The priest: from oracle to ignoramus

Once upon a time the priest knew everything. And anyone who wanted to know anything asked a priest. ‘Father’ always knew best. We know now, with the great benefit of hindsight, that this wasn’t such a good idea. For one thing the priest sometimes imagined he knew more than he did; ­ there were no ‘unknowns’ in that self-contained and ultra-confident clerical world. And sometimes the people imagined they knew less than they knew. For every action, we learned in science class, there’s a reaction. If the pendulum swings to one extremity, the chances are that it will eventually swing to the other.
When power is abused, when control becomes oppressive, when position becomes more important than common sense, there’s a serious imbalance. And eventually the house of cards crumbles. Now we live in a very different country. Now the priest knows nothing and anything he says is either wrong or self-serving or defensive or controlling or oppressive. Or whatever you’re having yourself.
How did we get from there to here, from infallibility to demonisation? The reasons are multiple and, no doubt, social commentators will analyse them in future years to plot the change. But one thing, I believe, is driving the rejection of the Catholic Church, the demonisation of clergy and religious, and the privatisation of religion. Anger and its first cousin, resentment. 
Some examples.
One, contraception.
Eamon Dunphy talked on Gay Byrne’s, The Meaning Of Life, 
about the deep faith of his parents. The family of four lived in one room. His parents felt they couldn’t afford another child and they decided to abstain from sex because their local priest told them it was the right thing to do. 
When Dunphy spoke of his parents’ reliance on the advice of their priests, as his father shared it in a local pub, you could see the pain contorting Dunphy’s face as he recalled it. Yet his parents’ experience of faith, a faith that stayed with them to the end, was something that enriched their lives.
How much of the present anger and bitterness now being directed at the Catholic Church have their roots in resentment over trusting too much in church wisdom in sexual matters.
The Dominican philosopher, Fergal O Connor, often advised on the fledgling Late, Late Show in the 1960s, that the Church should stay out of the bedroom. 
Two, schools.
Priests and religious in Ireland have made an enormous 
contribution to education for most of the twentieth century. Without their commitment, energy and expertise, the education system would have ground to a halt. Hundreds of thousands who were lucky enough to receive a secondary education would not have had that privilege without the input of the Catholic Church. 
During those years, life was tough. Resources were limited. Schools were basic. Discipline was severe. Corporal punishment was the rule. And while society and families and individuals benefitted from the Church’s involvement in education, the memory now is not of the contribution the Church made  ­which has been successfully airbrushed from the popular mind but resentments about the physicality of school discipline, a given for most of that time.
Three, unmarried mothers.
The public condemnation by priests of unmarried 
mothers, sometimes ‘from the altar’, was deeply resented at the time and is part of the residue of church diktat that still generates huge anger.
Four, Lisheens. (Children’s burial grounds)
The refusal of the church to allow unbaptised babies to be buried in ‘consecrated ground’ is part of the same well of resentment and anger.
There are other resentments too in relation to the Church personnel getting it wrong (not least priests throwing their weight around) but what really released the dam of anger and emotion was the revelation of clerical sexual abuse ­ and the failure of the Church to understand its enormity and to do something about it. The revelations on clerical sexual abuse gave people the freedom to surface and to name the other resentments.
We are now at the stage where any failure or scandal emanating from the past that has a religious connection becomes another lightning conductor for releasing pent-up anger and resentment at the Catholic Church. And regardless of how substantial or insubstantial the church connection, the media surfs the popular resentment.
The latest scandal about the Mother and Babies Homes is a case in point.
Shortly after the Tuam story broke, on Faith Alive, a religious magazine programme on Mid-West Radio, I tried to sum up what was known. I quoted the Irish Times report that much of the media coverage was inaccurate, as the local historian who broke the story had intimated and I suggested that we needed to get hard data before we could pronounce definitively on it.
I also said two other things about the controversy. One, that the Catholic Church had to hold up its hand and take responsibility for the failure of its personnel in the running of those homes and more generally for helping to create in Irish society an attitude to unmarried mothers that was, to say the least, less than Christian. Two, I said that we had to remember that the women’s families had rejected them and their babies and that civil authorities and Irish society in general had to take responsibility too.
I felt, in the circumstances,  that those were reasonable points to make. But my comments drew a very negative response, principally because I was a priest and what I was saying was interpreted as excusing, rationalising, contextualising. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davis, ‘He would, wouldn’t he’.
The plain and simple truth is that the hurt can be so deep, the emotion so raw that it’s just not possible for priests or religious to engage with such issues in anything approaching rational debate.
Once priests knew everything. Now we’re not trusted to say anything.

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  1. Mary Vallely says:

    Sad reading too but the pendulum will eventually settle down. I think there is anger in lay people about the fact that we accepted so much without questioning. The whole attitude to priesthood was wrong. It was wrong to assume almost perfection of the ordained and to treat them like oracles. There are so many fine priests but we need to see beyond the collar to the person behind and to challenge and support him just like any other human being. Is automatic deference towards the priest in our Irish DNA, I wonder? It’s wrong. Brendan needn’t despair because respect is earned. I am more optimistic about the future as I believe that if we see each other, lay and ordained, as equally worthy of being listened to, equally worthy of respect and equally loved by God ( and that hasn’t been shown to be the case in our sad history) then we will all be better able to do what Jesus asked us to do. There are many, many fantastic examples of priests and religious who have been doing just that and we mustn’t forget them. There is also a danger of being lured into wearing the victim’s hat but then suffering should help us understand what it is like to feel victimised, to feel marginalised. A priest’s life wasn’t meant to be cosy and safe, after all. My heart goes out to all who are suffering at present but it will get better. No pedestals, for a start, means you cannot fall off!

  2. Brendan Dinneen says:

    Why is it that everything that Brendan Hoban writes sounds so remarkably sensible, open and clear. There have been over the past forty years, just a few such voices that encouraged thinking Catholics to relish their faith and ignore the zealots (lay and clerical).
    Names such as Fergal O’Connor, Gabriel Daly, Colm Kilcoyne and, of course, Willie Walsh come to mind. Tony Flannery and Brian D’Arcy have been put outside the door (indefinitely?) for asking questions.
    Our children (born since 1965)neither heard nor read these men and, in the main, did not hear much of the Christian message at home, in the school or from the Church. The iron grip of the CDF, the Nuncio(s) and the resultant pathetically emasculated hierarchy has perpetuated a state of total evangelical paralysis in Ireland.
    The Church seems to see evangelisation as spreading and enforcing dogma. Evangelising should be about sharing in the discovery of the truth – a process that demands openness and courage, qualities not demonstrated too often by those who see themselves as the bulwark of Catholicism (both lay and clerical).
    Pope Francis does not use evasive and defensive language in responding to questions about what could be the truth. Surely, if we dare to practice true charity and live in hope, we may get closer to the faith that appears to be getting ever more complicated when it should be so simple?
    Thank you Brendan Hoban and the ACP for continuing to keep it as simple as you do and for keeping our hope alive.

  3. ‘How much of the present anger and bitterness now being directed at the Catholic Church have their roots and resentment over trusting too much in Church wisdom in sexual matters’.
    The Church’s teaching on marital sexuality is its biggest downfall because it has and will continue to alienate women. Like the mother and baby homes story, the Church’s teaching on marital sexuality impinges almost exclusively on the women. For priests to put these scandals within a ‘context’ that ‘times were different then’, it does not make sense. The Church teaches that the word of God is unchanging and immutable. The Pope is infallible when teaching on faith and morals. The Church can’t have it both ways. It can’t plead ‘contextualization’ on the one hand and ‘immutability’ and ‘infallibility’ on the other. The fundamental changes are occurring because women are now educated and are thinking for themselves, making the decisions and have equal say in family matters. The Church better cop on and fast.
    Christianity was born out of radicalism. The condensing of the Ten Commandments down to Two was radical. Nothing could have been more radical at the time than the setting aside of Circumcision so the Gentiles could become Christian. Inclusion. God’s word is not immutable. God’s word is vibrant, radical, inclusive. The Church has sold out on the ‘Message’.

  4. What you say is the sad truth Brendan. What can we do about it? Firstly to do what you are doing here – name the truth and allow the air at the wounds. Healing will take time, but acknowledgement starts the clock.
    Maybe another thing that might help would be clergy getting out of uniform more often and allow us all to relate more like fellow human beings. All on a level playing field. Unfortunately I would doubt if seminary training, past and present encourages this – just the opposite. But all need to rediscover and value our common humanity. The incarnate Jesus wasn’t afraid of his humanity. Why ‘on earth’ should clergy be?
    If we are airing can I in the right spirit add one more to your list of resentments? Its maybe more acute an issue in the North. I’m referring to how those who had the audacity to fall in love and wish to marry someone outside of the church fold were treated, both before and after they were married. I know many who on seeking the blessing of their clergy received instead rejection and humiliation. For the sake of their dignity and the dignity of their partner, they quite understandably walked away, taking their future families with them. Sadly in many quarters such unions are still considered second class at best and not just by clergy.

  5. Con Devree says:

    The Church attracts two types of opprobrium, one self-inflicted, the other arising out of the Church’s specific mission of being a sign of contradiction.
    In the case of the self-inflicted contempt, “We arrive,” to quote Pope Francis, “sometimes, by way of religion, to very serious, very grave contradictions.” Blanket condemnations are not justified but the laity and priests have an historical tendency to adopt fashionable attitudes of society in place of Catholic teaching. The former social “attitude to unmarried mothers” cited in the article is an example. The responses to the perceived problem followed a predictable pragmatic course where both agents and clients suffered. “Truth [often] will out.” The “sins of the fathers” result eventually in the faithful experiencing and expressing deep regret.
    The second kind of opprobrium arises out of the mission of the Church to the world to be a sign of contradiction to it. Here the Church is berated for her teachings. Only last week Congress Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (a Catholic) took the lead in a high-profile lobbying effort to pressure San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone not to attend a March for Marriage event. The Church’s stance was described by her as “venom masquerading as virtue.”
    The old tendency of the more secular part of the Church community to influence the Church to adopt a stance in line with the culture still continues and to a great extent succeeds in the practice but not, thankfully in the teaching.
    Attitudes to lives or the vulnerable are still at issue, not just social equity, but also what two pope have termed the “culture of death” and which Pope Francis terms the “throw away culture” where both agents and clients are still suffering.
    Incidentally, since the topic was mentioned in the article, as time progresses Catholic advocates of artificial contraception are having an increasingly difficult time denying its connection with the gradual maladies which beset marriage and the lack of regard for life itself.

  6. Brendan Hoban SSC says:

    The article is clear, sad and challenging. It is easy to forget the positives our Church and communities brought to our lives. But the negatives, led by the anger and resentments, are still there for so many. We were all told about anger as sinful but resentments did not seem to get the same attention while causing so much more damage over years – for many a life-time.
    Almost 80 years ago, we were told that resentment is the great killer of alcoholics; that it has destroyed more alcoholic lives than anything else. From resentment stems all forms of spiritual disease in killing the spirit. The alcoholic (with other addicts also)has to work at getting rid of resentments in order to live a sober, sane, healthy life. This usually calls for outside help especially with old resentments going way back.
    We have a crisis (danger opportunity)to work at moving on from the anger, resentment towards mercy, compassion and healing that Pope Francis refers to as good news. There is the hope of moving to a new freedom and life while learning from the mistakes of the past. The great sin of the people of God in the Old Testament was when they forgot where they came from and went to follow the false gods.
    Thank you Brendan for your challenge to all of us.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    “The Church attracts two types of opprobrium, one self-inflicted, the other arising out of the Church’s specific mission of being a sign of contradiction.”
    Media frenzy and pharisaic scandal generates a third kind of oppropbrium.

  8. Con Devree says:

    “God’s word is not immutable”
    What does this mean? Surely not that God changes his mind, makes mistakes and then corrects them.
    Or does it mean that the Church misinterprets “God’s Word” from time to time, that in fact the Holy Spirit leads it astray, allows it to go astray, or that the Holy Spirit is not functional at all.
    Or is there another meaning?

  9. A fourth kind of opprobrium is described in Lk 17:1-3. For centuries up until relatively recently in the Church’s history the Church had a captive audience. Hundreds of thousands, millions, over the centuries flocked to Mass and the Sacraments weekly and daily. Kings, emperors, politicians, judges, doctors, teachers, and ordinary folk imbibed the Word from the pulpit every Sunday without fail. Confession on Saturday, Mass and Communion on Sunday morning from age seven. What was heard was believed and what was believed was lived. People knew nothing else because it was Christendom, a religious paradigm that lasted for centuries. To step outside of the paradigm meant torture, execution, excommunication, and ultimately hellfire for all eternity. This is the power over people, high and low, that the Church had.
    The Church is now accusing the media of being anti-Catholic. But the Church was the media for centuries. It has lost an opportunity it will never regain. The Church swapped Jewish Law for Canon Law and lorded it over the people. The secular media now is only reflecting the changing times, people are educated, thinking for themselves, rationalizing the brainwashing that occurred for centuries. Many people are now just indifferent to the Church, many are angry, resentful and bewildered. How could they have let themselves be so duped into believing in a male God who dishes out retribution to the vulnerable.
    The Church is not going to change, because too much would have to change. But that is OK. People who do not want to be associated with a rich and powerful institution, can still live the simple but challenging message based on the twin commandments, to love God and love your neighbour.

  10. An ignoramus is not merely a person who is ignorant, that is, who lacks knowledge about something. It`s someone who is determinedly opposed to knowledge. But may be that fits the bill too, a church which knows everything: a church which has all its own answers for everything, and which therefore doesn`t need to know what anybody else thinks or knows about anything.

  11. @8.
    It seems we agree on something Con. We each believe we know something about God. You believe the idea of God is immutable and I believe that the idea of God evolves. Our agreement probably ends there.
    Anything we know about God comes to us through the experience of the Divine through the human race. That is, the experience of half of the human race. The idea of God progressed from God as One and God as male in the Scriptures, to God as Trinitarian, that is three divine male persons in One male God, in the first few centuries of the Church.
    If I were male I would probably be quite comfortable with the idea of God as male. But as a woman my awareness of the Divine is changing through my experience of the Divine in my life. Patriarchy, male domination, the silence of women and women’s experience in Church teaching leads me to believe that the idea of the Christian God is either erroneous or incomplete.
    In the early centuries of the Church the idea of God went through intense development and merged with neo-Platonist thought, for example, Plotinus, who quite independently of Christianity had arrived at the idea of a Triad of divine hypostases.
    So yes, Con, I believe that the idea of God is not immutable, but open to further interpretation.

  12. It’s all about the relationship between the clergy and the laity. When my son was little he worshipped me he thought I knew everything. When he got to 14 he could see right through me. He despised me and made his contempt obvious. It really hurt. When he got to 20 he softened, forgave me and started to love me warts and all and that is the relationship we have now. It’s a very healthy adult relationship. The laity will forgive the clergy for being merely human and a better adult relationship will develop. At the moment it is painful for everyone – but it is a growing pain. The Church will recover and the Church will go on.

  13. Con Devree says:

    Agreed. But I would emphasise an important distinction between the first and the other two.
    I think the “fourth” kind of opprobrium, (Luke 17:1-3 ) is the same as the “first” (#5). I have difficulty agreeing with your historical interpretation, but then historians differ in their interpretations.
    In terms of the immutability if God, should we not distinguish between the reality of God and one’s “idea” of God. As regards the reality, I find the following two quotations (both RSV) instructive:
    James 1:17 Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
    Psalm 119:89 The Lord exists forever; your word is firmly fixed in heaven.
    One’s idea of God develops over time. It is a spiritual and intellectual journey involving conversion. Its development fits the natural human desire to seek truth and to seek to love and be loved. There are in life “many more truths which are simply believed than truths which are acquired by way of personal verification.” (JPII Fides et Ratio) Both atheists and believers “buy into” systems or schools or ways which offer answers to the human endeavour.
    Many (cradle Catholics and converts) have bought into Catholicism. Many others deride this decision. Some pursue a new version of Catholicism split from tradition. The first group buys into the Bible, The Vatican Documents, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in an effort to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. Unfortunately John’s first letter 3, 6 cautions: “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” We may not be guilty of some past offences but we are of others.
    Vatican Document Dei Verbum, paragraph 7-8 says that God arranged that things He had once revealed would remain in their entirety throughout the ages and that the tradition that comes from the Apostles makes progress in the Church and “comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith.”
    Countless numbers of women have and still do experience the life-giving presence of this tradition. One assumes you are successfully pursuing your exploration creating benefits for both yourself and the rest of us.

  14. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    “Once upon a time the priest knew everything.”
    Not just the priest – and the bishop. Not just once upon a time.
    I have encountered medical doctors who knew everything, and I knew nothing. A bank manager who, even when I presented documentary evidence, could not admit he was wrong. A parish council of lay people who could not accept the evidence. Some officious Gardaí. Bureaucrats who lost sight of who they were meant to serve. Legal people who could not bring themselves to rock the boat even in the cause of justice. Politicians who would not allow a contrary view. How often do journalists and media give equal prominence to the corrected version of the story which went around the world? Or any prominence at all?
    We are not alone. “Clericalism” can be found everywhere.
    Fortunately, there are many, many people who retain and operate from their humanity and sense of humour!

  15. Pádraig McCarthy @ 14: Individuals may be more or less stubborn in refusing to accept reality or insecure and vain enough so as to be unable to admit to error, and no doubt venality is widespread across the professions, but there is no group, as far as I have seen, which is so programmed to believe it is exempt from error as is the hierarchy in the church, from staff in Vatican Congregations down to bishops in their dioceses. In fact, to judge from their reluctance to engage in discussion about the questions that are important now, it could seem as if they disapprove of such discussion and would much prefer they didn`t have to enter into debate at all because that involves listening to others and responding persuasively to them. Whereas scientists of all kinds must submit to demonstrable, rational, verifiable proofs, and legal people to argument and precedent, these churchmen want to proceed on the basis of faith and obedience: if you have proper faith you will be obedient to me!

  16. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Yes, there is the individual factor in being unable to admit error. But in my experience, the hierarchy is no more prone to that than other groups. One difference in this is that the church has been subject to more intense scrutiny than any other group of which I am aware.
    Just today when we hear of the death of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, I think of how the political and judicial establishment have failed so often to face up to the appalling vista that they got it wrong. I am aware of many instances where the media have been brazen about not owning up and making proportionate corrections. Group-think (or group non-think) among the hierarchies of bankers and politicians.
    Of course, you could take this reply as an example of my own failing to acknowledge error. But I do think that the church is not more prone to this than many other human groups.
    Long ago in school, I remember a teacher describing the problem: “I’ve made up my mind! Don’t dare to confuse me with facts!”

  17. Padraig McCarthy @17.
    You are right to point out the limitations and errors of systems such as the Political, the Judicial,the Media and the Church. All these institutions are made up of human beings and so are prone to error and exist within the context of the times we live in. But only one system maintains that it is infallible. It is a dictatorship. It excludes women. None but one system holds sway over people’s consciences. Maintains that it holds the message of eternal life and then withholds the possibility of eternal life to any who goes against the system.
    The Church operates within two realms. The spiritual and the temporal. That is what makes it a very dangerous institution. It has control over its members minds. It holds that the Church’s moral teaching is superior to secular ethics, because it can withhold eternal salvation if its laws are broken. There is a dichotomy within the realm in which the Church operates. The teaching magisterium (all male) in the Church has the power to silence its ministers (all male)The same ministers aid and abet this authoritarian practice by complying with it and by defending its authoritarian dictatorial rule.
    The Church does not and can not acknowledge error because to do so
    would be to acknowledge that its judgement on all matters is automatically suspect. The absurd teaching of Papal infallibility will remain for as long as its clergy defend and practice it.

  18. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Nuala O’Driscoll @ 18:
    Thanks, Nuala.
    “But only one system maintains that it is infallible.” Infallibility as claimed by the church is very restricted, and must not become a “creeping infallibility”!
    “None but one system holds sway over people’s consciences. Maintains that it holds the message of eternal life and then withholds the possibility of eternal life to any who goes against the system.”
    The church does not claim to “hold sway over people’s consciences” as you seem to understand it. This is a big topic.
    Vatican II says: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Church in the Modern World, 16. ““In all their activities a person is bound to follow their conscience faithfully, in order that they may come to God, for whom they were created.” (Declaration on Religious Freedom, n.3.)
    This is repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at 1776. It is discussed in the new Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults, pages 347-349. It states clearly: “always follow a certain conscience” – see context for the discussion.
    The church cannot “withhold the possibility of eternal life to any who goes against the system,” nor can it “it can withhold eternal salvation if its laws are broken.”
    There have been those who have tried to impose “authoritarian dictatorial rule”, and many have been deeply hurt, but that is a corruption of the mission of any Christian church or community.
    “The Church does not and can not acknowledge error.”
    But Pope John Paul II, although his style displayed authoritarianism, apologised about 94 times for instances where the church has gone wrong. See “When a Pope Asks Forgiveness” by Luigi Accattoli, 1998.
    The church is challenged in its practice of justice. “While the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes. Hence we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting and of the possessions and life style found within the Church herself.” 1971 Synod, of Bishops, 40)
    Every member of the church has an important part to play in keeping this challenge before church and state and every human grouping.

  19. Joe O'Leary says:

    “The absurd teaching of papal infallibility” is actually a Cheshire Cat doctrine since it is so defined that it becomes impossible to say when and if it is enacted. The effort of Ratzinger to have John Paul II’s views on women viewed as infallible got nowhere. A friend compares the 1870 doctrine with the right of the French President to declare war single-handedly — of course he can never do so in practice, but it adds to the aura of his office.
    Garth Hallett, SJ, used to argue that the 1870 doctrine is neither true nor false since it is semantically meaningless.
    The only serious candidate for an act of papal infallibility since Vatican I is Pius XII’ one sentence declaration that Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven — you can see him make the declaration in 1950 on Youtube. He does not use the word “infallible”, leaving it to the theologians to assess the authoritative status of his declaration. Fergus Kerr, OP, argues that the doctrine of the Assumption does not meet the conditions for infallibility laid down by Vatican I.

  20. @19 and @ 20.
    Do the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith know that the teaching of Papal Infallibility is a Cheshire Cat doctrine?
    Joe and Padraig you are both privileged to be well educated in Church teaching and authority. You are able to differentiate between infallibility and creeping infallibility and no infallibility at all. Many lay people are not so privlaged and blindly accept erroneous Church teaching that is passed off as infallible. But many others leave the Church on the basis of not being able to accept such teachings, for example Humanae Vitae. Can either or both of you publicly state that to use artificial contraception within marriage is not intrinsically evil and not an infallible teaching?
    As has been said a teaching is not valid unless it has been received and Humanae Vitae has not been received.
    The Church waxes and wanes between the two realms, the temporal and the spiritual. Regarding the Mother and Baby home issue it portrays itself as being no better than other institutions at the time, for example the State, the Judicial, the Media. But in the spiritual realm the Church did and does know better. It is based on a two thousand year old message of Love. The Church used this message to build itself into a powerful and wealthy institution. It is this dichotomy between the two realms that is being the downfall of the Church.
    Padraig there are translations of the Vatican ll documents that use inclusive language, I wonder why you chose the exclusive language translation? I’m not a man.

  21. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Nuala @21:
    My apologies, Nuala, for the exclusive language. I normally correct it, but it slipped by me as I copied and pasted the text – I didn’t specifically choose it. I’m sorry I offended you with that. Here’s the “Gaudium et Spes” piece with inclusive language:
    The human person detects in the depths of conscience a law not coming from the person but which is owed obedience. This voice always calls to loving good and avoiding evil. When required, it is heard in the ears of the heart: do this, shun that. The human heart has a law inscribed by God. To observe this law is the dignity of the human person, and by it the person will be judged. Conscience is the most secret nucleus and sacred place of the human being, in which a person is alone with God, whose voice echoes in the depths of the person. (par.16)

  22. Con Devree says:

    In Catholicism Papal Infallibility and Conscience are linked together so that “our joy may be complete.” Dei Verbum 10 states that
    “It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others.” As The Catechism (889) puts it:
    “Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.” The Church urges in Dignitas Humanae 14 that “In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.”
    In the Book of Revelation John had little hesitation to call what are in effect bishops to order, if they needed it, which several did. Revelation is sent to complete cultures, not to destroy them. But the human tendency to be too attached to vices and too satisfied with goods impairs human beings’ awareness of what they do not yet have, of what is being addressed to them. People are ill prepared for what is, that which would hint to them what is wrong and what they are missing.
    Consequently, The Church earnestly advocates that “first of all, supplications, prayers, petitions, acts of thanksgiving be made for all men, [for each other]…. For this is good and agreeable in the sight of God our Savior, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4). (Dignitas Humanae 14.)
    Conscience, informed by the Magisterium, bound as it is to, and in company with Revelation provokes, challenges, upsets. It teaches us the completion of what we are and therefore of what we want. It gives us more than we are while we remain what we are, finite human beings.
    “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. (John, 1:3-4)

  23. Padraig McCarthy @ 22.
    Maybe the Magisterium could issue an encyclical on freedom of conscience.

  24. Joe O'Leary says:

    Whether artificial contraception is “intrinsice inhonestum” is not really a live issue except as some shibboleth of Catholic identity. It is certainly not in any sense infallible, and the first person to underline that was Paul VI himself through his spokesman Lambruschini on the day of the promulgation of HV.
    Right wing Catholics have constantly hushed up this non-infallibility, while at the same time pouncing on Hans Küng for using HV as an argument against papal infallibility, e.g.: “Msgr. F. Lambruschini, who presented Humanae Vitae to the public at the Vatican Press Conference, said on that occasion that the Encyclical was not an infallible statement. Since he went uncorrected by the Vatican, it is argued, he cannot have been speaking contrary to the Pope’s own intention. Fr. Lio replies that there was considerable dismay behind the scenes about Msgr. Lambruschini’s remarks, which were purely his own personal initiative, with no official backing whatever. (He had in fact been one of the theologians favouring a relaxation of the traditional doctrine prior to the Encyclical’s publication.) Lambruschini was in effect corrected, though not in such a way as to be humiliated publicly. Fr. Lio points out how, in the report of Lambruschini’s press conference given in the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano (daily Italian edition, 29/30 July 1968, p. 4), his statements to the journalists about the “non-infallibile” nature of Humanae Vitae are conspicuous by their absence.”
    Well, if the trumpet sounds uncertainly, who will prepare for battle?
    Whatever about the “intrinsice inhonestum” character of the contraceptive act viewed objectively, Paul VI did say that the judgment on the acts of a concrete couple using contraceptives is not thereby preempted. Pastoral moderation counsels a benign outlook, taking into account the concrete circumstances of the couple. Objectively immoral acts can be “diminished in guilt, inculpable, or subjectively defensible” (Paul VI’s letter to Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle).
    Juan Masia SJ argues that in any case all such teachings should be viewed as hortatory rather than doctrinal. They sketch ideals offered to the judgement of conscience rather than laying down non-negotiable hard and fast laws.

  25. @25.
    ‘of mice and men’ would that Lambruschini had the courage of his convictions. He wouldn’t even have lost his head like Thomas More. How , Joe, can any male cleric who knows what you know remain silent and a member of such a hypocritical institution? Humanae Vitae and the apparent ambiguity of whether it is an infallible teaching or not has done infinite damage to the Church.
    The demise of the sacrament of confession, communion and Mass attendance for the last fifty years can be directly related to Humanae Vitae. According to Church teaching all of us who left the Church in protest and because we could not support erroneous teaching will die in mortal sin and go to hell. But it seems that is no concern of the Church. At least one good thing resulted from Humanae Vitae, people began thinking for themselves and started relying on their own freedom of conscience.
    In the words of one theologian, the late Richard McCormick, ‘Why is it that Rome generally consults only those who support its pretaken position? Why does Rome appoint as bishops only those who have never publicly questioned Humanae Vitae, the celibacy of priests and the ordination of women? Why does a bishop speak on the ordination of women only after retirement? Why are Vatican documents composed in secrecy? Why does the Holy See not a least review its formulations on certain questions that it knows were met with massive dissent and non-reception? ‘of mice and men’.

  26. Nuala, See W.Wordsworth`s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room” about the paradox of finding freedom in discipline.

  27. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Nuala@26: “Con, how can a ‘bound’ conscience be free?”
    I think that most practising Catholics would conscientiously follow a well known catchphrase that is older than Con or HV: “With one bound s/he was free.”

  28. Con, Joe, MJT, Eddie, W. Wordsworth,curious how the male members of the Church don’t seem to mind being bound in freedom. The nuns would not have had a problem with Humanae Vitae.

  29. Con Devree says:

    By way of clarification.
    On questions of conscience I have to rely greatly on the Vatican documents, on the Catechism and on Blessed John Henry Newman.
    There are three possible freedoms associated with conscience.
    There is free will which allows one to form one’s conscience as one wills. If one uses one’s free will to buy into Catholicism then one decides to form one’s conscience “under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium.” (Dignitas Humanae 14)
    Psalm 80, 13 – 16 and others suggest that this is the will of God:-
    O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! … I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” In John 8: 31 – 32 Jesus enriches this. He said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
    Paragraph 1777 of the Catechism teaches that conscience judges particular choices as good or evil in accordance with truth, with the voice of God. It is in the nature of conscience that it has to be formed by continuing “in my word.” The more one obeys the Commandments and the teachings of the Church the more sensitive conscience becomes to truth, and the more truth sets one free in the Lord. A challenging responsibility! Gaudium et Spes 16 warns that “conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”
    There is therefore an inseparable bond between conscience and truth, and thus between on the one hand the formation of conscience and Revelation, and on the other between conscience itself and Revelation. The term “inseparable bond” is preferable to “bound up.”
    Then there is the question of freedom of conscience. Dignitas Humanae states that “Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free …” People become Catholics by their own free will. At whatever stage of formation one’s conscience is at people in all their activities are “bound to follow his [her] conscience in order that s/he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that s/he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to … conscience.”
    But whether within or without the Church Lumen Gentium 16 counsels that “often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.” They thus put their salvation in jeopardy.
    EDDIE FINNEGAN: As usual your contribution like a glass of wine vivifies an average dinner!

  30. Joe O'Leary says:

    Most clergy and most bishops just want to bury Humanae Vitae, and the faithful have got the message long ago that it is a dead letter. To say “you must leave a church that makes such damaging mistakes” is a counsel of defeatism.

  31. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Nuala@30, maybe you should read my miniscule contribution again. It’s a bit cryptic, I admit. I was just suggesting that most “faithful Catholics” with a grain of sense made up their minds about HV about 46 years ago. Like my old wireless, HV has some attractive features and flowing lines which I still admire, but damn all reception. I can’t bear to dump it in the skip, but I’ll just leave it at the back of the cupboard in the scullery and dust it off from time to time.
    Paul VI was intelligent enough to realise that a holding document of some kind was needed, so he went with the minority of his commission. Given what happened with such good conciliar ideas as collegiality, there’s no certainty that open debate in the final session of the Council in 1965 would have resulted in anything more enlightened than HV. But there’s nothing infallible about it. Those with delusions of infallibility, or of battening down the hatches after John and Paul and the Council, might like to give HV the retro treatment. That doesn’t mean they should be given too much heed. Hortatory, rather than doctrinal, documents and pastoral Councils and counsels are what Catholics / Christians need. Else what’s a heaven for.
    Now, Nuala, if John Paul II, Benedict and the infallibilists had only picked on John’s 1962 solemn Apostolic Constitution, ‘Veterum Sapientia’, and given it the retro-treatment, we could all be enjoying the cut and thrust of this website’s discussions in fluent Latin, replete with lapidary Ciceronian periods. Alas! it sank with little trace, with even worse reception than my old wireless, apart from some token dusting off once a year at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Latin. If only Benedict’s 2012 motu proprio, ‘Latina Lingua’, had declared the infallibility of the 50-year old ‘Veterum Sapientia’, we would all know the Latin for “like the dewfall” and we could have Mass every day in real 21st century Latin instead of in the monstrous Latinglish that’s been foisted on us by the barbarians.
    Infallibility, used sparingly and selectively, could be a useful tool at times. But it’s best left locked away in the cupboard with my old wireless.

  32. Con Devree says:

    Re #33
    “Like my old wireless, HV has some attractive features and flowing lines which I still admire, but damn all reception. I can’t bear to dump it in the skip, but I’ll just leave it at the back of the cupboard in the scullery and dust it off from time to time.”
    More refreshing, lucid, nectar. Largely accurate too, though the “damn all” perhaps a trifle “proud” as we carpenters would say. But alas, maybe one blind spot! Conceivably the analogy doesn’t carry this far, but who can say that HV will not, in figurative terms, be worth a fortune in years to come. Perhaps the dusting should continue as did that of the Caravaggio by the Jesuits. As you say, all have to be careful about what they are infallible about.
    Paul VI would be surprised to hear his was intended to be a “holding document” and would doubt if any such intention would even be intelligent – “enough.” But given the range of less than positive epithets he receives, he would surely find your’s somewhat comforting. What indeed is Heaven for?
    Your claim (sincere regret?) that the infallibilists have not picked on Veterum Sapientia is not altogether valid. After all the said document maintains that “the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful.” In effect this statement, albeit with different words, found its way into Lumen Gentium, a document of Vatican II, a definitive source for infallibilists, and up to a short time ago the pillar and ground of reality for all non-infallibilists.
    Fr Joe O’Leary is correct re some priests and bishops. Latin would not be a runner in this context. Perhaps it is coincidence but young candidates for the priesthood in those repopulated seminaries of the USA are put through their paces in the “universal and immutable language.” In Veterum Sapientia Pope St John XXIII described it as “a most effective training for the pliant minds of youth!”

  33. Nuala O'Driscoll says:

    Eddie I know very well without being told that I was an ignoramus, that’s what makes me so angry.

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