In the liberal atmosphere that permeates Western culture, obedience has been greatly abused as an excuse for great evil. However, obedience is a virtue and Catholics are supposed to seek to continually increase in virtue. This leads to the question: How does a Catholic obey both their religious and civil superiors when they are obviously perpetrating evil laws and doctrines?
The answer provided by the Catholic Church is surprisingly simple: God does not require blind obedience to all commands.
In this article, we will review the Catholic teaching on obedience and its practice in the modern world.
Because the Church has discussed obedience at length throughout the ages, forming an opinion aligned with the mind of the Church should not be difficult. In this age of immediate access to information, three authorities are readily available: Catechism of the Council of Trent, St. Thomas, and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Unfortunately, many examples of sinful obedience and disobedience are readily available since the end of the Second World War.
I've selected two recent events in the life of the Church as examples: Summorum Pontificum and Amoris Laetitia.
The degree of virtue attached to obedience depends upon the nature of the order. It is not virtuous to obey an order that is sinful, as God must be obeyed in all things. It is virtuous to obey an order that is not sinful and falls within the superior's sphere of authority. There is greater virtue in obeying a sinless order that falls outside the superior's sphere of authority.
Dealing with explicitly sinful or sinless orders is simple. Dealing with orders that may be proximately sinful is more difficult as it requires us to practice the virtue of prudence in order to rightly determine whether or not to obey.
Obedience is a virtue that must be practised prudently!
Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas : http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/SS/SS104.html#SSQ104OUTP1
Letter of St. Ignatius to the Portuguese Jesuits: http://www.library.georgetown.edu/woodstock/ignatius-letters/letter25