Attempting to advance the ball, the President of the University of Notre Dame drops it…

Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about:  it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services.  Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives.  As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.

This is part of what the President of the University of Notre Dame (UND), the Reverend John Jenkins, CSC, had to say in a statement explaining his decision that UND would file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.  The lawsuit concerns the so-called “Obamacare mandate” promulgated by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, who just happens to be a UND honorary degree recipient.

The explanation, posted to Fr. Jenkins’ page on the official UND website, articulates a position that many Catholics are familiar with and take for granted.  That is, as long as in their consciences Catholics believe that conduct contrary to Church moral teaching is moral, they are free to engage in that immoral conduct because they believe it is moral.

 

The Motley Monk is no moral theologian or canon lawyer, but he is able to read and is saddened in reading Fr. Jenkins’ comments.

Why?

Fr. Jenkins contradicts long-standing, Magisterially defined Catholic moral teaching concerning artificial contraception (cf. 1989 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “The moral norm of ‘Humanae Vitae’ and pastoral duty“).  In sum, Catholics do not possess a “right” to conscientiously dissent from defined Catholic moral teaching concerning the use of artificial  contraception.  After all, in the Catholic view, “rights” devolve not from man—bolstered by science, theology, and the social sciences or public opinion—but from God.

For a President of a Catholic university or college—especially one who is an ordained priest—to state otherwise promotes a false impression, ultimately creating or furthering serious confusion and ambiguity among the Catholic faithful, in particular. Rather than upholding the Church’s credibility in teaching matters concerning faith and morals, statements like that of Fr. Jenkins only provide ammunition to those who are opposed to the Church’s teaching.

It would have helped Fr. Jenkins had he grasped, in particular, the meaning of the CDF document’s reiteration of Pope Paul VI’s words to priests:

Worth recalling here are the words which Paul VI addressed to priests: “It is  your principal duty—We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology—to expound the Church’s teaching with regard to marriage in its entirety and with complete frankness. In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the Magisterium of the Church, For, as you know, the Pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the  truth (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 25)” (Humanae Vitae, n. 26).

Priests are called to lead by defending the Church and its moral teaching, calling the faithful to greater fidelity to the truth as defined by the Magisterium.  This is especially true of priests who are appointed to lead Catholic universities and colleges.

While The Motley Monk applauds Fr. Jenkins in his attempt to advance the ball upfield in the U.S. Catholic Church’s current battle with the Obama administration concerning religious liberty, The Motley Monk thinks Fr. Jenkins dropped the ball when it came to his statement explaining his rationale.

 

And people wonder why the critics contend that U.S. Catholic higher education is “Catholic in Name Only”?

 

 

To read Fr. Jenkins’ statement, click on the following link:
http://president.nd.edu/communications/a-message-from-father-jenkins-on-the-hhs-lawsuit/

To read the CDF document, click on the following link:
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19890216_norma-morale_en.html

To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, click on the following link:
http://themotleymonk.blogspot.com/

96 Responses to Attempting to advance the ball, the President of the University of Notre Dame drops it…

  • We must remember, as Bl John Henry Newman wrote “The celebrated school, known as the Salmanticenses, or Carmelites of Salamanca, lays down the broad proposition, that conscience is ever to be obeyed whether it tells truly or erroneously, and that, whether the error is the fault of the person thus erring or not ..”

    Having cited many authorities in support of this proposition, he continues, “Of course, if a man is culpable in being in error, which he might have escaped, had he been more in earnest, for that error he is answerable to God, but still he must act according to that error, while he is in it, because he in full sincerity thinks the error to be truth.”

    Do Father Jenkins’s words imply any more than that?

  • Michael,
    I agree that Father Jenkins’ words are pretty much compatible with those of Cardinal Newman. That said, I would make two obervations. First, the level of serious reflection required or a Catholic in order to depart from the Magisterium is considerable, and it is ludicrous to believe that it is satisfied by most or even many dissenting Catholics. Second, there is a difference between (i) departing from Catholic teaching in order to avoid commiting an act that would be in violation of one’s conscience and (ii) departing from Catholic teaching in order to commit an act that is not permitted by the Church and also not required by your conscience.

  • “Required of”, not ‘required or”.

  • Mike Petrik

    Fr Jenkins speaks of “both Catholic and non-Catholic” and non-Catholics are equally obliged to follow their consciences. Thus, Newman cites Fr Busenbaum S.J., a noted moral theologian: “”When men who have been brought up in heresy, are persuaded from boyhood that we impugn and attack the word of God, that we are idolators, pestilent deceivers, and therefore are to be shunned as pests, they cannot, while this persuasion lasts, with a safe conscience, hear us.” This is clearly a very strong case of the duty to obey an erroneous conscience.

  • “But, of course, I have to say again, lest I should be misunderstood, that when I speak of Conscience, I mean conscience truly so called. When it has the right of opposing the supreme, though not infallible Authority of the Pope, it must be something more than that miserable counterfeit which, as I have said above, now goes by the name. If in a particular case it is to be taken as a sacred and sovereign monitor, its dictate, in order to prevail against the voice of the Pope, must follow upon serious thought, prayer, and all available means of arriving at a right judgment. on the matter in question. And further, obedience to the Pope is what is called “in possession;” that is, the onus probandi of establishing a case against him lies, as in all cases of exception, on the side of conscience. Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the Presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it. Prima facie is his bounden duty, even from a sentiment of loyalty, to believe the Pope right and to act accordingly. He must vanquish that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit of his nature, which, at the very first rumour of a command, places itself in opposition to the Superior who gives it, asks itself whether he is not exceeding his right, and rejoices, in a moral and practical matter, to commence with scepticism. He must have no wilful determination to exercise a right of thinking, saying, doing just what he pleases, [-] the question of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, the duty if possible of obedience, the love of speaking as his Head speaks, and of standing in all cases on his Head’s side, being simply discarded. If this necessary rule were observed, collisions between the Popes authority and the authority of conscience would be very rare.”

  • Thanks, Don. The quoted language describes exactly the type of “serious reflection” to which I was referring.

    And Michael, my other point is simply that it is important to distinguish the circumstance where following Church teaching would do violence to one’s conscience from the circumstance where following Church teaching would simply deprive one of an option that is in accord with one’s conscience. Newman’s point more readily applies to the former, and Fr. Busenbaum simply exemplifies that.

    In the context of contraception the distinction would be (i) I must contracept because the failure to do so would violate my conscience versus (ii) I may contracept because doing so does not violate my conscience. Plainly, Fr. Busenbaum was referring to the former situation.

  • Or put another way, Michael, a Catholic who disagrees with Church teaching regarding contraception but who submits anyway typically would not be violating a duty to obey his conscience, erroneous or otherwise.

  • One should not expect more from Father Jenkins than he is capable of giving. Whever Notre Dame stands against the Spirit of the Age–not allowing co-ed dorms, withholding university authorization for a,”gay” student association, so forth and so on–the only public justification offered to the World is that to do otherwise would go against the “teaching of the Church.” There is never s hint th

  • CONTINUED FROM ABOVE, WITH APOLOGIES–I NEED TO GET BETTER CONTROL OF MY FINGERS . . . There is never a hint that the teaching might have some reason or rationale behind it. Nor is there a hint that those enforcing the rule might agree with it. So, with the HHS mandate: It goes against Church teaching, whatever individual Catholics might think about it. Credit where credit is due: In bringing the suit Father Jenkins may well have gone against his inclinations, if.not his conscience.

  • FWIW, I suspect that Fr. Jenkins fully supports the lawsuit, but is trying to be excessively politic with important constituencies that are not sympathetic.

  • Mike Petrik and Donald R McClarey

    I can well imagine a case of someone, especially a non-Catholic, who (1) thought contraception, in some cases morally licit (2) is under a duty to render the marriage debt and (3) believes a pregnancy, at this time, would be harmful to the well-being of the family, believing s/he was under a duty to use contraception. In that case, s/he would be bound to follow an erroneous conscience.

    On the more general point, consider the well-known case of the cardinals who consulted M Emory, then Supérieur of St Sulpice and a noted moral theologian, on the licitness of attending Napoléon’s marriage to the Archduchess of Austria. No one could suggest they were under a moral obligation to attend, so he could simply have advised them to follow the safer opinion and not do so. On the contrary, he told Cardinal della Somaglia, who had already formed the view that he should not attend that, in that case, he should on no account do so. However, he advised Cardinal Fesch that he thought he might do so with a clear conscience. In advising Cardinal Fesch, M Emory was giving his own opinion; in advising Cardinal della Somaglia, he was stressing the duty of following one’s conscience. There was no contradiction here.

  • Michael, I agree that would could “imagine” such a scenario, but it strains reason to suggest that this is what Fr. Jenkins had in mind when he stated:

    “Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives ….”

    Attending a civil wedding that is not recognized by the Church admittedly presents moral issues, but unlike contraception it is not an intrinsically sinful act. Such a decision requires a prudential calculus including consequences. Indeed, there is no way of determining the superior or “safer” decision without such a calculus. The good theologian is best understood as simply making that clear to Cardinal Fesch. Fr. Jenkins was not presented with a comparable moral problem insomuch as the Church teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil.

  • Not “would could,” but “one could.”

  • Mike Petrik

    Cardinal della Somaglia’s objection to attending the wedding was that Napoléon had a wife living, not that it was a civil ceremony. Cardinal Fesch had actually conducted Napoléon’s first wedding and Somaglia regarded the annulment by the Metropolitan Tribunal of Paris as irregular and uncanonical; only the Holy See had jurisdiction over the marriages of sovereign princes.

    Adultery is an intrinsically sinful act, which Somaglia thought he might appear to countenance by his assisting at the celebration. Cardinal Fesch (and M Emory) thought the invalidity of the previous marriage probable, although they thought the contrary view was also probable

  • Michael, I understand that. But while adultery is an intrinsically evil act, attending a wedding is not, even a wedding that presupposes adultery. As you note attending such a wedding is potentially scandalous and therefore must be considered morally problematic, but the such moral problems are resolved by a prudential calculus, not a rule.

    I am not familiar with the intricate history regarding Napoleon’s marriages, but I cannot see how the same person can view the first marriage as “probably” both valid and invalid.

    Finally, I do admit to the possibility that it is morally permissible for a Catholic to commit an act that the Church teaches is morally objectionable if such act is in keeping with the actor’s conscience, even if the omission of the act would not violate his conscience. But even if such an expansive understanding of “primacy of conscience” is correct, it is very dangerous terrain. It is one thing for a person to refuse to violate his conscience even in subordination to Church teaching. It is quite another to subordinate Church teaching to private conscience in cases where Church teaching does no violence to private conscience. The latter inevitably involves considerable hubris, almost always unwarranted.

  • Mike Petrik

    In the judgment of moral theologians, “an opinion is solidly probable which by reason of intrinsic or extrinsic arguments is able to gain the assent of many prudent men” Five or six are usually deemed sufficient and even a single grave doctor, such as St Alphonsus, may suffice.

    In this way, two contrary opinions may each be probable.

  • The only response Father Jenkins deserves to receive is the response from Ezekiel 34:1-10.

    http://www.usccb.org/bible/ezekiel/34

    Those who contracept and abort will be held accountability, and to even greater accountability will be held those priests who encourage, aid and abet such evil. St. Paul would know how to deal with Father Jenkins – the same way he dealt with Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1st Timothy 1:19-20.

    Liberal. Progressive. Democrat. The three dirtiest words in the English language. That’s the dictatorship of relativism. “I get to decide what’s good and evil by my own personal conscience!” Horse manure. That’s the very same lie with which Satan beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden. That’s the way of the serpent, the way of death and destruction. No one’s personal conscience gets to decide anything. Truth, righteousness and holiness are as immutable and ever constant as solid granite rock itself, hence Jesus’ words, “And upon this Rock I shall build my Church and the gates of hell shall NOT prevail.”

  • Interesting, Michael, thanks. That is indeed a most idiosyncratic definition of “probable,” foreign to science, math, logic and common usage. It seems to me that its usage among Catholic theologians is unfortunate in that English supplies us with “plausible.”

    In any case I don’t see how a Catholic understanding of “supremacy of conscience,” properly understood, can honestly explain Fr. Jenkin’s unfortunate statement.

  • What an interesting phrase – “supremacy of conscience.” Genesis 3:1-7:

    1* Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4* But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

  • Paul,
    You are correct that “[t]ruth, righteousness and holiness are as immutable and ever constant as solid granite rock itself.” But we humans are imperfect receivers of the truth, and hence some uncertainty is an inevitable part of the human condition. And although the Church speaks truthfully on matters of faith and morals, it cannot speak perfectly simply because it exists in a fallen world where even the most carefully chosen words impart ideas imperfectly. The Church does in fact teach that one should not violate one’s own conscience, and that is good enough for me. But that teaching cannot be properly understood without taking into account our grave obligation to learn and understand Church moral teaching. And the Church’s regard for individual conscience, however real, may not be employed as a license to ignore Her precepts in favor of private preferences. I agree with Michael that it is conceivable that some Catholics have truly and faithfully grappled with Church teaching and have nonetheless decided to contracept for reasons they deem serious and grave, even to the point of believing a failure to contracept would be a moral wrong. In such cases I concede that these Catholics may be innocent of moral culpability or fault; but I believe these cases to be exceedingly rare. Indeed, the number of contracepting Catholics who have even read Human Vitae, let alone struggled to understand it, is almost certainly quite modest.

  • Yes, Mike P., I agree 100% – “…it is conceivable that some Catholics have truly and faithfully grappled with Church teaching and have nonetheless decided to contracept for reasons they deem serious and grave, even to the point of believing a failure to contracept would be a moral wrong. In such cases I concede that these Catholics may be innocent of moral culpability or fault…”

    This happens because bishops, priests and deacons are failing to teach the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth so help them God.

    When was the last time we heard a cleric speak unambiguously about Humanae Vitae from the pulpit at Sunday morning Mass, or failing that, even about the first sin in the Garden of Eden?

    Yes, again you’re 100% right – “Indeed, the number of contracepting Catholics who have even read Human Vitae, let alone struggled to understand it, is almost certainly quite modest.”

    This is the fault of Roman Catholic clerics in these United States, and of us in the laity who know better for not praying for them that the Holy Spirit strengthens them and gives them wisdom. And God will hold them accountable for failing to preach and teach the truth just as He will hold us accountable for not lifting them up in prayer to the Throne of Grace.

    Sorry if I get so vociferous. I am not known for being delicate. :-(

  • Speaking as a psychologist, I an say that since the late 19th Century, we know about how the mind works. It is capable of rationalizing anything.

    Speaking as a layman, I can say that the mind can fool the conscience.

    Terrorists, dictators, politicians, business people, students, pastors, anyone, can fool himself into believing he is acting in conformity with his conscience.

    Only God can judge!

    But we all know what sin is objectively if we are honest with ourselves.

  • Paul W Primavera

    I quoted Newman earlier as saying “Of course, if a man is culpable in being in error, which he might have escaped, had he been more in earnest, for that error he is answerable to God, but still he must act according to that error, while he is in it, because he in full sincerity thinks the error to be truth.”

    Similarly, “invincible ignorance,” excuses, whilst supine ignorance does not and affected ignorance is the prevarication of an unquiet conscience.

    Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitae and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

    In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

    In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

    The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

    Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?

  • Mike Petrik

    As in many other cases, Catholic theologians are using an English word in its Latin sense. Now prob?bilis = likely, credible, plausible (it can also mean commendable, admirable or justifiable)

    It comes from Latin proba = proof or evidence, which, in turn, comes from probare = to approve , esteem, commend; let; show to be real, true.

    Lawyers are doing the same, when they speak of “the balance of probabilities,” as meaning more likely than not.

    It is a “term of art,” a bit like anatomists talking of the “mental nerve,” which is in the chin (Latin mentum) and has nothing to do with the mind (mens)

  • Yup. Authority. That is the sticking point I think.

    We stray into protestant thinking when we think we can be our own authority and still call ourselves Catholic. Father Jenkins states Catholics and non Catholics conscientiously go against church teaching “ both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives”.

    Once you decide against the teaching Authority of the Church, promised by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, you are not wholly in communion are you. When you start to throw out this or that issue, you are no longer united to the Church in all she teaches and requires for our belief.
    Authority and Freedom. Does docility to Church authority as our Mother and Teacher mean that we are not intellectually free? No. We employ our conscience in order to discern the objective moral law; we don’t interpret the Truth ourselves but rely on our three legged stool of Magistereum, Tradition and Scripture.
    Unfortunately today we are skeptical that there is an objective Truth. JPII :
    “ How should we define this crisis of moral culture? We can glimpse its first phase in what Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk: ?”In this century [conscience] has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the 18 centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will”. ?What was true in Newman’s 19th century is even truer today. Culturally powerful forces insist that the rights of conscience are violated by the very idea that there exists a moral law inscribed in our humanity, which we can come to know by reflecting on our nature and our actions, and which lays certain obligations upon us because we recognize them as universally true and binding. This, it is frequently said, is an abrogation of freedom. But what is the concept of “freedom” at work here? Is freedom merely an assertion of my will — “I should be permitted to do this because I choose to do it”? Or is freedom the right to do what I ought to do, to adhere freely to what is good and true ? (Baltimore, October 8, 1995)?

    The doctor said the mind can fool the conscience.. as I think Eve’s and Adam’s did. “Did Eve make a mistake? or did she sin? She had been taught the truth, but her mind wanted to justify her desire.

    Perhaps people see conscience as an instrument for positing truth, instead if thinking it to be more like an ear trumpet to the mouth of God.
    We form our conscience when we are listening to what God is saying to us.
    When John Henry Newman wrote “Lead Kindly Light” he did not mean a light he had lit in His conscience– but the true eternal unchanging light of God. We form our conscience to follow that Light.

  • Michael, thanks for the explanation — very interesting. FWIW, I am a lawyer and can assure you that in law the term “probable” means more likely than not, unless qualified such as “30% probable.”

  • Dr. Kenny,
    While I’m generally sympathetic with your point of view, I do think the truth is a bit messier than we might wish. As an example: May a soldier in combat intentionally kill his comrade who is dying in agony and begging to be mercifully killed? Church teaching plainly says no — murder is always wrong no matter the motive or consequences. Yet, I don’t think most offenders of this teaching under these circumstances can be presumed to having knowingly sinned, no matter how objectively they may evaluate the situation. Same with torture in the context of the proverbial ticking time bomb. While moral laws are imprinted on the hearts of men, such laws are not all equally accessible. Some are written so gently they are in need of “greater light” to be seen. This is one reason Christ left us his Church. And it is also a reason we should (i) be diligent in seeking to understand Her teachings and (ii) be cautious about subordinating such teachings to our conscience except when necessary to avoid its violation.

  • Culpability is lessened by the duress of the situation. Agreed. We cannot presume anything about the sin of another person; only God knows the whole story about the person who acts under pressure. We leave the judgment to God Who has all knowledge of the factors that go into the sins of despair and mercy killing.
    If we seek Him we will find Him; there is some responsibility on our part to stay close to
    Him and get to know HIs voice.
    There is no moment in time when we can say we are a better judge than God of when or how a person (even ourselves) should die.
    Even if the “conscientious” Catholics and non Catholics referenced by Father Jenkins justify birth control or abortifacients because of the extreme dire nature of their situation they are still only justifying a revolt against the Authority of the Author of Life.

    About God’s laws …some written faint and some written bold. That almost makes it seem He has hidden the knowledge we would need to make good use of our intellect and will. ??? While King David did think we could have unknown faults (psalm 19) because perhaps our subjective perception may be more or less clouded, nonetheless the truth is accessible to us, if not in our own thinking, in the revelation of God in Scripture and Tradition and the Teaching of Church.
    Objective truth is all of a piece and is coherent. One teaching that is True can not contradict another teaching that is True. It is mortally sinful for us to take another person’s life, in the nursing home or hospital or at Planned Parenthood. Mercifully, our culpability is measured by God.

  • If men loved God as much as God loves men, life would be livable.

  • Everyone is under a duty to inform their conscience. However, most moral theologians argue that, in the case of the laity, this duty does not normally extend beyond seeking the direction of their confessor or spiritual director.

    Now, following the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, many pastors, tended to minimise its authority, by teaching that it was not infallible, that many theologians questioned its teaching and so on and suggested that it was up to the individual to follow his own judgement in the matter. Now, doubtful laws are certainly not binding and the fact that advice is welcome does not mean that it is not accepted in good faith.

    Many bishops, too, were equivocal on the matter and Rome quashed the censures imposed by Cardinal O’Boyle on those pastors who had publicly dissented from Humanae Vitae. Even those who supported the encyclical’s teaching inclined to the view that those who did not were to be “left in good faith” (a phrase with a venerable history, but only as applicable to errors of fact, not of law)

    It is a little strong to suggest that those were wilfully dissenting from Church teaching, who followed the spiritual direction of the pastors appointed for them by the Church.

  • Dr Charles Kenny

    Well said.

    As Lord Macaulay said, “We know through what strange loopholes the human mind contrives to escape, when it wishes to avoid a disagreeable inference from an admitted proposition. We know how long the Jansenists contrived to believe the Pope infallible in matters of doctrine, and at the same time to believe doctrines which he pronounced to be heretical.”

    Anzlyne

    “About God’s laws …some written faint and some written bold. That almost makes it seem He has hidden the knowledge we would need to make good use of our intellect and will. ???”

    And, yet Isaiah says “Truly, you are a hidden God” [Is. 45:15.] and Our Lord teaches “”Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”[Matt. 11:27] As St Augustine explains, “There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them and make them inexcusable.”

    Those who teach that it is possible to demonstrate the validity of supreme values by means of reason alone, leaving aside the proclamation of the faith are not speaking the language of Scripture or Tradition.

  • Michael PS,
    Excellent posts. With converts and reverts being a large prescence on the blogs, you provide theological data they are unaware of. Germain Grisez, moral theologian and recently used by the Vatican on a marriage debate at Theological Studies, over here in the US in an interview (he argued that the issue was settled in the universal ordinary magisterium infallibly) said that the laity disagreeing with him on infallibility was perfectly understandable given the silence of Bishops on the issue. I’d add that the abscence of any Pope censuring both Bernard Haring and Karl Rahner for public dissent sent the same message. Arguably John Paul II’s youth when he entered the papacy was ideal if any Pope were going to move the matter out of the ordinary magisterium into the extraordinary magisterium. He did not and this Pope is interested in NT writing. In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II moved three issues of morals to extraordinary level by polling the world’s Bishops by mail etc. thus abortion, euthanasia, and killing the innocent are now infallibly condemned clearly in language based on the ex cathedra wording of the IC. I suspect he polled them on birth control but did not get the unanimity require to circumvent ex cathedra.

  • That whole ‘follow your conscience’ thing when it comes to accepting immoral behaviour is a cop-out. We have a duty to have a well-formed conscience and that means in accord with the teachings of the church and not jsut what we think or want something to be. I have known cases where “God wants me to be happy” when couples lived together outside of marriage or entered into an invaid marriage. And they say their conscience is fine with it.

    My conscience was ‘fine’ with a lot of things in the years I had in between confessions. Did not hurt a bit when I missed Mass or committed sin. That is because, not being in a state of grace, it was dead.

    It is a very serious matter when someone in a place of authority or power-say the head of a university or a politician–says that something immoral can be a ‘matter of conscience. It can’t. And they have the duty to speak and teach the truth and not to do so is sin by at least omission but more likely commission.

  • Yes. Thank you so much Michael for responding to me.
    JPII called the conscience a “herald”. When I think of that, I think “I don’t form a herald, I hear a herald” with the senses that God gave me for that purpose. My conscience is formed not just by my will and intellect, but in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
    My conscience is formed in my personal cooperation with grace, receiving and accepting.
    Jeremiah 24:7 “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD…”

    You and Augustine and Isaiah are certainly right. They (and you and I) were and are also right to keep up the effort, the search. We will only know Him completely when we are face to Face.
    You are generous and I think Christ-like, when you say that people can’t be faulted if they truly follow their spiritual advisor. At the same time,in love we can encourage people that we are responsible for what we do know, even though we may wish we didn’t have even that inkling of Truth.
    In the 70’s, when we went to our hippie priest asking to be married in the Church he asked why we didn’t just live together.
    In all the millions who have been taught by Mother Church, many do know that the Church teaches that mercy killing is a sin, that artificial birth control is a sin, that having sex outside the sacrament of marriage is a sin, etc. but sometimes we latch on to what is easier to believe, and to claim confusion because of errant priests.

    He is hidden but the search is not fruitless. We are called to seek Him and He doesn’t set an impossible task for us… Perhaps we are granted insights and grace and knowledge of Him and His laws relative to our capacity in the same way that Therese taught us about being little thimbles but being full; so whether you are a barrel or a thimble you can be filled to the full..
    The catechism called us to KNOW love and serve Him in this life. We have responsibility to incline our ears, and harden not our hearts; esp. when we are “forming “ our conscience.
    We can pray with Paul as in Ephesians 1:17 …” the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.”

  • Magdalene,
        But the concept of a sincere erroneous conscience is valid far outside this one issue…otherwise Christian history is permeated with intrinsically evil acts if we accept the list of them in section 80 of “Splendor of the Truth”.  Popes from 1253 A.D. until 1816 cooperated with torture in both ecclesiastical courts (light torture) and in secular courts; recently a Pope wrote that torture is an intrinsic evil and far prior to 1253 A.D., Pope Nicholas I had condemned torture to extract a confession as “against divine and human law” in a local bull to the Bulgarians.  Who’s correct?  
    Did the Popes from 1253 til 1816 sin based on doing the opposite of Nicholas I.
    St. Alphonsus di Ligouri in his “Moral Theology” noted that even saints have disagreed on the less clear areas of the natural law. He could have been thinking of the Dominicans denouncing the Franciscans for usury in the late 15th century on the way the Franciscans ran their pawn shops by charging interest to cover expenses… with the Fifth Lateran Council subsequently siding with the Franciscans. You have Popes Nicholas V, Calixtus III, Sixtus IV, and Leo X believing in chattel slavery and Vatican II saying it’s “shameful” and John Paul calling it an intrinsic evil.  If it were an intrinsic evil, it would be wrong regardless of century.  You had Jesuits in China accepting Chinese ancestral rights with Franciscans and Dominicans objecting that it was evil with subsequent Popes siding with both opposing groups.
    All of this is why the charism of infallibility should be used more in the extraordinary mode as to morals so there is no doubt.  Abortion is now clearly infallibly condemned for that reason and so a person preaching abortion as a good could now be prosecuted in a Vatican ecclesiastical court for doing so in line with canon law 749-3 …” No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.”
         On contraception Germain Grisez and a Fr. Ford argued it was evidently infallible in the universal ordinary magisterium but other theologians of repute argued it was not…Karl Rahner and Bernard Haring…and Rahner had edited the Enchiridion Symbolorum for years (the tome that keeps track of dogmaticbauthority levels on issues).
         On torture, I side with it’s being acceptable ( Popes from 1253 til 1816) but unlike them, acceptable rarely e.g. to extract from a criminal the whereabouts of a slowly dying hostage that he has left in a basement.  I think John Paul was incorrect to call it an intrinsic evil based on scripture: ” Evil is driven out with bloody lashes and a scourging to the inmost being” Proverbs 20:30.  And his calling chattel slavery an intrinsic evil is refuted by Leviticus 25:44-46.  It is necessary in primitive contexts in which there are no prisons…e.g. the uncontacted tribes of Peru and Brazil where theoretically wouldreduce executions, the alternative for even petty thieves where there are no prisons.

  • also, “the issue was settled in the universal ordinary magisterium infallibly”
    Generous for Grisez to say people’s confusion is understandable because of the silence of the bishops, but I think that could be letting people off the hook. People understand that there are bishops who might or might not speak on this but the ex cathedra is all they need to know. Am I wrong?

  • Anzlyne
    Ex cathedra was not used on birth control but it’s kindred infallible venue ( bishops unanimously agreeing with a Pope) was used on abortion in section 62 of Evangelium Vitae. The youngish generation of Humanae Vitae saw an ex cathedra encyclical ( Pope speaking solemnly alone wih particular wording) when they were in grade school…the Assumption encyclical (1950)…18 years before Humanae Vitae (1968). Then imagine that generation growing up and having heard many times that ex cathedra was the cats meow as to being clearly infallible beyond dispute…in Catholic school as to the Assumption. Then Monseignor Lambrushini at the Humanae
    Vitae press conference twice stated that HV was not infallible. That meant to the Assumption generation that it was disputably true. Then theologians went public against it. Then dissenters of that generation influenced their children as a recent NY Times piece by Maureen Dowd showed in her case.

  • Thank you Bill.
    … about all the controversy with the infallibility of HV..
    Because a teaching about a particular act has not been deemed infallible by the extraordinary magisterium does not mean it is fallible.

    There was tremendous pressure on pope the 6th concerning this issue as you know, People waited and wondered what he would say, and some, disappointed, have tried ever since to find ways around it. He felt that repeating and reinforcing the consistent teaching of the Church was the way to go.

    The teaching about contraception has been taught consistently from the beginning (Genesis 38) The sin of Onan.
    Also Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted” (The Instructor of Children, 195 AD,)
    and of course Augustine had something to say too: . …”Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility” (Marriage and Concupiscence)
    and protestants even followed this teaching until Margaret Sanger and her birth control movement began to hold sway early 1900’s ..the Anglicans were led away from this teaching at their 1930 Lambeth conference.

    It is a long term highly respected teaching.

    Primacy of conscience is being stressed today when so many people WANT to dissent, but the teachings of our Holy Church is our glue. If people want to go against the consistent teaching of the Church and quibble about types of infallibility – that seems too dodgy for me.

    Searching for truth, Holy spirit guided. Development of doctrine from the roots to the tip of the vine There is organic growth in our development of doctrine, Yay!

  • Great discussion. But I am confused. Are not the issues:
    1. Should Rev. Jenkins have said “Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.”?
    2. Does one’s decisions of conscience have consequences?

    As to the first issue, isn’t Rev. Jenkins a Catholic priest speaking in a public forum as the President of a Catholic University? Thus, shouldn’t he uphold his Church’s teachings by denouncing the use of contraceptives as both a violation of natural law and the teachings of his Church? If not, why not? If he does not believe his Church’s teachings, shouldn’t he resign? If he does believe, why didn’t he say so with certainty? Politics is not an excuse.

    Second, for the sake of argument, let’s assume one’s conscience can rationalize the use of contraceptives. Doesn’t that use explicitly contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church? Let’s assume that person doesn’t live on an asteroid in deep space. As such, that person, if a Catholic, has removed them self from communion with the Catholic Church, ie. excommunicated them self ? They may be proven right in the next life, but in this life shouldn’t the Catholic Church accept their self excommunication, unless and until they repent. To do otherwise, would be to create confusion and scandal in the Church. And we all know what that can do to a Church. If the Church believes really in what it teaches, it should go forth and preach it. Otherwise, change its position as so many would like it to do. It is either right, wrong or not sure! I believe the Church has chosen?

  • Anzlyne
    You are talking about infallibility in the universal ordinary magisterium. Some very great theologians though would have differed with you as to this topic….and they knew your references
    and more. Not every theologian throughout the centuries who opposed contraception agreed with Augustine on Onan. They were against birth control without mentioning Onan. Look at the NAB.
    Onan did this repeatedly (“whenever”). Thus God’s killing Onan was not about the act but about the series of acts that precluded any child whatsoever being born. Why is this critical? It’s critical because Christ was to be descended from the house of Judah…which was four men: Judah and his sons…Er, Onan, Shelah. In other words Onan was trying to have no children whatsoever with Tamar. Onan was risking the non descent of Christ from the house of Judah…a sacrilege. Throughout the Bible, God kills for sacrilege not for sex or gluttony or slander etc. God kills Uzzah for touching the ark; Achan for stealing precious metal dedicated to God; Dathan and Abiram for attempting to dethrone Moses; the sons of Aaron for using unauthorized incense; Herod in Acts 12 for accepting the name “god” from the crowd; Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 for lying to the Holy Spirit. It was sacrilege for Onan to risk Christ not coming from his little family…the house of Judah. Apocalypse 5:5…”One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,* has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”. Augustine missed the sacrilege involved and saw only sex….his past in fact. But Tamar and Judah sin sexually in the same story and God does not kill either one of them…because it was about sacrilege…about risking Christ not coming from the House of Judah…one of four men.

  • ps…the sexual sin of Judah and Tamar produces Phares, the ancestor of Christ.

  • Good discussion by Bill Bannon. I need to save this text for future uses.

  • very interesting.. about Onan– I think Jewish (and Christian) tradition was that contraception was the reason that Onan was killed. I don’t think your exegesis is a widespread conclusion.. I could write up some of the arguments about it but

    but what we were getting back to is whether Fr. Jenkins statement that there are conscientious Catholics teaching and on staff or studying at Notre Dame who dissent against accepted Catholic teaching. and that that is respected.

    That puts everything Cardinal Dolan has been saying in a poor light doesn’t it? Does the Church teach against contraception or not? Is it important? If the individual conscience can trump the accepted consistent teaching of the Church in the case of teaching staff at the Catholic university why should the Bishops be trying to fight the mandate?
    Jenkins references “conscientious decisions” and says ” we respect their right to follow their conscience.
    We do respect people’s right to follow their conscience. My point is that there is a certain tension between authoritative teachings and the primacy of conscience. The widespread cries among liberal Catholics that HV may not be an infallible pronouncement, begs a question of the authority of long time honored teaching of the Church.
    It seems disingenuous to claim in any way that the Church has not always taught against contraception and that the Bishops are hollering then about nothing, because everyone can just decide for themselves. Sound Protestant? Not that there is anything wrong with that, but we Catholics have to be responsible to our Faith. we have to count on the Teaching Authority and not make Church teaching morally relative.

    I don’t like the NAB, do you? those footnotes are killers. ..when I was in post graduate I had to put up with a lot of Raymond Brown etal.

  • Paul,
    Thanks. You’ll notice that if God did not kill Onan, Tamar could not move on to the next brother in order to have a child. So killing Onan was for sacrilege but the killing also was necessary to undo the sacrilege by producing a child. But the next brother, Shelah seems to have feared Tamar due to his two brothers dying ( in Tobias, the devil Asmodeus kills any man who marries Sarah). Tamar then disguises herself as a harlot and seduces the father. Thus Tamar and Judah materially sin sexually but live on because they produced the next ancestor of Christ.

  • Anzlyne,
    I threw out Raymond Brown’s “Birth of the Messiah” as a dangerous book to leave to others when I’m gone. But I kept his late life “Introduction to the New Testament” which is actually good in the main as is “Community of the Beloved Disciple”. In “Birth of the Messiah” I think he was performing for Protestant scholars in showing how much he could disbelieve. The last two Popes in varying capacities allowed him on the Pontifical Biblical Commission. They in biblical matters are not as traditional as people think especially when it comes to God ordered violence within the Bible. Read section 40 of Evangelium Vitae by JPII and section 42 of Verbum Domini by Benedict. Both men are insinuating that God did not order death penalties (the first reference) nor the dooms (the second reference). No thanks. Thus Raymond Brown was more innocent to them than to you and I.

  • thanks – I must be turning into a crackpot– I prob wouldn’t have given him the nihil obstat! : )

    I don’t mean to be a smart alec about such a well educated man, but he was a skeptic and he spread it around… Some of my teachers knew him personally and assured me he was a loving gentle man; no horns.

    I threw out my Intro to the New Testament ’cause I couldn’t in conscience give it to Goodwill. Lots of good stuff there, but just enough skepticism to infect someone who wasn’t tenacious in their faith.
    He and Rahner Hellwig and others made me so earnest about teaching adults the Catechism– Brown more than the others because he reaches down to beginning bible readers and throws them off right at they are getting started..

    as far as the pope and biblical interp, I am sure you have read B16 Erasmus Lecture 1998… so the fact that he wasn’t really outright censured doesn’t mean his ideas are necessarily accepted..

  • Westphilo

    By my reading, Fr Jenkins did affirm the church’s teaching, when he said “As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.” In other words, “we” do not agree with those who “have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives.” What more do you want?

    Bill Bannon

    In examining the Tradition, we look to the Fathers, not as theologians, but as witnesses to the apostolic tradition, handed down in the churches. What we find is a universal condemnation of any interference with or manipulation of the life-giving process. This is their explicit teaching. Coupled with this, we find various explanations offered, as to why this should be so. These are examples of theological reasoning and, as such, form no part of the Deposit of Faith; they stand or fall on their own merits. That is why the evidence of the Didache, of Clement of Alexandria, of Origen, even of Tertullian (who later became a Montanist heretic) are more important than the exegesis of St Augustine. They stand much closer in time to the Apostles and they give the evidence of the Tradition held in the different churches.

    Anzlene

    Asserting the duty (hence the right) to follow an erroneous conscience is not to concede the teaching is doubtful. It is merely to acknowledge that human beings can be sincere in their false beliefs.

  • It seems to The Motley Monk that there’s a bit of confusion concerning the “primacy of conscience” in some of the comments to his post as well as in the minds of U.S. Catholics’ as well.

    Here is the confusion, at least as it was discussed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as best as The Motley Monk recalls that discussion. “Conscience” is not similar to “a breakwater stopping the Church’s teaching from reaching the shore.” In defined, papal magisterial teaching the conscience must yield to the Church’s teaching.

    Sounds harsh, no?

    As this relates to the use of artificial means of birth control, a married couple might, yes, in conscience, believe it moral to contracept. But, according to Ratzinger, that does not mean they can contracept morally and doctrinally speaking. It means that they must sumbit to the Churchh’s defined, papal magisterial teaching.

    That’s even more harsh, no?

    Definitely not!

    This brings up an entirely different but related discussion that The Motley Monk intends to bring up at some point in the future when there’s a good case application that riles everyone up. That is, the Sacrament of Penance exists for sinners to confess their sins—for example, the inability to follow defined, papal magisterial teaching—and to overcome those sins, in part, through the instruction provided as part of the Sacrament. The Sacrament affords Christ—through the Holy Spirit present in the Church and its ministers—the opportunity to form a defective conscience as well as the grace to live in conformity with defined, papal magisterial teaching.

    Perhaps many of those who confessed contracepting in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s were not provided the instruction they needed to strengthen them in their resolve to conform their lives with defined, papal magisterial teaching. Might it have been that confessors “winked and nodded” when spouses confessed contracepting? Then, too, listening to public opinion polls of U.S. Catholics, perhaps those who would otherwise have confessed contracepting stopped presenting themselves for the Sacrament of Penance. After all, the reasoning may have gone, “If everybody’s doing it, God can’t send them all to Hell.” Top all of that off with the “magisterium of U.S. Catholic theologians”—whose infallibility is defined by their unanimity—who spoke against defined, papal magisterial teaching. It’s quite understandable why so many Catholic aren’t confused but conforming their lives with the things of this world rather than other-worldly things, as St. Paul wrote.

    One important tool for overcoming this lack of understanding about conscience, in particular, is more catechesis based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  • To reiterate, perhaps more clearly:

    The question here is whether artificial contraception is or is not morally permissible. The Church teaches no. An individual Catholic may want to dissent from that teaching, either in his own case, or in general. So the moral question becomes “does my conscience trump Church teaching?”. The answer is that the consciences of individuals must be formed in accordance with Church teachings, not over against them. Conscience does not need to be convinced by Church teaching, it is obligated to be formed by it and to yield to it.

    Now in case the conscience, after having been properly informed of Church teaching, still dissents from it, the morally just behavior, after using artificial contraception, is to confess the sin of contraception and to pray for the grace of a truly divinely illumined conscience.

    But the bias is always in favor of the Church’s teaching. And the conscience must always be formed in accordance with that teaching.

  • Motley Monk,
        Cardinal Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict is a bad example.  Section 80 of “Splendor of the Truth” teaches that deportation (unqualified…deportation in se) is an intrinsic evil.  In May of 2010 Benedict allowed Italy to deport two Muslim students who had planned to kill Benedict.  So Benedict’s conscience overrode a major encyclical of the Pope previous to him…against the catechism but in line with tradition within Catholic moral theology tomes whose definition of conscience includes dissent toward the not clearly infallible.
         Your piece is pure catechism as to conscience which I find in converts and in Catholics who do not access moral theology tomes.  Germain Grisez is a moral theologian who is against birth control and further thinks it infallibly condemned in the universal ordinary magisterium and he was recently supported by the Vatican in a debate on marriage in a Jesuit periodical where he was opposing laxism on the topic.  In short his credentials are questioned by no one.  But he disagrees with you and allows unlike the catechism circular conscience trail you espouse….he allows for dissent to the non infallible which Benedict just used in 2010 against JPII’s position on deportation.  Check Grisez’s “Christian Moral Principles” page 854 and thereabouts.  On abortion a Catholic who dissents is going against the clearly infallible per section 62 of Evangelium Vitae.  That’s different.  He or she should then leave the Church if their conscience actually motivates them.  But even then you do not know if they are in mortal sin in God’s eyes.  The Church can only say they have committed a mortal sin materially but not formally which only God knows.  The catechism in its circular description of conscience constantly returning to Church documents is not adult because it means that when Pope Leo X supported burning heretics in Exsurge Domine in 1520, you Motley Monk would have gone right along with him and his document despite Christ twice praising the Samaritans who heretically rejected the Hebrew canon after the Pentateuch….because your concept of conscience is circular and always leads back to Church documentation.  Start reading moral theology which Benedict followed instead of the catechism circular conscience model…when he recently dissented on deportation….and it saved his life.
    In the catechism conscience is always bound to return to documents in obedience. In Catholic moral theology that is not so. The catechism concept led to hundreds of years of Catholics burning heretics in obedience to Exsurge Domine….31,000 by the count of an Inquisitor writing in 1800…6,000 by the count of Will Durant. Either way, that flies in the face of Christ praising Samaritan actions.

  • The Motley Monk

    “The question here is whether artificial contraception is or is not morally permissible. The Church teaches no”

    This raises the question of the status of that teaching. Does the Church teach this, as a matter of divine and catholic faith? Is it a magisterial teaching, to be received with submission of intellect and will? Is the teaching “definitive” and so on.

    Do the opinions of those theologians who regard it as a non-infallible teaching or who hold that the scope of the Church’s infallibility is restricted to revealed truth constitute a “probable opinion,” as that term is understood by moral theologians?

    Does a lay Catholic sufficiently inform his conscience, by submitting the question to his/her pastor and accepting his ruling?

    Personally, I believe it to be a teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium; the same authority on which I believe in the infallibility of general councils and, hence, in the infallibility of the pope. That is a far cry from holding that no one can conclude otherwise, in good faith, especially if they are following their spiritual director’s advice.

  • Nice try, Mr. Bannon, but your post is premised upon at least one absurdity and imprecision.

    For example, you stated “In May of 2010 Benedict allowed Italy to deport two Muslim students who had planned to kill Benedict.”

    Surely you know that Pope Benedict XVI can’t/doesn’t order the Italian state to do anything. He can cajole, debate, recommend, etc. But, the Italian state is required to follow Italian law not the dictates of the Pope, whomever he may be.

    Then, too, the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is accorded higher value in the moral decision-making process than the opinion of moral theologians because the CCC represents the official and universal teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The speculations of moral theologians are just that—speculations—which you seem to believe are official interpretations of Church teaching.

    That incorrect interpretation has things “upside down” and “inside out” because it is not unusual for Catholics who dissent from defined, papal magisterial teaching to select moral theologians whose speculations they happen to agree with. That is not how Catholics “inform” their consciences. That is how Catholics justify what they already belive in dissent form Church teaching.

    What I stated in my two previous responses is what it means to be a Roman Catholic…hard as that may be for people today.

  • Bad try, Motley Monk. Benedict could have publically protested the deportation as an intrinsically evil act in the Vatican newspaper, on Vatican radio and to the Italian press and CNN. He could have said, ” Just as a woman’s life cannot be saved by abortion, I must not be saved by deportation”.
    The reason he didn’t was because he knew JPII’s position on deportation was incorrect by reason of a failure to qualify his terms. He dissented.

    On Grisez, you’re obviously unaware that he was the highest profile theologian in the US against
    birth control.

    On burning people, you skipped it because the catechism description of conscience leads retroactively to obeying Pope Leo X on burning heretics…heretics who now fix our cars, take care of our children’s health as Doctors, and serve us pancakes at IHOP.

  • Thanks Anzlyne.
    I believe you made an important point. Hasn’t the Catholic Church consistently taught that artificial contraceptive is wrong?
    If so, how can Rev. Jenkins sue on behalf of a Catholic institution to protect its 1st Amendment Right to freely practice its faith/religion by not being forced to supply contraceptives, but in the same thought/paragraph explicitly state that persons of the same faith can disagree as a matter of conscience? “Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.” He can’t. They can’t. The two positions, as it relates to being a faithful Catholic, are irreconcilable.
    As you said, if consciences can faithfully disagree on this point, why should he sue or any Catholic sue?
    Notwithstanding infallibility, can a faithful Catholic in good conscience believe Jesus was a good man, a prophet, but not God? Or that the Eucharist is not the body of Christ? Or that abortion is alright? Of course not. Reject these concepts and you reject Catholicism.
    Further, one’s “right to be wrong”, doesn’t mean you are right. You are still wrong! So why didn’t Rev. Jenkins say so. He went out of his way to be obtuse, in its best light, or to create a “moral equivalence” argument for his dissenting faculty. In either case he has shown to be neither a teacher or a leader.
    As an aside, I used to watch Coming Home, a religious program, hosted by a man called Marcus, a former Protestant Preacher. He hosted many Protestant Preachers who , like Marcus, gave up their calling as Protestant Ministers to become Catholic. Not only did they seem very religious, but very learned in the Bible. It was uncanny how many became Catholic because they came to believe that the Bible and their good consciences were inadequate to preach the Word and save souls. They needed a higher authority which they universally came to believe was the Catholic Church, its tradition and its teachings. The point is that to be Catholic is to accept its teaching . In this case Rev. Jenkins has not, instead he equivocates.
    Where am I wrong?

  • Westphilo

    “The two positions, as it relates to being a faithful Catholic, are irreconcilable”

    No, they are not. A person is bound to follow his or her conscience, even if erroneous – “”over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else” [Joseph Ratzinger, "Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II," ed. Vorgrimler, 1968, on Gaudium et spes, part 1,chapter 1]

    Abp Ratzinger, as he then was, is repeating the teaching of St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, Cajetan, Vasquez, Durandus, Navarrus, Corduba, Layman and Escobar. They “must act according to that error, while they are in it, because they in full sincerity thinks the error to be truth.”

    Antonius Cordubensis (Antonio de Córdoba, 1485-1578), a Spanish Franciscan, whose Summa Casuum Conscientiae [Summary of Cases of Conscience] was a popular manual for confessors, states the doctrine with still more point, because he makes mention of Superiors. “In no manner is it lawful to act against conscience, even though a Law, or a Superior commands it.”—De Conscient., p. 138.

    No one on this whole thread has cited one theologian who is of a contrary opinion, nor is this surprising. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, Archbishop of Rheims, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.'” [Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.] His “Théologie morale a l’usage des curés et des confesseurs” (1844) [Moral Theology for the use of Curates and Confessors] ran into many editions. If Gousset is right in his interpretation of the fourth Lateran council, then the rule is de fide.

  • Thanks for your reply Michael.

    I stated my qualifier, i.e. “as it relates to being a faithful Catholic”, poorly.
    I’ll try again. Given your premise that a person’s conscience is controlling, does that assumption divest one’s actions based upon his conscience from its consequences?

    For example, if one believes abortion is alright and acts upon that belief, has that person committed a wrong? Has that person voluntarily removed them self from communion with and in the Catholic Church? And does that person continue to be a faithful Catholic?
    As you can see I’m not as versed as you in Church history or law, but regardless one can still reason. And if one’s reason/conscience takes them away from the Catholic Church’s teachings – does that decision not also take them away from the Church. No one forces one to believe? Wasn’t that the Protestant revolution? At least they stood up for their decisions and recognized they were no longer faithful to or a part of the Church?
    What do you think?

  • Westphilo

    As I have said more than once, quoting Bl John Henry Newman, “ Of course, if a man is culpable in being in error, which he might have escaped, had he been more in earnest, for that error he is answerable to God, but still he must act according to that error, while he is in it, because he in full sincerity thinks the error to be truth.” That is the teaching of all moral theologians.

    It is a Protestant error to define Christians by examining their tenets, or the Church by its teaching. As Mgr Ronald Knox put it, “The Faithful, be they many or few, be their doctrine apparently traditional or apparently innovatory, be their champions honest or unscrupulous, are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome. No doubt, in the long run, this means the people who are so orthodox that Rome has seen no reason to excommunicate them, so that unity and orthodoxy still react upon one another. There can be little doubt that, in the West, our labelling of this party as orthodox and that as heterodox in early Church history comes down to us from authors who were applying this test of orthodoxy and no other.”

    This process can take a long time. In the case of the Jansenists, Jansens’s work, the Augustinus, was censured by the Holy Office in 1641; it was only after 77 years and eight papal documents, dealing with their various evasions, that, in 1718, the Jansenists were effectively expelled from the Church. As late as 1756, the pope had to issue yet another apostolic constitution dealing with notorious resistance and the Viaticum.

    As far as Humanae Vitae is concerned, we have not even seen the first stages of that process – the formal condemnation of specific errors, the requirement of subscription by the clergy, the deprivation of those who refuse, declaratory sentences of excommunication against recalcitrant individuals &c, &c. These were the measures taken against the Jansenists and, more recently against the Modernists by Lamentabili and Pascendi and the imposition of the Anti-Modernist Oath.

    Rome moves slowly.

  • This is precisely the kind of sophistry that Catholic teaching suffers at the hands of people who do not understand “faith seeking understanding.” They put understanding before faith.

    Yes, in The Motley Monk’s personal opinion, this is precisely what the Protestant “reformation” was all about. Conscience before Tradition.

  • Thanks again Michael.

    Its very frustrating.

    Mgr. R. Knox’s quote that ” The Faithful … are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome.”, makes sense. Would not the opposite be true? That those in public opposition to the see of Rome/its teachings are not faithful Catholics?

    Further, does “Rome moves slowly” serve a function? Or is it just a fact?

    In our jet age, people and communication fly faster than the speed of sound. That was not the case 400 years ago. Additionally, damage to the Church and its flock can occur just as fast. Looks what has happened to the Church and its followers since 1960, a mere 50 years ago. There is an old legal adage that states “justice delayed is justice denied”. Shouldn’t it apply to what is happening to the Church and its faithful followers?

    Also, must the Church’s problems be only handled on a macro level? As a heresy or schism? What about a micro level approach as to specific cases. For example Rev. Jenkins? Should not he be called upon to explicitly promote the teachings of the Catholic Church or step aside and let someone who believes in and will promote those teachings? Yes, I know I’m addressing consequences/responsibility again.

    A while ago, just after VII, I made a bet with a friend that the Church would change its position on contraceptives? Even though I hoped I would be wrong, I saw the writing on the wall. I haven’t won my bet, but its even money now. Look how many Catholic entities have not joined the current lawsuit! Unless the Church acts, I’m afraid I will win my bet. And either way, the Church will be a small, shadow of its once great self and more importantly, less able to fulfill its mission to save souls.

    Great to hear a response.

  • To Motley Monk.

    How does one who does not have faith – seek understanding?

    Isn’t faith/grace a gift from God? It is not earned? Or learned?

    But what about a person who falsely believes he possesses grace/faith or denies its necessity? Can that person properly form a conscience ? Much less find the truth with such a conscience?

  • I am learning so much and loving this. It is wonderful that so many good people are able to “sit by the eastern wall” !
    I answer my own question: did Eve sin or did she make a mistake? this way. She sinned. She was told, she had personal experience with the Lord. Sins are always a mistake; but a mistake is not always a sin.
    It is not a sin to sincerely follow an erring conscience. The best hedge is to follow Church teaching. If I think the Church is wrong on a matter of morals, I am probably wrong. My conscience has not had the promise of infallibility.
    What we believe to be true is not necessarily true. If we doubt God, He still exists. If we believe abortion to be good, it is still evil. I can be sincere and be sincerely wrong, so if in doubt, I follow the Church.
    Maybe one of the hardest parts of forming my conscience, or coming to an understanding of what IS truth, is that when I am tempted, and especially when I have caved in , I have lost any impartial objective judgment. I tend to believe what I want to believe.

  • Westphilo

    The beauty of Mgr Ronald Knox’s test is that it avoids the question of belief altogether. Communion can be terminated on either side: a person can withdraw from communion with the pope or bishops in communion with him, or they can be excommunicated by their bishop (in which case, they will probably appeal) or by the Holy See. This is all clear and public; there is no room for doubt on either side.

    Allow me to quote Knox again: “I had always assumed at the back of my mind that when my handbooks talked about ” Arian ” and ” Catholic ” bishops they knew what they were talking about ; it never occurred to me that the Arians also regarded themselves as Catholics and wanted to know why they should be thought otherwise. “ Ah! But,” says my Church historian, “the Church came to think otherwise, and thus they found themselves de-Catholicized in the long run.” But what Church? Why did those who anathematized Nestorius come to be regarded as “Catholics” rather than those who still accept his doctrines? I had used this argument against the attitude of the Greek Orthodox Church when it broke away from unity, but it had never occurred to me before that what we mean when we talk of the Catholic party is the party in which the Bishop of Rome was, and nothing else: that the handbooks had simply taken over the word without thinking or arguing about it, as if it explained itself; but it didn’t.”

    You ask “For example Rev. Jenkins? Should not he be called upon to explicitly promote the teachings of the Catholic Church or step aside and let someone who believes in and will promote those teachings?”

    In the Washington case, the Congregation of the Clergy required the dissenting priests, who had been disciplined by Cardinal O’Boyle, to subscribe a declaration that “the Church’s teaching on the objective evil of contraception was ‘an authentic expression of [the] magisterium.’” Has Rev Jenkins said anything to suggest that he rejects this?

  • Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum veritatis (1990), n. 38:

    Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one’s own conscience cannot legitimate dissent. This is true, first of all, because conscience illumines the practical judgment about a decision to make, while here we are concerned with the truth of a doctrinal pronouncement. This is furthermore the case because while the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it. Conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty. It is an act of moral judgement regarding a responsible choice. A right conscience is one duly illumined by faith and by the objective moral law and it presupposes, as well, the uprightness of the will in the pursuit of the true good.

    The right conscience of the Catholic theologian presumes not only faith in the Word of God whose riches he must explore, but also love for the Church from whom he receives his mission, and respect for her divinely assisted Magisterium. Setting up a supreme magisterium of conscience in opposition to the magisterium of the Church means adopting a principle of free examination incompatible with the economy of Revelation and its transmission in the Church and thus also with a correct understanding of theology and the role of the theologian. The propositions of faith are not the product of mere individual research and free criticism of the Word of God but constitute an ecclesial heritage. If there occur a separation from the Bishops who watch over and keep the apostolic tradition alive, it is the bond with Christ which is irreparably compromised.

    Blessed John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 31

    Certainly people today have a particularly strong sense of freedom. As the Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae had already observed, “the dignity of the human person is a concern of which people of our time are becoming increasingly more aware”. Hence the insistent demand that people be permitted to “enjoy the use of their own responsible judgment and freedom, and decide on their actions on grounds of duty and conscience, without external pressure or coercion”. In particular, the right to religious freedom and to respect for conscience on its journey towards the truth is increasingly perceived as the foundation of the cumulative rights of the person.

    This heightened sense of the dignity of the human person and of his or her uniqueness, and of the respect due to the journey of conscience, certainly represents one of the positive achievements of modern culture. This perception, authentic as it is, has been expressed in a number of more or less adequate ways, some of which however diverge from the truth about man as a creature and the image of God, and thus need to be corrected and purified in the light of faith.

    32. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.

  • Westphilo:

    How does one who does not have faith – seek understanding?

    The answer: This person is a scientist and uses the scientific method. That’s the basis of science…using human means to know the truth. Theology, in contrast, accepts the Truth and seeks to undestand what that means. For example, a scientist does not accept the Virgin birth and, hence, abandons the search for this Truth. The believer, however, accepts this divinely revealed Truth and, in doing so is able to seek what it means for humanity. Historically, this has been framed as the “science vs. religion” debate but, in reality, a person of faith uses scientific findings to imform faith. For example, the heliocentric universe challenged theologians to inform their pursuit of the Truth.

    Isn’t faith/grace a gift from God? It is not earned? Or learned?

    Answer: All is grace, starting with life itself. Anything following that is “grace upon grace.” That was definitively settled by St. Augustine of Hippo.

    But what about a person who falsely believes he possesses grace/faith or denies its necessity? Can that person properly form a conscience ? Much less find the truth with such a conscience?

    Answer: No that person cannot and needs someone who can assist that person in forming a proper conscience. For example, a serial murderer who sincerely believes that the crimes committed are for the cause of some good needs to “see the light” and, through the process of conversion, form a proper conscience. Of course, The Motley Monk here is referring to St. Paul.

  • Following up on Veritatis Splendor for those who keep quoting Blessed John Henry Newman (who, by the way, is one of The Motley Monk’s faves, so this is not to cast any aspersions on him):

    Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.

    34. “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”. The question of morality, to which Christ provides the answer, cannot prescind from the issue of freedom. Indeed, it considers that issue central, for there can be no morality without freedom: “It is only in freedom that man can turn to what is good”. But what sort of freedom? The Council, considering our contemporaries who “highly regard” freedom and “assiduously pursue” it, but who “often cultivate it in wrong ways as a licence to do anything they please, even evil”, speaks of “genuine” freedom: “Genuine freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image in man. For God willed to leave man “in the power of his own counsel” (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God”.

    Although each individual has a right to be respected in his own journey in search of the truth, there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, that outstanding defender of the rights of conscience, forcefully put it: “Conscience has rights because it has duties”.

    52. It is right and just, always and for everyone, to serve God, to render him the worship which is his due and to honour one’s parents as they deserve. Positive precepts such as these, which order us to perform certain actions and to cultivate certain dispositions, are universally binding; they are “unchanging”. They unite in the same common good all people of every period of history, created for “the same divine calling and destiny”. These universal and permanent laws correspond to things known by the practical reason and are applied to particular acts through the judgment of conscience. The acting subject personally assimilates the truth contained in the law. He appropriates this truth of his being and makes it his own by his acts and the corresponding virtues. The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all.

    In regard to the above quotation, The Motley Monknotes, bear in mind that the Catholic Magisterium’s teaching concerning the prohibition of artificial contraception expresses a negative precept of the natural law.

    Ratzinger on Conscience / Ratzinger on Newman’s views about Conscience: http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm

    Ratzinger quoted in the above-cited text: “What I was only dimly aware of in this conversation became glaringly clear a little later in a dispute among colleagues about the justifying power of the erroneous conscience. Objecting to this thesis, someone countered that if this were so then the Nazi SS would be justified and we should seek them in heaven since they carried out all their atrocities with fanatic conviction and complete certainty of conscience. Another responded with utmost assurance that of course this was indeed the case. There is no doubting the fact that Hitler and his accomplices who were deeply convinced of their cause, could not have acted otherwise. Therefore, the objective terribleness of their deeds notwithstanding, they acted morally, subjectively speaking. Since they followed their albeit mistaken consciences, one would have to recognize their conduct as moral and, as a result, should not doubt their eternal salvation. Since that conversation, I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of justifying power of the subjective conscience, that, in other words, a concept of conscience which leads to such conclusions must be false.

  • Thanks Michael for your response. I’ll try to answer your question about Rev. Jenkins.

    If the use of contraceptives is morally wrong? And if the Church teaches this truth? Shouldn’t Catholics, especially a public Catholic Priest who is the leader of a famous Catholic Institution, explicitly preach this truth?

    How does someone defend Rev. Jenkins’ statement that – “Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.” ?

    Where is the statement that the use of contraceptives is morally wrong? Against the teachings of the Catholic Church? Or even against natural law? And more importantly where are his actions to support those Church’s teachings?

    A de minimis statement respecting every ones’ conscience is not only incomplete (does not state the wrong, its seriousness, or its rational), but it is also false as it relates to Catholics who ” made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives”. These Catholics have voluntarily rejected Catholic teachings and as you quoted, removed themselves from the their Church. As such they are no longer Catholic and shouldn’t be address as such.

    Harsh? I don’t think so. These “Catholics” have made a voluntary choice. On the other hand, the Church and its faithful followers who continue to follow the Church and believe in its teachings, are marginalized and are told by Rev. Jenkins and the ‘learned” by their actions and in actions that their Church and their beliefs are no better or worse than those “Catholics” who use contraceptives – a moral equivalency.

    Am I the only one who sees this?

  • westphilo,
    You are excommunicating Catholics for birth control. The problem with that is that no Pope out of the 265 Popes except Sixtus V has done that ( the bull, Effraenatum) and his immediate successor repealed his judgement. He cleaned up Italy though…executing thousands of criminals
    ( not a big anti death penalty Pope).

  • Motley Monk.

    Thanks for answering my questions. I appreciate your being concise and to the point.

    “How does one who does not have faith – seek understanding?”
    Your science vs religion makes sense. But doesn’t your answer as to religion, beg the question? Without faith one cannot reach understanding, truth or a properly formed conscience. Where can one obtain faith if not from understanding? When I think of understanding, I think of wisdom. I believe wisdom is succinctly defined as intelligence plus experience. What do you think?

    “Isn’t faith/grace a gift from God? It is not earned? Or learned?”
    I used faith and grace interchangeably. As to only faith, does you answer stay the same? How does one obtain faith?

    “But what about a person who falsely believes he possesses grace/faith or denies its necessity? Can that person properly form a conscience ? Much less find the truth with such a conscience?”
    You seem to say a “serial murderer” can find faith if he sees ““… the light” and, through the process of conversion, form a proper conscience.”. Again doesn’t this answer beg the question? You can’t find faith needed to form a proper conscience until you “see the light” or find a conversion?

    If Faith is a gift from God, you either receive it or you don’t. You may be able to help yourself, by your search for the truth, but ultimately it is a gift – not earned or learned.

    On the other hand if a person humbly searches for and is open to the truth, will they not realize that there is a greater law, a natural law, that includes mysteries beyond their comprehension. Wouldn’t that person, after a thorough search, seek assistance, not from another person, but from an organization created for that purpose. Shouldn’t that person then place its faith in the teachings of that organization? And are the two premises, gift vs journey, mutually exclusive? Can the mystery of the virgin birth be accepted as a gift, just believing in it? Or as I believe G. K. Chesterton surmised – after a journey to the Church and accepting its teachings? Or can it be both – the journey to the Church and its teachings enables one to accept the gift of faith? Some just have faith, others wrestle continuously. For those who wrestle, I believe humility and pubic acceptance of the Church’s teachings is a prerequisite of faith. That is why Rev. Jenkins’ statement is so disconcerting.

    A response is appreciated.

  • Hi Bill.

    Aren’t they voluntarily removing themselves from the Church?
    We are not talking just about a Catholic who sins and repents or wants to repent, we are talking about a “Catholic” who publicly denies it is a sin, denies the need for repentance and by their words and actions promotes that activity – as well as publicly defies the Catholic Church.

    What is your solution? Accepting the premise that to be a faithful Catholic you can believe and do whatever your conscience tell you to do – regardless of what the Church teaches. Oh, I’m not talking about trivial matters.

    Do you believe that the use of contraceptives is serious, morally wrong?
    Do you believe that the Church teaches that the use of contraceptives is serious, morally wrong?
    If so, what should the Church do to publicly promote its teachings and discipline those who publicly deny its teachings?
    If not, how do you define what is a faithful Catholic? And are there any Catholic beliefs that are not optional?
    Awaiting your reply.

  • westphilo,
    I think the matter is unique in that Popes since 1968 have done nothing penal to famous reputed theologians who dissented from Humanae Vitae AND no Pope has moved to the logical solution..defining the matter infallibly in ex cathedra form. Infallibilty in the universal ordinary magisterium…Tradition with a capital T… is not convincing in contentious issues. And it is not convincing to reputed theologians for reasons I give in the below long post to M M.
    You’ll notice no Catholics doubt the Immaculate Conception nor the Assumption because ex cathedra was used therein. When it wasn’t used on Humanae Vitae in 1968 as it was to that laity in 1950 on the Assumption, the dissent was massive and involved laity using the rythmn method of that time who hd petitioned the papal commission in the thousands by letter. NFP and its accuracy are brand new in Catholic history….post 1968.
    Read the below post to MM on why I think no Pope is acting on this with the result that you and MM seem more interested in this issue than Benedict seems.

  • Motley Monk,
       You quote Ratzinger:
         ” I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of justifying power of the subjective conscience, that, in other words, a concept of conscience which leads to such conclusions must be false.”

        But Michael PS quotes him very differently in another post:
         ” over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else” [Joseph Ratzinger, "Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II," ed. Vorgrimler, 1968, on Gaudium et spes, part 1,chapter 1]

         So we have a case of “which Jefferson do you quote.”  

         Quoting an endless supply of non infallible 20th century Vatican sources doesn’t work on a contentious issue.
          An ex cathedra encyclical by a Pope to settle a contentious, debated area would solve it.  Who is working on one?  No one.  John Paul II did other things like travel 17% of his time to public appearnces.  Benedict has written three bestsellers on the gospels.  No Pope has worked on changing the questionable infallibility of “is it really Tradition” of the “universal ordinary magisterium maybe”… to the “no doubt in the world” infallibility of ex cathedra.  For one thing it’s months of work to do that.  And both these past two Popes are very well read and know there are problems like ascribing birth control to the word “magic” in the Didache…or  Clement of Alexandria saying: “To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature.” In “The Instructor of Children” 2:10:95:3 (A.D. 191)….an idea Stoic in origin which is rejected now that the use of the infertile periods are affirmed ( Jerome stated that exact Stoic idea and gave the source, Seneca, a Stoic born near the year of Christ’s birth.”
          Here’s stoicism again in an early source which conflicts with NFP’s use of the infertile times:
         “God gave us eyes not to see and desire pleasure, but to see acts to be performed for the needs of life; so too, the genital [’generating’] part of the body, as the name itself teaches, has been received by us for no other purpose than the generation of offspring.” Lactantius, Divine 6:23:18 (A.D. 307).  His position contradicts the use of the infertile times in NFP.
          Here is that early father contradicting I Corinthians 7:5 about not separating physically except for prayer lest the devil enter in:
          ” Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife.” Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6:20 (A.D. 307).”
         Sweet of him to contradict the Holy Spirit.  Can you see how a Karl Rahner who edited the Enchiridion Symbolorum and a Bernard Haring would find fault with the argument from antiquity when one finds the Stoic position which contradicts the NFP position…over and over.  Bottom line the issue needs not another non infallible document from the CDF.  It needs ex cathedra badly but Popes since 1968 are not working on that and have never censured ecclesiastically dissenting theologians.  You of the lower clergy have far more interest in the issue because you are on the front lines as to laity.  Pope Benedict is not so he’s writing about the gospel Christ.

         Later Augustine announces another view that is contradicted by the NFP use of the infertile times…that asking for the marriage debt is venial sin unless you intend children and 700 years later, Aquinas copies the now rejected position exactly:
        Augustine:  ” The Good of Marriage” sect6…
    ” but to pay the due of marriage is no crime, but to demand it beyond the necessity of begetting is a venial fault.”
        Aquinas: Summa T., Supplement…question 49 art 5 “I answer that”: 
      “Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt, otherwise it is always at least a venial sin.”
         The asker for the debt sins; the payer does not if children not intended.  This is rejected by the 20th century Popes because venial sin is dispositive towards moratl sin…OT…” he that contemneth little things shall fall little by little”.
         That’s the Stoic position ( sex is only moral in procreation ) with a twist…the person sins venially for not intending it.

          Can you see why a Pope thinking of ex cathedra herein has a mountain of work to filter through, asking as he reads if at minimum, the first 1300 years were really apostolic or were they very tinctured with the Stoic position.  Here’s
    Jerome prasing his source, Seneca in “Against Jovinianus”:
         ” Bk.I,sect.  49. “Aristotle and Plutarch and OUR SENECA have written treatises on matrimony, out of which we have already made some extracts and now add a few more…”. Result: Jerome saw sex as only for procreation….rejected by the NFP position….ibid sect.20     “Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?”
         Can you see hiw Rahner and Haring would not sign on to seeing the issue as universal ordinary magisterium.  It’s when you actually quote the early sources and see Stoicism…that legitimate questions arise.

  • Westphilo

    “These Catholics have voluntarily rejected Catholic teachings and as you quoted, removed themselves from the their Church”

    No, they have not. This would require that they refuse “communio in sacris,” by refusing to share in worship with the pope or bishops in communion with him, or that the Church excommunicates them.

    Thus, although so notable a dissenter as Fr Hans Küng was deprived of his licence to teach theology (missio canonica), neither his bishop, the Bishop of Basle, nor the Holy See have revoked his priestly faculties. Accordingly, he remains in visible communion with the see of Rome.

  • Michael PS
    Kung was dechaired for rejecting infallibility of the Pope in general…correct?

  • Thanks Bill.
    But you didn’t answer answer my questions.

    “What is your solution? Accepting the premise that to be a faithful Catholic you can believe and do whatever your conscience tell you to do – regardless of what the Church teaches. Oh, I’m not talking about trivial matters.”
    You seem to say this is so. So long as the Church has not defined “the matter infallibly in ex cathedra form. ”

    “Do you believe that the use of contraceptives is serious, morally wrong?
    Do you believe that the Church teaches that the use of contraceptives is serious, morally wrong?”
    You didn’t answer my questions. Why?

    “If so, what should the Church do to publicly promote its teachings and discipline those who publicly deny its teachings?”
    You seem to say this is too contentious of an issue. Then why does the Church teach it? Before it is thought through? Before a overwhelming consensus is formed?

    “If not, how do you define what is a faithful Catholic? And are there any Catholic beliefs that are not optional? ”
    Again you seem to say unless the Church defines “the matter infallibly in ex cathedra form. “, every other teaching is optional, subject only to ones’ conscience.

    Am I correct?

  • Michael, thanks for the reply.

    What does it mean to “refuse “communio in sacris,” by refusing to share in worship with the pope or bishops in communion with him”?
    Does publicly defying the Church and publicly refusing to follow its teachings mean one is in communion with the Pope or Bishops?
    And if the Bishop requires compliance, is a person who publicly refuses, still in communion with the Church?
    If your answer to the above questions is yes, heaven help the American Catholic Church because who else can?

  • Westphilo,
    You have many questions. I don’t get paid enough to answer that many…:) which pay is zero. I make money by shorting the S&P and going long treasuries lately. I think the matter is in doubt even in light of papal refusal to censure theologians and that is totally untrue of abortion and euthanasia which are clearly infallibly condemned in the extraordinary magisterium.
    But your whole emphasis is on who is in the Church and who is not. Why is that your orientation? Mind your own soul and maybe that’s enough. The Church only excommunicates for those things about which there is no doubt….hence canon 749-3 which is saying that for ecclesiastical court, the issue must have manifestly evident infallibility. There is a website by Ed Peters with a history of those excommunicated…it’s never for birth control. Read it year by year…on second thought, don’t. You are way too interested in what happens to other people. You’re actually very Amish. They have almost total obedience of their whole community on
    sexual matters without a Pope and they make terrific potato salad because they chop up sweet
    pickles and put them in. Goodbye. I think you are way too interested in the souls of others. What if a person spent their life wishing for the excommunication of others then died and found they were in hell for gluttony because Aquinas said that eating fast was a form of gluttony and that person ate fast their whole life. That would be ironic.

  • I hope people don’t think that Blessed John Henry Newman thought that women had a right to kill their child. This seems ridiculous to assert that because of someones conscience they somehow are allowed to kill their child. This is like a worse version of the people who worshiped the god Baal by burning their children alive, those people by the way lived in Carthage which is one of the reasons as to why the Romans sacked that city.

  • Bill I hope you don’t do things just for money otherwise you would be no more than a hireling.

  • Valentin
    How fast do you eat?

  • What kind of a question is that? If you are implying that I am fat than you are wrong I am tall and somewhat skinny.

  • I usually fast on Fridays and Wednesdays.

  • Bill what are you trying to do here? Are you looking for truth? Or are you looking to make fun of the Church?

  • Bill I probably should work on how fast I eat ice cream other than that I don’t think I eat to fast.

  • Bill I think that something which might help with your issue is this joke:

    A anglican woman converts to the Catholic Church and the first time she goes to mass she leaves her umbrella in a corner of the room before the Church and after the mass she can’t see her umbrella and so she figures that it was just in the way and forgets to ask the priest about it. The next Sunday she brings a different umbrella and can’t find that afterwards and so asks the priest where her umbrellas went and the priest tells her “The Church is a place for sinners to go to.”

  • Exactly.

  • Westphilo

    What does it mean to “refuse “communio in sacris,” by refusing to share in worship with the pope or bishops in communion with him”?

    An example would be the Sede Vacantists, who deny that Pope Benedict is bishop of Rome and refuse to join in Catholic worship.

    By contrast, Fr Hans Küng, despite dissenting from many Church teachings, remains a priest in the diocese of Basle. He celebrates mass (which is the sacrament of unity), during which he prays for the pope and his bishop in the diptychs. He is in visible communion with the Apostolic See.

    Being a Catholic is not like being a Marxist, which is a question of personal belief. Rather, it is like being a member of the Communist Party: one’s membership can only be terminated by resignation or expulsion.

  • Westphilo:

    My thoughts in response to your questions…

    “How does one who does not have faith – seek understanding?”
    Your science vs religion makes sense. But doesn’t your answer as to religion, beg the question? Without faith one cannot reach understanding, truth or a properly formed conscience. Where can one obtain faith if not from understanding? When I think of understanding, I think of wisdom. I believe wisdom is succinctly defined as intelligence plus experience. What do you think?

    TMM: Perhaps the confusion is using the terms “faith” and “belief” synonymously. An “act of faith” is a commitment to what a community of people believe, for example, the Nicene Creed or the infallibility of the Pope. Many people tend to view “faith” as objective “facts,” like scientific facts that are verified through the rigorous process of the scientific method. For these people, the “deposit of faith” is like a bank vault, located perhaps in Rome, where all of the answers to all of they mysteries are in safety deposit boxes.

    It would have been better had I written “belief seeking understanding” so as to avoid that confusion in translating from the Latin (fides quarens intellectans). One does not obtain “faith” from understanding. The claims of faith are mysteries that are explained as people who believe seek understanding. For example, one believes there is One True God and, from the belief, seeks to understand what that reveals to humanity about God, creation, and human existence.

    “Isn’t faith/grace a gift from God? It is not earned? Or learned?”

    TMM: Faith (fides) is not grace (gratia, as in “gift”) but a grace, namely, the impulse to seek understanding that is rooted in belief. For this reason, it is argued by theologians that much sin is misdirected faith, for example, using artificial means of birth control for various economic, social, and personal reasons. Those who commit this sin are seeking a good—to provide children a better “quality” of life, for example—but are not doing so rooted in what Catholic belief teaches. In many cases, they actually reject (which is stronger than “dissent from”) Church teaching because some knowledgeable bishop, theologian, pastor, or priest has winked, nodded, or published his thoughts…take Charles Curran, for example, who happens to be a priest in good standing of the Diocese of Rochester (NY) but is no longer a Catholic theologian and the same applies to Hans Kung…not able to call himself a “Catholic” theologian.

    By the way, aligning oneself with a bishop, pastor, priest, or theologian is not to inform one’s conscience. Just because someone says or has written “X is fine for the purposes you stated” doesn’t make X fine. It means that an individual (or even, a group of individuals) has provided reasons to justify dissent. If one’s predispostion was to dissent, that does not constitute the objective search for truth. For some reason, people don’t what to get that.

    For Catholics, faith is the commitment (yes, a courageous commitment, but one that’s equally confident because it’s rooted in something beyond humanity, namely, Christ’s promise to the Church) to seek understanding (i.e., truth, the flower of which is wisdom, as you note) based upon what the Church teaches.

    Thus, when there’s doubt—and there is doubt about whether or not Humanae Vitae is infallibile—the Catholic Church teaches to side with Church teaching…not theologian’s opinions…because in this particular instance, no one is being harmed by following Humanae Vitae, but many may be harmed by doing the opposite…consider what the birth control mentality has spawned.

    I used faith and grace interchangeably. As to only faith, does you answer stay the same? How does one obtain faith?

    TMM: Noting the confusion above by using belief and faith synonymously, I think it’s clearer to say that belief is a grace (some people believe and persist in believing, some people believe and cease believing, and some people do not believe at all). Faith is a grace, too, namely, “belief seeking understanding” (fides quarens intellectans) in a community of believers. My personal opinion, rooted in Augustine’s de Gratia is that all humanity has been graced with belief. Some people freely will to respond to it, others do not. There are many virtuous people who are agnostics and atheists but, like Aristotle and Plato, are not moving in the direction they are being offered.

    “But what about a person who falsely believes he possesses grace/faith or denies its necessity? Can that person properly form a conscience ? Much less find the truth with such a conscience?”

    TMM: Note above, Catholics defer to the Magisterium when there is doubt.

    The whole argument about papal infallibility only serves to confuse matters, The Motley Monk thinks, in order to justify dissent. So does quoting one’s “pet” theologians from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries or from the 19th and 20th centuries, for whom The Motley Monk has great respect. As several commentators have noted, even Joseph Ratzinger has changed his tune from his days as a theologian, then as Prefect of the CDF, and now as Pope. Truth does not reside in men but is found in God as that is revealed, for Catholics, in both Scripture and Tradition. Humanae Vitae is defined ordinary magisterium and, based upon what Paul VI foresaw the “birth control mentality” could spawn, seems to be prophetic, if not infallible.

    You seem to say a “serial murderer” can find faith if he sees ““… the light” and, through the process of conversion, form a proper conscience.”. Again doesn’t this answer beg the question? You can’t find faith needed to form a proper conscience until you “see the light” or find a conversion?

    TMM: Again, no one “finds” faith. It is a grace. Perhaps it would be better stated “faith finds a person,” but that doesn’t work because nature must cooperate with grace. So, yes, through one’s sincere and open search for truth, it is possible to “experience” (not “find”) a conversion begotten by God’s grace. Why? It all begins with God’s gracious activity on behalf of humanity. One either believes that or doesn’t believe that. The “I earned this and God has subsequently blessed me for making the correct choice” mentality figures prominently in much evangelical talk today and can be traced back to Pelagius and his argument that God adopted Jesus as His son because Jesus willed perfectly to live as God’s son. That’s heresy.

    If Faith is a gift from God, you either receive it or you don’t. You may be able to help yourself, by your search for the truth, but ultimately it is a gift – not earned or learned.

    TMM: Correct. Human beings are free to reject God’s gracious initiatives knowingly and unknowingly.

    On the other hand if a person humbly searches for and is open to the truth, will they not realize that there is a greater law, a natural law, that includes mysteries beyond their comprehension. Wouldn’t that person, after a thorough search, seek assistance, not from another person, but from an organization created for that purpose. Shouldn’t that person then place its faith in the teachings of that organization? And are the two premises, gift vs journey, mutually exclusive? Can the mystery of the virgin birth be accepted as a gift, just believing in it? Or as I believe G. K. Chesterton surmised – after a journey to the Church and accepting its teachings? Or can it be both – the journey to the Church and its teachings enables one to accept the gift of faith? Some just have faith, others wrestle continuously. For those who wrestle, I believe humility and pubic acceptance of the Church’s teachings is a prerequisite of faith. That is why Rev. Jenkins’ statement is so disconcerting.

    TMM: Precisely. It’s not just that Fr. Jenkins was ordained by the Church to fulfill the Church’s mission which means to proclaim what it teaches as well as to celebrate its sacraments with the community of faith. More important, as President of a Catholic institution of higher education, Fr. Jenkins is entrusted with the responsiblity of leading that institution to become a more perfect Catholic university, one that “integrates faith and reason in the pursuit of truth” and provides its students an “integral formation” within a supportive Catholic community of faith. It seems that Fr. Jenkins’ idea of “Catholic” is more Anglican or Presbyterian in nature.

    Likening UND’s President’s role to that of a bishop (and The Motley Monk is fully aware that this analogy is flawed, as the former is not a sacrament), one is not “free” to glibly state one’s personal beliefs on moral and ecclesiological matters. Instead, one is duty-bound to provide the Catholic moral and spiritual leadership that will further the University’s purpose as Catholic.

    For example, what Fr. Jenkins said in his statement is, in part, an obvious fact (yes, many do use artificial means of birth control). But, in large part, he fails to state “sadly, many in the Catholic community—even one like that of Notre Dame University—do not appreciate the beauty and value of the lifestyle the Church proposes in Humanae Vitae—blah, blah, blah….”

    For The Motley Monk, it’s ironic how many Catholic institutions of higher education have lustily embraced the “gospel of sustainability” that’s rooted in natural law theory but aren’t much interested in the “gospel of life” that’s also rooted in natural law.

    Likewise, with “organic.” How could any woman who professes the importance of “eating natural” and not polluting the body with pesticides and homones swallow birth control pills?

    But The Motley Monk digresses.

  • Bill.

    Glad to hear you are doing well by “shorting the S&P”.
    I like your “sense” of humor. And I do eat too fast – I blame it, in part, on my voracious siblings while growing up.
    Motley Monk{“MM”} is probably right. You take a Protestant view toward salvation?

    Getting back to the point, the issue which was first raised by MM was Rev. Jenkins’ public statement which failed to explicitly enunciate Catholic teaching on the use of contraceptives.
    Rev. Jenkins was not speaking as an individual, nor could he as a Catholic Priest and President of a Catholic University. Additionally he was speaking publicly. And as MM implied, others of his stature have failed similarly. These Public Leaders, including Rev. Jenkins, speak for Catholic institutions. Thus as I see it, the issues are:
    1. Do public Leaders of the Catholic Church have a duty to promote and act upon its teachings?
    2. If the answer to the first issue is yes, what should be done about violations of this duty?
    If one accepts your premise “Mind your own soul..” , aren’t you rejecting parts of the Bible which ask that you be your brother’s keeper – look out for them, help them? Or that the Catholic Church was instituted by God to assist in the salvation of souls. As such, isn’t the well being of the Church a concern to all of us, individually and collectively. Surely, you see the troubles of the Church.
    And I am not Amish and I have nothing against the Amish. Nor do I suggest total obedience as to every trivial matter. But can any organization continue to exist in such disunity over major issues?
    I believe, that the Catholic Church is needed for the salvation souls, mine as well as yours. I believe you think you can do it alone?

    As to your gluttony story, what about this one? I know it is flawed, but here goes. What happened to all the souls who were supposedly punished (Do you believe hell or purgatory exists?} for committing the sin of eating meat on Friday? A simple answer might be – well that’s ridiculous. God would never do this. But what about the “intentional” violation of a Church’s teaching? Granted if the teaching was to do an intrinsically evil act – there could no be punishment. But what about “meat on Friday”? Should the intention violation of a Church’s teaching be punished?

    I know you might say – what is the point. Well, the point is that all organization must maintain order for the good of each individuals, not just the whole. Even voluntary religious organizations must do this. For example, would anyone defend a soldier for intentionally rejecting an order with the defense that the soldier had a better idea on how to do it. I don’t think so. Do you?
    Again, since Rev. Jenkins is a Catholic Priest, President of a famous Catholic Institution and a Public Catholic Leader he should have proclaimed and defended the Church’s teaching. He did neither.

  • Michael

    Thanks for your answer. Though your comparison between the Communist Party and the Catholic Church leaves a lot to be desired. The Communist Party had and used more severe methods to remove dissenting members. I’m not suggesting those methods.

    But it seems that if someone, like Rev. Jenkins, by their public statement, actions or clear omissions denies or even confuses, explicitly or implicitly, the Church’s teaching, some response should be made. If not by the Pope, how about the Bishops, the Religious and the Laity. MM has done his part. But what about the rest of us – you and me. Call out Rev. Jenkins’ for what he says and just as importantly, what he didn’t say. Require Rev. Jenkins to be supportive of Church teachings or let someone else do it.

  • Motley Monk.

    Thanks for your original blog which caused me to become involved.
    I’m afraid I can’t cite verses as you and your fellow bloggers/travelers.

    Your answers have been helpful, especially you last response. Some of it I don’t fully understand, parts of it I can quibble with, but overall it makes great sense to me.

    Though I’ve strayed from the premise of your blog, as others have, I believe Rev. Jenkins’ statement is a symptomatic of the problem. A rebellious, dominant culture which which unquestionably glorifies the individual, is consumed with the “now” and as such rejects all tradition institutions, including the Catholic Church. This has resulted in poor Catechesis ( including myself), reluctant/timid Leaders and a Church in disarray. Without Heavens help, the Anglican Church could be the future.
    If Rev. Jenkins will not promote Catholic teachings, who will?

  • I don’t “get it.”

    Are they justifying mortal sins by invoking their presumed moral superiority?

    I am quite uneducated in these matter. The First Joyful Mystery meditation I use is “I desire the love of humility.”

  • Bill the point I was making is that the Church is the place for sinners to be saved and that some people entering the Church have venial sins to work on.

  • Westphilo:

    In 1989, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note RE: Humanae Vitae.

    http://www.doctrinafidei.va/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19890216_norma-morale_en.html

    The entire statement is worth reading but two paragraphs hit the nail on the head:

    RE: Spouses

    One cannot assess personal responsibility without referring to the conscience of the subject. In keeping with its own very nature and purpose, conscience must be “clear” (2 Tim 1:3), called as it is to an “open statement of the truth” (2 Cor 4:2). Moreover, the moral conscience of the Christian, that of a member of the Church, has a deep inner ecclesial orientation, which makes it open to hearing the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. The Second Vatican Council addresses spouses thus: “Married people should realize that in their behaviour they may not simply follow their own fancy but must be ruled by conscience – and conscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in the light of the teaching authority of the Church, which is the authentic interpreter of divine law in the light of the gospel” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 50).

    RE: Priests

    To everyone, but especially to priests who are pastors of souls, is entrusted the task of accompanying couples with a patient and courageous love of helping them to form a conscience which judges according to the truth and of developing an ever more intense spiritual life as is needed to understand the law of God and meet its demands, within a social and cultural context which often provides little or no support. Moral theologians, then, if they do not wish to contradict the professional obligations of one who studies and teaches the moral doctrine of the Church, should not create obstacles for the moral conscience of spouses in the journey towards the truth of their love. This occurs especially when doubts are provoked and confusion created by public challenges to constantly repeated teachings of the Magisterium.

    The issue that many people find difficult, if not disturbing, is that “primacy of conscience” does not make the individual the final arbiter. That would be subjectivism. For Catholics, the final arbiter is Scripture and Tradition, especially in matters that are unsettled.

    Looking at what happened following Humanae Vitae, many jumped on the bandwagon touting that because it was not proclaimed infallibly that ipso facto meant they could do whatever they pleased concerning those matters. And there were numerous priests who formed the consciences of couples while riding on that bandwagon.

  • Thanks again MM:

    I am being redundant, but I am trying to understand why some Catholics do not accept, promote and defend Church teachings, especially Priests. I can understand one who accepts those teachings, but fails to comply. We are all sinners.

    Your references seem so relevant.

    Married people, in fact, all people “must be ruled by conscience”. Does any one dispute this?

    How does one form that conscience? And your reference answers this question, to wit: “… conscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in the light of the teaching authority of the Church, which is the authentic interpreter of divine law in the light of the gospel” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 50).”

    Does any Christian disputes that there is a Law of God/Law of nature? And through “grace”, this Law resides in each of us? And each of us should comply with this Law? Even though each us possesses the free will to accept or reject complying with this Law?

    How does one discover the Law?

    The Protestant view seems to be that the individual with a Bible can find that Law and thus, form one’s conscience? As you say “primacy of conscience”.

    While the Catholic view seems to be that one seeks the Law through the tradition and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church which incorporates the Bible, reason and other sources?

    Am I simplistic? Where is the problem? Unless one defines Catholic teaching as only those declared infallible (how many are there?), Rev. Jenkins should be promoting and defending the Catholic teaching against contraceptives.

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