Theologians and the faithful have a duty in conscience to voice their disagreement when the Teaching Authority fails

There is a tendency for those in authority to imagine that they need not listen to the advice of others. This has been a frequent cause of serious mistakes in the past.

The Church has made it clear that all the faithful, and in particular theologians, have a duty to voice their objections in matters in which they have knowledge or experience.


“Let it be recognized that all the faithful, whether clerics or laity, possess a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expressing their mind with humility and fortitude in those matters on which they enjoy competence.”  Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes

“In accord with the knowledge, competence and pre-eminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church. They also have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors.” Catholic Church Law, canon 212, § 3 .

“Freedom of speech is a normal factor in the growth of public opinion which expresses the ideas and reactions of the more influential circles in a society” (§ 25). “If public opinion is to emerge in the proper manner, it is absolutely essential that there be freedom to express ideas and attitudes.” Communio et Progressio, 29 January 1971


Professor Hans Kueng

“Those who are engaged in the sacred disciplines enjoy a lawful freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions on matters in which they have expertise, while observing a due respect for the magisterium of the Church.” Catholic Church Law, canon 218.

“The magisterium draws great benefit from critical and industrious theological study and from the cordial collaboration of the theologians . . . Without the help of theology the magisterium could undoubtedly preserve and teach the faith, but it would arrive only with difficulty at the lofty and full knowledge it needs to perform its task, since it is aware that it is not endowed with revelation or the charism of inspiration but only with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.” Pope Paul VI, 1 October 1966.

Discussion: Then what about ‘Blind Obedience’?!

“The Pope is the Pope, is the Pope!

The Church teaches total submission: ‘This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic  magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.”
Lumen Gentium, § 25c.

“This is only half the story!

True loyalty & obedience does not imply a denial of our own  personality, our own mind and our own will !

The Second Vatican Council  teaches: ‘Those under authority bring to the execution of commands and to  the discharge of duties the resources of their minds and wills, and  their gifts of nature and grace.’ Only thus, the Council says,  obedience does not diminish the dignity of the human person. Rather it leads to  maturity within an enlarged freedom which belongs to the children of  God. Perfectae Caritatis § 14.

“Have you forgotten the teaching of  St. Ignatius of Loyola?

Blind obedience, he said, should make you like a  dead piece of wood that someone can use as a walking stick.

Obedience  requires you to accept something is white, even if you yourself see it is as black!”

“Yes, Ignatius said that.

But it should not be taken  literally. Didn’t he want the Jesuits, whose society he founded, to be intelligent, honest, critical and creative? A balanced definition of  obedience should do justice to our autonomy as thinking and free individuals.

Here are better definitions:

  • ‘Obedience is listening to the call of God in our own hearts: it is following the inner authority of ourselves as experienced,
    expressed, and revealed in community … To obey Christ, to obey my bishop, to obey God — all are rooted in being true to who I am in the image of God.’

    Barbara Schmitz
  • ‘Real obedience stands ready to serve at all times, but independent and critical of every structure that makes uncritical claim upon it’.
    Joan Chittister
Prejudice has often distorted ‘doctrine’. The Vatican arguments are wrong. The Magisterium has proclaimed errors in the past. We have a duty to speak out. The faithful reject the exclusion of women.

John Wijngaards