Can a Religious disobey his/her Superior if the Superior contradicts the Rule of Life


This is not a rhetorical question… one of my family members is a Religious that is facing this situation…

Brothers, nuns, friars, and priests that are members of Religious Orders are bound by vows of obedience: to conform to their Rule of Life and to obey their superior.

But what happens if the superior of a Religious directs him/her to do (or not do) something that is contrary to the Rule? And I’m talking about the plain, clear and obvious meaning of the Rule (not a situation where the Rule might be vague or ambiguous).

The Religious individual cannot conform to his/her Rule of Life AND obey his/her superior, even though s/he has promised to do both. S/he must decide to conform to one or the other.

IMHO, the Rule ought to prevail (when it is obviously clear), because it represents the collaborative work of the Order, and not the viewpoint of a single individual. But others say the superior ought to prevail, because no Religious may act contrary to the direct instructions of his/her superior.

Is there a definitive answer to this dilemma? Does Canon Law or some other authoritative source answer this question?


Hi David,

Every rule of a religious order states that the rules do not oblige under pain of sin, unless they are otherwise sinful.

The Superior has leeway to interpret the rules in concrete situations and, in certain cases, to suspend them.

So it is not sinful, strictly speaking not to obey the rules, but it is (almost) always sinful not to obey your superior.

Now one must not think that religious are at the mercy of their immediate superior. They have provincial and major superiors, and they are allowed to communicate with them (writing or e-mail for example) confidentially and without hindrance.

Additionally, the Provincial superior must visit all the houses in his/her province a certain number of times a year. At that time, he/she talks to all the individual members privately.

So there is ample opportunity, and possibly a duty, to discuss this.



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