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Múdrosť a tolerancia sú dve najdôležitejšie cesty k slobode

The oath of obedience to the Catholic Church

[18. 09. 11]

Author: Muriel Fraser, editor of Concordat Watch

The widespread concealment of clerical abuse raises the question: Why have so many Catholic priests placed the good name of the Church above the welfare of young Catholics entrusted to their care? Part of the reason may lie in the solemn oath of office which binds prelates to defend the institutional Church, but makes no mention of obligations to anyone else.

The Catholic “profession of faith and oath of fidelity” is required of clerics when they assume office and also of teachers of “disciplines pertaining to faith or morals”. [1] It is actually two separate oaths. The first is a profession of faith which requires “religious submission of will and intellect to [Church] teachings”. This is a purely religious issue and as such does not concern us here. However, the second one, the oath of obedience, is not a private matter of faith, since it determines the conduct of priests and teachers who exercise authority over laymen, including some of the most the vulnerable members of society. It amounts to a professional oath of office. Yet it stresses only conformity to Church rules and obedience to ecclesiastical superiors. Remarkably, this oath of office for the shepherd ignores his obligation to safeguard his flock.

I, N., in assuming the office of __________, promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church.
With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service.
In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.
I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.
With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish.
I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.
So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand. [2]

This induction oath requires unquestioned obedience to the Church. No mention is made of the duty of the cleric to his parishioners or of the teacher to his students.

How different this is from the oath required of new doctors. The Hippocratic Oath has nothing to say about any doctors’ professional organisation or any obligation to the hospital hierarchy. Instead, it focuses exclusively on the patients, obliging doctors to take steps which will, directly or indirectly, help the people they serve. The Hippocratic Oath includes the duty not to be fatalistic about patients’ suffering on the one hand, nor indulge in overtreatment, on the other; to share medical knowledge with colleagues; to respect the patients’ privacy and show them sympathy; to be willing to admit ignorance and not hesitate to call in better qualified colleagues; and to try to prevent disease, as well as cure it. [3]

While the doctors’ Hippocratic Oath is centered exclusively on the benefit of the suffering patient, the clerical oath of obedience protects only the clerical hierarchy and the institutional church. Many devoted priests must regret that their oath of office prevents them from placing the wellbeing of their flocks above all else.

See also: Slovakian democracy in danger


1. Code of Canon Law, Canon 833 (The profession of faith), Nos. 5-8.

2. Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, NCR Online, 02 June 2009.

3. Hippocratic Oath: Modern version, Wikipedia


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