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?

  • Mark Nel

    What I have found absent from this article, plus last weeks article and editorial on the subject of conscience, is any mention of the fact that a Catholic’s conscience must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church. One cannot choose, freely, to be a Catholic but only selectively accept the Church’s teaching on Faith and Morals.

  • Mark Nel

    “The conscience of the faithful, even when informed by the virtue of prudence, must be subject to the Magisterium of the Church, whose duty it is to explain the whole moral law authoritatively, in order that it may rightly and correctly express the objective moral order.

    Further, the conscience itself of Christians must be taught that there are norms which are absolute, that is, which bind in every case and on all people. That is why the saints confessed Christ through the practice of heroic virtues; indeed, the martyrs suffered even torture and death rather than deny Christ.” [General Catechetical Directory # 63]

    See also

  • Donal

    A sovereign, uninformed or unmediated conscience is not a Catholic virtue; rather the opposite, and Vatican II did not alter this one jot. In the reformed communities, churches are a mere agencies rather than authoritative teachers, making the formation of conscience and judgement private matters. This is not and has never been the Catholic way. I am confident, however, that Fr Anthony, having freely taken as a Jesuit an additional “fourth vow” to the Pope, the centre of the magisterium, is well aware of this aspect..

  • Rosemary Gravenor

    @Mark [snip] must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church — so why does the Church promote the Primacy of Conscience? or are you just wandering in a forest to prove a private Agenda?

    Primacy means Primacy means Primacy means Primacy – get it?

  • John

    My word Rosemary. What an ugly comment. How about respect for your fellow brother in Christ?

    Clearly your conscience here didn’t work for you in advising you how to dialogue in a respectable manner. Perhaps this was the reason for you being booted out of “Awestruck”? The proper Catholic conscience it appears on that forum decided quite rightly it would seem. This being said with all due respect of course & perhaps subject to some correction.

  • Mark Nel

    Got it, thanks Rosemary.

  • Fr. John Keough

    @ Donal

    Not all Jesuits take the “fourth vow.” In fact, from my understanding, there are now very few who do.

  • Mark Nel

    Donal, just a note on the fourth vow of the Jesuits.

    The 4th vow of the Jesuits is about obedience to the Pope regarding the missions of the Jesuits. It is about agreeing to obediently go where the Pope sends them. The words are: “I further promise a special obedience to the souvereign pontiff in regard to the missions, according to the same Apostolic Letters and the Constitutions.”

    Also, Jesuits only make this 4th vow at their Final Vows. Before this Jesuits take First Vows, after a two year novitiate. Final vows only happen after a period of “tertianship” and could happen long after ordination. I recently read an article of a Jesuit who is only making his final vows after 21 years as a Jesuit.

  • Donal

    Dear Fr John and Mark, Many thanks for this, which explains a great deal, not only about the fourth vow, but wider Jesuit attitudes too.

  • Vincent Couling

    Some insights from the catechism of the Catholic Church …

    CCC 1782 “Man [sic] has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” ”

    CCC 1785 “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and //guided// by the authoritative teaching of the Church.”

    CCC 1787 “Man [sic] is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.”

    CCC 1788 “To this purpose, man [sic] strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.”

    CCC 1790 “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.”

  • Vincent Couling

    Mark Nel quotes from the general catechetical directory that “The conscience of the faithful, even when informed by the virtue of prudence, must be subject to the Magisterium of the Church, whose duty it is to explain the whole moral law authoritatively, in order that it may rightly and correctly express the objective moral order.”

    What precisely is meant by “must be subject to”?

    What precisely is the level of assent required to this general catechetical directory?

    The CCC in its turn says (somewhat more subtly) that we are “guided” by the “authoritative teaching of the Church”.

    Does this pertain to matters belonging to the Deposit of Faith alone? (Surely it must!)

    Again, teasing out exactly what is meant, it seems that primacy of conscience is inviolable, and while every effort is made to suggest that it would be pleasing to those in authority to have our consciences moulded in the image and likeness of their teachings, this ultimately only applies to the contents of the Deposit of Faith. (The exact contents of which seem never to have been spelt out in a definitive list, mind!)

  • Vincent Couling

    I would like to ask Mark Nel and his coven of ca. 19 facebook followers/admirers a question …

    If it is the duty of the Magisterium of the Church to explain the whole moral law authoritatively, in order that it (the Magisterium) might rightly and correctly express the objective moral order, well, then which Magisterium are we to follow on the issue of slavery?

    We have, after all, the infamous 1866 teaching of the Holy Office, signed by Pope Pius IX: “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given.”

    And we have the somewhat mutually exclusive teaching of Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor (no. 80) that asserts slavery to be intrinsically evil and objectively disordered.

    If something is intrinsically evil and objectively disordered, this means that it was always evil and disordered at its very core … even in 1866!

    So which is the correct Magisterial expression of the objective moral order on the question of slavery?

    To which of these diametrically opposed teachings of the Magisterium must we subject our conscience?

    I think that Mark Nel and his coven owe us an honest answer …

  • Vincent Couling

    oops … “facebook followers” should read “blog followers”.

  • Vincent Couling

    What has really delighted me in recent times is the number of Catholic Governors of US States who have, in good conscience, approved laws for gay civil marriages in spite of the sturm und drang from their bishops on this very issue.

    Hopefully, as with the slavery debacle, we will see movement on this issue at the level of a Roman Pontiff in the not too distant future!

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent, I won’t bother responding to your sarcastic comments. They do not deserve a response, though I am glad that you have looked at my Blog. Here is some sarcasm back: If you read my Blog I would not have to answer you here.

    In answer to your question about whether the Magisterium applies to the Deposit of Faith only.

    Firstly, this is exactly the error that everyone makes. Catholics have erroneously been led to believe that it only applies to this and we see the mess it has caused.

    Secondly, Jesus clearly did not come only to teach us about “God” but also about how to live.

    “The infallibility of the Magisterium of the Pastors extends to all the elements of doctrine, including moral doctrine, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, expounded, or observed.” (CCC #2051)

    Conscience is a “judgement” of whether a proposed action is right or wrong. It “is not an ‘inner voice’ telling me what is right and what is wrong. It is not an emotional feeling produced by my parents or by toilet training or by my peer group. It is not a special faculty, distinct from my mind and my will, that tells me what to do and what to avoid.” (Baker, Kenneth; Fundamentals of Catholicism, Vol. 1, Pg. 122; 1995)

    In order to make a judgment there must be objective principles available to us on which to base that ‘judgement’. God provides these principles to everyone through Natural Law, which has also been revealed through Divine Revelation.

    The Church guides us to understand these objective moral principles: “The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, as authentic teachers, preach to the People of God the faith which is to be believed and applied in moral life. It is also encumbent on them to pronounce on moral questions that fall within the natural law and reason.” (CCC #2050)

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Mark,

    Firstly, kindly point out any sarcasm!

    Secondly, kindly answer my rather simple question as to which is the correct Magisterial expression of the objective moral order on the question of slavery! (So much for the infallibility of the pastors, eh!)

    Thirdly, I wondered why Mark Nel was highlighted in blue above your posts, clicked, and found out. A quick scan of all the frightening stuff got me out of there very, very quickly!



  • Mark Nel

    Another thought. Given the recent discussion about the Doctrine of Original Sin. Is there any part of the Church’s teaching that is accepted today? Or is the Church only accepted as having authority over Catholics when its teaching correlates with our personal views?

  • Mark Nel

    You have your answer Vincent. Start with that, then get back to me.

  • Mark Nel

    The question of yours I answered came before the rest of your ramblings about slavery. So let’s get to that later when you have digested my response.

  • P.R.Margeot

    Mark Nel and his coven: what a language, all tongue-in-cheek as usual, I suppose.

  • Vincent Couling

    coven = an inward-looking group of associates,

    not tongue-in-cheek at all!!!

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Mark,

    Kindly stop avoiding the elephant in the sitting room!

    Your opening gambit on this thread is that “a Catholic’s conscience must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church”.

    Now all I am asking is, as regards slavery, are we Catholics to subject our consciences to the Magisterial teaching that:

    “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given … ,”

    or to the Magisterial teaching that slavery is intrinsically evil and objectively disordered?!

    A rather simple question, not?!

    Why are you avoiding providing us with an answer?!

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent, I suggest that you read again your first two posts. (The two posts before you move onto the subject of slavery.) You specifically first questioned whether the Church’s teaching authority extends to morals as well, or is limited only to the Deposit of Faith. I have started there.

    The topic of slavery is a whole new discussion, which I am happy to get to later in this thread. But for now we have to move the ‘elephant to the side of the room’ because you initially introduced it last in your comments. (Let’s keep YOUR original order.)

    I need to clarify something before we continue though. I believe that you are not genuine in wanting to discuss this here. I believe that you are in fact deliberately avoiding discussing this in any kind of logical sequence, namely the order in which you questioned me, because you actually want to sow confusion and are not interested in any constructive dialogue.

    Are you serious about debating this or do you simply wish to vent, intent on nothing else but bashing Holy Mother the Church.

    If you are interested in engaging in a debate with a genuine purpose of trying to hear and discuss various views we can happily continue. If not, let’s not waste each others time.

  • P.R.Margeot

    Coven : Assembly of witches(concise Oxford Dict.)

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Mark,

    Smoke and mirrors! Are you perhaps buying time so that you can get some advice from an Opus Dei priest on how to handle the vexing problem of having contradictory Magisterial pronouncements on a given moral issue, namely that of slavery?

    Yes, the issue of enslaving fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is a MORAL issue!

    So let’s begin with what you allege to be my first parry … the question of morals.

    Is the Magisterium unfailingly consistent in its teaching as regards the morality of slavery, usury, religious freedom … or even the morality of use of torture in extracting information?

    In all of these cases the Magisterium has changed its collective mind.

    Yep, these are moral issues. Relating to my first parry.

    So no need to delay any further … please which of the mutually exclusive Magisterial teachings we owe obeisance of conscience!

    This is not a trivial matter … indeed, it strikes at the very heart of your (and your coven’s) insistence that “a Catholic’s conscience must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church.”

    It goes to show that such a claim is troublesome in the extreme. Yes, we can be “guided” by the “authoritative teaching of the Church,” as the CCC recommends. But we have to come to our own mature synthesis … formulated in our own unique inner forum, when alone with our God! And as regards what happens there, the Magisterium is quite unequivocal: our conscience is inviolable.

    CCC 1782 “Man [sic] has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” ”

    CCC 1790 “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself … .”

  • Vincent Couling

    PRM, I have a better resource than you … the unabridged Oxford:


    [Var. of COVIN.]

    † 1. = COVIN I. LME–E17.

    2. A company of witches who regularly meet together; fig. a secret or inward-looking group of associates. M17.

    See Covin …

    I. † 1. A number of people allied together; a company, a band. ME–E16.

    2. A collusion between two or more to the prejudice of another; a secret plan or agreement. Now rare or obsolete. LME.

    3. Fraud; deceit; treachery. arch. LME.

    † 4. Secret contrivance or intent. Only in LME.

    † 5. State, character. LME–L15.

    II. 6. = COVEN 2. Scot. M19.

    Comb.: covin-tree Scot. a large tree in front of a Scottish mansion where the laird met or took leave of his visitors etc.

    • covinous adjective (now rare) collusive; fraudulent: L16.
    • covinously adverb (now rare) M16.

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent, this is not the first time that you have made mention of Opus Dei when responding to my comments. I have ignored previous comments. Then, the last time you made mention of Opus Dei, I challenged you on this. You responded with some ridiculous explanation about the book you were reading. Now again you suddenly bring up this matter of Opus Dei. Would you care to explain what the relevance of this is in this thread and to my comments? Why do you keep making reference to Opus Dei?

  • Mark Nel

    Oh, and Vincent, if you are going to quote line after line from the CCC to support your argument, don’t stop when it gets to an uncomfortable part.

    1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

  • Vincent Couling

    When some on this thread take a swipe at the Jesuits, I will feel free to take a swipe at the apotheosis of the anti-intellectual new priestly orders: namely, Opus Dei. And, by association, their ilk.

    Since you seem to think that everything written in the CCC is infallible Truth, I will feel free to quote the uncomfortable bits to you. I, personally, am quite convinced of the noninfallibility of much that is contained in the CCC.

  • Vincent Couling

    What is most deafening, Mark, is your utter silence on which of the Magisterial pronouncements on the morality of slavery we are to follow. After all, to quote your own words, “a Catholic’s conscience must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church.”

    It is a perfectly reasonable, rational, and resoundligly simple question. Flowing from your dictat that we must subject our conscience to the Magisterium of the Church, which Magisterial pronouncement are we to follow?!

    That “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given … ,” or that slavery is intrinsically evil and objectively disordered?!

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent explain what is the connection to Opus Dei, I don’t get it. The reference to Jesuit by Donal is understandable since this thread is in connection to an article by a Jesuit. Where does the Opus Dei link come in regarding my comments?

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Mark,

    Let’s avoid the cul-de-sacs.

    Let’s forget Opus Dei.

    I fully retract any and all comments about Opus Dei.

    Scrub them from the record.

    In fact, I apologise unreservedly to Opus Dei and all of their lay associates.

    Now that we’re back on the highway, could you kindly answer my question:

    Flowing from your dictat that we must subject our conscience to the Magisterium of the Church, which Magisterial pronouncement are we to follow?!

    That “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given … ,” or that slavery is intrinsically evil and objectively disordered?!

  • Mark Nel

    Well thank you for that retraction. I am sure also that Opus Dei and their Lay Associates, as you put it, will be pleased if they have been reading this thread. However, I remain very puzzled about why you have on so many occasions made reference to Opus Dei when replying to my comments.

    Okay, moving on. I should point out that it is not me that states our conscience must be subject to the authority of the Church. It is the Church that states this.

    I don’t know the document you refer of Pope Pius IX from 1866. I have searched for it online and in my books. Maybe you can send me a link to it. I do see that the feminist groups make constant reference to it in support of their argument for the ordination of women.

    It obviously could not have been an infallible document in the first place if it was changed, is my initial reaction. Let’s see what I think when I get to read it.

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Mark,

    It is NOT my responsibility to provide you with links to Vatican documents.

    The Holy Office’s 1866 instruction was signed by Pope Pius IX, and answers questions raised by the vicar apostolic to the Galla in East Africa, Cardinal Massaia, who was concerned, inter alia, with the laws of Galla giving a master the right to kill a slave. The Holy Office replied that “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given.” Pope John Paul II would later assert slavery to be intrinsically evil and objectively disordered (Veritatis Splendor #80).

    The Holy Office is now the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Since this congregation’s documents (even those signed by a Roman Pontiff) are pronounced by you to be noninfallible (finally we agree on something!!!), I suppose that I am free to take the CDF’s 1986 letter to the Catholic Bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons to be a noninfallible document … especially the bits that declare my sexual “inclination” to an objective disorder, etc. Alleluia! (oops … for a moment I forgot that we are in the liturgical season of Lent.)

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent I did not pronounce anything noninfallible. I said that not knowing the document I would like to read it. The only comment I made was that if Pope John Paul II subsequently changed the Church teaching, maybe it was not an infallible document.

    Don’t worry about the link. I will keep looking for it myself. Until then you will have to wait for my answer.

    Anyway I think it is plain to see you are not in the least bit interested in constructive dialogue.

    By the way, I hate to rain on your parade, but homosexual marriages will never be condoned by the Church. I think you need to come to terms with that and not read anything into what some alleged Catholic governors in the US may be doing.

  • Vincent Couling

    Well, Mark, sorry to rain on your parade, but I suppose that if I’m to be brutally honest, I’m really not all that interested in your answers to my rhetorical questions.

    I’m far more interested in exposing the patent nonsense in your opening “fact that a Catholic’s conscience must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church.”

    I currently have nothing further to add to this thread.

  • Mark Nel

    You have just hit on the crux of the matter Vincent. The fact that you view your questions as rhetoric shows you have no interest in dialogue that explores possibilities and serves to seek the truth! You lack sincerity and therefore can no longer be taken seriously in any of these threads. I would rather deal with a very rude abnoxious personal attack from someone who is sincere than with the insencerity that you have displayed in this thread.

    Let’s be clear, it is not me that claims that our conscience is not autonomous and that it is subject to the Magisterium of the Church. It is the Church. I leave it there!

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Mark,

    You say of me that I “have no interest in dialogue that explores possibilities and serves to seek the truth.” What utter tripe. It is you and your miniscule coven of followers who are the ones who have no interest in authentic dialogue that explores possibilities and serves to seek the truth.

    I am willing to share ideas … but I know that this task is impossible with one who demands complete and utter subjection of one’s conscience to the Magisterium (or any other external authority)!

    If I disagree with any teaching of the Magisterium, I am automatically in error in your eyes … and apparently out of communion with the Church. How can I possibly argue against such a fundamentalist mentality! Where is the room for dialogue, or exploration?

    I have entered into dialogue with others on this forum in several places … as regards synthesizing church doctrine with modern scientific findings (in the spirit of Aquinas et al.), etc. There has been some interesting exploration of possibilities. But you and your coven want to shut down debate … you and your coven want to censor what appears on the pages of the Southern Cross – only that which is in complete and utter agreement with the Magisterium is to be printed, no! (Though, ofttimes you and your coven, in my considered opinion, display a decided lack of understanding of the subtleties of what constitutes the Magisterium of the Church, let alone what it teaches.)

    I have entered into dialogue as regards sexual ethics. But you and your coven have insisted that only the official teaching may be represented, even in the letters page of the Southern Cross! Any idea that is authentically exploratory is antithetical to your vision … the fullness of Truth has been arrived at, and anything that diverges but one iota from it is anathema, and must be censored! It stands the risk of leading others astray, of causing immense damage to the frail psyches of the … er, weak? … after all! (Let me assure you, and John, that the most egregiously damaging event in my life was reading and internalizing [as a seventeen year old] the bile in the CDF’s 1986 letter on the alleged “pastoral care” of homosexual persons … in point of fact, it is the only thing that has ever led me to seriously consider taking my own life! To put it quite plainly, reading this letter wrought a lasting violation of my psyche that lasts to this very day. That the declaration that my inclination is intrinsically disordered is infallible … my foot. It is late, and I probably shouldn’t be posting this in my current frame of mind … but I’ll take the risk, and probably regret it in the morning – maybe some stream of consciousness writing when in the midst of a particularly vulnerable state of mind is not such a bad thing … you can see me warts and all!)

    And now, in a most curious turn of events, the Grand Inquisitor who wishes to censor left, right and centre presents himself as a paragon of dialogue and exploration of possibilities! Good grief!

    When I say that I’m really not interested in your answers, it’s because you have plastered them all over this site, and they have become a tad stale. Think exactly as the Magisterium does, or else! What a novel recipe for dialogue, for exploration!

    If you are correct, and my conscience is not autonomous … is subject to the Magisterium … what’s left to debate, to dialogue over, to explore?

    Really, Mark!

  • http://facebook jeremy damons

    All I can say is that I empathise with your plight, but the more I read your posts the more it becomes clear to me that your emotions have overtaken your ability to reason logically with Mark. It seems to me the chickens have finally come home to roost. Your personal vendetta with the hierarchy of the church reminds me of a story of Fulton Sheen and a young member of the who started critiscising the church’s teaching on morals and ethics. Fulton Sheen merely pointed out the real underlying reason for the attacks. It was borne out of the member hiding his guilt due to him stealing from the church. Vincent I won’t go so far as to say you’re stealing from the church, but your underlying inclination is well, how can I put it, contrary to the church’s teachings. You may think Mark, and others on this site are on some witch-hunting exercise (pardon the pun), but what Mark is really interested in is promoting the teachings of the faith which is dogmatically defined, or to put in another way, when the Pope speaks from the chair of Peter. It reminds me if one of my favourite verses in the bible, when Jesus commands his followers to obey what the pharosees tells you to do, but do not do as they do, as they sit on the chair of Moses. This little verse basically sums up the catholic tradition of submitting to church authority very nicely. Its basically a command to follow the teachings of the church, which btw is the Pope together with the magisterium. This model which Jesus instituted is a perfect method of how the church should be run. We all know the horror stories of some not so honourable popes, however we have fail safe in the fact that the holy spirit will not allow any person to teach in error whilst sitting on the chair of Moses, even though their actions are contrary to christian behaviour. This is why most protestant churches are disintegrating, the Anglican church is my case in point. It veered away from sound christian doctrine when it allowed for contraception and now for homosexuals to be ordained as ministers. Its church is disintegrating quite rapidly as they cannot decide as to what is morally acceptable, unlike the catholic church, which has the holy spirit as its guide. Finally Vincent I will pray for you, especially during this auspicious time during our christian calender, for God to give you strength to get through your struggles. Go well and God bless.

  • Mark Nel

    Fr John Hardon, in his book “The Catholic Catechism”, page 380, expresses this matter of our conscience being subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church like this:

    “To have our conscience as guide is not only a good thing, it is our duty. Anyone who acts contrary to his conscience is no longer on the right path. But conscience is not the arbiter of moral values. Its duty is to apply principles of morality, not to create them. Hence the importance of not only following ones conscience, but of educating it according to the mind of the Church, indeed, of continually forming it by intimate converse with God and openess to his grace in prayer.”

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Jeremy,

    Are you really so very sure that my emotions have overtaken my ability to reason logically with Mark? Or is this a convenient device to attempt to rubbish my cogent, reasoned arguments?

    Do you think that Catholics should have submitted themselves to Church authority when, in 1866, the Holy Office declared that “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given”?

    It is no secret that it was initially a fringe group of people who fought for emancipation … and they were often derided and belittled, since their argument was clearly contra to the Holy Writ (i.e. Divine Law)! Don’t forget that in 1866, the US passed the 13th amendment to their constitution to abolish slavery. The Holy Office must have been painfully aware of this “modernism” from a relatively new state that displayed much “modernism” in common with the French Republic … egalite, liberte, fraternite! Indeed, that Cardinal Massaia, vicar apostolic to the Galla in East Africa, raised questions with the Holy Office as regards the laws of Galla (which included giving a master the right to kill a slave!) shows that he was probably in a quandry … all the more so since being aware of the terrible civil war that had just been fought in the US over this very issue! The reply of the Holy Office was hardly novel … after all, we all know that there is no record of Jesus (or St Paul, etc) saying anything against the institution of slavery! It is interesting to note that several books which criticized the institution of slavery were placed on the Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) by the Holy Office … even as late as 1826.

    Let us not forget that as recently as the early 1800s various Catholic orders (Jesuits, Ursulines and Capuchins) partook in the slave trade, using slaves to run their plantations. It was really at the Second Vatican Council that this stance officially changed, to “… everyone must consider his every neighbour without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity … whatever insults human dignity, such as … slavery … are infamies indeed … they are supreme dishonour to the Creator.” [Gaudiem et Spes 27] Pope John Paul II went further in asserting slavery to be intrinsically evil and objectively disordered [Veritatis Splendor 80].

    So we can see that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has clearly shown the capacity for development of moral doctrine. Be under no illusion, I have the highest regard for the Catholic tradition. That is why I remain a Catholic today! There is probably no other home where I could comfortably fit! But also be under no illusion (and yes, this is where I have to refer to my personal faith journey, and so it provides some with an opportunity to say I am being emotional and can hence be disregarded … I would argue, though, that it is where experience informs reason, and so is a sharing that probably has its own value for the Magisterium when reflecting on the contemporary development of moral doctrine) … yes, also be under no illusion, I say: the attempt to synthesize our moral tradition as regards human sexuality with the modern discovery that some people are constitutionally homosexual (as reflected in the 1975 document Persona Humana, and in the 1986 document referred to above) is but a struggling and in many ways bumbling first attempt, and clearly warrants much further theological investigation, and a genuine dialogue with gay couples living out covenantal unions!

    A dialogue that includes listening! Not a pretend dialogue that is in reality a condescending meeting where one party is convinced that they are in possession of the fullness of Truth, and the only way forward is for the gays to submit themselves to the tentative explorations of the CDF into uncharted territory! Experience must inform reason … it is often disastrous to insist that reason must subjugate experience!

    If the Holy Office could move on the moral issue of slavery, then there is every expectation that it might move on the gay question.

    In any case, the Magisterium is unequivocal as to the primacy of conscience. As regards contemporary moral issues, mature adult Catholics are expected to arrive at their own mature synthesis, using the “authoritative teaching of the church” as a guide, certainly … a synthesis formulated in the inner forum, when alone with God.

    CCC 1782 “Man [sic] has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” ”

    CCC 1790 “A human being must always obey the certain judgement of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.”

  • Vincent Couling

    Poor Fr John must have been the butt of many a joke in his youth, eh! ;-)

  • Vincent Couling

    So, Mark,

    Any reflections on the crux of the matter?

    On this business of who really has “no interest in dialogue that explores possibilities and serves to seek the truth”?

  • Vincent Couling

    PS Mark, I really have no problem with what Fr Hardon says above … I think that it is well put.

    This business of continually forming our conscience “by intimate converse with God and openess to his grace in prayer” is especially valuable.

    As is “educating [our conscience] according to the mind of the Church” … though we probably interpret that statement in very different ways!

  • Donal

    Fr Joel S Panzer, writing on the Popes and the Slave Trade, states:

    From 1435 to 1890, we have numerous bulls and encyclicals from several popes written to many bishops and the whole Christian faithful condemning both slavery and the slave trade. The very existence of these many papal teachings during this particular period of history is a strong indication that from the viewpoint of the Magisterium, there must have developed a moral problem of a different sort than any previously encountered. In this article I will address three- from many more-of the responses of the papal Magisterium to the widespread enslavement that accompanied the Age of Discovery and beyond.

    Eugene IV: Sicut Dudum, 1435

    On January 13, 1435, Eugene IV issued from Florence the bull Sicut Dudum. Sent to Bishop Ferdinand, located at Rubicon on the island of Lanzarote, this bull condemned the enslavement of the black natives of the newly colonized Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The Pope stated that after being converted to the faith or promised baptism, many of the inhabitants were taken from their homes and enslaved:

    “They have deprived the natives of their property or turned it to their own use, and have subjected some of the inhabitants of said islands to perpetual slavery (subdiderunt perpetuae servituti), sold them to other persons and committed other various illicit and evil deeds against them…. Therefore We … exhort, through the sprinkling of the Blood of Jesus Christ shed for their sins, one and all, temporal princes, lords, captains, armed men, barons, soldiers, nobles, communities and all others of every kind among the Christian faithful of whatever state, grade or condition, that they themselves desist from the aforementioned deeds, cause those subject to them to desist from them, and restrain them rigorously. And no less do We order and command all and each of the faithful of each sex that, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their pristine liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands … who have been made subject to slavery (servituti subicere). These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money.”

    The date of this Bull, 1435, is very significant. Nearly 60 years before the Europeans were to find the New World, we already had the papal condemnation of slavery as soon as this crime was discovered in one of the first of the Portuguese geographical discoveries.

    Eugene IV was clear in his intentions both to condemn the enslavement of the residents of the Canary Islands, and to demand correction of the injustice within 15 days. Those who did not restore the enslaved to their liberty in that time were to incur the sentence of excommunication ipso facto.

    With Sicut Dudum, Eugene was clearly intending to condemn the enslavement of the people of the Canaries and, in no uncertain terms, to inform the faithful that what was being condemned was what we would classify as gravely wrong. Thus, the unjust slavery that had begun in the newly found territories was condemned, condemned as soon as it was discovered, and condemned in the strongest of terms.

    Paul III: Sublimis Deus, 1537

    The pontifical decree known as “The Sublime God” has indeed had an exalted role in the cause of social justice in the New World. Recently, authors such as Gustavo Gutierrez have noted this fact: ‘The bull of Pope Paul III, Sublimis Deus (June 2, 1537), is regarded as the most important papal pronouncement on the human condition of the Indians.” It is, moreover, addressed to all of the Christian faithful in the world, and not to a particular bishop in one area, thereby not limiting its significance, but universalizing it.

  • Donal

    [and he continues:]
    Sublimis Deus was intended to be issued as the central pedagogical work against slavery. Two other bulls would be published to implement the teaching of Sublimis, one to impose penalties on those who fail to abide by the teaching against slavery, and a second to specify the sacramental consequences of the teaching that the Indians are true men.

    The first central teaching of this beautiful work is the universality of the call to receive the Faith and salvation:

    “And since mankind, according to the witness of Sacred Scripture, was created for eternal life and happiness, and since no one is able to attain this eternal life and happiness except through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is necessary to confess that man is of such a nature and condition that he is capable to receive faith in Christ and that everyone who possesses human nature is apt for receiving such faith . . . Therefore the Truth Himself Who can neither deceive nor be deceived, when He destined the preachers of the faith to the office of preaching, is known to have said: ‘Going, make disciples of all nations.’ ‘All,’ he said, without any exception, since all are capable of the discipline of the faith.”

    The teaching of Sublimis continued:

    “Seeing this and envying it, the enemy of the human race, who always opposes all good men so that the race may perish, has thought up a way, unheard of before now, by which he might impede the saving word of God from being preached to the nations. He has stirred up some of his allies who, desiring to satisfy their own avarice, are presuming to assert far and wide that the Indians of the West and the South who have come to our notice in these times be reduced to our service like brute animals, under the pretext that they are lacking the Catholic Faith. And they reduce them to slavery (Et eos in servitutem redigunt), treating them with afflictions they would scarcely use with brute animals.”

    The common pretext of the allies of “the enemy of the human race,” i.e. Satan, for enslaving the Indians was that they lacked the Faith. Some of the Europeans used the reasoning that converting the Indians should be accomplished by any means necessary, thus making the Faith an excuse for war and enslavement. Paul III stated that the practice of this form of servitude was “unheard of before now.” This clearly indicates that the practice of enslaving an entire ethnic group of people – the Indians of South America-for no morally justifiable reason was indeed different from anything previously encountered.

    The second core teaching of Sublimis Deus which follows from this is the necessity of restoring and maintaining the liberty of the Indians:

    “Therefore, We, . . . noting that the Indians themselves indeed are true men and are not only capable of the Christian faith, but, as has been made known to us, promptly hasten to the faith’ and wishing to provide suitable remedies for them, by our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples-even though they are outside the faith-who shall hereafter come to the knowledge of Christians have not been deprived or should not be deprived of their liberty or of their possessions. Rather they are to be able to use and enjoy this liberty and this ownership of property freely and licitly, and are not to be reduced to slavery, and that whatever happens to the contrary is to be considered null and void. These same Indians and other peoples are to be invited to the said faith in Christ by preaching and the example of a good life.”

    Thus, we see that Eugene IV and Paul III did not hesitate to condemn the forced servitude of Blacks and Indians, and they did so once such practices became known to the Holy See. Their teaching was continued by Gregory XIV in 1591 and by Urban VIII in 1639. Indeed Urban, in his document Commissum Nobis, appealed to the teaching of his predecessors, particularly Paul III. The pontifical teaching was continued by the response of the Holy Office on March 20, 1686, under Innocent XI, and by the encyclical of Benedict XIV, Immensa Pastorum, on December 20, 1741. This work was followed by the efforts of Pius VII at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to have the victors over Napoleon outlaw slavery.

  • Donal

    Gregory XVI: In Supremo, 1839

    The 1839 Constitution In Supremo by Gregory XVI continued the antislavery teaching of his predecessors, and was in the same manner not accepted by many of those bishops, priests and laity for whom it was written. As we will see, even today many authors do not have an accurate understanding of this work. First, however, let us consider the content of In Supremo itself.

    The introduction of In Supremo tells us that it was written to turn Christians away from the practice of enslaving blacks and other peoples. In it, Gregory first mentioned the efforts of the Apostles and other early Christians to alleviate out of the motive of Christian charity the suffering of those held in servitude, and that they encouraged the practice of emancipating deserving slaves. At the same time, he noted that:

    “There were to be found subsequently among the faithful some who, shamefully blinded by the desire of sordid gain, in lonely and distant countries did not hesitate to reduce to slavery (in servitutem redigere) Indians, Blacks and other unfortunate peoples, or else, by instituting or expanding the trade in those who had been made slaves by others, aided the crime of others. Certainly many Roman Pontiffs of glorious memory, Our Predecessors, did not fail, according to the duties of their office, to blame severely this way of acting as dangerous for the spiritual welfare of those who did such things and a shame to the Christian name.”

    Gregory then cited the various predecessors and their antislavery teachings, even recalling the familiar phrase in servitutem redigere contained in the work of Paul III and his successors. He mentioned the efforts of Clement I, Pius II, Paul III, Benedict XIV, Urban VIII and Pius VII, before concluding this historical summary:

    “Indeed these sanctions and this concern of Our Predecessors availed in no small measure, with the help of God, to protect the Indians and the other peoples mentioned from the cruelties of the invaders and from the greed of Christian traders.”

    However Gregory was well aware that there was still much work to be done:

    “The slave trade, although it has been somewhat diminished, is still carried on by numerous Christians. Therefore, desiring to remove such a great shame from all Christian peoples … and walking in the footsteps of Our Predecessors, We, by apostolic authority, warn and strongly exhort in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to bother unjustly, despoil of their possessions, or reduce to slavery (in servitutem redigere) Indians, Blacks or other such peoples. Nor are they to lend aid and favor to those who give themselves up to these practices, or exercise that inhuman traffic by which the Blacks, as if they were not humans but rather mere animals, having been brought into slavery in no matter what way, are, without any distinction and contrary to the rights of justice and humanity, bought, sold and sometimes given over to the hardest labor.”

    Thus, the historical papal teaching against unjust servitude and the slave trade was upheld, and in 1839 was once again presented to the Christian faithful for their adherence.

    In Gregory’s time, as with the previous papal efforts, there was obviously widespread non-acceptance on the part of Catholic clergy and laity. Thus, In Supremo also contains a closing prohibition against clerics as well as laity who were attempting to defend slavery or the slave trade:

    “We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this trade in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in these Apostolic Letters.”

    The primary area of contention with In Supremo lies in determining what was actually being condemned by Gregory. The text of the Papal Constitution itself clearly condemned both the slave trade and slavery, as is apparent from the preceding paragraph citations. Both of the above citations prohibit the slave trade. Likewise, in the first paragraph we read that slavery itself is also condemned: “… no one in the future dare to … reduce to slavery (in servitutem redigere) Indians, Blacks or other such peoples.” In the second paragraph, the prohibition of “opinions contrary to what We have set forth in these Apostolic Letters” indicates that no one may hold that slavery itself is somehow not condemned.

    The question that should be asked, then, is why have many bishops, historians and others interpreted In Supremo as condemning the slave trade, but not slavery itself?

  • Donal

    [and finally:] Besides the quotation from Laennec Hurbon given at the beginning of this article, we may illustrate the problem by citing also the American Church historian James Hennesey, S.J. The following is taken from his consideration of the Church’s efforts, or lack thereof, to obtain the abolition of slavery in the United States:

    “Opponents of slavery found slight support in official church teaching. Pope Gregory XVI in 1838 (sic) condemned the slave trade, but not slavery itself” (emphasis added).

    John T. Noonan also believes that Gregory condemned only the slave trade, and that there were exceptions even to this condemnation. He wrote:

    “In 1839 Gregory XVI condemned the slave trade, but not so explicitly that the condemnation covered occasional sales by owners of surplus stock.”

    The American Bishops in the last century, who were charged with applying the teaching of In Supremo to the slavery institution that existed in our country, as a teaching body fell into this same error regarding what was condemned.

    Hennesey wrote: “No (American) Catholic bishop spoke for abolition in the pre-war years. In 1840 (the Bishop of Charleston) John England explained to (President Martin) Van Buren’s Secretary of State, John Forsyth, that Pope Gregory XVI had condemned the trade in slaves, but that no pope had ever condemned domestic slavery as it had existed in the United States” (emphasis added).

    Thus, the misreading of In Supremo that exists among scholars today actually has its roots in the partial rejection of that papal Constitution by the American hierarchy over a century and a half earlier.

    On the other hand, John Maxwell is quite right in his statement of what Gregory actually taught in In Supremo: “It is clear that the Pope is condemning unjust enslavement and unjust slavetrading” (emphasis added).

    Also correct is the papal historian, J.N.D. Kelly, who states, “In the brief In Supremo … he denounced and the slave-trade as unworthy of Christians” (emphasis added).

    From the documents we have very briefly considered, it is clear that the forced enslavement of Indians and blacks was condemned from the time that the “Age of Discovery” began, and that as this problem continued and expanded in the territorial finds of the New World, the same teaching of the Roman pontiffs was reiterated time and again. Likewise, the buying and selling of slaves unjustly held was also condemned by 1435.

    The development of this teaching over the span of nearly five centuries was occasioned by the unique and illicit form of servitude that accompanied the Age of Discovery. The just titles to servitude were not rejected by the Church, but rather were tolerated for many reasons. This in no way invalidates the clear and consistent teaching against the unjust slavery that came to prevail in Africa and the Western Hemisphere, first in Central and South America and then in the United States, for approximately four centuries.

    The substantial teaching against slavery that was provided by the papal Magisterium rightly should give Catholics, and indeed all Christians, a great sense of pride.

    This teaching was founded in the teachings of Our Lord that all people are loved immensely by God the Father, and have received the vocation to redemption and eternal happiness in Christ the Son. At the same time, it must be remembered that Christians themselves, and notably members of the clergy, frequently and sometimes blatantly violated this same teaching. Nevertheless, the Catholic tradition of opposition to unjust servitude was a great help in eventually bringing about an end to the enslavement of the Indians and blacks in many parts of Latin America, as well as of the peoples in the Philippines and other areas.

    The prevalent attitude of the American hierarchy, with some notable exceptions in both directions, was that many aspects of slavery were evil, but that to change the law would be, practically speaking, a greater evil.

    Some put forth strong arguments in favor of the institution of slavery, such as Bishop John England of Charleston, who believed it to be among the accepted practices of the early Church: “The right of the master, the duty of the slave, the lawfulness of continuing the relations, and the benevolence of religion in mitigating the sufferings … are the results exhibited by our view of the laws and facts during the first four centuries of Christianity.”

    Answering the charge that Catholics were widely supporting the abolitionist movement – which sadly was far from accurate-England noted that Gregory XVI was condemning only the slave trade and not slavery itself, especially as it existed in the United States.

    To prove his opinion, England had In Supremo translated and published in his diocesan newspaper, The United States Catholic Miscellany, and even went so far as to write a series of 18 extensive letters to John Forsyth, the Secretary of State under President Martin Van Buren, to explain how he and most of the other American bishops interpreted In Supremo.

    In one of these letters we learn of the events of the 1840 Council of Baltimore, where the bishops read and discussed this apostolic letter:

    “Thus, if this document condemned our domestic slavery as an unlawful and consequently immoral practice, the bishops could not have accepted it without being bound to refuse the sacraments to all who were slave holders unless they manumitted their slaves; yet, if you look to the prelates who accepted the document, for the acceptation was immediate and unanimous: you will find, 1st the Archbishop of Baltimore …2d, the Bishop of Bardstown … 3d, the Bishop of Charleston: … 4th, the Bishop of St. Louis … 5th, the Bishop of Mobile … 6th, the Bishop of New Orleans …and 7th, the Bishop of Nashville … they all regarded the letter as treating of the ‘slave-trade,’ and not as touching ‘domestic slavery.’ I believe, sir, we may consider this to be pretty conclusive evidence as to the light in which that document is viewed by the Roman Catholic Church.”

    Amazingly, it was decided that papal pronouncements against slavery, particularly Gregory XVI’s In Supremo, did not apply to the institution as it existed in the United States, thus yielding on this issue a sort of Americanized Gallicanism.

    However, it is clear that Gregory wrote In Supremo to condemn precisely what was occurring in the United States, namely the enslavement of blacks:

    “We, by apostolic authority, warn and strongly exhort in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to bother unjustly, despoil of their possessions, or reduce to slavery (in servitutem redigere) Indians, Blacks or other such peoples.”

    England evidently felt justification for this dissent lay in the episcopal (mis)interpretation of In Supremo.

    These arguments are not dissimilar to the widespread dissent from the Church’s teachings against slavery by bishops, priests and laity that was common from the 17th to 19th centuries. For the Catholics of the United States – as for Catholics everywhere – there was the consistent, historical teaching of the Church, as presented through Eugene IV. Pius II, Paul III, Gregory XIV, Urban VIII, Innocent XI, Benedict XIV, Pius VII and others.

    For the early 19th century, in the midst of the volatile decades before the Civil War, Gregory XVI issued In Supremo, with its clear condemnation of both the slave trade and slavery itself.

    Since that Constitution mentioned the documents of the previous pontiffs, it is hard to understand how the American hierarchy was not aware of the consistency of the teaching and its nature.

    All of these teachings, nonetheless, went unknown to the Catholic faithful of the U.S., perhaps through willful ignorance, or were explained away by many of the American bishops and clergy. Thus, we can look to the practice of dissent from the teachings of the Papal Magisterium as a key reason why slavery was not directly opposed by the Church in the United States.

    In the light of Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI, and Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae of John Paul II, can we not hope that the shepherds of the Church will not fall into the same mistakes of their predecessors?

    Fr. Panzer was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., in 1994. He studied philosophy at St. Philip’s Seminary, Toronto, and theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, in Yonkers, N.Y., where he earned a master of arts degree in dogma. He currently is assigned to the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska. This is his first article for “The Catholic Answer.”

    This article was taken from the January/February 1996 issue of “The Catholic Answer”

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Donal,

    Thank you for that article … it is most interesting!

    It certainly seems that the Church has quite a chequered history as regards the issue of slavery.

    Perhaps I, too, could quote from a researcher in this area … let me quote directly from John T. Noonan’s scrupulously-researched book, “A Church That Can and Cannot Change” to explicate some of this chequered history:

    pg 102: “Slavery continued to exist in the Papal States into the early nineteenth century. From 1600 to 1800 a total of two-thousand slaves, almost all Moslem, manned the galleys of the Pope’s navy. As late as 1800-1807 in the troubled papacy of Barnaba Chiaramonti, Pius VII, four privately owned slaves and eleven slaves of the state were registered in Rome at the Casa dei Catecumi. In Lisbon, in 1808, an inquisitor-general defended the justice not only of slavery but of the trade. … ”

    pp 103-109: “As early as 1814, in preparation for the Congress of Vienna, Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary, had pressed Cardinal Ercole Cosalvi, the pope’s secretary of state, to obtain a papal prohibition of the international slave trade. Pius VII responded by writing personally to the monarchs of France, Portugal, and Spain deploring the trade, put published nothing. Consalvi is not recorded as speaking on the matter at the Congress of Vienna.

    In 1822, the Concert of Europe met to deal with revolution in Spain. A new occasion was provided for British overtures, this time from Foreign Secretary Canning to Secretary of State Consalvi, who referred the matter to the secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs for examination. The report back was not favourable. True, there was suffering caused by the trade, but abolition was a notion of the antireligious philosophers of the eighteenth century. The most competent theologians and canonists held slavery to be not contrary to natural law and to be approved in principle by the Old Testament. A Papal prohibition would please the British, who oppressed Catholics, and it would compromise the colonial interests of France, Portugal and Spain. Pius VII did nothing.

    By 1839, Great Britain had extended abolition to its colonies. The country was beginning to shine as the champion of human liberty. Freetown, Sierra Leone – its foundations going back to Granville Sharp in 1787 – was now a port where the British Navy set down hundreds of slaves liberated from slavers. … Spain was pushed by Britain into a treaty outlawing the trade. Portugal remained adamant against renouncing it. The British Foreign Secretary, Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, made suppression of the trade his personal cause. In 1839 the Palmerston Act, passed by Parliament, authorized the British navy to stop all slavers carrying the Portuguese flag, deposit their crews in Portuguese territory, and take the rescued Africans for care by British authorities. … Against this background of vigorous diplomacy and naval intervention, Palmerston thought of the pope.
    Thomas Aubin, chargé d’affaires in Rome under the direction of Henry Edward Fox at the British legation in Tuscany, was directed to sound out the “court of Rome” on whether it would cooperate in a move against the slave trade.”

    The convoluted diplomatic manoeuvrings that follow take several pages for Noonan to explicate. I present a few snippets from Noonan’s description:

    “… the Foreign Office drafted a note for Aubin to present to Gregory XVI. It asked the pope’s aid in “suppression of the African Slave Trade, an object which the British Government is most anxious to accomplish and which is of great importance to all Christendom.” The note delicately alluded to “the Christian Church” being “mainly instrumental” in ending slavery as it once existed in the Roman Empire. Modern slavery was much worse. It began with “unprovoked Aggression upon innocent people” and was “undertaken from the cold blooded calculation of gain, the basest motive which can tempt to crime.” It inflicted “sufferings of Body and of Mind” beyond the power of tongue to describe. Unfortunately certain governments “in spiritual communion with the See of Rome” were either delaying (Spain was meant), or refusing to cooperate (Portugal) with the British government in suppression of the trade. …

    On November 3, 1839, Gregory XVI issued In supremo Apostolatus fastigio … to dissuade the faithful ‘from the inhuman trade in Blacks or any other kind of men.’… No one in the papal government expressed surprise or regret that it had taken a Protestant power with a highly pragmatic foreign minister to lead the pope into repudiating a traffic that had flourished since the fifteenth century. …”

    In the United States, during the 1840 presidential campaign, when the Secretary of State John Forsyth linked the Whig candidate to abolitionism and the Catholic Church, he was answered by “John England, bishop of Charleston, the leading Catholic prelate in the United States … Bishop England indignantly noted that the pope had in view only the international trade; he quoted Gregory XVI himself as telling him in person in Rome that the Southern states ‘have not engaged in the negro traffic.’ Bishop England went on in a series of articles in his newspaper, the Catholic Miscellany, to show that the Catholic Church had always accepted domestic slavery; it was ‘not incompatible with the natural law’; and, when title to a slave was justly acquired, it was lawful ‘in the eye of heaven.’ …

    Gregory XVI’s letter had no obvious impact on the two nominally Catholic countries engaged in the slave trade, Portugal and Brazil, nor on seminary teaching in France. Three years later under the pressure of the effective enforcement of the Palmerston Act, Portugal by treaty with Great Britain abolished the trade. … Brazilian cooperation was so uncertain and sporadic that in 1845, Lord Aberdeen obtained a law … authorizing the royal navy to seize Brazilian slave ships, with the result that the Brazilian slave trade came to an end in 1850-1851. In supremo had taken away any claim to moral legitimacy. It was British resolution and sea power that brought a stop to the business.”

    See,_Jr. for Justice Noonan’s credentials.

  • P.R.Margeot

    Thank you Donal for the most interesting post,which I am going to read at leisure later today.

  • Donal

    @Vincent – The link you provide doesn’t appear to give details of John T. Noonan’s credentials. He may be the Noonan referred to on Wiki as a judge. Even so, I don’t see how his research is necessarily more scrupulous or more authoritative than Fr Panzer’s, and the overall title of his work, A Church that Can and Cannot Change, would suggest that the Church and slavery is not the focus of his study, but rather part of a wider, often polemical, issue of whether and on what issues the church can or cannot change; which is an ideological or theological rather than a historical issue.

  • Mark Nel

    Thanks Donal. Looking forward to reading this slowly later today.

  • Donal

    Also possibly of interest:

    Slavery and the Catholic Church


    For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But when the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…
    Titus 3:3-5


    Once again the Catholic Church is being accused of another grave scandal. Some people claim that the Church before 1890 was either silent or approved of slavery. It is claimed that no Pope condemned slavery until then. According to one modern theologian: “…one can search in vain through the interventions of the Holy See – those of Pius V, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV – for any condemnation of the actual principle of slavery.” [Panzer, p. 2] Other people further claim that the Church changed Her teaching on slavery, so the Church can change Her teachings on other issues too. A recent book, entitled The Popes and Slavery written by Fr. Joel S. Panzer (Alba House, 1996), shows that the Popes did condemn racial slavery as early as 1435. Most of the information below is found in this book.

    The issue and history of slavery are quite complex. Throughout history, the Church found Herself among cultures practicing slavery and had to deal with it. An early example is St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. St. Paul appears to tolerate slavery, but he also warned slave masters that they too have a Master in Heaven who would judge them (Col. 4:1). Due to Her weakness in political affairs, the Church could not stop every evil practice. However, political weakness is quite different than approval. There are many examples of saints buying slaves and then setting them free (e.g. St. Nicholas, Trinitarian Fathers & White Fathers). Unfortunately there were also Catholics and even clergy, who participated in slavery, and their sins caused scandal to the Church.

    To further complicate this issue, there are different forms of slavery. Even though repugnant to our modern sensitivity, servitude is not always unjust, such as penal servitude for convicted criminals or servitude freely chosen for personal financial reasons. These forms are called just-title servitude. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which brought an end to racial slavery in the U.S., does allow for just-title servitude to punish criminals: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Even today we can see prisoners picking up litter along interstates and highways accompanied by armed guards. Also the 1949 Geneva Conventions allow for detaining power to use the labor of war prisoners under very limiting circumstances (Panzer, p. 3). However, such circumstances are very rare today. During biblical times, a man could voluntarily sell himself into slavery in order to pay off his debts (Deut. 15:12-18). But such slaves were to be freed on the seventh year or the Jubilee year (Lev. 25:54). The Church tolerated just-title servitude for a time because it is not wrong in itself, though it can be seriously abused. The Popes did, however, consistently oppose racial slavery which completely lacks any moral justification.

    Now we usually think of slavery in terms of innocent people who were unjustly captured and reduced to “beasts of burden” due solely to their race. This was the most common form in the U.S. before the Thirteenth Amendment. This form of slavery, known as racial slavery, began in large-scale during the 15th century and was formally condemned by the Popes as early as 1435, fifty-seven years before Columbus discovered America. In 1404, the Spanish discovered the Canary Islands. They began to colonize the island and enslave its people. Pope Eugene IV in 1435 wrote to Bishop Ferdinand of Lanzarote in his Bull, Sicut Dudum:

    …They have deprived the natives of their property or turned it to their own use, and have subjected some of the inhabitants of said islands to perpetual slavery, sold them to other persons and committed other various illicit and evil deeds against them… We order and command all and each of the faithful of each sex that, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands…who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money… [Panzer, p. 8; also pp. 75-78 with original critical Latin text]

    Those faithful, who did not obey, were excommunicated ipso facto. This is the same punishment imposed today on Catholics who participate in abortion. Some people may claim that Pope Eugene only condemned the practice in the Canary Island and not slavery in general. This claim is hard to accept since he does condemn together this particular case of slavery along with “other various illicit and evil deeds.”

    A century later, the Spanish and Portuguese were colonizing South America. Unfortunately the practice of slavery did not end. Even though far from being a saint, Pope Paul III in 1537 issued a Bull against slavery, entitled Sublimis Deus, to the universal Church. He wrote:

    …The exalted God loved the human race so much that He created man in such a condition that he was not only a sharer in good as are other creatures, but also that he would be able to reach and see face to face the inaccessible and invisible Supreme Good… Seeing this and envying it, the enemy of the human race, who always opposes all good men so that the race may perish, has thought up a way, unheard of before now, by which he might impede the saving word of God from being preached to the nations. He (Satan) has stirred up some of his allies who, desiring to satisfy their own avarice, are presuming to assert far and wide that the Indians…be reduced to our service like brute animals, under the pretext that they are lacking the Catholic faith. And they reduce them to slavery, treating them with afflictions they would scarcely use with brute animals… by our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples – even though they are outside the faith – …should not be deprived of their liberty… Rather they are to be able to use and enjoy this liberty and this ownership of property freely and licitly, and are not to be reduced to slavery… [Ibid., pp.79-81 with original critical Latin text]

    Pope Paul not only condemned the slavery of Indians but also “all other peoples.” In his phrase “unheard of before now”, he seems to see a difference between this new form of slavery (i.e. racial slavery) and the ancient forms of just-title slavery. A few days before, he also issued a Brief, entitled Pastorale Officium to Cardinal Juan de Tavera of Toledo, which warned the Catholic faithful of excommunication for participating in slavery. Unfortunately Pope Paul made reference to the King of Castile and Aragon in this Brief. Under political pressure, the Pope later retracted this Brief but did not annul the Bull. It is interesting to note that even though he retracted his Brief, Popes Gregory XIV, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV still recognized and confirmed its authority against slavery and the slave trade.

    Popes Gregory XIV (Cum Sicuti, 1591), Urban VIII (Commissum Nobis, 1639) and Benedict XIV (Immensa Pastorum, 1741) also condemned slavery and the slave trade. Unlike the earlier papal letters, these excommunications were more directed towards the clergy than the laity. In 1839, Pope Gregory XVI issued a Bull, entitled In Supremo. Its main focus was against slave trading, but it also clearly condemned racial slavery:

    We, by apostolic authority, warn and strongly exhort in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare bother unjustly, despoil of their possessions, or reduce to slavery Indians, Blacks or other such peoples. [Ibid., pp.101]

    Unfortunately a few American bishops misinterpreted this Bull as condemning only the slave trade and not slavery itself. Bishop John England of Charleston actually wrote several letters to the Secretary of State under President Van Buren explaining that the Pope, in In Supremo, did not condemn slavery but only the slave trade (Ibid., pp. 67-68).

    With all these formal condemnations, it is a shame that the Popes were largely ignored by the Catholic laity and clergy. Two Catholic nations were largely involved with slave trafficking. Many Catholics at that time owned or sold slaves. Even some Catholic bishops during the 19th-century appeared to support slavery. The Popes were so ignored that some people today claim that they were silent. These sins brought great scandal to Christ’s Church. Unfortunately history does repeat itself. Today the majority of Catholics admit to using artificial contraceptives, even though the Popes have condemned contraception (e.g. Humane vitae, Catechism of the Catholic Church 2370, 2399).


    Reverend Mark D. Huber, J.C.L.
    Censor Librorum

    Most Reverend Fabian W. Bruskewitz, D.D., S.T.D.
    Bishop of Lincoln

    November 3, 1999

    The NIHIL OBSTAT and IMPRIMATUR are official declarations that a book or a pamphlet is free from doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the NIHIL OBSTAT and IMPRIMATUR agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.


  • Donal

    [and…] LEONARD A. KENNEDY, C.S.B.
    Catholics were guilty for centuries of having slaves or profiting from the slave trade in spite of the fact that the popes taught clearly and frequently the evil of slavery,”and even legislated severe ecclesiastical penalties for engaging in it.

    On the front of this book is a picture of Pope John Paul II at the infamous slave house on the Island of Goree, in Senegal, where thousands of African slaves were kept waiting for shipment to the Americas. One of the book’s appendices is the address he gave in Goree. He said: “From this African shrine of black sorrow, we implore heaven’s forgiveness…We pray that the scourge of slavery and all its effects may disappear forever.”

    The thesis of the book is that Catholics were guilty for centuries of having slaves or profiting from the slave trade while the popes taught clearly and frequently the evil of slavery, and even legislated severe ecclesiastical penalties for engaging in it. Slavery was continued, then, in Catholic countries, by disobedience.

    Certainly the papal statements presented here are strong. They are dated 1435, 1493, 1497, 1537, 1591, 1639, 1686, 1741,1839, 1866, 1888, and 1890. The author reprints most of them, in Latin and English. But why have they not been seen as a definitive teaching?

    Two reasons are considered: one is that a statement of 1537 was revoked in 1538, due to conflict with the Spanish power. Panzer argues, however, that the later popes simply disregarded this revocation and accepted the powerful 1537 statement.

    The second reason is that the 1866 statement allowed Catholics in a particular situation in Africa to have slaves under certain conditions. (We must remember that in this situation slavery was intimately connected with every part of the culture.) For example, one question was this: “Whether it is permitted to admit to the sacraments any Christian merchant who normally abhors the buying and selling of slaves for the sake of profit, but, lest he suffer harm to his family affairs, wants to resell some slaves whom once he was forced, by a seller who was a noble, to take as the price of his wages.” The response was that there were “just titles” to slavery which were generally accepted, such as if a person had been deprived of his liberty justly, or if a person entered into a slavery agreement willingly. But one could not have slaves, or sell them, if the title, as was no doubt usually the case, was unjust.

    Catholics were also forbidden to do anything in connection with such a slave which would lead to a detriment to his life, his morals, or his Catholic faith. Masters also had to instruct their slaves in the Catholic faith, treat them according to Christian charity, and not interfere with their marriage rights and duties.

    Panzer readily admits that the argument for possessing slaves by certain just titles (for example, if they had been captured in war) dated back many centuries and was generally accepted, even if it was not right.

    Perhaps the most interesting part of the book has to do with the attitude of American Catholics to slavery. The author shows that even on the eve of emancipation United States Catholic bishops taught that, though trading in slaves was immoral, having slaves was not. And Panzer shows that this erroneous doctrine was in contradiction with what the popes taught.

    He also draws a parallel between the acceptance by Catholics of papal teaching on slavery and their acceptance of papal teaching on contraception in the last thirty years. In each case the popes stated clearly, correctly, and consistently what Catholics should do, and in each case most Catholics refused to do it. And, as bishops went long with disobedience regarding slavery, they have gone along also with disobedience regarding contraception.



    Kennedy, Leonard A. “The Popes and Slavery — book review.” Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly (Summer 1997): 23.

    Reprinted by permission of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.

    The Popes and Slavery is published by Alba House, 1996 xii + 125 pages; $7.95 ISBN 0-8189-0764-9.


    Leonard A. Kennedy, C.S.B. lives in Castries, Saint Lucia, West Indies.

  • Vincent Couling

    From the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture: John Noonan has served on the Ninth Circuit Court since 1986. Prior to his appointment by Ronald Reagan, he was a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Notre Dame. He has a long and distinguished history of public service and served on the staff of the National Security Council during the Eisenhower administration. His published writings revolve around the relation between religion and government and include a number of magisterial studies of the history of moral thought–most notably, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury and Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists. His most recent works are The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom, The Believer and the Powers that Are: Cases, History, and Other Data Bearing on the Relation of Religion and Government, Narrowing the Nation’s Power: The Supreme Court Sides with the States and A Church that Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching. He has a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America, and, in 1995, received the Aquinas Medal from the American Catholic Philosophical Association. He has been a member of the editorial boards of the American Journal of Jurisprudence, the Human Life Review, the Law and Society Review, and the Harvard Law Review.

    Elsewhere from Notre Dame News:

    “Noonan was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.

    In addition to his service on the federal bench, Noonan has been a consultant for the Presidential Commission on Population, the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Law Institute.

    Noonan has served as a consultant for several agencies in the Catholic Church, including Pope Paul VI’s Commission on Problems of the Family, and the U.S. Catholic Conference’s committees on moral values, law and public policy, law and life issues, and social development and world peace. He also has been a governor of the Canon Law Society of America, and director of the National Right to Life Committee.

    A Boston native, Noonan was graduated from Harvard University in 1946, studied English literature at Cambridge University for a year, and returned to this country to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. Noonan received his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 1954 and went on to serve on the Special Staff of President Eisenhower’s National Security Council. He subsequently practiced law in Boston for six years.

    Noonan’s long teaching career began in 1961 when he joined the faculty of Notre Dame Law School. He taught at Notre Dame from 1961 to 1966, also serving as editor of the Natural Law Forum, later the American Journal of Jurisprudence. He taught at the University of California Law School at Berkeley from 1966 to 1986. He also has been a visiting professor of law at the Angelicum in Rome, Notre Dame, Boston College, Harvard, UCLA, Southern Methodist University and Stanford. He has been the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Lecturer at Harvard Law School and the Pope John XXIII Lecturer at Catholic University.

    Noonan is the author of numerous books, including “A Church that Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching,” “Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by Catholic Theologians and Canonists,” “Power to Dissolve: Lawyers and Marriages in the Courts of the Roman Curia,” “Bribes,” “The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom,” and “Narrowing the Nation’s Power: The Supreme Court Sides With the States.” He also has contributed essays, articles and reviews to such magazines and journals as Commonweal, The Tablet, The Wilson Quarterly, National Review, America, and The New York Times Book Review.”

    The Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies tells us: He holds honorary degrees from the Catholic University of America, Gonzaga University, Holy Cross College, Loyola University of Chicago, Loyola University of New Orleans, the University of Notre Dame, Valparaiso University, the University of Santa Clara and the University of San Francisco. He is currently the First Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies.

    More than half of his book deals with the issue of slavery in the objective, dispassionate style one would expect from a circuit court judge.

  • Vincent Couling

    I wonder if Fr Panzer deals anywhere with the 1866 statement of the Holy Office, signed by the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Pius IX?

    For an excellent dissection of all this, see Fr Joseph O’Leary’s site at

    Since we’re allowed to copy and paste large tracts, here goes, directly from Fr O’Leary’s site!

    Cardinal Avery Dulles on Slavery

    by Joseph S. O’Leary

    An article by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., under the title “Development or Reversal?” published in First Things in October 2005 has received wide circulation in the Catholic or neocath blogosphere, where it is taken to refute John Noonan’s demonstration that the Church has changed its official thinking on topics such as usury, religious freedom and, above all, slavery. The article is very cleverly argued, but its conclusion is all the more shocking. Cardinal Dulles maintains that the Church still teaches, as it did in 1866, that slavery is compatible with natural and divine law. Slavery is undesirable, but like poverty and war, we cannot realistically expect its complete disappearance until the eschaton. Hence while the Church condemns slave trading, it does not brand slavery as such as intrinsically immoral. This echoes the position of American Catholic theologians in the nineteenth century.

    “It is unnecessary to observe that the practice of capturing savages or barbarians for the purpose of making slaves of them has always been condemned as a heinous offence against justice, and no just title could be created by this procedure. Was it lawful for owners to retain in slavery the descendants of those who had been made slaves in this unjust way? The last conspicuous Catholic moralist who posed this question when it was not merely a theoretical one, Kenrick, resolves it in the affirmative on the ground that lapse of time remedies the original defect in titles when the stability of society and the avoidance of grave disturbances demand it.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912.)

    Dulles begins by noting that doctrine develops in a different way from social ethics.

    “The formulation of revealed truth develops through the discernment of new truths that are formally implicit in the apostolic deposit. Such truths, once proclaimed by the Church as divinely revealed, are dogmas and must be held by all as matters of divine and Catholic faith. Social teaching, on the other hand, consists of behavioral norms for social conduct in conformity with the gospel. While the principles remain constant, the proximate norms are not free from contingency because society itself is in flux. Specific regulations rarely have the universal and permanent character that belongs to dogma.”

    What are referred to here as “the principles” presumably include ethical prescriptions such as “thou shalt not kill.” In the case of slavery, how does one differentiate the underlying principle from its application? Suppose that the principle is a human right to freedom. Is the condemnation of slavery just a “specific regulation” adapted to changing circumstances or does it flow immediately from the human right to freedom, so that it shares in the constancy and universality of that right?

    Dulles resumes John T. Noonan’s book, A Church That Can and Cannot Change, which deals primarily with slavery, but also with usury, religious freedom, and divorce. “The overarching thesis seems to be that in all these areas social change makes it possible for Christians to overcome the blindness that had previously afflicted their moral vision. The doctrinal change, in Noonan’s estimation, is in many cases an about-face, repudiating the erroneous past teaching of the magisterium itself.” Dulles accepts Noonan’s history: “The popes themselves held slaves, including at times hundreds of Muslim captives to man their galleys…Although the subjection of one person to another (servitus) was not part of the primary intention of the natural law, St. Thomas taught, it was appropriate and socially useful in a world impaired by original sin.” Popes condemned the enslavement of New World people, but not the institution of slavery as such. “Thus it was no break with previous teaching when Gregory XVI in 1839 issued a general condemnation of the enslavement of Indians and Blacks. In particular, he condemned the importation of Negro slaves from Africa.” But this was taken to refer only to original evil of slave trading, not to the present existence of slavery. “At the time of the Civil War, very few Catholics in the United States felt that papal teaching required them to become abolitionists. Bishop John England stood with the tradition in holding that there could be just titles to slavery.”

    Is this still the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church? Dulles basically thinks that it is. He believes that the Bible makes it impossible for us to say otherwise:

    “In 1863 John Henry Newman penned some fascinating reflections on slavery. A fellow Catholic, William T. Allies, asked him to comment on a lecture he was planning to give, asserting that slavery was intrinsically evil. Newman replied that, although he would like to see slavery eliminated, he could not go so far as to condemn it as intrinsically evil. For if it were, St. Paul would have had to order Philemon, ‘liberate all your slaves at once.’ Newman, as I see it, stood with the whole Catholic tradition. In 1866 the Holy Office, in response to an inquiry from Africa, ruled that although slavery (servitus) was undesirable, it was not per se opposed to natural or divine law. This ruling pertained to the kind of servitude that was customary in certain parts of Africa at the time.”

    Noonan “contends that John Paul II reversed the traditional teaching. In support he quotes a statement of John Paul II in 1992. Speaking at the infamous ‘House of Slaves’ on the Island of Gorée in Senegal, from which innumerable slaves had been exported, he declared: ‘It is fitting to confess in all truth and humility this sin of man against man, this sin of man against God.’” But Dulles believes that the “sin” referred to by the Pope is not the enslavement of fellow human being, but rather “the slave trade, which had repeatedly been condemned.”

    In Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II took from Gaudium et Spes a list of social evils: “homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide . . . mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as sub-human living conditions, arbitrary imprisonments, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons.” Here, surely, slavery as such, and not just the slave trade, is branded as sinful, in contradiction to the 1866 declaration of the Holy Office signed by Pius IX.

    Noonan wants to find an even stronger contradiction: “Where Vatican II had called these practices “shameful” (probra), John Paul II calls them “intrinsically evil.” In the same encyclical the pope teaches that intrinsically evil acts are prohibited always and everywhere, without any exception.” Dulles attenuates this: “It seems to me that if he had wanted to assert his position as definitive he would have had to say more clearly how he was defining slavery. He would have had to make it clear that he was rejecting the nuanced views of the biblical writers and Catholic theologians for so many past centuries. If any form of slavery could be justified under any conditions, slavery as such would not be, in the technical sense, intrinsically evil.”

    Note that the 1866 declaration accepts as morally valid quite specific forms of slavery, so that even if Dulles finds some form of slavery that could be justified under some conditions, he has not rescued the 1866 declaration from being in contradiction with current church teaching. Moreover his reference to “nuanced views of the biblical writers” is misleading, since the biblical writers never formally discuss the question of the ethical licitness of slavery. His reference to “so many past centuries” is also misleading, since the defence of slavery has not been a live theme in Catholic theology since Leo XIII.

    “According to the logic of Noonan’s argument, whatever holds for slavery would have to be said for deportations, subhuman living conditions, and degrading conditions of work. But could not degrading or subhuman conditions be inevitable, for example, after some great natural disaster in which mere survival is an achievement?”

    It is hard to imagine a situation in which the institution of slavery would be inevitable. It is much easier to imagine situations in which the practice of abortion is inevitable, but Dulles would hardly accept that as a reason for not seeing abortion as intrinsically evil.

    Further attenuation follows: “So far as I am aware, he never repeated his assertion that slavery is intrinsically evil. Neither the Catechism of the Catholic Church nor the recent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in their discussions of slavery, speaks so absolutely.”

    Nonetheless, none of these documents accept the legitimacy of slavery as long as the slaves are justly acquired, humanely treated, and preserved from dangers to their faith, as the 1866 document does.

    The Dulles quotes Maritain to the effect that “absolute bondage” is opposed to natural law, but “certain attenuated forms of servitude, such as serfdom, are not opposed to natural law except in its secondary requirements or aspirations.” These “cannot be eliminated except by degrees. As machinery and technology develop, servile labor becomes less necessary.” Were the slaves in the southern States of the USA serfs in this sense? Or is he thinking of the situation in Russia at that time?

    “With more sophisticated forms of economic and social organization, it becomes possible and indeed imperative to diminish servitude and to abolish slavery in the usual sense of the word. In the ‘new heavens’ of the resurrection every form of servitude will disappear.” So the Church did not recognize this imperative in 1866 because the technology had not yet developed.

    In reality, the abolition of slavery had nothing to do with technological advancement, but rather with an advancement in insight into human rights.

    “Radical forms of slavery that deprive human beings of all personal rights are never morally permissible, but more or less moderate forms of subjection and servitude will always accompany the human condition.”

    Note again that this does not save the declaration of 1866 which talks of slaves justly acquired, that is, of an immediate, not mediated, form of slavery.

    “The elimination of slavery, possible in our time, corresponds to a natural dynamism of the human spirit toward freedom and personal responsibility.”

    When the popes condemned the enslavement of New World populations people could have used this argument – that it was not yet “possible”. The Church in its teaching on abortion or even on theft and murder does not consult whether it is possible to eliminate them in our time, or at any time.

    “The goal of full and uninhibited freedom, however, is an eschatological ideal never fully attainable within history.” The abolition of the institution of slavery was not a matter of “full and uninhibited freedom” but of a concrete legal change. Bringing in utopian ideals of uninhibited freedom is a red herring.

    Writing in The Catholic Answer (Jan.-Feb. 1996) on “The Popes and Slavery: Setting the Record Straight,” Fr. Joel S. Panzer takes issue with one theologian’s statement that “one can search in vain through the interventions of the Holy See – those of Pius V, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV – for any condemnation of the actual principle of slavery.” He argues that “the Magisterium condemned from the beginning the colonial slavery that developed in the newly discovered lands,” but this of course is no reply; Dulles was knowing enough not to try that gambit. “From 1435 to 1890, we have numerous bulls and encyclicals from several popes written to many bishops and the whole Christian faithful condemning both slavery and the slave trade.” Not so, there is no condemnation of slavery as such. Moreover, there are papal documents urging the perpetual enslavement of populations thought to be hostile to Rome. Alexander VI gave the Spanish “”full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities and other properties and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.”

    Even Gregory XVI in 1839 could be interpreted as attacking the slave trade but not slavery as such:

    “There were to be found subsequently among the faithful some who, shamefully blinded by the desire of sordid gain, in lonely and distant countries did not hesitate to reduce to slavery (in servitutem redigere) Indians, Blacks and other unfortunate peoples, or else, by instituting or expanding the trade in those who had been made slaves by others, aided the crime of others… The slave trade, although it has been somewhat diminished, is still carried on by numerous Christians. Therefore, desiring to remove such a great shame from all Christian peoples … and walking in the footsteps of Our Predecessors, We, by apostolic authority, warn and strongly exhort in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to bother unjustly, despoil of their possessions, or reduce to slavery (in servitutem redigere) Indians, Blacks or other such peoples.”

    This author quotes one-sidedly documents of the kind that gave substance to Leo XIII’s daring claim that the Church had always been against slavery. There is no mention of papal ownership of slaves or of the 1866 declaration. He says: “the buying and selling of slaves unjustly held was also condemned by 1435” – leaving it open that papal buying and selling of slaves was not unjust.

    The author quotes a letter of Bishop England on the 1840 Council of Baltimore, where the bishops read and discussed this apostolic letter of Gregory XVI:

    “Thus, if this document condemned our domestic slavery as an unlawful and consequently immoral practice, the bishops could not have accepted it without being bound to refuse the sacraments to all who were slave holders unless they manumitted their slaves; yet, if you look to the prelates who accepted the document, for the acceptation was immediate and unanimous: you will find, 1st the Archbishop of Baltimore …2d, the Bishop of Bardstown … 3d, the Bishop of Charleston: … 4th, the Bishop of St. Louis … 5th, the Bishop of Mobile … 6th, the Bishop of New Orleans …and 7th, the Bishop of Nashville … they all regarded the letter as treating of the ‘slave-trade,’ and not as touching ‘domestic slavery.’ I believe, sir, we may consider this to be pretty conclusive evidence as to the light in which that document is viewed by the Roman Catholic Church.”

    The author believes the bishops were obtuse or disobedient to the papal teaching; Dulles would probably say they interpreted it correctly, and that moreover the teaching has not been changed since.

    “Amazingly, it was decided that papal pronouncements against slavery, particularly Gregory XVI’s In Supremo, did not apply to the institution as it existed in the United States, thus yielding on this issue a sort of Americanized Gallicanism.” Yet the Vatican never criticized the American understanding on this matter.

    Since Gregory mentioned the documents of the previous pontiffs, “it is hard to understand how the American hierarchy was not aware of the consistency of the teaching and its nature.” On the contrary, precisely because of the limited scope of those previous documents, it was natural to interpret Gregory XVI also as condemning not slavery as such but abusive impositions of it.

    The naive wishful thinking of this author is preferable to the sophisticated special pleading of Cardinal Dulles. It is indeed embarrassing to find a theologian, a Jesuit, a Cardinal, and an American maintaining, in the name of a rigid Parmenidean hermeneutics of immutable church teaching, that the Catholic Church still considers slavery perfectly compatible with natural and divine law.

  • P.R.Margeot

    Thank you Donal,for your research. It is much appreciated. It has been very instructive and interesting.

  • Rosemary Gravenor

    Having read and reflected on all the various articles in The Southern Cross, including the Editorial, on the primacy of conscience, I have concluded that this principle and the very fact that our conscience, like everything else, has its source in the Divine, the Last Word has not been written.

    Conscience is not infallible but neither can individual consciences be sidelined in the interests of those with power. [Examples given at the end of the Editorial].

    Conscience is a principle [Fr Eagan quotes St. Thomas Aquinas] and there is a Theology of Conscience (both the Editorial and in “Our conscience reigns supreme”]. The latter referring to Vatican II’s development in the understanding of conscience. Fr Anthony Eagan [22.02] quotes from Gaudium et Spes: ‘…For they have in their hearts…’, describes it as a law inscribed by God.

    Conscience is also placed within – not our minds, intellects or physical body per se – but is our ‘most secret core and sanctuary… there [we] are alone with God whose voice echoes in [our] depths’! Fr Eagan’s aforementioned quote places it in our hearts – which I like immensely! Fr Sean Wales alludes to ‘that which exists in the depth of our souls’ and though it is not clear whether this is conscience per se or the seed of the Divine planted within with the Breath of God – perhaps both! My mind jumps to the awful prayer before receiving the Eucharist: if the Divine or something of Divine origin exists in our souls, why do our souls need healing?

    So according to Michael Shackleton ‘It is your inner voice guided by faith’ (God’s voice echoing). Seems like God is forever in conversation with our conscience, we just need to be awake to hear the Voice. Ah! a profounder insight into why Jesus was fond of telling us all to “stay awake”!

    ‘The Church guides our conscience through its sound principles’ yes, but what if the song we are hearing within our ‘sanctuary’ is not attuned to the song of the Church? That is why the Editorial points out: ‘…conscience in divergence from Church teachings can be a most difficult choice.’

    I don’t take very well to Pope Benedict’s words in his Lenten message regarding ‘fraternal correction’ and his encouragement to admonish the wrong doing of others. Are we in the bedroom of those committing adultery?

    According to Fr Eagan Vatican II Council taught us to simply be loyal to our consciences: 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”.

    We would do better to collectively make a stand against the injustices perpetrated by those ‘principalities’ who are abusing their power. Exponentially this would be acting more for the good of those most deprived and vulnerable: emotionally, psychologically as well as spiritually and physically.

    Thank you Fr. Eagan for encouraging me to not “goose step merrily to whoever is holding the biggest stick”!

    PS. This was sent at the end of Feb to The Southern Cross but at the time of the current issue (online yesterday) it has not been accepted for publication.

    PPS. Sorry I have not had time to read all the other comments.

  • Mark Nel

    Rosemary writes: “My mind jumps to the awful prayer before receiving the Eucharist: if the Divine or something of Divine origin exists in our souls, why do our souls need healing?”

    The mind boggles, it truly does…

  • Donal

    Yes, Mark. And those unfortunate Cedara seminarians…Wed can only imagine what they must have to endure…

  • Rosemary Gravenor

    High on something illicit Donal?!

    What on earth has a statement of mine got to do with any Cedara seminarians – judged either unfortunate or not. Who are those that are unfortunate to read such (mind boggling) illusions as emanate from such a comments? Do you even begin to understand who is not and who is an official writer for The Southern Cross?

    @Malcolm – tell us about your boggled mind (or maybe it should be a private confession….)

  • Rosemary Gravenor

    Sorry Malcolm – of course my boggling mind meant @ Mark

  • Donal

    Hmm. ‘Fraid not, Sister. So there is a Southern Cross “official” hierarchy. “What a giveaway?”, as Monty Python (and the Holy Grail) would have put it. I thought that didn’t believe in hierarchy in principle and that we were “all equal”, in that Congregational sense. Some, it would seem, would be more “official” than others. That’s the problem with hierarchies: if there were not there we would invent them, and so it is…And there was I thinking that you believed that we should be back in Florence under the incorruptible egalitarian rule of Fra Savonorola.

  • Donal

    Mere ordinary Catholics can’t “even begin to understand who is not and who is an official writer for The Southern Cross…” Do you ever even begin to reflect on how this contradicts your “egalitarian” view of the Church-of-the-Laity? Have you told your comrades in the We-are [no definite article] Church that your opinions carry so much weight, in contrast to those of the “uninformed/unelightened” poor dears in the pews? I very much doubt it.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    I think ordinary Catholics are quite capable of distinguishing between an editorial, an opinion article and a comment on a website, Donal.

    As you know very well, there is a “hierarchy” of “officialdom” in The Southern Cross; one that applies to every newspaper. The editorial, and only the editorial, represents the position of the newspaper. Opinion articles, letters and so on do not necessarily represent the position of the newspaper but are printed with the permission of the newspaper. Comments on the website are not in any way official Southern Cross material.

    By the way, I’m still puzzling over your dig at Cedara. What did you refer to?

  • Donal

    Sorry, Gunther. Cedara referred to one of the other approved contributors on here, who is a devotee of the We are [no definite article] Church movement, who teaches at Cedara, while dissenting from definitively-held church teachings. And the reference to “High on illicit substances” in Rosemary’s post: have you asked her what that referred to?

  • Günther Simmermacher

    I asked about the Cedara reference because nobody referred to anyone or anything relating to that institution, Donal. It seemed to be a gratuitously random dig with no context. As for Rosemary’s remark, it is obvious what she was saying. I’m a little surprised that you, who does like to go ad hominem yourself, should be crying foul over that.

  • Donal

    I’m not crying foul, but I do wonder why it is that you so often appear to exercise your censoriousness in one ideological direction. When ad hominem remarks have been made on here by contributors who reject swathes of Church teaching about those who uphold it, you never leap to the defence of their targets, or perhaps you are not geared to detecting such remarks in these contributors (repeated non-sequiturs/slurs about Opus Dei in a recent thread being cases in point, which were certainly “gratuitously random digs with no context”); you only detect such remarks in those who uphold Church teaching. Never mind. I don’t expect that this will change any time soon.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    That’s nonsense, Donal. The time I advised you that a comment might have been uncharitable I tried to be helpful to you, not censor you. As for the Opus Dei references, I haven’t followed those posts. Maybe the arguments made reflected the Opus Dei line of thought?

    I still don’t understand your non sequitur regarding Cedara, but let’s leave that be.

  • Donal

    No the references to Opus Dei were without context and did not reflect any of the arguments. The contributor was speculating (wrongly) that those of contrary opinion on the thread were Opus Dei in their allegiances and the references were quite sarcastic. But, as you say, you haven’t followed those posts, so yes, let’s leave that be too.

  • Donal

    PS If you still don’t understand the reference to Cedara, why did you think it is a gratuitous random dig?

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Donal,

    Digs at the Jesuits and those who have what I would personally consider to be an Opus-Dei-type neoscholastic mindset aside,

    (certainly you are quite mistaken in assuming that I was ascribing allegiances! I wonder why so sensitive? dost thou protest too much?)

    let’s look at who rejects swathes of Church teaching!

    The Church taught (at least up until 1866) that “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given.”

    This is admitted even by Cardinal Avery Dulles (who, in his sophistic argument, suggests that this remains official chuch teaching to this very day!) … and is (somewhat extraordinarily!!!) not commented upon by the Panzer Father you reference is swathes above (an “inconvenient” truth best left unmentioned in his arguments?).

    So do you accept this Church teaching?

    Or do you reject it? In swathes?

    To argue that the popes who owned slaves rejected slavery outright in their teaching is somewhat mendacious, don’t you think?

    Imagine if the current pope were to argue vociferously against gay civil marriage [not so hard to imagine!], and then were to enter into a public civil marriage ceremony with a male lover! Would you then say with absolute confidence that the pontiff is against gay civil marriage?!

    Well, then how can you even pretend to say that a whole swathe of Supreme Pontiffs rejected slavery outright when slavery occurred in their Papal States, many of those Muslim slaves being the powerhouses of those very pontiffs’ navies?! So much for Fr Panzer’s attempt at pontifical apologetics! Good grief, you even have him saying that the entire upper echelons of the US Hierarchy of the time were in open rebellion against Rome! How hysterically hilarious! No wonder some begin to imagine sniffers of holmium … and no, I’m not ascribing anything to anyone, just having phun with metaphors!

    Incidentally, Donal, you asked a question about Fr Panzer’s academic standing versus that of Judge John T. Noonan … do you still believe Fr Panzer to be the superior scholar? All the more so since the neocaths cannot quite seem to agree on how to handle the hot potato of slavery … the two main stances appearing to be 1) the Popes never countenanced it (even though they had hordes of slaves at their service), and 2) slavery is still contrary to neither the divine nor natural law!

  • Donal

    Not protesting too much at all, Vincent. It’s just that those references to Opus Dei were so misplaced. I have never been in any way associated with Opus Dei (too Spanish for my taste) or any other religious organisation, “traditional” or otherwise, within or without the Catholic Church. I don’t need organisations other than the Church herself to inform my opinions.

    As regards slavery, I think this has been done to death by now. If you have problems with Fr Panzer’s account, I suggest you email him with these objections and see what he says.

  • Donal

    As regards your analogy of a/the pope taking a homosexual lover, and the teaching on marriage, I really don’t think this works. All that unlikely scenario would show is that all popes are sinners in their private lives, some to greater or lesser degrees. One doesn’t need Dante to argue that one: the Church herself holds that view. You might as well say that the Church can never pronounce authoritatively on hetrosexual marital fidelity because of the excesses and manifest failings of Alexander VI and a handful of other pontiffs. The whole point is that the Church’s teaching authority transcends the weaknesses of its prelates. It survives in spite of these, not because somehow its clergy have led exemplary lives and lived out to the letter Catholic teaching without exception.The Calvinists tried that, with even less success. Alexander VI was corrupt.His kinsman Francis Borgia was a saint. Such diversity of human behaviour and morality will always exist in this fallen world. What the Church provides are the standard principles of Christian life to which all fallen human beings can aspire, particularly when for whatever reason they stray from it. I am sure that you can find papal teachings on the wickedness of polyphony, on the fortifications of the Castel Sant Angelo, on executions in the Papal States (yes, there was a famous axeman for much of the early 19th century, who then he employed the wickedly modern guillotine, despite its French revolutionary and rationalist connotations), but to treat all such concerns as equally important and as a means of discrediting Catholic teaching on what manifestly were and are more central issues seems, frankly, silly. But as I say, it would be better to take detailed objections up directly with Fr Panzer, who doubtless knows much more than I do on that particular issue.

  • Donal

    Dear Gunther,

    Could you please tell me whether you have removed my second message,and, if so, on what grounds? It responded to points raised in Vincent’s message regarding the Pope and marriage and I cannot wee what could have been objectionable in it.

  • Vincent Couling

    Burning the midnight oil, Donal?

    Nice try. But I specifically point to the PUBLIC lives of pontiffs, not their PRIVATE lives. (We know that the taking of clandestine homosexual lovers has and still does happen quite a bit in the Vatican … private lives seldom being all that private, eh!).

    The very pontiffs YOU quote Fr Panzer as saying rejected slavery in demonstrable point of fact owned slaves … in swathes … in FULL PUBLIC VIEW. If you don’t see how that demolishes Fr Panzer’s modern-day reading back into the situation (in a vain attempt to maintain that Magisterial teaching has never changed) is quite frankly pathetic.

    Donal, it is YOU who quoted Fr Panzer on this thread to support YOUR views, not I. I have absolutely no intention of e-mailing Fr Panzer. His “scholarship” is weak (incredibly weak!!!) … it is a simple attempt at apologetics, and it flounders at every level. Cardinal Avery Dulles’ far more sophisticated attempt at rescuing the myth of Magisterial immutability points out the holes in Fr Panzer’s simple Sunday-school-type argumentation. Fr Panzer ignores whole swathes of facts about the historical evidence. In doing so, he has discredited himself … for authentic scholars fearlessly go where the questions take them, and don’t stop when their ideologies are threatened!

    Now that you have seen the shocking error in Fr Panzer’s argumentation first hand, suddenly “slavery has been done to death,” and you want to shy away from the inconvenient truths raised in Judge John Noonan’s magisterial study of exactly how Magisterial teaching on slavery HAS changed.

    It sticks in your craw that a highly respected scholar has demonstrated the very thing you are so very terrified of … the very thing that REMINDS me of the Opus-Dei type of anti-intellectualism that is rife among certain contributors to these threads … that the official Magisterial teaching about specific moral issues is not necessarily immutable or infallible, but can change, and indeed demostrably HAS changed (in several instances).

    Slavery has NOT been done to death. Official Church teaching as regards slavery is a most important example of development of moral doctrine. It points (rather exquisitely) to precisely how moral doctrine in other areas of ecclisiastical life could quite well undergo significant development (to the point of volt face!).

    Now that you have run out of argument, you want slavery to be “done to death”. You want the conversation to end here. It is an inconvenient truth. And let me assure you most vigorously, you and those who think like you and write like you will be reminded of it by me at every available opportunity!


  • Donal

    Passive-aggressive, or what?…

  • Vincent Couling

    Does our Pope consider slavery to be consonant with the natural and divine law, or does he consider it to be intrinsically evil? We know what his predecessor (and his predecessors) thought! So much for the myth of ALWAYS a hermeneutic of continuity!

  • Vincent Couling

    More the “what”, Donal … and if I might fill in the blanks to the “what,” … unanswerable, irrefutable, unassailable?

  • Günther Simmermacher

    I haven’t removed a message, Donal. A few days ago Vincent Couling reported having one of his messages removed, which nobody of our people had done. None of these were pending for approval either. I imagine there might be a technical glitch which I’ll ask the webmaster to investigate.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    “PS If you still don’t understand the reference to Cedara, why did you think it is a gratuitous random dig?”

    Because that’s the only explanation I can arrive at. The only other one would be that you confused Rosemary Gravenor and Sr Sue Rakoczy. But if that was the case, you surely would have owned up to that.

  • Donal

    @Vincent: Your persistence is reminiscent of Monty Python’s dedicated Knights of Ni, but with “papal slavery” the sacred words you are pledgedto protect to the death. Glenn Close’s bath scene in Fatal Attraction also comes to mind. You might as well disprove the Trinity on the grounds that popes have not always upheld it as a developed doctrine, pace Athanasius. Persist away, as far as I am concerned. As I have so often told you, it wouldn’t matter whether you convinced me. The Church is not going to change for you or for me, if I had wanted it to change. However, all is not lost. Very many other ecclesiastical communities are based on that principle of doctrinal authority and we can surely see how successful and growing they are!

  • Donal

    @Gunther. I think you risk sounding priggish, Gunther, but, speaking of Sister Sue, have you ascertained her source for the “Lord Cardinals” story yet?

  • Vincent Couling

    Desperate times require desperate measures …

  • Donal

    But surely not including writing stories without providing sources, which can appear fabricated as a result.

  • Vincent Couling

    Mark Nel March 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm # Rosemary writes: “My mind jumps to the awful prayer before receiving the Eucharist: if the Divine or something of Divine origin exists in our souls, why do our souls need healing?”

    The mind boggles, it truly does…

    Donal March 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm # Yes, Mark. And those unfortunate Cedara seminarians…Wed can only imagine what they must have to endure…


    What a gratuitous ad hominem!

    And nary an apology to Rosemary for the erroneousness of it all!

  • Vincent Couling

    Mark’s opening gambit on this thread was “What I have found absent from this article, plus last weeks article and editorial on the subject of conscience, is any mention of the fact that a Catholic’s conscience must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church. One cannot choose, freely, to be a Catholic but only selectively accept the Church’s teaching on Faith and Morals.”

    Would Mark (or Donal or Paul Margeot) like to explain to us whether or not Catholics in 1866 who chose to reject the Magisterial teaching as regards slavery (and its consonance with natural and divine law) were in fact in error (since we now realize that slavery is intrinsically evil, meaning that it was always evil, even in 1866!)?

    While the Magisterium was developing its moral doctrine, were those whose consciences were well in advance of Magisterial evolution on this question, whose consciences were in tune with the divine, really not authentic Catholics? Were they not in fact the very essence of what it means to be Catholic, and perhaps the very catalyst that allowed the Magisterium to evolve? Were not the Anglican Protestants agents for the Holy Spirit, helping their Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ evolve into a fuller understanding of the Truth?

    I do not believe that my conscience “must be subject to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church” … in believing so, I believe that I remain a Catholic in good standing, and perhaps (if I might be so bold) a tiny grain of sand in the oyster, the irritation of which (as surely all gay Catholics are irritants to the Magisterium) might just produce a pearl of great beauty … as moral doctrine evolves into a full acceptance of all our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ. Surely this most hideous gaping wound needs authentic healing! “God loves you, but …” must inevitabley give way to “God loves you as you are!”

    Elsewhere on this site, Judith Turner speaks of the miracle of abundance.

    Perhaps if we stopped being so selfish, with our scarcity menatlity, we might actually find that there is ample place at the table for everyone, and that Jesus’ words “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly” might also be extended to gays and lesbians, including those in covenantal love-relationships!

    St Irenaeus said “the glory of God is a [person] fully alive!”

    Let us beware the temptation to place undue demands on our fellow pilgrims … let us beware insisting that their consciences must be subject to any external authority. Conscience is inviolable! The consciences of some good rebels for Christ saw to evolution in Church teaching as regards slavery! It could quite well lead to evolution in Church teaching as regards gay and lesbian sexuality.

    I was interested to read a link provided by a dear friend to a very recent talk given by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, which explores these very ideas. See:‑urges‑change‑church‑teaching‑concerning‑all‑sexual‑relationships

  • Vincent Couling

    I’d also like to share some links to the “The Tablet” Blog, which has some very mature catholic discussion as to the gay issue by some of Great Britain’s leading Catholics …

    “Gay marriage: a war of words that obscures the Church’s message” by Fr Ceirion Gilbert

  • Vincent Couling

    “The Catholic Church and gay marriage” by Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP (former Master General of the Dominicans)

  • Vincent Couling

    “Gay Masses – unique outreach and support” by Terry Weldon

  • Vincent Couling

    And finally The Tablet Feature Article “Can marriage ever change? Homosexuality and the Church” by Timothy Radcliffe, Martin Pendergast & Tina Beattie

  • Vincent Couling

    Real food for thought, as we all share in these exciting times of the unfolding of a development in the moral teaching of the Church: this time, as regards the “gay question”! (And the broader question of human sexuality in general.)

  • P.R.Margeot

    On this forum, I like to be called PR or PRM

  • Donal

    That you are a devotee of “The Bitter Pil”l comes as no surprise, Vincent. Neither does your estimation of it as being “very mature” etc. Its position as a “progressive” journal is well known, as is its deep disappointment in the Benedictine papacy, the “unbanning” of liturgies which the Church had no authority to forbid in the first place, as Benedict XVI pointed out, and much else. Its columns are regularly punctuated by cries of disappointment by aging 1960s “progressives”, as well as by the growing numbers of funerals of the same. One can only imagine the cries of disappointment when Father Kung the Great is finally summoned On High. Even more disappointing is a subtle if discernible shift towards tradition in that journal, with the latest number advocating the regular attendance at personal on-to-one Confession, which will disappoint post-Freudian progressives. There is in its pages a growing pessimism that the Soixante Huitards, or 1968-ers, in state and church, are passing away along with the high hopes of their radical agenda. This frustration is made all the more angry by an awareness that the restoration of Catholicism will almost certainly continue and strengthen under Benedict XVI’s successors.Certainly there isn’t the slightest hope that the liturgy will return to suppression at the hands of liberal authoritarians. Far from being a nightmare apparition, then, the Benedictine papacy signals a powerful restoration, just as it will highlight the transitory aberration of the excesses of Vatican II. Time, of course, as ever, will tell, but anyone with an eye to history, with its insights into the historic character of the Church, will have a greater sense where the future will lead. In any case, fortunately, the Church is not in the hands of or at the mercy of human beings, good, bad or indifferent, but in the hands of God.

  • Donal

    “The Bitter Pill”, of course!

  • Vincent Couling

    In 1968, I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes!

  • Donal

    You are then, in ideological terms, something of an Old Fogey, Vincent! For the radical moment has come – and gone!

  • Donal

    Apologies, Vincent. I meant of course, given your tender years, a Young Fogey, and, lest you take offence, remember that it is usually good to hear oneself described as “young”.

  • Vincent Couling

    Hi Donal,

    Actually, I usually don’t take offence all that easily – and I’m astonished to be thought to be a “radical”!

    If you knew me personally, you’d know that I’m quite a conservative (in the true sense of the word) sort of chap!

    I believe in the value of institutions like marriage … and I’m quite taken by Tradition, believe it or not!


  • Mark Nel

    Gee wiz, I have been away for far too long.

    Donal you are quite right about the editor being so quick to leap to the defense of one side of these comments. I must say I find it extremely difficult to believe the editor missed the unrelated remarks about Opus Dei. Especially since it happened on more than one thread. Of course it may be because we do not have the behind the scenes email lobbying that takes place to muster support on these threads. A reality which will of course be profusely denied by the editor & co.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    Ha, so I can’t deny it because it proves you right? Don’t trip over your logic there, Mr Nel.

    As for Opus Dei, I was told recently that you are an Opus Dei supernumerary. Of course, I won’t believe it until you confirm or deny it. So, are you?

  • Vincent Couling

    A little birdie also whispered something into my ear [a while back].

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent, so were you in fact being less than honest when you glibly tried to explain away your inexplicable references to Opus Dei on previous threads. Had you allowed yourself to be convinced by rumour mongering?

    Editor and Vincent, I am afraid I have to disappoint both of you and say that I am not a supernumerary. I am however quite flattered at being accused of being one!

  • Günther Simmermacher

    Mr Nel, I merely asked you whether the rumours to that effect that uyou are a supernumerary were true. You say you’re not a supernumerary, so now I know the rumours to be untrue. Why would I be “disappointed” by it?

    In my dealings with Opus Dei I have never had any unpleasantness. In fact, a former spokesman for Opus Dei in SA, a Spanish radio journalist, even once wrote a nice letter about my editorship to The Southern Cross. For my part, I have on occasion praised Opus Dei. Whenever I have dealt with Opus Dei, disagreements on the finer points of the Church and doctrine were always secondary to our shared love for Our Lord. In that way, I am quite relieved that you are not a supernumerary of Opus Dei.

  • Vincent Couling

    Mr Nel, did I say what the birdie whispered?

  • Mark Nel

    Oh Vincent, that’s just weak.

    Editor I am so glad that you once received a nice letter from an official Opus Dei spokesman. It is evident how much importance you place on always being seen to be irreproachable. What was that persons name and when was it?

    Now editor, will you explain why you have yet to get Sr Racokzy to disclose her source in that blog post titled Lord Cardinal’s […]

  • Günther Simmermacher

    Mr Nel, I’ve edited your comment to remove your potentially libelous reference to Sr Sue. As for her blog post, it was based on an article that appeared on the CathNewsUSA website. If she addressed a poor translation, which might be possible, then she nonetheless did so in good faith. In any event, her criticism was not of the pope, but of the use of certain titles. That constitutes fair comment. The matter is now closed.

  • Mark Nel


    There was nothing libelous or potentially libelous about my comment. Sr. Sue stated in the opening line of her blog that the Pope had used the term “Lord Cardinal’s”. Sr. Sue was asked four times by four different people, to disclose her source. She either refused or was unable to provide her source. Therefore, I have, after waiting patiently for more than a month, arrived at my own logical and reasonable conclusion.

    Even now, following your editing of my comment, the source has not been provided. Instead you provide a vague reference to a website that contains numerous articles. A website, which I have just checked, and on which I cannot find any reference to the term “Lord Cardinals” being used, either by the Pope or, in fact, by anyone else. Of course, there are many articles on that site, so I could have missed it while I was speed-reading through them. (I have unfortunately not had a month to check this source.)

    This entire matter all hinges around the fact that Sr. Sue, and you, simply refuse to provide the source. A reality that remains true even now after you have censored my comment. What are we to make of this persistent refusal but to arrive at our own reasonable assumptions?

    If Sr. Sue does not like the use of the term ‘Lord’, except in certain special circumstances, by all means, write a blog and say so, but do not preface this with a reference to words spoken by Pope Benedict when the Pope did not use those words.

    You are wrong of course to say that Sr. Sue did not criticize the Pope. In the blog Sr. Sue was critical of the term “Lord Cardinal” being used in the 21st century and, since she had opened her blog by referring to the Pope’s use of the term, she was therefore quite clearly also being critical of the Pope for doing so. Since there is nothing to support her opening statement that the Pope used the term, this does not therefore constitute a “fair comment” as you put it but an “unfair criticism” of the Pope.

    Please, be fair and provide the source with the appropriate links. Otherwise remove or amend the blog and issue an apology to readers.

  • Vincent Couling

    I note that The Associated Press reports an interesting turn of events, somewhat related to “the reaffirmation of conscience”. I quote the news article:

    “Austrian cardinal OKs gay man for parish council

    Monday, April 2, 2012 | 10:55 a.m.

    Austria’s cardinal has overruled one of his priests and is allowing a gay Catholic to serve on a parish council.

    Florian Stangl lives in a registered domestic partnership. The 26-year-old was overwhelmingly elected to the council recently, but it was overruled by the priest _ a decision initially backed by the archdiocese.

    Such councils include lay people and discuss local church and parish affairs.

    Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn changed his mind over the weekend after hosting Stangl and his partner for lunch, declaring Stangl to be “at the right place.” Despite his close ties to his one-time professor, Pope Benedict XVI, Schoenborn has voiced an open mind to such taboo issues as priestly celibacy.

    Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” but that gays should be treated with dignity and respect.”

  • Vincent Couling

    All so very close to 1 April … but we can hope!

  • Vincent Couling

    We also have another Catholic Bishop, Geoffrey Robinson, making some interesting noises.

    Here are links to news reports on his recent talks:

  • Vincent Couling

    The NCR Editorial endorses Bishop Robinson’s call for a new sexual ethic. See

    “We wholeheartedly second the invitation by Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson for a thorough and honest reexamination of the church’s teaching on sexuality. (See story.) Robinson’s invitation, coming in a paper delivered in Baltimore at a conference sponsored by New Ways Ministry, is a gentle but elegant plea that offers hope for Catholics who want to stop the church’s headlong plunge into irrelevancy as a moral voice in our culture.

    Robinson says that a careful study of the long arc of church teaching on sexuality comes to this foundational statement: “The church is saying that love is the very deepest longing of the human heart, and sex is a most important expression of love, so people should do all in their power to ensure that sex retains its ability to express love as deeply as possible.”

    From this foundation, Robinson suggests three areas to reexamine Catholic teaching.

    Rather than seeing sexual sin as an offense against God because it is a violation of the divine and natural order established by God, look at sexual morality in terms of the good or harm done to persons and the relationships between them. Robinson says he thinks God is “not easily offended.” He continues, “All the evidence tells us that God cares greatly about human beings and takes a very serious view of any harm done to them, through sexual desire or any other cause.”

    Rather than trying to discern good or bad in objective acts — was this act unitive and open to procreation? — look at how the intentions and circumstances surrounding what a person does or doesn’t do lead toward or away from loving deeply. “Sexual acts are pleasing to God when they help to build persons and relationships, displeasing to God when they harm persons and relationships,” he writes.

    Rather than narrowly focused attention on a few explicit Bible verses devoted to sexual morality, use the best of scripture scholarship to understand the Bible as the unfolding story of a journey, the spiritual journey of the people of God. No single verse or collection of verses can be seen as the final word of God on a subject, Robinson writes.

    Robinson is not the first to articulate the need for a responsible reexamination of sexual ethics, one that takes seriously the radical call to selfless love, but the addition of a bishop’s voice adds new dimension to the conversation. By rebuilding Christian morality in the area of sexuality in the way Robinson suggests, we will achieve a teaching that can better challenge the message about sexuality trumpeted by the dominant culture in television, music and advertising, a sexuality that idolizes self-gratification and that puts “me” before “you.” By placing the needs of the other first, our sexual ethic would reject sexual violence — physical and psychological, the idolatry of self-gratification, the objectification of people, and the trivializing of sex when it is separated from love.

    Unlike sex centered on “me,” our new Christian sexuality, centered on the other, would respond to the deepest longings of the human heart, promote commitment between people, cherish the long process of relationship-building and foster community.

    In the end, Robinson is making a profoundly traditional suggestion about sexuality, because what he proposes is rooted in genuine personal responsibility. He writes: “Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. … It is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything I do.”

    It is important to note that Robinson issued his challenge at the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, sponsored by New Ways Ministry, an organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning Catholics and church personnel ministering to them. As Robinson so clearly points out, this new way of looking at heterosexual acts “will inevitably have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.” That is a change long overdue.

    Robinson’s take on sexuality — that it deserves deeper consideration than the narrow, rule-bound approach that has evolved in Christian circles — takes us to the heart of the radical approach Jesus took toward human relationships.”

  • Vincent Couling

    In answer to Fr Egan’s fascinating concluding question in his article above, it seems that even some Bishops are no longer goosestepping “merrily to whoever waves the biggest stick”!

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent, what is the relevance of the NCR’s endorsement of this retired bishop? Is the NCR some or other authority on the matter? I suggest that you reconsider the value of the NCR’s endorsement in the context of the fact that the NCR accepted payment for, and displayed, a full page advert from a pro-abortion group! If anything, the NCR’s endorsement simply highlights exactly why Bishop Robinson’s call should not be taken seriously. This newspaper is clueless when it comes to Church teaching and is not a Catholic newspaper!!

    Furthermore, this retired bishop to whom you refer also wrote a book titled “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church” and this is what the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference had to say about it: “Catholics believe that the Church, founded by Christ, is endowed by him with a teaching office which endures through time. This is why the Church’s Magisterium teaches the truth authoritatively in the name of Christ. The book casts doubt upon these teachings. This leads in turn to the questioning of Catholic teaching on, among other things, the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Church’s moral teachings.”

    We who obey the teaching of the Church are not “goose-stepping”, as Egan puts it. We are simply following the ways of our Lord who teaches us his ways through the Church. Egan’s conclusion is by no means fascinating. Its a conclusion best ignored than get into the debate of what he is possibly implying with his analogy.

    Vincent there are certain absolute moral truths that will remain the truth no matter how much you or anyone else may wish they were not the truth. They simply cannot and will not be changed.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    You are being overenthusiastic in labelling Catholic newspapers “not Catholic”, Mr Nel. On whose authority are you making such statements? Or do you simply usurp the authority to make such statements from the magisterium, overruling the hierarchy which has not withdrawn its nihil obstat, just because you feel you are better qualified to pronounce on such matters than they are?

    You have no mandate, no authority and no competence to call a Catholic publication “not a Catholic newspaper”. If you think Catholic newspapers fail to meet your particular definition of fidelity, then you should qualify your condemnation as a personal opinion which is not shared by the Church.

    Incidentally, it is Father Egan. Show our priests some respect.

  • Mark Nel

    Nice try editor, about treating priests with respect: (1) Egan clearly does not want to be known as Fr because nowhere on the newspapers website does he claim anywhere that he is a priest. Neither does he appear in a clerical collar in any photo in your newspaper. (2) Are you assuming that every person in South Africa knows who is or is not a priest in this country, even though this is not disclosed. (3) It is your newspaper that must show some respect and identify to its readers clearly who is a religious, deacon, priest or bishop. I previously assumed Michael Shackleton was a priest and I was then corrected and advised that he is not. So the fault lies, not with me but with you, the eitor of The Southern Cross, for not respecting the priest and clearly identifying him as such. When your newspaper respectfully identifies who is or is not a priest, and that person in turn also identifies himself as such, I will use the title. The ball is back in your irreproachable court!

    As for who decides what is or is not a Catholic newspaper. I didnt usurp any authority. I didn’t decide the newspaper, the National Catholic Reporter, is not Catholic. A Catholic bishop did, as far back as 1968. I suggest you do your homework. However, since this liberal newspaper supports liberal agendas, I would not be surprised if you chose to ignore this bishops declaration.

    In any case, I would hazard a guess that an allegedly Catholic newspaper, that displays a full page advert from a pro-abortion group, would have some difficulty convincing any reasonable person who understands the Catholic Faith, that it was in fact a Catholic newspaper.

  • Mark Nel

    As an aside. I doubt very much if that newspaper or your newspaper has been granted the Nihil Obstat. If that newspaper or yours has been granted the Nihil Obstat, please provide the relevant written confirmation.

    I see you have still not taken offence at Sr Sue’s criticism of Pope Benedict for saying something he appears not to have said, yet you leap to the defence of a newspaper that displays adverts from a pro-abortion group and a priest who fails to identify himself as such. What is your real agenda?

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Mark,

    Your nasty tendency to want censorship, and to pronounce (on what authority, I wonder?!) on what is and what isn’t authentically Catholic, rears its ugly head once again.

    I take great pleasure in reminding you of your previous words when you accused me of having “no interest in dialogue that explores possibilities and serves to seek the truth”!!!

    Mark, it is YOU who time and again displays no interest in dialogue, or in exploring possibilities, or in seeking the truth.

    Rather, you seem to have the rather unfortunate mindset that you are already in full possession of the Truth. That any further dialogue or exploration of possibilities or seeking is utterly futile. You know who or what is authentically Catholic (all that being synonomous with the Fullness of Truth).

    You want to censor left, right and centre. You hate it when the Catholic media report on Catholic news that you don’t consider to be authentically Catholic. You seem to want the Catholic media to be a mouthpiece of the Hierarchy, to endlessly rehash official Catholic teaching, and nothing more.

    I also find it rather interesting that on your Blog (under “useful links”) you have a link to Opus Dei (but to no other religious order). Many lay associates of this order who have broken away alledge a tendency in this particular religious order to the sort of anti-intellectualism that you so overtly display. (Personally, were I to have a Blog (Heaven forbid!), I would post useful links to the Dominicans and the Jesuits, not to mention the Franciscans and the Benedictines.)

    Fortunately, we have some hierarchs who are not too afraid of authentic dialogue, exploration, searching. Retired Bishops are in a relatively safe space compared with those under the age of 75 … Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba and all that!!! So it is unsurprising to find the retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson entering into dialogue, and seeking out the truth. (And equally unsurprising to find his non-retired brother Bishops holding fast to the party line in public [but not always in private!].)

    What I find to be particularly astonishing is the recent action of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (OP!!!) of Vienna. Firstly, some perspective: Cardinal Schönborn is President of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, former student of Professor Ratzinger (and apparently an accomplished intellectual and theologian in his own right, having been Professor of Dogmatics at the University of Fribourg, not to mention a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See), former Director/Editorial Secretary of “The Catechism of the Catholic Church”, a member of several Vatican Congregations (for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the Oriental Churches, for Catholic Education) and Councils (the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, and the newly created Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation), and one of the youngest members of the College of Cardinals (67 years old), indeed, a man considered by many to be “pababile”!

    I note with much delight that this far-from-retired Catholic Bishop intervened to allow an openly gay Catholic (openly in a gay relationship) to serve on his local parish council (having been elected by laity, but subsequently blocked by certain clergy).

    An Austrian news article ( ) reports that “After meeting with Stangl, Schönborn announced that he had been “deeply impressed” by his personality. Schönborn said it was now clear to him why most of the participants of the ballot backed Stangl. Schönborn admitted that Stangl’s “personal concept of living” might not perfectly match the Catholic Church’s principles but also stressed that he fully supported his willingness to get active in the parish of Stützenhofen. Stangl said he considered the decision a sign of progress in the Austrian Church.”

  • Günther Simmermacher

    Fr Egan is identified as Anthony Egan SJ, indicating that he is a Jesuit. You know very well that he is a priest, Mr Nel, but you simply lack good manners.

    The Southern Cross has three representatives of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference on its board of directors. Would you like to propose to Archbishop Buti Tlhagale that he has served on the board of directors of a Catholic newspaper that is merely “allegedly Catholic”, as you have previously put it? Would you like to tell Archbishop Brislin that he is complicit in the activities of a Catholic newspaper that is not Catholic? They might very well say exactly what I said to you earlier: you have no mandate, no authority and no competence to call a Catholic publication “not a Catholic newspaper”.

    As I understand it, Bishop Helmsing issued a strongly-worded reprimand and requested that the NCR drop the word “Catholic” from its masthead. Whatever the case, evidently the condemnation was not formalised because the NCR is still a full (and frequently award-winning) member of the Catholic Press Association in the United States.

  • Mark Nel


    It is in fact possible, as far as I am aware, to be a brother member of the Jesuits and to use the “S.J.” behind ones name, even if one is not a Jesuit priest. So you are wrong in assuming that I would know, simply because there is an “S.J.” behind his name, that he is a priest.

    The reality is that you were, and still are, really grasping at straws by claiming that my use of “Egan” was, or is, a sign of disrespect to him or to a priest. It is further absurd to claim that I have bad manners because I refer to “Egan”, the writer of the piece. The way in which I used “Egan” in my comment is not wrong and there is certainly nothing disrespectful in what I said. There is also nothing bad mannered about what or how I said what I did.

    I think that your personal dislike of me, because I have challenged you on numerous occasions, is beginning to cloud your judgement and is causing you to behave irrationally. It is you, not me, who has made this entire affair such a messy business, while also turning it into a personal attack on me. I do not have bad manners and you are out of line in saying so.

    The fact that you raise the names of the Archbishop’s is also nothing other than a disingenuous means of manipulating this whole matter. You clearly wish to redirect attention away from the real issues at hand and you clearly wish to muster support for your personal agenda. (Some behind the scenes lobbying again maybe?) I have absolute respect for both these Archbishops and your questions of what I am proposing about them, are too preposterous to even warrant a response.

    Since you have however raised the archbishops, lets get back to the subject of the Nihil Obstat. Where is the evidence that your newspaper or the National Catholic Reporter has been granted the Nihil Obstat as you stated in your comment above?

    Regarding my comments about the NCR not being a Catholic newspaper. You have previously defended comments in the comment section of this newspaper, including your own comments, as being nothing but a matter of personal opinion. You are of course correct in saying so. In this instance, it is my opinion that the NCR is not a Catholic newspaper for the two reasons that I have gave in my previous comments. It is my right to state what my opinion is and the reasoning for my opinion. I did not claim to speak with any authority. Your reaction is once again clouded with your personal dislike and shows poor judgement, while also again being a personal attack.

    Similarly, it is has been my opinion that at times some of the content of The Southern Cross should not have been published in a newspaper that claims to be Catholic.

    Why do you believe that it is appropriate for people in this newspaper to challenge and criticise the bishops on the appropriateness of the translations to be used in the new Roman Missal, yet at the same time you believe that it is inappropriate for me to challenge the content of this newspaper?

    You still have not answered, having diverted this debate by the inclusion of the disingenuous references to the Archbishop’s, why you are so quick to defend any hint of disrespect to an unidentified priest, in this instance Fr Egan and yet you have on the other hand tolerated Sr. Sue’s criticism of Pope Benedict, for a phrase that it appears he never used!

    Donal recently commented on how you leap to the defence of one side of a debate, but never the other way round. Here again you are displaying this tendency.


    The only party in this thread who has used censorship is the editor. My disagreeing with you is not censorship. It is disagreeing. I host a link to Opus Dei on my Blog because it was my choice to do so on my personal Blog. I think they have some interesting content on the site, which will be of value to Catholics. If you give me links to a similar Jesuit site or any other site for that matter, I will happily post it, providing it is not dissident and does not promote an anti-Catholic agenda. So, for example, I would not post a link to “America”, the Jesuit magazine.

    I also read that article about Cardinal Schönborn agreeing to the openly gay parishioner serving on the PPC. Good for him. I agree with the Cardinal. While this may shock you, you may also be shocked to know that I disagree with the sentiment that homosexuals should not be permitted to be ordained as priests. I understand the argument and why it is seen to be a risk. However, I believe that just as a heterosexual man can say no to his sexual urges, so too a homosexual man is equally capable of saying no and keeping his vows of celibacy. I therefore disagree with the blanket decision by the Church not to permit homosexual men to be ordained as priests.

    My response to you focussed only on the fact that you seem to present the argument that because the NCR endorsed the Bishop’s call, it somehow carried more weight and because you quoted a bishop whose brother bishops had all disagreed with him.

    You state that I hate when Catholic media report on news that is not authentically Catholic. No, I don’t hate. But I do not like it when Catholic media serves as a base from which attacks can be launched on the Church. The editor, for example, made a claim earlier in this thread, that the NCR has been granted the Nihil Obstat. That means the content of the newspaper does not contain any views that are damaging to the Faith and Morals of the Church. Many people read Catholic newspapers as “gospel” and because a Catholic newspaper makes a claim, they believe it to be so. This is my reason for wanting them to remain true to the teaching of the Church.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    Oh dear…

  • Donal

    Yes, this is another example, and the priggish tone doesn’t help. Wiki, however, has a definition of priggish behaviour which may be helpful:

    “A prig is a person who shows an inordinately zealous approach to matters of form and propriety – especially where the prig has the ability to show superior knowledge to those who do not know the protocol. They see little need to consider the feelings or intentions of others, relying instead on established order and rigid rules to resolve all questions.

    A prig is generally a passive-aggressive, instigating fights rather than participating in them. T
    The prig approaches social interactions with a strong sense of self-righteousness.

  • Mark Nel


    Oh dear. Well that really doesn’t respond to the issues you were so quick to raise, does it? What say you about:

    (1) Does “SJ” identify a person as a priest?
    (2) What is rude about using “Egan”?
    (3) What about my right to have an opinion about Catholic newspapers, just like your liberal commenters have an opinion about, for example, the language in the new Roman Missal?
    (4) Sr. Sue’s condoned criticism of the Pope, defended by you the editor?
    (5) NCR publishing a full page AD from a pro-abortion group – Is it a Catholic newspaper?
    (6) The Nihil Obstat granted to Catholic newspapers?

    Oh dear indeed. . .

  • Günther Simmermacher

    Or maybe it’s just a question of extending common courtesy, Donal. If having good manners makes me “priggish”, then I’m quite happy to live with that. My mother would approve, even if some random guy on the Internet doesn’t.

  • Mark Nel

    Explain what is bad mannered of my use of “Egan” or what I said? You are clutching at straws editor, as usual adopting your usual style of thinking yourself irreproachable and, might I add, deeming yourself some self proclaimed authority on what is good manners.

  • Donal

    Or maybe not, Gunther. And maybe it is discourteous to refer to a contributor as “some random guy on the internet”. Very revealing, as well as pompous, for habitually “The prig approaches social interactions with a strong sense of self-righteousness.”

  • Günther Simmermacher

    I don’t know you, Donal. I’ve not met you, and know nothing about you, not even your real name or where you live; and I’m not really terribly interested either. But how are you not some random guy on the Internet to me?

  • Donal

    How disingenuous, Gunther. I thought that your job is a matter of serving “random guy[s and gals]” who read the Southern Cross, on and/or off the Internet, who are your customers, if not your brothers and sisters, rather than being patronising or condescending to them.

    Clearly you must have the last word. It’s not that important to me, so have it.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    OK then (and talk about priggish!). Readers of The Southern Cross don’t usually take the trouble to comment judgmentally on what they perceive to be my personality traits. The moment they do so, they are engaging in a conversation between two people, and the nature of the relationship, at that point, changes. So the moment you decided to talk about my supposed “priggishness”, you did so not as a neutral reader or “customer” (or, seeing as you are using a free service, a guest). You turned the encounter personal. If I knew you, or was familiar with your identity, you’d not be a random stranger. So Mark Nel, bless him, is not a random stranger, even though I have never met him. But I don’t know your name or your location or anything about you other than that you hold certain views and conduct Internet debates in a certain way. Now how are you not a random stranger from the Internet to me?

  • Mark Nel


    You said once that your impeccable manners required that you refer to those whom you did not know personally as “Mr” or “Mrs”. I can even find the thread in which you said so if you require. So since Donal is someone whom you do not know and a “random” guy, what has happened to your impeccable manners that you refer to him as Donal. I fear your mother, whom you say taught you so manners so well may be disappointed at this disrespectful reference to a stranger by his first name.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    Are you being serious? Donal is a username. You don’t apply honorifics to usernames.

  • Donal

    As it happens, I am also a “custormer” of the Southern Cross, which I frequently buy in hard copy. Would that make a difference? Would that payment entitle me to greater courtesy, or would I still be treated as, to borrow your phrase, a “guest”?

    I don’t hold certain views, Gunther. I have many views on all sorts of matters. I have merely repeated the teaching in the catechism regarding some issues and I have on occasion upheld both papal authority in affirming certain doctrines and papal limitations in changing them as any Catholic who is loyal to Church teaching should. I now nothing about you either, other than that you are The Editor. I have also noticed that you appear to intervene in issues on here on one “side” rather than another and in ways that can sound equally “personal”, in a chiding, de haute-en-bas, finger-wagging sort of way.

  • Donal

    That should be “know nothing”

  • Vincent Couling

    Nel says “The only party in this thread who has used censorship is the editor. My disagreeing with you is not censorship. It is disagreeing.”

    Let me remind Nel of a few facts. A quick cursory look back on this site reveals some of Nel’s previous comments …

    As recently as 19 January 2012, Nel wrote under Bernard Straughan’s letter to the editor (entitled “Time to reassess the doctrine of Original Sin”):

    “I find it very difficult to believe that this letter was even considered for publication, let alone that it was actually published.”

    A blatant plea for censorship?!

    Elsewhere on the same thread, Nel made some further comments:

    “The editor has a responsibility for all his readers because his newspaper has the ability to influence thought. I don’t believe that publishing this letter, and many others like it, are reflective of a responsible use of this newspapers influence on Catholics in South Africa.”

    “Also, how many readers, lacking adequate personal formation or access to suitable forums/people/facilities to discuss this topic, will now be in a state of flux, on yet another subject of Church teaching, because it appeared in a Catholic newspaper that they trust precisely because it is Catholic.”

    “Mr Simmermacher, do you believe the content of the printed newspaper, which is sold on Church premises, must be subject to censoring and, if so, why don’t you do so?”

    “Mr Simmermacher, I will take your flippant response to mean you see no need to censor the content of this newspaper, even though it is sold from Church premises. This letter being one example.”

    So Nel desires censorship from the Editor, but when the Editor apparently does censor, Nel flies into a rage because what the Editor apparently censored belonged to Nel! Beware what you wish for … if you get it, it just might bite you on the bum!

  • Vincent Couling

    Incidentally, Nel, I found it overwhelmingly difficult not to refer to you either as Mr Nel or as Mark!

    The reason I wrote in this manner was to give you the feel of the utter rudeness of it all!

    Even the SECULAR press will use an honorific the first time a person’s name is introduced in an article.

    That Mr Nel is unaware of this basic courtesy, practised even by the secular press (for which he seems to have little respect), is most revealing!

    Does Mark really expect us to believe that he was unaware that Fr Egan is a Catholic priest when he addressed him above as “Egan”?

  • Vincent Couling

    Dear Donal,

    What a pity that you accused the Editor of priggishness. How often we can fall into the trap of psychoanalytical “projection”, eh!

  • Donal

    I scarcely noticed the title issue. As you doubtless know, in scholarly/academic circles it is quite courteous and conventional to refer to other scholars by surname. I happen to know that Fr Egan is a Jesuit priest, but if I didn’t know, SJ might denote a scholastic who are conventionally “Mr so-and-so SJ”. If I didn’t notice the SJ reference and only saw the membership of the “Jesuit Institute”, I might reasonably think that the person might be a layperson affiliated to an Institute, of whom there are many in many such institutes. I don’t know what the fuss is about. Into the nineteenth century it was conventional for secular Catholic priests in the English-speaking world to be called “Mr”. “Fr” was reserved for priests, chiefly monks, in orders. Only in the nineteenth century was this extended as a courtesy to diocesan clergy, following popular usage.

  • Vincent Couling

    Anyways, we are all waiting … waiting as Jesus lies in the tomb! And we are all waiting as brothers and sisters of Jesus. Anxious, uncertain, et cetera.

    Thank you, Mark, for doing what many neocaths seem unable to do … for accepting Cardinal Schönborn’s recent intervention in allowing a gay man in a registered domestic partnership to serve on his parish council! I’m not so sure that you realise the full implications of this act? The Cardinal is basically saying that gays in civil partnerships are in good standing (which conflicts somewhat with the blanket prohibition of the catechism that same-sex sexual acts may never be condoned)!

    Yet another little tremor as the seismic shift progresses …

  • Vincent Couling

    This thread is hardly a scholarly or academic circle! And we are not living in the nineteenth century! Here’s what I think/intuit. Mark has a dislike for the Jesuits (as is betrayed above by his dislike for the Jesuit magazine America), and this is why he referred to Fr Egan as Egan … and I’m pretty sure that were Mark to refer to an Opus Dei priest, there would always be a scrupulous “Fr” there! In fact, Donal, I have looked back and see that you use honorifics throughout whenever you address someone by their surname. Are you perhaps not being just a tad priggish here, all in the ignoble cause of protecting Mark Nel and his rudeness?

  • Donal

    I don’t think so but I would be glad to be reminded if I had been. If I had used a surname no disrespect would have been meant or intended and more than had I used titles.

  • Donal

    I have often noticed how some people use “Ratzinger” to refer to the Pope, even after his election, while scrupulously fetishising “Father Kung”, but I don’t bother to take issue with this either.

    It was thoughtful of you to check back on my contributions.

  • Mark Nel

    Vincent, the editor applies censorship when it conveniently suits him to do so in defending the liberal points of view in these comments and only in those instances. He should have censored letters like time “Time To Reassess The Doctrine of Original Sin”. Anyway, it’s quite pointless debating this because the editor has shown his unwillingness to be fair, evident by the fact that Sr Sue’s blog, accusing the Pope of using words he did not use, has been allowed to stand. Yet, as Donal says, refer to Fr Egan as Egan and the editor weighs in immediately.

    Anyway, I used Egan two or three times in a brief two or three line sentence / paragraph in order to refer to the author of the piece and I remain adamant that it was not rude or disrespectful for me to do so, neither was that my intention for doing so.

    As I have already said, “SJ” does not indicate a person to be a priest as the editor incorrectly claimed it does. Lay members also use “SJ”.

    Vincent, you say that even the secular press use honorific titles. Well they also use surnames in isolation, as I did: Obama, Cameron, Malema, Sarkozy and Blair are examples in recent articles I have read. I really think the editor, and now you, are making a mountain out of a molehill and deliberately creating hype about a non event. I can give many other examples where use is made of a persons surname and no offence is given or taken.

    Anyway, I hope that editor will in future ensure that people’s titles are included, particular if they are Deacons, Priests or Bishops, since this is a Catholic newspaper.

    Moving on! Vincent, you are making a number of assumptions about my bias for or against certain groups in the Church, yet you have no basis on which to make these assumptions. To make a point, I will email you a photo of my bookshelfs in my study and they are jam packed with books written by Jesuits. Why would I waste money on books written by those from an order I supposely dislike. Why also would I, when I write on my Blog, frequently quote from their books, if I had these anti-Jesuit sentiments. (By the way you may find that my sentiments about the Jesuit magazine, America, is even shared by many Jesuits!) Come on Vincent, you are taking a cheap shot. I thought you and I had got passed the personal attacks.

    With regards Cardinal Schonborn’s intervention. Vincent, you do know that the Cardinal initially supported the decision not to permit this man to serve on the PPC and then changed his mind after a personal meeting. I think this Cardinal obviously is aware of more of the facts than you or I. I certainly would not begin to read anything into this decision and would not make assumptions about what the Cardinal is saying unless he has specifically stated it. I don’t think your summary of what you think the Cardinal is saying is accurate. In fact your assumption of what you believe the Cardinal is saying may be on a par with the assumptions you made about my sentiments towards the Jesuits.

    Vincent, by the way, what is a “neocath”? Never heard the term until now.

    Vincent, I need to give you some other books to read about Opus Dei. Fox and Brown’s books are not great reference material. (Anyway, I think Fox needs to focus on deciding what it is he believes. He has been through more changes than I can even keep track of.) You really seem to have a bee in your bonnet about them. Have you ever personally met anyone from Opus Dei? (Which reminds me, I am still waiting for the editor to tell me the name of the Opus Dei spokesman who once complimented his editorial.)

    I hope all the dissidents, especially those who support We Are All Church South Africa, have read the Pope’s homily from this years Chrism Mass. You’ll find a link in my blog here –

  • Donal

    Regarding Cardinal Schonborn, the following report in the latest Tablet may be of interest:

    Schönborn welcomes Pope’s criticism of dissident priests
    6 April 2012

    The Archbishop of Vienna has welcomed Pope Benedict’s criticism of a group of Austrian priests who are advocating disobedience of church teaching including women’s ordination.
    Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said the Pope’s words are an encouragement for the Austrian Church and shows how seriously the Pope is taking the ongoing altercation on the future of the Church in Austria.
    “This is true pastoral concern which reassures and gives courage,” said the cardinal.
    In a homily at the Chrism Mass at St Peter’s Basilica on Thursday Pope Benedict suggested that members of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative were trying to force their personal agenda on the rest of the Church.
    “Do we sense anything here of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?” the Pope asked rhetorically.

  • Donal

    @Vincent: Please save your psychoanalysis for yourself. Projection is such a weak and unfalsifiable (in a Popperian, if not a Freudian) approach.

  • Rosemary Gravenor

    Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. Because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it,[…] His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who** are rejected by power and prestige because they are regarded as disobedient, discredited by their concerns for a better way of being…, who are silenced in the name of truth, side-lined even though they have valid concerns. With all those Christ is present in this world, those who cannot identify with the power structure of an institution that promulgates primacy of conscience, but then uses cafeteria methods to belittle the consciences of those who do not tow the party line.

    If Power and Truth are used as weapons there is no room for a Theology of Love.

    **(Thomas Merton Raids on the Unspeakable)

  • Rosemary Gravenor

    The cross is the standing statement of what we do to one another and to ourselves.
    The resurrection is the standing statement of what God does to us in return.
    Richard Rohr Easter 2012

    Happy Easter to all – especially Fr. Egan, Günther and Vincent.

  • P.R.Margeot

    On this great day of Easter, the most important in the Christian calender, we rejoice, we are happy, we know our weaknesses, we are hoipeful, and we believe that better and great days are ahead for us and the Holy Church.
    I wish all a blessed Easter. I just had the very best Lent, Triduum, and Easter of my life: I needed to share it with you.
    Last night at 2200 hrs, the impressive ceremonies started at the Our Lady of the Rosary Church in central Durban. What a reading on the Creation and Exodus it was…what a story the Exodus is, what a giant Moses was(actually he is one of my heroes). The blessing of the light, the water, the pascal candle, etc, well all this lasted until just before midnight. Then at midnight the Mass started, what a glorious moment I lived this early morning ! By 1.30 a.m. I was home: so it was not very hard or difficult if one has a car. I am so grateful to have one and be able to drive…

  • Rosemary Gravenor

    Yes indeed PR. Also the gratitude for wheels. We have come a long way since the days of the scooter! -:)

  • Mark Nel

    Rosemary says: “those who cannot identify with the power structure of an institution that promulgates primacy of conscience, but then uses cafeteria methods to belittle the consciences of those who do not tow the party line.”

    Why Rosemary are you unable to identify with an institution founded by Christ? Why do you choose to fight a “power structure” implemented by Christ? Why do you continue to be misled by those priests, theologians and lay people who persist in presenting you, and others like you, with inaccurate teachings that turn you against the Church?

    Do you have so little faith in the Church that Christ established? The Church is not asking you to goose-step in obedience! It is lovingly asking you to have faith in the exact same institution which was personally founded by Christ and whom Christ promised to protect! Do we lack faith in the supernatural power of God? Do we believe he has stopped guiding and protecting his Church? Do we actually have the audacity to think that He needs us to keep His Church on the straight and narrow?

    I think that the Pope cuts right to the root of the problem when he asks: “do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?” (You can find a link to the full homily here

  • Günther Simmermacher

    “the editor applies censorship when it conveniently suits him to do so in defending the liberal points of view in these comments and only in those instances.”

    How do you know that, Donal? I hope that Vincent won’t mind if I reveal that on at least two occasions I deleted his posts or parts of thereof because I saw problems with them. That’s twice more than I did with you.

  • Mark Nel

    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!

  • Vincent Couling

    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!)

  • Vincent Couling

    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!).

  • Vincent Couling

    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?


  • Vincent Couling

    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!

  • Vincent Couling

    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!

  • Mark Nel

    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!

  • Vincent Couling

    (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!)

  • Vincent Couling

    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).

  • Vincent Couling

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

  • Vincent Couling

    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 …

  • Vincent Couling


    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!

  • Vincent Couling

    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!

  • Donal

    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?

  • Mark Nel

    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.

  • Vincent Couling

    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.

  • Vincent Couling

    Thanks, Mark … greatly appreciated!

  • Donal

    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.

  • Vincent Couling

    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!

  • Vincent Couling

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

  • Vincent Couling

    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 …

  • Donal

    @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.

  • Vincent Couling

    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!”

  • Vincent Couling

    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.”

  • Vincent Couling

    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.”

  • Vincent Couling

    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?

  • Vincent Couling

    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.”

  • Vincent Couling

    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.”

  • Vincent Couling

    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?

  • Vincent Couling

    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.”

  • Vincent Couling

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

  • Vincent Couling

    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 …

  • Vincent Couling

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

  • Donal

    @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.

  • Donal

    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.

  • Vincent Couling


    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!