“Protect The Pope”: On The Matter Of Obedience

Obedience as weapon: Padre Pio.

After the shutting down of “Protect the Pope”, I think it might be useful to write some reflections on the matter of obedience.

A Deacon, say, writes a blog saying “I am a deacon in the Diocese of X”. In this case, he is “spending” the name of the diocese and the prestige and sacredness of the Holy Orders he has received (a Deacon is, let us remind ourselves of this, ordained). As a Deacon, he owes obedience to the Bishop. Not a blind one, certainly, and not obedience to every whim of the Bishop. But certainly, when the Bishop instruct him to do something – or not to do something – that is directly related to both his activity as a deacon and the diocese presided by the Bishop, the Deacon in question should, in my eyes, seriously reflect whether he really does not want to comply.

Now, if Deacon Nick had run his blog without spending his title, it would have been, in my eyes, different. If the bishop can't tell the deacon what he has to discuss at the pub with his friends, as “Nick”, he should also not be able to tell him what to discuss on the Internet with his friends, as “Nick”. In this case Deacon Nick could, I think, have legitimately replied that his own freedom of expression, particularly when the expressions are orthodox, is nothing upon which the Bishop has any say. But this is obviously different. This is someone writing in his role of ordained man, incardinated in a diocese, and who owes obedience to a bishop.

I am not a canonist, but I think Deacon Nick could have only done one of the following:

A) inform the bishop he will continue to blog, as this is his private exercise. No mention of deacons anymore, of course, unless perhaps and for some time for the clear statement the blog reflects his private opinions and is nothing to do with the diocese or his ministry as a Deacon. If the bishop wants to drag him in front of an ecclesiastical tribunal, welcome. The blog will report everything as it happens.

B) Go to court against the bishop to obtain the removal of the order (which I suppose was given in writing, and under exercise of the bishop's authority) to stop blogging.

C) obey the bishop's order.

Now: a Deacon of all people should reflect very attentively whether A or B are really wise courses of action. Is a blog so important that it justifies a very public conflict between a deacon and his bishop? Well yes, it might be, if the Deacon thinks the order to stop blogging is a scandal that must be made public, and fought against. But the Deacon can also legitimately decide that he will fight with Padre Pio's (and countless saints besides) weapons: silence, obedience, and prayer. If the Deacon obeys to the Bishop, the latter carries the responsibility of whatever results from his order. Let God, who sees everything, give the Deacon the premium for his obedience, and the Bishop the punishment for his insolence. If it is God's will, not one but ten new blogs will be born out of this outrage, and countless blog readers will be motivated to search the blogosphere for other authentic voices, and grow in faith as a result. We must not make the mistake of thinking this matter lies, so to speak, entirely in one or two persons' hands. Dio vede e provvede. God sees and provides.

Obviously, there are cases in which disobedience is or may be the only sensible way, or the most sensible way: say, when the preservation of the Mass of the Ages is in danger, or – I add – an excellent religious order is being trampled by an unconscionable Pontiff. In these cases we have to do with the Mass, and the Mass is more serious than any blog, and take precedence before the obedience to any Pope.

But honestly, there is no scarcity of orthodox Catholic blogs. Many more will be created. Again, God can give back ten times what was taken away. Obedience should, as a reasoned choice born of faith in Providence, always be respected.

It is, therefore, not fair to say that Deacon Mick is waving the white flag, or in a way “chickening out”. Rather, I think he has decided that he will put his obedience in the hands of the Lord, and He will do with it what He thinks appropriate: rewarding, and punishing, in His own good time.

Blogs like Deacon Nick's, or mine, are but grains of sand in the great scheme of things. The Lord can decide to sacrifice them – and to sacrifice much worthier things than a blog; perhaps through the allowing of an injustice – so that in the end more good may happen.

In these matters, it is always useful to remind ourselves of God's lavish abundance, a way that to our scarcity-accustomed minds may seem wastefulness. Billions of billions of suns, and accessory planets, just to give us a glimpse of His might. Schubert was dead at not even 32. Mozart at 35. Bizet before becoming 37. Mendelssohn at 38. Chopin at 39.

St Theresa of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church, died at 24.

If God has decided the world could do without St. Therese of Lisieux when she was only 24, methinks we can relax at the thought of the Catholic blogosphere having to live without “Protect the Pope”, or this little effort.

All those who, then, suffer this loss may do worse than wondering whether, perhaps, they might start writing their own blog. At times, unpleasant events bear great fruit. If I had not been banned from “Homo Smoke” I would never, ever have come to the idea of blogging myself. I allow myself to think that it was a wise decision and, I hope, a meritorious one. But you see here how Providence works.

Deacon Nick will, then, be a non-blogging Deacon again, and my thanks to him for his sterling work and for the example of obedience he has now chosen to give. May God reward him and his worthy wife for their effort, time, and pain.

We, the non-deacons, will continue to blog and, perhaps, to blog more numerous and more motivated than before.

God works in mysterious ways.

But most of all, God isn't fooled by Bishop Campbell's religion of niceness.



Posted on May 2, 2014, in Catholicism, Conservative Catholicism, Good Shepherds and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. The Bishop has now told his side of the story. I’d be interested to see if you agree with me that it’s totally unconvincing. He quotes that well-known sage Cardinal Dolan as an authority 🙂


    • Some things we can’t know. Some things are tosh. Some are reasonable.

      I will write when time allows.

      It’s reasonable to say the blog is not dead, though…


  2. Ummm …. interesting statement by the Bishop.

  3. Have been reflecting on all this and, it seems to me, Deacon Nick’s wife should have rested the blog whilst her husband reflected prayerfully on how to take it forward. Instead, if anything, it grew more robust in the very direction the Bishop was asking be curtailed – and with a martyr to boot. Mrs Deacon intimated Nick was not too well back in March and all this controversy can’t have helped him.

    Why didn’t they both respect and honour the private agreement reached with the Bishop and just stay silent?

    • I disagree.

      It is too easy now to say “she should have rested the blog” when it appears rather probable the blog will resume. She did something very beautiful trying to keep alive something the bishop wanted to kill. Without her action, there would have been no bishop’s statement, no admission he has no guts to officially close the blog. The bishop would have gone away with it, big time.

      I also do not agree with the thinking of “I shut you down because you are divisive, and if you protest I will shut you down because you are even more divisive”.


  4. Mundabor,
    of course, this or that specific individual or blog is easily replaced, and of course God can easily move ten or a hundred people to start a new Catholic blog that more than replaces anything Deacon Nick could ever have written.

    But this is not about this or that specific individual but about setting a precedent. If it is a legitimate exercise of a bishop’s authority to shut down faithful Catholic blogs by clergy because of their defence of orthodox Catholicism, then, of course, the deacon is morally obligated to obey – but so is everyone else who finds himself in a similar position. This case sets a precedent by means of which every single Catholic blog written by clergy can (and possibly will, if this is allowed to stand) be forced to close, if it is “offensive”, mildly critical of modernism, or even if it strikes the fancy of a bishop. Do not think modernist bishops will hesitate to avail themselves of the opportunity.
    But it does not end there. Given that the deacon’s wife also obeyed the order, and given that she is a simple laywoman, the legitimate power of a bishop apparently extends even to silencing any and all blogging activity by lay Catholics. And, come to think of it, what is so special about blogging? Why not “obey” the order of the bishop to stop participating in pro-life activities? It is just as public and, to many people, “offensive” as blogging. Also, any single person participating in a pro-life demonstration can be replaced easily. Why not stop talking about any sensitive issues at all? Every individual’s voice can be replaced, after all. Indeed, why not just indulge in mushy waffling all day? No need to worry about getting the modernist bishop’s “permission”.

    Over the last half century, faithful Catholics have been very good at “obeying” all kinds of orders coming from their bishops or even from Rome. And, yes, obedience is a very important virtue. But following unjust orders is not obedience. Nobody could possibly be morally bound by an unjust order. What would have happened, if every single faithful Catholic – whether layman, deacon, priest or whatever – had just categorically refused any scandalous, destructive or outright heretical order? Not just the big ones, like imposing the newly invented Mass, but the smaller ones, too, like removing statues or turning around the altar or singing “modern hymns”? What would have happened is, there would have been no revolution. The conciliar madness would have ended right there. But instead, faithful Catholics have generally resigned themselves to pray and obey, thereby tacitly enabling the destruction to proceed by a thousand cuts, most of which were individually small. Of course, prayer is the most important part of any Catholic resistance, but just praying alone is not enough. Pray *and* work actively against the revolution. Every single prayer counts. But every little, “replaceable” voice counts, too. That’s why the Enemy is so eager to silence them.

    Obviously, in the current case, one has to respect the decision the deacon and his wife have arrived at. They will have reflected and prayed for guidance before making this decision, and it is not my place to attack them for it. I am just saying that (and why) I would have come to a different conclusion.

    • As I have already written in my post, every person who is put in such a situation would have to examine the situation and decide what he wants to do. Other deacons or priests would not necessarily shut down the blog because Deacon Nick decided to shut down his. But it is also not fair to ask Deacon Nick to fight a fight that he might think not wise or not fitting as preventative defence of other blogger priests.

      It would also seem no official order to close the blog was issued; therefore, this is no precedent other than of rather bullying behaviour from the side of the bishop.


  5. Mundabor,
    “It would also seem no official order to close the blog was issued”
    Two points in response:
    First, no formal order was necessary, which makes it even worse. Shutting down Catholic blogs works even without a formal order. Merely a word on the side will doom the blogger – under threat of “being disobedient”.
    Second, this is an equivocation (not on your part, but on the side of the bishop): If there was no order, why all this talk about obedience? Everybody has perceived the “non-order” as an informal command, but a binding one nonetheless. But whatever one chooses to call it – if it is intended to be binding in conscience, if it is a matter of obedience, there must have been an order or the moral equivalent thereof. For how can you disobey an order never given?
    A child could disobey his father if told to go to bed early. But you cannot call the child disobedient, if the father never gave the order. Maybe the father clothed it in the soft, mushy terminology of a wish or a suggestion, but, clearly, if it had been just a suggestion, the child would have been morally free to go against the mere suggestions of his father.
    If Deacon Nick has been ordered by his spiritual father to desist from blogging, then he may be bound by his vow of obedience. (We could debate whether one has to obey an unjust order, but clearly there would be a prima facie obligation to obey.)
    If Deacon Nick has NOT been ordered by his spiritual father to desist from blogging, why, then he is clearly free to do as he wishes, any informal suggestions and other non-orders notwithstanding.
    Either “order” means only strict, military-style explicit commands – in which case there has been none – or the word also means informal wishes clearly intended to have all the force of an explicit command, and meant to bind the conscience. But one cannot have it both ways. The bishop does not want to be seen engaging in blatant censorship of authentic Catholic viewpoints – therefore he denies having given an “order” in the strict sense. But he still wants to bind the good deacon’s conscience – therefore he insists on having given an “order” in the second sense, even if he dishonestly, deceptively, refuses to call it by its rightful name. He wants all the morally binding force of an order but none of the authoritarian implications. This kind of linguistical sophistry is utterly disgusting.

    “But it is also not fair to ask Deacon Nick to fight a fight that he might think not wise or not fitting as preventative defence of other blogger priests.”
    Agreed. I am not asking Deacon Nick to do anything. I fully respect his decision and I assume he did what he sincerely thought best given all circumstances, some of which are unknown to the general public. I am even willing to concede he probably did the right thing in his circumstances. My objection is not so much to his actions, but to the justification given in general terms of obedience, implying that acting any differently would have been immoral, a case of “disobedience”, grave sin, illoyalty to Mother Church and all that. I hold that the order was unjust, and therefore not morally binding. Prudence, not obedience, is the operative virtue here.

    • As to the order, we would have to ask a canonist. As far as I know, the obedience of the deacon is not limited to written, official orders. The written order may make more clear the gravity of the disobedience, but I would have thought that if I become a Deacon I must obey the bishop’s instructions in what pertains my activity as deacon. I might be wrong, mind, but I have never known obedience requires the written form. Padre Pio did not wait for the written form.

      I have not given a general justification in term of obedience, and actually stated obedience was only one of three options open to him. if he had decided for the first or the second I would not have criticised him, but my opinion is that the decision to obey should be respected. Certainly, the survival of priestly blogging should not be seen as depending on the whim of the bishop, under pain of sin from the priest.


  6. Mundabor,
    “As far as I know, the obedience of the deacon is not limited to written, official orders. ”
    No, of course not. It is my understanding that a deacon has to obey a just order of his superior even if it is expressed merely implicitly. The written form is definitely not required, and not even the verbal form of an explicit order. Even an informal instruction seems to me sufficient. But why then insist on the absence of an “official order” – whether the order was official or merely implicit and unofficial does not make any difference in terms of moral obligations at all. The deacon has a prima facie obligation to obey it. But a headline “Bishop orders deacon to shut down orthodox Catholic blog” does leave a very different, less flattering impression than the headline “Bishop asks deacon to observe a period of reflection”. The bishop’s defenders want us to believe, simultaneously, that the bishop’s “request” has all the moral conscience-binding force of an order, and that there has been no real order, merely an informal request. This is the equivocation I have objected to. If the “request” binds the conscience, as it does, just as strongly as an official order, why object to the word “order”? It is not a matter of canon law (we completely agree that no written or explicit verbal command is necessary), but of how we use language – whether we use it to inform (which requires unequivocal, clear terminology) or just as an instrument of propaganda (which requires just the kind of equivocation I have described and in which the bishop and many of his defenders have engaged).

    “I have not given a general justification in term of obedience.”
    You do not give it now, but it seemed to me that you gave something very close to it in your earlier response, where you wrote: “This is not to do with courage, but obedience.
    A deacon must know, when he starts a blog writing “I am a deacon”, that his bishop may ask him to stop blogging, and at this point he must reflect very seriously whether the world needs his blog so much that he would disobey.” (Also implying that the reason for “disobedience” would be the prideful, self-important, definitely mortally sinful opinion that the world needs my blog so much that I am above obeying my superior.)
    Also, very many people do give that general justification in terms of obedience. It is by far the most common reaction I have seen and read on Catholic media and blogs.

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