John Lilburne's journal about King's letter from a Birmingham jail.


About John Lilburne







1955 Thu 6 Sep 2001

I was in a thoughtful mood this morning, staying in bed, but I am struggling to remember what I thought about.

I had an afternoon class in the city and read some more of "Crimes of Obedience". Chapter 3 has the title: "The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey". It includes part of Martin Luther King's letter from a Birmingham jail.

... "How can one advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that their are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." ... (page 69).

He explains unjust laws as "out of harmony with the moral law". He refers to St. Thomas Aquinas "An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."

A lot of the chapter is about the laws of the Church versus the laws of the state through history. The Church's laws are seen to provide an outlet from unjust laws.

Perhaps the issue causes confusion within the Church. Perhaps it provides an excuse for not following just laws. Regarding rubrics and liturgical laws that seems to be the problem.

Today "The Age" has a story by Stuart Jefferies of "The Guardian" on page 12:

Bishop guilty of shielding rogue priest

A French bishop has been convicted of concealing evidence that one of his priests was sexually abusing children, in what appears to be the first conviction of a bishop since the French Revolution.

Pierre Pican, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux in Normandy, was given a three-month suspended sentence and fined one franc in symbolic damages at a court in Caen following a two-day trial in June. ...

During the trial, Pican's lawyers argued that professional secrecy laws gave him the right not to divulge the information, even though he learnt of the priest's acts outside the church confessional.

Jean Chevalis, lawyer for the victims' families, said: "The judgment must mark a point of departure in stopping people from keeping professional secrets. I hope that this conviction will be an opportunity for the church to in future behave with conscience and no longer cover up such facts, offences and crimes." ...

The article ends:

Similar cases have arisen in other countries as victims of sexual abuse by clerics increasingly blame the church hierarchy.

Another bit of damage to the reputation of the Catholic Church. Given the problem it seems to me that the Church should be doing everything it can to promote discipline within the clergy. An obvious place for this, it seems to me, is improving the following of liturgical laws. Hopefully things will move in that direction.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 6 September 2001.


Links to other sites:

Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. on story "Bishop guilty of shielding rogue priest"