Archive for the ‘Conscience’ Category

What He Really Means

Friday, August 5th, 2011

In May 2009, the President went to Notre Dame University to receive an honorary degree, and to address the graduating class.  Many of us believed that this was a profoundly scandalous invitation by the administration of the University, which purports to be Catholic.

In response, we were tutted and shushed by those who, like the gullible priest who heads the University, thought that it would be the beginning of a “dialogue” between the pro-abortion President and the pro-life community, particularly with the Church.

Indeed, on that day, the President said this:

When we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe—that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground….  Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics as well as respect for the quality of life.

Two years later, we have yet another demonstration of what it means when the President speaks about issues of life and death.  It means this — his words have the exact opposite meaning from what he says, and  you can always expect that he will do everything in his power to advance the Culture of Death.

Earlier this week, the President’s Secretary of Health and Human Services announced that, pursuant to the health care “reform” law, all health insurance plans in the United States would be required to cover — free of charge to the insured person — all forms of contraceptives, under the rubric of “preventive care”.

This includes hormonal contraceptives, which corrupt women by treating their healthy fertility as if it were diseased.  It includes “intrauterine devices” which are early mechanisms of abortion.  It includes “ella”, a “morning after pill” that is acknowledged by its own manufacturer to work as an abortion pill.  And it writes into law a powerful anti-life message, which teaches people that a new human life is an enemy to be poisoned at its earliest stages — to be “prevented”, and not welcomed.

For those individuals who object to this?  Nothing.  No chance of opting out.  No “choice”, to use a favored word of the President’s.

For those religious institutions that object to this?  Nothing — just an “exemption” that is so transparently phony that it is an insult.

This has been yet another important lesson.  When the President speaks, it’s important that we translate his words into plain English.  By “common ground”, he means “I will compel you to agree with me or face the consequences”.  By “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion”, he means “ignore their concerns and force them to pay for abortions and abortifacient contraceptives”.  By “draft a sensible conscience clause” he means “enact a fig leaf of a provision that everyone will know to be bogus”.  And by “grounded in clear ethics as well as respect for the quality of life” he means “pushing policies that advance the culture of death and the agenda of those who worship it, regardless of the cost in human lives or souls”.

And by “dialogue”, he really means “force you to surrender your beliefs and buy into the killing of children and the degradation of women”.

Varia

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which  I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • The Holy Father conducted the first-ever world-wide Vigil for All Nascent Human Life.  Here’s an early, unofficial translation of the homily.  And here’s an unofficial translation of the special prayer written by the Holy Father for the Vigil.
  • Opponents of same-sex “marriage” — like the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage — have now been labeled as “hate groups” by a prominent advocacy group.  The “sit down and shut up” phase of the debate over marriage continues.  Next will come prosecutions for “hate crimes” and “human rights” violations, based solely on politically-incorrect speech.  Oh, wait — that’s happening already in Mexico.
  • Maggie Gallagher and Robert George respond to having pro-marriage organizations — and traditional Christianity — branded as “hate groups”.
  • The indispensible Kathryn Jean Lopez puts the Holy Father’s condom and sex comments in the context of the importance of marriage and true human sexuality and interviews Fr. Robert Williams and sheds some clear light on the Holy Father’s condom comments.
  • More good news on the stem cell front.  A child has been fully cured from leukemia thanks to treatment by adult stem cells from umbilical cords.  And scientists have “tricked” cells to convert from one kind to another, which may make stem cell research unnecessary.  Reaction from the media:       .
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (and Abortionists) is once again trying to force doctors to refer or perform abortions, under the rubric of “professional ethics”.  Hence the need for a federal comprehensive conscience protection statute.  GOP leaders, are you listening?
  • I’m a Mac, iPod and iTunes user, so it’s nice to know that in return for all the money I’ve given them, the Apple Corporation thinks I’m a bigot, merely because I subscribe to the principles in the Manhattan Declaration.  For a reminder of what’s in this “hate speech” declaration (which is all about defending life, marriage, and religious liberty), go here.  While you’re there, join over 34,000 others in signing the petition protesting Apple’s intolerance.
  • It has become ever more clear that the Administration is failing in its duty to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from attack by same-sex “marriage” advocates.
  • The perfect proof that reproductive medicine treats human life as a commodity:  they’re putting bar codes on IVF embryos.
  • A terrible story about the modern sex slave trade, right here in New York City.  Why is this not a high priority for law enforcement?
  • Interesting how the Times buries a story about how Cardinal Ratzinger tried, as far back as 1988, to streamline the procedures to punish abusive priests.  No room for the story on the front page, where they’ve previously put the “exposes”, although they manage to squeeze in a story about obesity surgery.  It’s not so newsworthy if it’s favorable to the Holy Father, I guess.
  • The Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, publicly rebukes the Catholic governor for his comments that his faith impels him to sign a bill legalizing same-sex “civil unions”.  The governor replies, in classic modern fashion, “I follow my conscience. I think everyone should do that. I think that’s the most important thing to do in life, and my conscience is not kicking me in the shins today.”  He needs a new, authentically Catholic conscience.
  • When the world throws God out the window, there’s no stopping the descent into madness.  A “family law expert” in the UK says that sex offenders should be allowed to work with children, and even adopt or serve as foster parents.  As the Safe Environment Director of the Archdiocese, all I can say is, “over my dead body”.
  • Wishful Thinking, Objective Morality and Condoms

    Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

    In the Comments box of my previous post about the Holy Father’s remarks about condoms, a friend remarked that some people are interpreting those remarks as justifying the use of condoms if one has a “good intention”. I originally replied in the Comment box, but I think this is such an important point that I want to put it out front here.

    This is a very complex question because it implicates two levels of moral teaching — the objective morality of certain acts, and the subjective culpability of the actor.

    It is clear in Catholic teaching that a good intention alone cannot morally justify an evil act. The most important factor in evaluating the objective morality of an action is the “moral object” — the nature of the conduct. The “good intentions” of the actor cannot turn an evil act into a good one.  For a fuller explanation of this, see the Catechism, sections 1750 and following.

    So, within a marriage, the use of a contraceptive device like a condom is always inherently wrong, because it changes the objective nature of the sexual act from an authentic marital act into something that is contrary to the nature of human sexuality (since it is no longer open to fertility).  Outside of marriage, any sexual act is always objectively morally wrong.  So in either case, no “good intention” can justify the performance of such acts.

    In fact, an appeal to “good intentions” may actually encourage people to engage in morally wrong (and physically dangerous) activity.  Condoms do not provide guaranteed protection against the transmission of disease, and a reliance on condoms is even less effective the more one engages in sexually risky behavior.  Sex outside of marriage is also sinful and has a deeply (even mortally) negative impact on the state of one’s soul.  No amount of wishful thinking about good intentions can protect someone from those effects.

    Nor can an appeal to “double effect” reasoning change this conclusion.  To qualify for that, that the action has to be either morally good or neutral; the bad effect cannot be directly intended; the good result cannot be a direct result of the bad effect; and the good result must be proportionate to the bad effect.  The use of a condom in a marriage doesn’t satisfy this test; it always remains morally wrong, because it changes the nature of the sexual act.  Even if, for the sake of argument, the use of a condom outside of marriage to prevent disease transmission were considered morally neutral or good, it still can’t change the objectively wrong nature of the underlying act of sex outside of marriage.

    It seems to me that no matter how you analyze it, we wind up back at the point the Holy Father made — the use of the condom is not a “real or moral solution” to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    Having said that, however, you also have to consider that the Holy Father was not just talking about the objective morality of the act, but also the subjective culpability of an individual who engages in it. In the case that the Holy Father cited, the use of a condom by a prostitute, the objective nature of the act is unchanged, and is always evil (a sexual act outside of marriage).  However, the individual’s culpability for that act may be lessened by the intention to reduce the risk of disease transmission. I would also note that the subjective culpability of a prostitute may be lessened by many other factors (coercion, addictions, compulsive behavior, legacies of past abuses, social structures of sin, etc.).

    So the question is, can a Catholic pastor or institution affirmatively advise a person in that situation to use a condom to prevent disease — to say, in effect, “be good, but if you can’t be good be safe”?  I can’t see how one could justify that.  If a pastor were to do so, he would be actively encouraging or excusing immoral and risky behavior.  It is a better approach — the “real and moral solution”, as the Holy Father says — to continue to proclaim publicly the teaching of the Church to all, and encourage all to conform their lives to the objective moral law and the nature of sexuality.  Any discussion of a person’s use of a condom under particular circumstances, their personal culpability, and how they are proceeding along the gradual path to conversion, is best left to pastoral counseling or the Confessional.

    In short, none of what the Holy Father said gives any support to the wishful thinking approach that would justify using a condom in marriage, that would lessen the objective evil of any sexual act outside of marriage, or that would encourage the widespread use of condoms, regardless of the alleged nobility of one’s intentions.

    How Will I Vote?

    Saturday, October 30th, 2010

    In my last post, I outlined the teaching of the Church in regard to voting — the formation of conscience, and which issues to consider.

    To illustrate how this works in practice, let me describe how I will apply these principles in my own voting decision.  Now, I’m not telling anyone how to vote.  I’m just saying this is the way that I’ve worked this decision through for myself.

    (Important Note: I have to repeat again what is said in the disclaimer on the side of this blog — the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone, they do not in any way reflect an official position of the Archdiocese, nor should they be considered an endorsement of any candidate by the Archdiocese.)

    To me, the fundamental issue is whether a particular candidate has the basic qualifications to hold public office. This is not just a question about their education, experience, and character. It also involves whether this candidate is willing to respect and defend the fundamental principles of our society, that all people are created equal, and that all have “inalienable rights”, most especially the right to life.

    Cardinal Egan once spoke very clearly and bluntly about the qualifications of our elected officials:

    “Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.”

    This boils down to a very simple test, that I try to adhere to, as best I can: If you think that killing unborn children should be legal, then I won’t vote for you. You haven’t earned my vote.  In my opinion, you’re not qualified to hold public office.  I just won’t vote for someone who will promote or permit grave evil.  I don’t subscribe to the principle of the “lesser of two evils”.  All that means is I’m voting for evil, and it still produces evil in the end.  If there’s nobody in a race that fits my standards, I’ll leave the line blank or write in a name.

    When I pick up my ballot on Tuesday, I will see a stark choice between candidates who are pro-abortion, and others who are pro-life.  In fact, several of the pro-abortion candidates are not just mouthing the old “personally opposed but…” sham, but are instead ardent promoters and defenders of the legalized killing of unborn children, and they have strongly campaigned on the issue.  If they are elected, there is a grave danger that the evil Reproductive Health Act will be pushed forward, as well as the legalization of same-sex “marriage”.

    I cannot see how I as a Catholic could vote for such persons.  So for me, the choice is easy — I will vote only for the pro-life candidates.

    I have thought about how to vote very carefully, not just in preparation for this election but over many years.  As I have said, to me the key thing is to vote as a Catholic, to act according to a well-formed Catholic conscience, and to take seriously my duties to the least among us — particularly to the defenseless unborn.

    That’s what I’m going to do.  What about you?

    Voting as a Catholic

    Friday, October 29th, 2010

    Once again, Election Day approaches.  At times like these, I am frequently asked how people can do the right thing as voters, as citizens, and as Catholics.

    According to the teachings of our Church — our Holy Father and our bishops — there are several critical questions involved here.

    The first is the formation of my conscience.  Our bishops have said quite clearly that

    “Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do.” (Faithful Citizenship 17)

    A good, Catholic conscience is obedient to the teachings of the Church, and open to hearing the voice of God.  It considers God’s will more important than any partisan interest that I may have.  It always directs me to do good and avoid evil, and in the case of voting,

    “A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Participation of Catholics in Political Life 4)

    Building on the proper formation of conscience, we can then turn to the issues and the candidates.  One thing is crystal clear at this point:  all the issues are not the same, and the defense of human life is the paramount issue for Catholics to consider.  As the United States Bishops have said,

    “This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.” (Faithful Citizenship 31).

    “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (Faithful Citizenship 28)

    This means that in evaluating a candidate, we must consider, first and foremost, their position on the defense of human life.  As the U.S. Bishops have said:

    “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” (Faithful Citizenship 42)

    Our New York Bishops have said the same:

    “The inalienable right to right of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.” (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)

    Cardinal Egan once confronted us, in language as plain as possible,with the choice of conscience and discipleship that we face when going into the voting booth:

    Look [at the pictures of unborn children] and decide with honesty and decency what the Lord expects of you and me as the horror of ‘legalized’ abortion continues to erode the honor of our nation. Look, and do not absolve yourself if you refuse to act.”

    The teaching of our Church is clear:  we must vote pro-life.

    (For more information about voting, including statements by the Archdiocese, the New York Bishops, and the United States Bishops, click here.  For information about the positions of candidates running for office, click here.)

    Vote According to a Good Catholic Conscience

    Monday, September 13th, 2010

    Tomorrow is Primary Day here in New York.

    There is no doubt that the political system in our state is deeply dysfunctional.  For virtually everyone living in the City of New York, and in many gerrymandered districts outside of the City, there is no functioning two-party system.  Instead, the results of the primary is tantamount to election to office, and nobody but a registered member of that party may participate.  Just to give you an idea of how that works in practice, it is unusual for more than 20,000 people to vote in primary elections for offices like State Senate or Assembly.  An alarming number of state legislators and Congressional representatives run for re-election without any opposition.  As a result, unsurprisingly, the re-election rate for members of the New York Legislature is well over 90% — most of our state legislators leave office only by dying or being convicted of a crime.

    Nevertheless, it is vitally important that people of principle get involved in electoral politics, at the very least by voting, but also by running for office.  Otherwise, we will only continue to get the same results that we have been seeing in the past few years.

    In that regard, it is essential that we form our consciences to vote as Catholics — we must bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the teachings of His Church, into the voting booth.

    Our bishops have provided us with guidance in this regard.  The Bishops of the United States have published several useful documents on voting,  and our New York State Bishops have also issued a valuable statement on elections.   Here are a few pertinent excerpts:

    “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (United States Bishops, Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship 28)

    “Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.“  (United States Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life 23)

    “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.” (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)

    “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” (Faithful Citizenship 35)

    “When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” (Faithful Citizenship 36)

    “The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office.” (Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)

    These statements, and other resources for voting, are available on the Family Life/Respect Life Office website.

    We must also remember that our voting decision has serious consequences, not all of which are political.  As the Bishops note, in Faithful Citizenship:

    It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation.  Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being…

    Our obligation as disciples of Christ is clear — we must be His followers in our everyday lives, and we must be his followers when we are in the voting booth.

    The Manhattan Declaration and You

    Thursday, January 14th, 2010

    On November 20, a broad coalition of religious leaders jointly issued an important statement, called the Manhattan Declaration.   This declaration represents a watershed moment in American religious and political history — a coalition of faith communities, committed to having a significant impact on our culture and our law.

    Here’s how the sponsors state the purpose of the Declaration:

    Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

    We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

    1. the sanctity of human life
    2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
    3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

    Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    The Declaration has been signed by almost 200 religious leaders, including our own Archbishop Dolan, and over forty other Catholic bishops.  When they opened the Declaration up to the public,  over 370,000 people have signed on so far.

    Why is this so important?  This Declaration represents the basis of a new, broad-based ecumenical effort to bring our Christian values to the public square.  For too long, our efforts have been hampered by the sad divisions that separate Christians from one another.  But now, we have a unifying document, one that we can all rally behind, regardless of our theological differences.

    I encourage everyone to read the Manhattan Declaration, which can be found on their website.  Then, join the rest of us in this new movement of Christian conscience, and sign it.

    The Speaker’s Fatal “Freedom”

    Thursday, December 31st, 2009

    The Speaker of the House of Representatives was interviewed the other day. Amidst the discussion of a variety of political issues, she was asked about her recent “brushes” with the Bishops on important issues. Sadly, her comments are not encouraging:

    I have some concerns about the church’s position respecting a woman’s right to choose. I have some concerns about the church’s position on gay rights. I am a practicing Catholic, although they’re probably not too happy about that. But it is my faith. I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that is that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.

    We can easily brush past the Speaker’s “concerns” about Church teaching on the evil of abortion and homosexuality. That’s just a Washington circumlocution, which should be read to mean, “I reject Church teaching on the dignity of human life and the nature of human sexuality as properly ordered solely for marriage between a man and woman”. Nothing new there — we’ve heard it all before.

    Nor is it new that the Speaker, and so many others, view the teachings of the Church as mere “opinion”, to be given the same weight as the opinions of others — or my own. That’s just a convenient excuse we all use when the Church tells us that we can’t do what we want.

    What’s of particular interest to me is the idea that that “free will” justifies disobedience of the Church’s authoritative teachings and even authorizes the sin of abortion.

    That is a fatal error.

    The Speaker’s understanding of “free will” stems from a false notion of conscience that is all too common. There is no doubt that I must be governed by my conscience, and make moral decisions in accord with it. But under the modern view exemplified by the Speaker’s comments, the primacy of conscience means “I can do whatever I want, without regard to objective truth”.

    This is a hallmark of the “dictatorship of relativism” that has been consistently denounced by Pope Benedict. The Speaker, and many others, have fallen for the same error as Adam and Eve — the tempting idea that I can decide for myself what is good and evil, and thus that the teachings of the Church are merely opinions, of equal weight to the thoughts of anyone else or of my own.

    True conscience is not my own voice, telling me that I’m always right. Instead, it is the voice of God, speaking the truth to our hearts, and calling us to conform our will to His. As the Second Vatican Council put it:

    In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil. (Gaudium et Spes 16-17)

    The Speaker’s error has significant real-world consequences. It inevitably leads to the abortion clinic, the assisted suicide center, the torture chamber, the killing fields of murderous ideologies, and other horrors. It leads us to our current legal regime, to the horrendous injustice where the weakest among us can be killed with impunity, and their killers are rewarded with public funds.

    But it also has a fatal consequence for our souls. The Speaker’s idea of untrammeled freedom that answers to no authority is ultimately a mirage, and actually enslaves us to our whims or to the prevailing fashions of the age. St. Peter saw this clearly, when he wrote about false prophets: “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever corrupts a man, to that he is enslaved”. (2 Pet 2:19). In contrast, humbly submitting our will to God’s, is actually liberating, and allows me to be the man I was meant to be, and that God wants me to be. And the best way to do that is by listening to the teachings of His Church — even if it means I have to change my behavior.

    In one respect, the Speaker is absolutely right. We all must accept responsibility for the use of our freedom, and we will be judged by Christ Himself for it. Knowing how I have abused my own freedom, I am uneasy about that judgment. We should pray for the conversion of the Speaker’s heart, that she will return to the truth of God’s will, just as we should ceaselessly pray for our own conversion.

    Ethics, Religious Instruction, and The Times

    Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

    Anyone who consults the New York Times for ethical advice should have their head examined. This, a newspaper that never met an abortion that it didn’t like, and that gives a public forum to Peter Singer, the proponent of murdering infants and euthanizing the elderly.

    But, some people obviously lack prudence, and consult the Newspaper of Record to help them deal with ethical problems. Thus it was that on Sunday, the following exchange occurred in a column entitled “The Ethicist”:

    I volunteer as a Sunday-school teacher at my Catholic church. While I consider myself Catholic and understand Catholic beliefs, I do not agree with all that the church teaches. When a student asks me about a topic on which the church and I differ, may I reply with my own beliefs in addition to the official doctrine? B.J.,WASHINGTON

    The Ethicist: Your church asked you to teach a class in Catholic doctrine, not one in B. J.’s views of Catholic doctrine, a reasonable, if personally inhibiting, request. But to give students a real understanding of both this doctrine and the state of the modern church, you may — you should — provide some context. It is a matter of fact, and not a trivial one, that many Catholics differ with their church on all sorts of things. (For example, Catholic Americans practice contraception at about the same rate as non-Catholics, official church policy notwithstanding.) To note that opinions differ within your religious community would be to convey something objectively true, pertinent to the discussion and informative for the students. You would not be offering your personal views, which are beside the point in this setting. Indeed, a Jew or a Muslim, a Hindu or an atheist, could honorably teach this class using these guidelines, giving the students a rich understanding of the subject without broaching the teacher’s personal beliefs.

    UPDATE: B.J. presents church doctrine “their way” then tells his students that some Catholics feel different and discusses how. He urges his students to think about these things and discuss them with their parents.

    Let’s consider how many ways this is wrong.

    First of all, when a Catholic has an ethical dilemma, the right thing to do is to form a correct and Catholic conscience. To do that, we turn to Sacred Scripture and the authentic teachings of the Church, and we find a good advisor, somebody who is well-formed in their Catholic faith, who has sufficient knowledge and prudence that we can trust them to lead us to understand the will of God. We don’t consult with the New York Times, of all people. Talk about “blind guides”!

    Now let’s look at the situation B.J. finds himself in. Remember now, this is not a college class in religious studies. It is a class with young children who need to be formed in their faith. Presumably, when a catechist is entrusted with this task, they understand that they have an obligation to present the authentic teachings of the Church. Presumably they also affirm that they will do so, at least implicitly. Parents certainly expect that they will do so, and so do the pastors who delegate this task to them.

    Instead, here is the “Ethicist”, advising this man to forswear himself by breaking a solemn duty to the pastor and the parents and the children to teach authentic Catholic doctrine. And also participating in an active deception, by purporting to teach the truth but actually presenting false teaching as if it were a matter for “discussion”. So we’ve got a serious Eighth Commandment problem here.

    We also have a person who will be exposing children to false doctrines, and leading them to believe that Church teachings are merely optional and are subject to private judgment. I doubt that B.J. is a crypto-Monophysite, or a semi-Pelagian, or that he seriously disagrees with the Filioque clause. Instead, I expect that the teachings B.J. objects to are all the usual dreary subjects of modern dissent — sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, divorce, contraception, etc. The stakes are high here — a false belief here could lead others into the serious risk of committing grave sins. B.J. is treading on very delicate, and dangerous ground here.

    I think the Lord had something to say about that. Oh, yes, he was pretty clear:

    whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mt. 18:6)

    The theological term for this is scandal, teaching others false beliefs and thus inducing them to sin. It is a violation of the Fifth Commandment, because it leads others to spiritual death.

    The Ethicist should have said this to B.J.:

    If you are a man of integrity, you have two choices, and two required actions. Choice One: Say nothing to the students about your disagreements with Church teaching, and instead do your job and present authentic Church doctrine, as you promised. Choice Two: If you cannot refrain from presenting your personal opinion as an alternative to the teaching of the Church, resign. Required Action One: Learn more about the true teachings of the Church. Required Action Two: Never consult the Times about ethics, but instead consult with good solid Catholics who are trustworthy guides to the will of God and form a correct and Catholic conscience in accord with Church teaching.

    Church teaching is the Truth, not mere opinion that can be taken or left. We do nobody any favors by presenting falsehood as if it is on an equal plane with the Truth. In fact, we do them a grave disservice, and even endanger their souls and our own.

    How Not to Form Conscience

    Monday, March 9th, 2009

    Those who have been paying attention to the Catholic media have known for years that the periodical that calls itself “The National Catholic Reporter” has long been a self-parody of sorts — a collection of all the usual suspects saying all the usual things about what Cardinal George called the “exhausted project” of “liberal Catholicism”.

    But now this periodical has hit a new low, publishing an article entitled “I’m a Pro-Choice Catholic”. (You’ll have to take my word for it, because I won’t link to the actual article — I don’t want to lead anyone into the near occiasion of sin). The piece was written to justify the legalized destruction of innocent human life in the womb, and to claim that this structure of evil is compatible with Catholic social and moral teaching.

    Today’s Gospel warned me that “the measure by which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Lk 6:36), so I’m not going to say anything about the lady who wrote the article. What’s interesting to me is the approach she took to forming her conscience on this deeply important subject. It was all about her feelings, her personal judgments, and justifying her own life choices. This is not a Catholic way to form conscience.

    As a Catholic and a disciple of Christ, the starting point is not what I “feel”, or especially what I “feel like doing”. Anybody with a modicum of self-awareness knows that our feelings are corrupted by original sin and encrusted by the residue of our own personal sins. Our moral decisions can’t be based on our private judgment about what is right and wrong (Adam and Eve, are you listening?).

    We must be guided by human reason and the teaching of the Church, which was commissioned by Christ himself to guide us to salvation. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. “Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil.” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship). It would help if I stilled my own voice, and listened carefully to God’s voice while forming my conscience.

    The key statement in forming my conscience is the one we pray every day, in the words Our Lord himself taught us — “Thy will be done”. Note that he did not say, “my will be done”. I have to conform my will to the will of God.

    Fortunately, the Lord did not leave me alone to make decisions about forming my conscience. We have the Church, and in particular we have our bishops: “… the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ” (Lumen Gentium 20). The bishops are not just any old source of information or guidance, for me to just consider along with the other experts. “In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.” (Lumen Gentium 25). This is part of what it means to be Catholic — not to be ruled solely by my own private judgment, but to submit my will to the Church, and thus to God, and to obey their commandments.

    “Adherence” or “obedience” are not always easy tasks, and frequently call for sacrifice and suffering. But so did Jesus’ own road to the Cross. On my own road to Calvary and the Empty Tomb, I should strive to be like the early disciples, who “held steadfastly to the teaching of the Apostles and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

    I have to begin with St. Paul’s injunction in Rom 12:9 to “hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good”. Abortion is evil, both by human reason and God’s will. There is no way that a well-formed human conscience — let alone a Catholic conscience — could justify it in any way.