The reaffirmation of conscience

Hope&Joy-logo_web‘Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God” (Gaudium et Spes, 16). With these powerful and poetic words, Vatican II reaffirmed an ancient Christian moral principle: conscience.

Present in the earliest practice of the Church, elaborated most articulately by the great Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages, the principle of conscience — a person’s “most secret core” or sanctuary where one is “alone with God” — has been a persistent part of the Church’s moral teaching, despite distortions and attempts to play it down in favour of moral legalism.

Conscience, properly understood, is an ongoing exercise in making judgments‑ and like any form of exercise, the more you do it the better you get at it. Conscience is formed by exercising it. And conscience must also be informed- by getting to know, understand and interpret the moral teachings of the Church. Aquinas summed it up neatly: “Follow your formed and informed conscience.”

The Council further suggested that “[t]hrough loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to others in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships”.

Of course, many have objected that appealing to conscience is dangerous. People make wrong choices. People are driven by self-interest. Some would go so far as to say that since people are inherently sinful they will inevitably make the wrong moral choices. Hence, argues theologian-psychologist Bart Kiely, it is better to do as Holy Mother Church tells you—and if the Church is wrong you are not morally blameworthy.

A variant of this school of thought, proposed by Germain Grisez and John Finnis among others, argues that one only follows their conscience correctly if their moral judgment is in accord with the Church. While one might more easily reject the Kiely approach as too pessimistic about human nature, this second approach demands a more careful examination.

It is true to say that one’s conscience may be in error. Here the Church and Vatican II acknowledge two forms of error: “It often happens that conscience goes astray through ignorance which it is unable to avoid, without thereby losing its dignity. This cannot be said of the person who takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is gradually almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”

Franz Jagerstatter is beatified in a ceremony in Linz, Austria in 2007.

Franz Jagerstatter is beatified in a ceremony in Linz, Austria in 2007.

This is helpful because it distinguishes between genuine ignorance and a refusal to bother to be properly morally informed. The great danger with conscience, which both the Kiely and Grisez-Finnis schools emphasise and which Aquinas himself understood all too well, is that it can become an excuse for people at best not exercising proper moral discernment, at worst appealing to self-interest.

However, the danger for the Grisez-Finnis school is that it may conflate conscience (which must be an exercise of God-given freedom) with a kind of “inner policeman” (what Freud called the superego) which, when exercised by those who confuse authority with power, can become spiritually abusive.

A historical example of this might be the case of Nazi concentration camp guards who committed genocide and justified themselves by saying they were “just following orders”. This defence, as we know, was rejected at the Nuremberg trials after World War: following commands does not make actions morally right in and of themselves.

Conscience goes even further. There may come a point where I may have to go against the commands of authority in order to be true to that “inner voice”. To use another historical example, Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstatter was called up for service in the German army during the Nazi era. Despite the exhortations of his family, his parish priest and his bishop to accept induction into the army, he refused. Deep within his conscience he rejected military force and believed further that he would be serving an evil regime if he obeyed. That he was beheaded by the Nazis illustrates all too well the cost of conscience.

In 1965 Vatican II affirmed the Jägerstatters of this world by reiterating the importance of following conscience. Do we listen to our conscience? Or do we goosestep merrily to whoever waves the biggest stick?

186 Responses to The reaffirmation of conscience

  1. Mark Nel April 9, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    We know of your selective censorship, editor, from the fact that the blog written by Sr Sue, which criticises the Pope’s use of the term “Lord Cardinals”, which he clearly did not do and yet you have allowed it to stand and stubbornly refused for more than a month to provide a source. Worse still you have defended her position with an argument I have shown to be invalid and still you do nothing. Instead you Lord it over us and declare “the matter closed”! It’s not closed. It may be when you correct what is incorrect! When you defend the Pope as vociferously as when you unjustifiably attacked my reference to Egan, using nothing but your own sentiments to justify your attack on me.

    EDITOR: Remove that blog in which Sr Sue falsely accuses the Pope of saying something he did not say. Publish an apology for criticizing the Pope for doing so! Then I may believe you do not apply selective censorship!

  2. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    I am grateful that the Editor allows debate on these threads … it serves to allow dialogue, which I believe is essential to the process of growth and maturation. On occasion he is seen to intervene with a comment of his own. On very rare occasion, he intervenes by deleting what he believes has crossed the line.

    As for the times the Editor has censored my posts … well, I am essentially a guest here! I don’t have a “right” to say anything that I desire at a moment’s whim! I show deference to the Editor’s prudential judgement.

    And no, I don’t believe that the Editor is infallible! But when he has to make a judgement call … well, that is his responsibility, he has to take ownership for that … and though I mignt not agree with his decision, I will respect it and abide by it.

    (Incidentally, I have been censored several times on neocath sites (in my opinion, most unfairly!!!) … and have simply accepted it and moved on!)

  3. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    If I have ever referred to Pope Benedict as “Ratzinger” … well, my intent would certainly have been somewhat malign, and I wouldn’t have minded had the Editor concerned chided me (including on a neocath site!).

  4. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Mr Nel,

    Sr Sue’s Blog is precisely that, Sr Sue’s Blog!

    It is NOT the Southern Cross Newspaper!

    Am I misunderstanding something here?


  5. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Mr Nel,

    The Editor has allowed your rather extensive critique of Sr Sue to stand. For ALL to read. What more do you really want?

    You seem at times to be a little over the top with your ferocious demands. You remind me at times of a certain tin-pot little tyrant who makes all sorts of incessant demands, and is probably set to be toppled as we speak.

    Let us not forget that we are an Easter People. He is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!

    A blessed Easter to ALL!

  6. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    In an attempt to swing the discussion back to Fr Anthony Egan’s excellent article on conscience, I would like to bring attention to what is possibly a most significant occurrence.

    According to an NCR article, Melinda Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, has “called upon governments to set as goals universal access to birth control for women who want it. She said the measure could save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.” (At the TEDxChange event in Berlin.)

    Melinda is a Roman Catholic. The article says “Referring to her church’s teaching that holds the use of artificial contraceptives to be morally unacceptable she said, “In the tradition of the great Catholic scholars, the nuns also taught us to question received teachings. One of the teachings most of my classmates and I questioned was the one saying that birth control is a sin.” ”

    The entire article is available via the following link …

    I believe it to be well worth a read, since it tackles with sensitivity one of today’s most pressing moral concerns!

  7. Mark Nel April 9, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Vincent, Sr Sue’s blog is a Southern Blog and is housed on this newspapers site for all readers of this site to see. Amazing that you class me as a little tyrant – about to be toppled – I am sure you are privy to the behind the scenes lobbying and are aware of something I don’t.

    Why are you unable to see that on the day that blog was posted Sr Sue was advised it was inaccurate and asked to provide her source. She and the editor chose to ignore that for more than a month. It could have been corrected immediately. If the editor had been accused of making a statement he did not make, it would have been. Why am I a tyrant because I refuse to look the other way and ignore this failure by the editor.

    Have I accused you of being a tyrant because you won’t let the subject of gay marriage go?

    The bottom line is that the Pope did not sy that, yet the editor has allowed Sr Sue’s criticism of the Pope in this regard to stand. Their is your tyrant Vincent!

  8. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    (Indeed, Mr Nel, the Editor has allowed your extensive critique of the Editor to stand in these threads. The neocath sites that have censored me also censored my critique of their censorship! And there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it. Think upon that when next having a ferocious go at our Southern Cross Editor on these threads!)

  9. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Mark, I never called you a tyrant. I simply said that at times //you remind me of one// (actually, he isn’t a tyrant, because he really has no power, and seems about to be booted from his league).

  10. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    As for your sepculation about behind-the-scenes lobbying … well, sorry to disappoint you so, but I don’t do lobbying!

  11. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    As for my being a tyrant because I question church teaching … sorry, Mark, but I have zero power! So by definition I cannot be (or probably even resemble) a tyrant! All I have is my little quill!

    Now, thinking of claims to absolute rule, well, a certain absolute monarch does come to mind …

  12. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 11:34 am #


    When do you remind me of J? At times like “EDITOR: Remove that blog in which Sr Sue falsely accuses the Pope of saying something he did not say. Publish an apology for criticizing the Pope for doing so!” That’s when!

  13. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    I must say that I apologise for my contribution to a terrible lowering of the tenor of the dialogue on this thread. On Easter Monday, nogal!

    Is it possible, Mark, for us to look past the rhetoric and the posturing, and to actually hold out an olive branch to each other?

    When I’m at my best, I really don’t enjoy the sort of scrapping that I can sometimes indulge in on these threads.

    Perhaps we can stop trying to tear each other down, and move on to trying to pick each other up?

    I freely admit that I have some serious issues with the Hierarchy. And much of that has to do with my sexuality, and their (perceived?) condemnation of it (and hence of my personhood, for my sexuality is a part of my personhood, and is inextricably bound up with who and what I am!).

    So, Mark, I stand before you a sinner … yes, I have at times (metaphorically) thrown stones at you … I am genuinely sorry for that!

    It is all so very difficult. We are both Catholic, both members of the Mystical Body of Christ. I think that I am correct in saying that we both have serious issues to deal with (who doesn’t?)! And yet, we are such very different people … with often diametrically opposed insights and viewpoints. But we are, in spite of our very different worldviews, brothers in Christ.

    So there is a tension. Our catholicity (our universality) doesn’t preclude substantial differences. Unity must not require uniformity!

    Can we not somehow debate without becoming overly acrimonious? I admit that I have much to learn in this regard. How to proceed?

    All I can do right now is collect my wits, stand before you, and genuinely say that I am your brother, that we are family, and that I will try to be more respectful in future engagement with you.

    Please feel free to remind me of this when I fail! I think that I will probably need some reminding … knowing just how weak I can be!

    May the Peace of the Risen Christ be with you, my fellow Pilgrim!

  14. Donal April 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    From A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt:

    …Duke of Norfolk: Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!
    Sir Thomas More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

  15. Mark Nel April 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    And with you Vincent. I am whole heartedly in agreement with you Vincent. I need to find a way of not making these debates personal. The one thing I know with certainty from our debates is that we are both passionate about what we believe in. That is a good thing.

    God bless and enjoy the rest of your day.

  16. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    A very good point, Donal! But know this … when I question the Magisterium, I am “doing my conscience”. And it ain’t easy … especially when doing so publically in a forum such as this, under my full name.

  17. Vincent Couling April 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    Thanks, Mark … greatly appreciated!

  18. Donal April 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    Yes, Vincent. I appreciate this. But the positions of the Duke of Norfolk and +Sir Thomas More were not relative. More was siding in conscience with the Magisterium and his conscience was not relying on private judgement. Very likely Norfolk was not doing his conscience, as Luther – to give him his due – almost certainly was. What we do know about More and his trial is that he took his stand, even as one who had been critical of aspects of Church practice, on the Magisterium of the Church, against those who would have conformed to the “spirit of the age”, or to use a more recent, somewhat hackneyed phrase, the “signs of the times”. Yes, indeed, we are all obliged to follow our informed consciences. In principle I have no objection to this, crucially when the “informed” is included. It is the practical working out of that conformity that so often presents an insurmountable problem, as we know all too well, and will unfortunately continue to do so.

  19. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    We seem (as ever) to have come full circle once again … sigh …

    So pray tell us Donal, does your informed conscience tell you that the institution of slavery is consonant with the natural and divine law, or that the institution of slavery is intrinsically evil?!

    And what is the “constant” teaching of the Magisterium on this?

    And, for that matter, what would Sir Thomas More have said?

    Remember, Donal, an intrinsic evil always was evil, is evil, and always will be evil!

  20. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    PS I’m intrigued, Donal, that you know so very much about the internal fora of so very many people! Well done!

  21. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    One more trivial little question, Donal: I seemed to recall that Sir Thomas had some protestants burnt at the stake (from having watched the series “The Tudors” … which sometimes didn’t seem all that historically accurate, mind!). So I just did a little Google search … and it would appear that Sir Thomas More secured a writ for burning at least one Protestant, despatching him to his fiery grave with a somewhat un-saintly joke that the proper course would have been to “burn him first and procure a writ afterwards.”

    Perhaps the historian Jasper Ridley has some grounds to describe Saint Thomas More as “a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert”?

    Now tell me, Donal, was this burning of Protestants in accord with the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church? Did this type of action conform to the “spirit of the age”? Does the Magisterium of the Church today consider the burning of Protestants to be consonant with the divine and the natural law? Do you? What of someone who, in 1531, would have disagreed in conscience with this practice? Would their thinking have been contrary to the Magisterium of the Church (both then and now?)

    I look forward to your reasoned conjectures …

  22. Donal April 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    @Vincent. This underlines my point that More was not a relativist. As with the current Pope, who was shocked by the excesses of late 1960s radicals, More was also shocked by the implications, both religious and social (there was no concept of private religious life) which the Reformation was unleashing, and, as with the current Pope, high office brought heavy responsibility. Who in our world would justify the burning of heretics, now that religion has become almost entirely a private matter (becoming even more so), and conformity not seen as vital to the survival of society. We cannot judge sixteenth century people with twenty-first century values regarding the ordering of society. Both Catholics and reformers believed that conformity was vital, which is why Calvin’s Geneva burned the theologian and scientist Servetus as a social as well as religious threat. How the civil power dealt with religious and political dissidents was not a matter of the deposit of faith. The unity of the Church was and remains essential to the deposit of faith, so I am not a relativist about More’s stand in defence of it. As regards his methods in enforcing it, we live in a very different world in which the sacred and secular aspects of society are divided in a way that would have been foreign to him. But as regards the principle of Church unity, I would stand with More, and indeed with his fellow humanist scholar Erasmus, who could not bring himself to tear the seamless garment of Church unity.

    As regards, your wider point about the Magisterium, as with the slavery issue, I fear we may end up fruitlessly going around in circles, not only about he facts of the case, but about our different approaches. You choose to see all teachings of the Church as relative and mutable, whereas I, in common with the Church’s own position, would distinguish between teaching which relates to the deposit of faith, which has been held or is held to be definitive, and is part of the basic minimum, if you like, which Catholics are required to believe. The Church leaves much else undefined, and as a human (as well as divine) institution lives in the world and has had to adapt, sometimes reluctantly, to changes in the secular world. It would be silly of me if I held that papal teaching on the importance of the papal states, or upholding executions in the papal states in the past, were of equal and timeless importance as, say, the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, the Trinity, or any number of doctrines which have been defined as articles of faith, usually because they have been threatened.

    I entirely understand that you have a very different approach and a very different “model of church”. I don’t see any point in debating issues on which we have such differing positions, because they become dead ends and can so easily become personalised. We are highly unlikely ever to convince each other into contrary positions (and as I have pointed out, even if I were so convinced, it would not make any difference to the overall outcome).

    As for Jasper Ridley, I would not rate him highly as a leading scholar of the Tudors, although certainly a very readable biographer. True to his namesake, burned alongside Cramner and Latimer, his approach to this period is very clear even from the titles of his books, including Blodoy Mary’s Martyrs: The Story of England’s Terror, and Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue. The latter biography of “Good Queen Bess”, ignores her persecution of Catholicism, after all, the ancient faith of England, and the many Catholics martyred and massacred (the Revolt of the Northern Earls) in Northumberland and the West Country, not to mention Ireland.

  23. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Dear Donal,

    How on Earth can you claim of me with a straight face that “you choose to see ALL [emphasis mine] teachings of the Church as relative and mutable, whereas I, in common with the Church’s own position, would distinguish between teaching which relates to the deposit of faith, which has been held or is held to be definitive, and is part of the basic minimum, if you like, which Catholics are required to believe.”

    Goodness gracious me! What I have been stressing all along on these threads is that the Conciliar documents of Vatican II make a clear distinction between teaching which relates to the deposit of the faith, and that which doesn’t!

    For my latest plea in this regard, made only this morning (well before your post above), see the link to Fr Egan’s most recent article:

    I quote my contribution here for your perusal:

    “Dear Mark,

    You claim that “The only aspect of the Church that is unchanging is Church Doctrine.”

    Of course, this is not true. Even the Council documents of Vatican II illustrate this.

    See, for example, the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism (no. 6), which says “Therefore, if the influence of events or of the times has led to deficiencies in conduct, in Church discipline, or even in the formulation of doctrine (which must be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself), these should be appropriately rectified at the proper moment.”

    Why this distinction from elements considered to belong to the deposit of faith itself?

    See the Decree on Ecumenism (no. 11): “Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a “hierarchy” of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.”

    In the Church, it appears that there is doctrine and then there is Doctrine. (I.e. a hieracrchy of truths.) The art appears to lie in separating out that which belongs to the deposit of faith itself from that which does, er … well, not!

    And where the formulation of such doctrine has been deficient, it must be appropriately rectified! It would clearly be erroneous to claim that such church doctrine is unchanging! In fact, there are many examples of such church doctrine undergoing profound change!”

  24. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    And so, in the realm of contemporary moral issues (among which I would include the role of women in society, the question of gay love relationships, etc … our modern-day equivalents of the earlier great questions of religious liberty and slavery, say) we have the conciliar documents saying (Lumen Gentium no. 43) “it happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intentions of their proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church’s authority for his opinion. They should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good.”

  25. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Lumen Gentium no. (62) expounds further … “Although the Church has contributed much to the development of culture, experience shows that, for circumstantial reasons, it is sometimes difficult to harmonize culture with Christian teaching. These difficulties do not necessarily harm the life of faith, rather they can stimulate the mind to a deeper and more accurate understanding of the faith. The recent studies and findings of science, history and philosophy raise new questions which effect life and which demand new theological investigations. Furthermore, theologians, within the requirements and methods proper to theology, are invited to seek continually for more suitable ways of communicating doctrine to the men of their times; for the deposit of Faith or the truths are one thing and the manner in which they are enunciated, in the same meaning and understanding, is another. In pastoral care, sufficient use must be made not only of theological principles, but also of the findings of the secular sciences, especially of psychology and sociology, so that the faithful may be brought to a more adequate and mature life of faith.”

  26. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    So, Donal, can we agree that church doctrine as regards the relatively recently-discovered phenomenon of constitutional homosexuality (as opposed to the former idea that all people are heterosexual, and some indulge in a deviant homosexual sin from time to time) is in a primitive formative stage, and that, as suggested by the Council, due recognition needs to be paid to the discoveries and insights of the sciences, thereby permitting theologians to undertake fresh theological investigations, synthesizing Christian theology with the new scientific understandings, so that we may develop church doctrine to account for the newly discovered realities in a way that is compassionate and authentically loving, seeking out what will permit the full human flourishing of these homosexual children of God?

  27. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    I do apologise … those quotes are from Gaudium et Spes, and not Lumen Gentium.

    Let us look at some of what Lumen Gentium does say!

    LG (no. 37): “The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments. They should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ.”

  28. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Further: “Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city.”

  29. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    In conclusion, Donal, might I respectfully ask whether you believe, for sake of argument, that the morality of sexual ethics as currently presented by the Magisterium (on, for example, matters concerning the regulation of fertility in the realm of responsible family planning, or in the realm of gay love relationships) belongs to the Deposit of Faith? If so, is this demonstrable, or is it a noninfallible opinion?

  30. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    If, as the council taught, our spiritual shepherds are to employ the prudent advice of the laity on these noninfallibles, then why didn’t Pope Paul VI do so when Pope John XXIII’s Pontifical Commission on Birth Control submitted its findings to him?

    See for further details …

    Let me quote from this article a little koan:

    ” ‘Responsible Parenthood,’ the fruit of five years of work, study and prayer that involved 60 experts in theology, science and population trends as well as several married couples, has been long ago buried and is rarely discussed except by old-timers who remember what a stir it created when its contents were published in the pages of NCR in 1967, much to the disapproval of the Vatican. There is a kind of calm, common sense running through the whole document that has never gotten the broad attention I believe it deserves. Perhaps it’s not too late.

    Here in a compact nutshell is what ‘Responsible Parenthood’ said:

    The morality of sexual acts between married people … does not depend on the direct fecundity of each and every particular act. … For a conscience correctly formed … is altogether distinguished from a mentality … which is egotistically and irrationally opposed to fruitfulness …
    The true opposition is not to be sought between some material conformity to the physiological processes of nature and some artificial intervention. For it is natural to man to use his skill in order to put under human control what is given by physical nature. The opposition is really to be sought between one way of acting which is contraceptive and opposed to prudent and generous fruitfulness, and another way which is an ordered relationship to responsible fruitfulness and which has a concern for education and all the essential human and Christian values.”

  31. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    The full document “Responsible Parenthood” may be found here …

  32. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Perhaps shoring up the idea of Papal Infallibility was seen as more important that any idea of letting “the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church,” et cetera …

  33. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    “koan” is utterly the wrong word … “kernel” is what I was getting at …

  34. Donal April 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    @Vincent. Please re-read my last message, particularly those parts relating to the fact that we argue from different premises, evidence and approaches, as well as the danger of personalising issues and the utter futility of one trying to “convert” the other. You have brought in your own personal axe to grind, which appears to be at the core of all your other arguments regarding slavery, women’s roles, etc. I do not share your approach or your conclusions. We surely know our respective positions all too well. Whether the Church should conform to our desires, whether we are constitutionally homosexual, heterosexual, monogamous, polygamous, polyamorous, is not something you and I will ever agree on. I don’t want to engage in endless ding-dong debates, with heavy artillery barrages of selectively quoted V2 documents and statements from dissident Catholic groups, lay or clerical. To reiterate: We know our respective positions, neither of us is going to change and nothing would be gained by going around and around again in circles, so let us leave it at that.

  35. Donal April 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Notwithstanding my last point, as a point of clarification, I do adhere to the Church’s teaching regarding artificial birth control and regard it as philosophically and morally defensible. In common with so much of the Christian life, it is a demanding doctrine and, yes, there are hard cases, but hard cases notoriously make bad law. The fact that millions of Catholics in the developed world do not adhere to it does not negate it as a moral teaching. Millions of Catholics share common human failings with the rest of humanity, and succeed to varying degrees or not at all to live a Christian life. This is inevitable and that is why we have the Church and the Sacraments. She is there for the sinners rather than the virtuous. But I don’t expect you ever to agree and respect your right to differ on this. Please respect mine.

  36. Vincent Couling April 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm #


    If you are going to become priggish and demand respect, then at least do unto others as you would have them do unto you, rather than show me the disrespect of making false claims about what I am saying!

    As in your demonstrably false allegation aimed at me: “you choose to see ALL [emphasis mine] teachings of the Church as relative and mutable, whereas I, in common with the Church’s own position, would distinguish between teaching which relates to the deposit of faith, which has been held or is held to be definitive, and is part of the basic minimum, if you like, which Catholics are required to believe.”

    Utter nonsense! And you know it!

    I have no desire to convert you. My only desire is to illustrate that there is a hierarchy of church doctrine, and that not all doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith – and that this noninfallible doctrine can be (and often has been!) subject to development, sometimes radical development.

    And so you appear wrong to say that we argue from different premises since I see, from your statement above, that we are apparently arguing from the same premise, namely that we can distinguish between doctrine that belongs to the deposit of the faith, and that which does not!

    You are right to say that we arrive at different conclusions, though. Am I trying to “convert” you to my conclusion? Or am I simply trying to give voice to a perfectly plausible alternative conclusion, even though it differs from the current (mutable, noninfallible) conclusion of the Magisterium?! If you could admit to that, it would suffice! My argument has only ever been about giving fresh theological investigation to new insights! My argument has only ever been about dialogue in a spirit of collegiality, and fearless investigation of the truth!

    It is not I who is trying to bend people to a particular view, claiming that view to be infallible, and non-negotiable, and out of bounds even of adult discussion! I am merely suggesting an alternative view, and calling for rational dialogue. It is not I who has been calling for censorship of what appears in Catholic newspapers! It is not I who has actively been pursuing theologians and investigating them, and trying to keep them from researching certain contemporary questions! It is not I who has conducted visitations of seminaries, and tried to conform them to ultra-orthodox views! (See “Church – a cold place for liberals,” Fr Kevin Hegarty reflects on Rome’s investigation of Irish Church.) So keep your silly accusations of proselytization to yourself! And try not pretend that the Magisterium doesn’t have a couple of axes of its own to grind! (Creeping infallibility, investigations, visitations, new translations, reform of the reform, centralization, an end to collegiality and all that!)

    I have deliberately quoted Gaudium et Spes (no. 43) “it happens rather frequently, //and legitimately so//, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter,” clearly illustrating that I don’t expect you ever to agree with me, and that I fully respect your right to differ on this! So why demand of me what I have already conceded?

    Perhaps because you want to pretend that it is I that is being unduly demanding, and never the Magisterium. Well, I have not demanded of people that they follow the premises of an outdated Aristotelian physics and biology as regards their lovemaking! I have not demanded of a whole class of people that they deny themselves the prospect of love-relationships with a sexual dimension! All the while giving scant rational argument for making such demands save perhaps a protection of the idea of an infallible teaching authority by avoiding develpoment of doctrine! I have made no such demands, Donal! And I never would! So please don’t pretend otherwise!

    And so, Donal, your attempt to shift the focus away from the true source of sometimes unreasonable demands WILL be shown up, as unpalatable as it is! The Magisterium condoned slavery, and no longer does. In spite of some claiming for it an insight that transcends shifts in cultural norms … an insight into immutable core truth in ALL matters of doctrine! Clearly, there are certain concerns as to which the Magisterium has seen (and perhaps still sees) as through a glass, darkly!

    And yes, the gay issue, which most decidedly affects me (and millions of others) most personally IS possibly one of those very issues! So I will continue to grind my axe until there is no axe left to grind!

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