Laity Should Help to Get Bishops to Obey Pope,
Says Archbishop Gagnon

from ‘Challenge’ November 1983

Archbishop Gagnon

Archbishop Edouard Gagnon used strong words about what he called material schism in the United States during an exclusive interview with The Wanderer published in that newspaper Sept. 29, 1983.

He said: “You know that the Holy Father has repeatedly, for more than 20 years now, given orders, such as on general absolution, or children partaking of the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion, but these orders are disobeyed.

“And they will not be obeyed, in too many cases, until such time as the local people make their bishops understand that they have to be obeyed, that the bishops have to obey them.”

In Rome

“Even in Rome itself, things are often not done as the Holy Father would like and, whenever the bishops come to Rome, he tells them what he wants on morality and catechetics and so on. But he doesn’t have prisons to put them in, so many go back and don’t obey.”

“Oftentimes, I think some would like to obey except they are surrounded by people who implement things contrary to the will of the Church, and perhaps such bishops are afraid to discipline or make the necessary changes.”

He was asked whether he was saying that it is within the laity’s competence to insist that our bishops obey the Pope. He replied, “Oh, yes. And they have the means of doing that too. At one time a great number of bishops fell into Arianism and it was the laypeople who brought them back, and through the centuries it has been like that.”


Archbishop Gagnon, who is the pro-president of the Council for the Family, stressed the importance of dealing with abuses on the local level where possible. He said: “Local fights have mainly to be fought at the local level, and I encourage associations of parents and other groups to fight and be ready to work at the parish and diocesan level.”

He said Pope Paul was cautious about taking direct action from a fear that “many people would have followed the false teachers out of the Church, because of the fault of the pastors.

“He was afraid of schism and he did not want to deprive the faithful of the grace of the sacraments because of the shortcomings of their pastor. I think it was in a great measure a matter of charity. But this is a very prudential judgment and a very difficult one, which the leaders of the Church have to make and this is why we have to pray for them every day.”


He said that appeals to Rome are useful. “One has to suffer for the truth, but at the same time, for the benefit of the truth, he must fight if he has to, using the legal means that exist.

“And one must use them. It is false to say that one should obey and not protest when it is a question of defending Catholic truth, but one has to accept the sacrifice of fighting for the truth.”

He cautioned, in appealing to Rome, against exaggeration and mixing up too many points in one document. “Be careful. Things have to be proved in a very clear way. If in a diocese you cannot find five or six people who have the intelligence and courage to study a case, with the help of lawyers, and present it to the Holy See, then nothing will be done. But it has to be proved.”

Local Level

The Archbishop pointed out that much can be done at the local level. For example, if there is a new document from Rome on sex education, “whatever is in the document will not be implemented unless the Catholic community demands it.

“They can say we are not going to give one more cent to the parish or to the Church until you obey. And then they can give their money to other places that are genuinely Catholic, genuinely obedient to the teachings of the Holy See.”

The interviewers for The Wanderer raised with the Archbishop the question of criticism in the Catholic press of bishops, pointing out that CUF holds that one should never criticize a bishop by name.


The Archbishop said: “This is a case where I would say there is a legitimate pluralism, because there is not a difference on the appreciation of doctrine as such but on the method. You in the press, you have to go out and fight.

“An association, with many members, might choose another method of arriving at the same thing. Maybe you got more souls with honey than with vinegar, they think.

“I do not say that nobody should ever criticize a bishop. But perhaps CUF shouldn’t. I think one of the reasons for this may be because at the beginning there were people who were too critical, perhaps even of the Pope. And so they might have adopted that approach. But I think there can be different methods. Especially if you’re in publishing, you have to tell the truth, and give information.”