VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Saturday reaffirmed the “primacy” of using one’s conscience to navigate tough moral questions in his first comments since he was publicly accused of spreading heresy by emphasizing conscience over established church teaching.
Francis issued a video message to a conference organized by Italian bishops on his controversial 2016 document on family life, ”Amoris Laetitia” or “The Joy of Love.” Francis told the conference that priests must inform Catholic consciences “but not replace them.” And he stressed the distinction between one’s conscience—where God reveals himself—and one’s ego that thinks it can do as it pleases.
“The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of conscience, which must always be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of an individual with respect to his or her relations,” Francis said.
Pope Francis said that priests must inform Catholic consciences “but not replace them.”
Francis reaffirmed the centrality of “The Joy of Love” as the church’s guide to Catholic couples today trying to navigate complicated family situations.
When it was released in April 2016, “The Joy of Love” sparked controversy because it cautiously opened the door to letting civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion. Church teaching holds that unless these Catholics obtain an annulment, they cannot receive the sacraments.
Francis didn’t give these Catholics a pass, but suggested that bishops and priests could discern the most appropriate path on a case-by-case basis, with the couples’ “well-formed” consciences as the guide.
Critics accuse the pope of sowing confusion and undermining the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
Critics accused the pope of sowing confusion and undermining the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Four prominent cardinals formally asked for a clarification to five “dubia,” or doubts, they said had been spawned by the document.
More recently, a group of traditionalist priests and scholars issued a formal correction to the pope on this question, a measure not employed since the 14th century.
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, whom Francis recently removed as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog, didn’t join the four “dubia” cardinals or the other accusers. But he warned in a recent book preface that “schismatic temptations and dogmatic confusion” had been sown as a result of the debate over the document. He said such confusion was “dangerous for the unity of the church.”
Cardinal Mueller sought to offer his own interpretation—that “The Joy of Love” can only be read as a continuity of the church’s traditional teaching on marriage—offering what he said was his own “contribution to re-establishing peace in the church.”