Authority comes with responsibility (Church Restoration Series XI) By Fr. Anand Muttungal


In general sense authority means power or right to direct the actions or thoughts of others through control of their freedom or manipulation of situations or persuasion. But in religious sense, authority means power derived from God through the scripture. It is a matter of fact that the authority is often asserted on good and evil alike. The Catholic Church in its working road map defines the authority of the Bishop as absolute over the community. The Canon Law 375 defines it, ‘through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, Bishops are the successors of the apostles by divine institution; they are teachers of the divine doctrine, the priests of sacred worship and the ministers of governance.’ It implies that they have been given the power to teach, rule, and sanctify.
Thus, the Bishops have been given supreme authority over the faithful, priests, religious and the entire property owned by the Church. They have the authority to teach the faith, interprets teachings of Christ for people, bless and sanctify people through the grace received through the Holy Spirit. In the modern times their spiritual powers is over shadowed by the worldly powers and restricted the concept of Church to it (worldly powers). Subsequently, they legislate, judge, execute and even do a bit of policing to ensure that their worldly authority is not questioned anywhere.
However, in India they often hesitate to take responsibility for their action despite the fact that being Bishops they are responsible for all the mistakes including breaking of the civil laws of their respective area of command and also the wrong actions of the Church institutions. For instance, the 91 year old US citizen and then Chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation of USA Warren Anderson is still facing criminal charges in killing of thousands of innocent people in Bhopal Gas Tragedy way back in 1984. He lives in USA and has visited India very few times. Whereas Keshub Mahindra the then Chairman of Union Carbide India who was involved in the policy making of the company in India also faces charges of the culpable negligence even after a quarter of century now.
Similarly, failing to address the complaints regarding an incident or against persons under the command is also a crime and offence under the India Criminal Law and it is treated as being party to protect the guilty.
Let us apply this to the administration of Catholic Church. The bishops have absolute authority over the religious matters and administration of the institutions comes under them and even they have a say in the institutions run by the religious orders as well. Therefore they are bound to have an absolute share in the responsibility of the mistakes and breaking of the civil law in any institution run here and the people appointed there. Their responsibility can be lessened if they are not in the know of the crime or mistake or initiate punitive measures against the guilty or else they are equally responsible for the crime. Our priests, nuns and laity are very simple they have kept these Church heads at a very lofty place. They take upon themselves all mistakes and face alone the legal consequences but it will not help in the process of empowering the Church. It has set a wrong notion that the Bishops have an absolute authority without sharing the responsibility.
Therefore, it is clear that no authority comes without responsibility. The Bishops too must assume their responsibilities rather than shirking it on one or the other in the pretext of giving strong leaderships. If they fail, it is the duty of the laity, religious and priest to make them own responsibilities thus contribute to the effective functioning of the Church and witnessing Christ in a vibrant Church for the entire globe.

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