Bishop planning response to priest who said Catholics don’t have to obey Pope

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Bishop David Choby and Fr. Joseph Breen.

A Tennessee priest who posted a video claiming Catholics do not have to obey the Pope and criticizing Catholic teaching on the celibate priesthood and birth control has drawn criticism. His bishop is seeking to resolve the matter within the canonical discipline of the Church, a spokesman says.

Fr. Joseph Breen, pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church in Nashville, recorded the video which was first posted on the parish website and on Facebook. The video drew criticism from Catholics for advocating the ordination of women and changing the Church's historic teaching on contraception.

Bishop of Nashville David Choby met with the priest on Friday and asked him to remove the video. Fr. Breen agreed, The Tennessean reports.

Fr. Breen said he intended the video as an outreach to those who had left the Catholic Church because they disagree with Catholic teaching. He said he wanted to show that people who disagree with the Church are still welcome.

"Our spiritual life committee wanted to reach out to those Catholics and bring them home — for them to know that their views are not radical, that they can believe the way they do and still be part of the
church's community," the priest said on Monday, according to The Tennessean.

The priest claimed that Catholics owe “allegiance of respect, support and prayers to the Pope” but not obedience.

“The only obedience that you and I owe is to the Lord's Spirit and what we call the fidelity of our conscience,” he said.

To support his position, Fr. Breen cited South African Bishop Kevin Dowling’s remarks made earlier this year which also stressed obedience to conscience.

Bishop Dowling’s June 1 remarks to a small group of Catholics in Cape Town drew a response from a plenary session of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC). The SACBC statement said that the Pope, with the bishops, exercises teaching authority and governs the Church.

The bishops also noted the importance of conscience, but clarified the importance of remembering that an “upright and true moral conscience” is formed by education, the Word of God, and the teaching of the Church.

According to The Tennessean, Fr. Breen is angered that the Church has welcomed married former Episcopal and Lutheran ministers but does not allow Catholic priests to marry.

He has previously criticized mandatory celibacy, writing to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1993 to ask them to advocate for married priests. The then-Bishop of Nashville Edward Kmiec forbade the priest from talking to the media or preaching about any view that conflicted with Catholic teaching. The ban was later lifted.

In a Monday phone call, EWTN News spoke with Rick Musacchio, director of communications at the Diocese of Nashville, about the status of Fr. Breen

Musacchio repeated that the bishop views the priest’s action as an “extremely serious matter,” adding that the bishop is “working to find a resolution within the canonical discipline of the Church.”

Asked about the diocese’s outreach to former Catholics, he said for “a number of years” parishes have had a number of programs such as Landings to minister to lapsed Catholics.

“Certainly we have seen Catholics coming back to the Church,” he reported.

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