishop commands a priest to violate the civil and ecclesiastical law, it is impossible for him to obey. Because if he obeys, he commits a sin. That is Catholic moral teaching. We must have a Catholic understanding of obedience. When Archbishop Lefebvre was commanded by his bishop to close down his seminary, his objection was: the command is illegally, canonically null and void. It’s as plain as the light of day. And he quoted the canon, he quoted the law of the Church which said that for such an institution as his, only Rome, only the Vatican — that is, the competent authority in Rome — had the power to issue a decree suppressing the seminary.
But the Vatican balked at doing that. They refused to issue that command. They delegated the authority, but they did not have the power to delegate that authority because it was specified by the law itself that the higher Roman authority was the only one that could give this order. So the order was illegal, it was invalid. Archbishop Lefebvre had every right before God and before man to disobey, because it was an unlawful command.
What was the local bishop’s answer? It’s an answer that I will never forget. Archbishop Lefebvre quoted it. He explained what the local bishop said to him: "Obedience, obedience, obedience! The council, the council, the council!" This is mindless.
So often whenever a priest resists an abuse of power of a superior, people who lack understanding will say "but Father, the Church is not a democracy. You must obey your superiors because the Church is a hierarchy. You are the subject, your bishop is your superior, you must obey."
What these people do not understand is that those who resist unlawful orders have no illusions about the Church being a democracy. It is not a democratic principle, it is a point of law. It is certainly true that the Church is not a democracy, but at the same time, the Church is not a dictatorship. The Church is indeed a hierarchy, which, therefore, the Church is governed by laws according to the principle of subsidiarity.
In a properly ordered hierarchy you have supreme authority. And in the Roman Catholic Church the Supreme Pontiff, the Roman Pontiff, has the plenitudo potestatis, the fullness of power. He does not have absolute power but he has the supreme power on earth, universal jurisdiction over the entire Church and over every individual soul. He delegates authority to those who are under him. Those he promotes to the rank of bishop, he assigns them their proper jurisdiction. And under the bishops, the priests are assigned their canonical mission and they are given their proper jurisdiction. And according to the laws, from the laws regarding the powers, responsibilities, rights, and prerogatives of the highest authority or the lowest curate, parochial assistants, lay persons, all have rights defined and established by law.
Each one has his own proper sphere of authority and responsibility and is to exercise his responsibilities and authority in accordance with the law of the Church and the moral doctrine of Jesus Christ our Lord. If they step beyond the boundaries of either of these, they abuse their authority, they exceed their authority, and they have no power to command what is beyond the limitations of their authority. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that one is not obligated to obey if one is not subject to the law, and one would not be subject to the law if one is not under the jurisdiction of that legislator or if the law or precept is beyond the authority of that lawgiver.
If Father Gruner, for example, as he is incardinated in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, is pronounced suspended by the Bishop of Avellino, who is not his bishop — Father Gruner is not a subject of the Bishop of Avellino — he is not subject to obey that law because the Bishop of Avellino has no jurisdiction over Father Gruner.
If the Cardinal Archbishop of New York City were to command Father Gruner to take up residence in the city of New York, where he has his jurisdiction, Father Gruner’s answer would be "but Your Eminence, you have no jurisdiction over me. I don’t belong to your diocese, I don’t have to obey you. I obey my bishop."
St. Thomas Aquinas explains that you do not have to obey commands or persons to whom you are not subject. There are limitations to obedience. They are limited by the boundaries and definitions of authority in accordance to that principle of subsidiarity. Those who are under the ecclesiastical governance of the Roman Pontiff are assigned their limited sphere of authority. And under them, there are those who have further limited authority. But each one must govern according to that degree of power that is given to them, which is rooted in the power given by Christ Himself.
Here we have the Catholic understanding of obedience. It is something limited. Dictatorship is something entirely different. The Church is a divine institution constituted as a perfect society. The Church, therefore, is not a dictatorship but is properly governed according to Catholic moral doctrine and ecclesiastical law. According to Church law and moral theology, Father Gruner cannot be obliged to obey, nor can he be validly penalized for non-compliance with an unlawful command. He cannot be penalized because it is very clearly expressed in the Code of Canon Law, Canon 221 section 3, "Christ’s faithful have the right that no canonical penalties be inflicted upon them except in accordance with the law."
That also includes a universal statute of the Church that we call Canon 22 which says that the Church assumes the obligation of the pertinent civil laws. The civil law of the Italian Republic requires proper documentation and issuance of a visa for permanent residence. If that is not granted, then Father Gruner cannot obey without violating the law of the Church and therefore violating the law of God. It would be a sin for him to obey. But he has been commanded by the hierarchs of the Roman Curia to commit the sin of violating the law of the Church, to disregard the law of God, and to do what they tell him to do. This is what we call dictatorship."
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