1748 Sat 8 Sep 2001
There is now a mid-semester break of three weeks at Catholic
Theological College. I think my routine will be to spent the
morning reading, the afternoon working around the house and the
evening on the internet.
This morning I read Chapter 6 entitled "Challenging Authority"
of "Crimes of Obedience" (Herbert Kelman & V. Lee
Hamilton, Yale University Press, 1989). I continue to be very
impressed with this book. Issues of authority and obedience were
important to me in my 14 years with the "Australian Defence
Force" and continue to be important as a Catholic. This
book seems to express these issues in ways that make sense to
me. Here are some extracts from Chapter 6:
The ability to redefine the authority situation and hence
to challenge authoritative demands - at the macro- and microlevels
- presupposes two psychological conditions that are not readily
available. In the cognitive sphere, individuals must be aware
of - or able to conceive of - alternative definitions of the
situation and interpretations of its requirements. In the motivational
sphere, they must be prepared to disrupt the established social
order and the smoothness of social interaction and to suffer
the consequences of such disruption. These two psychological
conditions are closely linked to access to material resources,
without which individuals are often unable to learn about available
options or to afford the risk of disruption. (page 138).
In other words: to challenge authority one needs education
(or at least time) and money (or at least support). Priests tend
to have this, so they can challenge the liturgical laws (i.e.
rubrics). I also have this (as a student) and so can challenge
their failures to follow the liturgical books.
Such a challenge almost invariably requires recourse to an
alternative authority that is at least equal in status to the
one issuing the demand. Preferably, this can be described as
a "higher authority," making countervailing demands.
My challenge of the local authorities is based on what the
Vatican says in its liturgical books and Canon Law. In particular
I have been influenced by the 1998 "Statement of Conclusions"
which writes about liturgy, saying things like: "Any authorized
changes, while perhaps well-intentioned, are nevertheless seriously
misguided." (n. 42).
Thus, if individual citizens are to claim the right to challenge
an authority's demands and to have any hope of prevailing in
such a claim, they must have a credible basis for an alternative
interpretation of the demands of higher authority. (page 139)
I have had the money to buy the liturgical books and the time
to study them. On the issue of the "Third Rite of Reconciliation"
I have seen Pope John Paul II write to the Australian Bishops:
"... general confession and general absolution are appropriate
only in cases of grave necessity, clearly determined by liturgical
and canonical norms." (14 December 1998). I have seen this
result in a change of practice by priests and so have been encouraged
to challenge their interpretation of other liturgical laws.
Authority systems - and the political state, in particular
- function in a way that tends to inhibit members' recourse to
alternative sources of authority within and outside the system.
Citizens are not encouraged to questions, to negotiate, or to
seek second opinions. Rarely are they made aware of the existence
of higher authorities with potentially competing demands or of
the possibility of alternative interpretations of what higher
authority requires. (page 139).
Since I am no longer a seminarian I feel that it is easier
for me to challenge liturgical practices, particularly regarding
In pages 140 - 143 it talks about how political authorities
tend to be challenged by appeals to religious authority. "The
special status accorded to religion as an acceptable higher authority
under narrowly prescribed circumstances is probably due to the
historical relationship between religion and state." (page
140). Perhaps this background is why priests are so frequently
inclined to challenge the liturgical laws.
... those who challenge an order by turning upward in the
hierarchy risk being identified as troublemakers and suffering
the consequences. If they lose their appeal, they can anticipate
retaliation from the authorities whom they challenged. And even
if they win their appeal, they are by no means protected against
A second and more difficult form of challenge within the system
is by recourse to the higher authority of the law ... Such challenges
are difficult because they imply a level of detailed knowledge
about the law and the mechanisms for invoking it that is not
available to average citizens. (page 144).
Even if the challenge ultimately succeeds, challengers place
themselves in the position of lawbreakers, deviants and troublemakers,
subject to all of the social opprobrium attendant upon such acts.
Challenges of this sort, therefore, are unlikely to occur in
the absence of a strong social network providing both material
and emotional support. (page 145).
Priests have strong networks and economic security, and so
have felt able to challenge the liturgical laws. But with the
internet, it has become easier for the people challenging these
interpretations to form social networks.
There is an inevitable tension between the requirement to
maintain the legitimacy of the state, thus enabling the authorities
to govern effectively and justly, and the citizens' right and
obligation to make independent judgments and follow the dictates
of conscience. ... As we shall explicate in the concluding chapter
our image of the a good society is one that fosters among its
members a capacity and willingness to challenge the authorities'
interpretation of what is consistent with societal values and
required for the common good, but we also assume that such challenges
- particularly when they take the form of outright disobedience
- cannot be undertaken without some cost to the individual. (page
146 - 147).
There is a discussion of Stanley Milgram's experiments in
1974, which show the tendency to follow authorites. People were
being tested as to whether they would apply what they believed
were electric shots to people, when told to by an authority figure
in charge of the experiment. I learnt about these an "Introduction
to Psychology" course in February - June 2000. I think they
were important in my willingness to challenge authorites.
What accounts for the participants' reluctance simply to refuse
to go on? ... Participants find it exceedingly difficult to take
such a step, which implies a challenge to the legitimacy of the
proceedings, distrust in the ongoing enterprise, doubts about
the experimenter's credentials and judgment, and an assertion
that he is exceeding his authority and making illegitimate demands.
In taking this step, participants would be claiming the right
and capacity to make judgments about matters that are outside
their range of knowledge and competence. (page 153-154).
Binding forces are those features of a situation that
reinforce its authority structure and hold the individual ever
more tightly to a rigid definition of the situation, closing
off possibilities for redefinition. ... Opposing forces
are those features of the situation that heighten the individual's
reluctance to engage in the actions demanded by the authority.
So tomorrow if Archbishop Hart sits for the Gloria, the priests
on either side of him will be subject to the "binding forces"
that they must obey the Archbishop (even if he has not specifically
ordered this). The "opposing forces" will be that I
continue to stand, everyone stands in every other church, and
that the "Ceremonial of Bishops" (Liturgical Press,
1989, page 53) no. 135 says: "During the Gloria all
It is likely that divided authority reduces the strength of
binding forces even in situations in which one of the authorities
is clearly of higher status. ... The mere fact that there is
disagreement among authorities, however, raises the possibility
of redefining the situation and gives authoritative backing to
that possibility. (page 159).
In discussing "opposing forces" they write:
As long as victims are out of sight, it is easier to forget
that there are real human beings who are harmed by one's actions.
... Opposing forces to an action increase to the extent that
we see ourselves as personally causing the harmful consequences
of the action. (page 163).
Its a long journal entry, I have been writing for nearly two
hours. I spent the afternoon gathering blackberries and logs
and burning them.
Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 8 September 2001.