This article reflects on abuse as a distortion of the exercise of authority and the way of living out obedience, a virtue that unites all Christians and identifies them with Christ, who was himself obedient to the Father even to death on the cross. A fortiori, identification with Christ in obedience is experienced by consecrated persons when, by virtue of the vow, they commit themselves to obey their legitimate superiors. Similarly, the same is experienced by deacons and diocesan priests when they promise obedience to their bishop at the time of ordination.
The importance of obedience was recognized in the life of the Church from its beginnings. Clement of Rome gives us an example of this when, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, he appeals for submission to the ecclesiastical hierarchy as a way of respecting Christ’s own mandate. Thus individuals, in the fulfillment of their duty and with respect for the dignity of others, contribute through obedience to the building up of the body of Christ.
Sometimes, especially in consecrated life, one may be called to live obedience in particularly difficult circumstances in which the temptation to discouragement and distrust may arise. In this regard, St. Benedict, the father of monasticism, called for a trusting dialogue between monk and abbot and urged obedience out of love for God, trusting in his help. St. Francis of Assisi insisted on a “charitable obedience,” in which the friar, sacrificing his own opinion, performs what is required because in this way he “pleases God and neighbor.”