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Eliane Tremblay wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Does the bishop have to obey the pope, when the pope supports something contrary to the faith?

Eliane T.

  { Does the bishop have to obey the pope, when the pope supports something contrary to the faith? }

Mike replied:

Dear Eliane,

The bishop is always bound to obey the Pope. That said, when he says something questionable on an issue of faith or morals (like in speeches or letters) they can and should question such statements.

A recent example of this is in Pope Francis' letter Amoris Laetitia, On Love in the Family, where some bishops initially replied privately to Francis with a Responsum ad Dubium (A Reply to Questions in English). When sadly the bishops received no reply to their questions, they made their request public.

Unless they are seeking clarity on an issue of faith, as I stated in the previous paragraph, the Bishops are always bound to obey the Holy Father. The Church refers to this as Holy Obedience.

Here is a good answer I found from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Studies:

My colleagues may wish to clarify and broaden my answer.


John replied:


The assumption is that the Pope would not order a Bishop to violate the faith but as Mike said, if something isn't clear, then a Bishop has the right, and indeed duty, to ask for clarification.

Such a request for clarification should be done in a respectful way and best if not done publicly to avoid scandal.

The presumption is that, if not infallible, Papal Encyclicals, Letters, Exhortations, etc. are authoritative.

In the case that Mike mentioned, Amoris Laetitia, On Love in the Family, the Encyclical was at points ambiguous and some offered a highly questionable interpretation, however some might argue that the bishops who questioned it, went about it in way that couldn't have been handled better.

As a result, they got silence or a non-response.


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