Joan Chittister, as so often, pushes the envelope deeper:

The question is why would a good man with a good heart, as [Cardinal Brady] surely is, think twice about his responsibility to take moral and legal steps to stop a child predator from preying on more children everywhere, some of them for years at a time?

The answer to that question is a simple one: It is that the kind of "blind obedience" once theologized as the ultimate step to holiness, is itself blind. It blinds a person to the insights and foresight and moral perspective of anyone other than an authority figure.

Blind obedience is itself an abuse of human morality. It is a misuse of the human soul in the name of religious commitment. It is a sin against individual conscience.

It makes moral children of the adults from whom moral agency is required. It makes a vow, which is meant to require religious figures to listen always to the law of God, beholden first to the laws of very human organizations in the person of very human authorities. It is a law that isn't even working in the military and can never substitute for personal morality.

From where I stand, if there are any in whom we should be able to presume a strong conscience and an even stronger commitment to the public welfare, it is surely the priests and religious of the church. But if that is the case, then the church must also review its theology of obedience so that those of good heart can become real moral leaders rather than simply agents of the institution.

A bifurcation of loyalties that requires religious to put canon law above civil law and moral law puts us in a situation where the keepers of religion may themselves become one of the greatest dangers to the credibility -- and the morality -- of the church itself.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.