Prophets and Priests

Relapsed Catholic declares concerning the horrifying neglectfulness of Cardinal Law and his “dog ate my homework” excuse-making in his deposition that:

These men have no moral authority over me whatsoever. Period. My mother’s a “sinner” because she’s divorced, and I am because I’m on the pill — but these guys live in mansions, own Palm Springs hotels and get away with (soul) murder.

I like you, Kathy. But you’re wrong. The confusion here is a common one in our culture. We believe in prophets, but not priests (i.e. custodians of Tradition). That is, we believe that a spiritual proposition is true if a direct conduit of heavenly revelation speaks it by his own moral authority. So Mother Teresa speaks the truth because she’s a saint, but if a bad bishop like Cardinal Law says the same thing, it’s somehow demonstrably false. T’ain’t so. Insofar as a bishop articulates some point of the Tradition (such as the teaching of Humanae Vitae or the doctrine of the Trinity) he is not speaking anything on his own “moral authority”. He’s just reiterating a Tradition he did not invent, but merely is articulating. It no more depends on his personal holiness or lack thereof, than the sinfulness of my math teacher somehow renders the multiplication table false. Is Cardinal Law’s neglect appalling and inexcusable? Yes. But the Tradition he articulates is not thereby untrue. Having a bad bishop does not relieve us of responsibility for obeying the Tradition.