Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Pope Francis is silhouetted after his private audience with President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma, at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)Pope Francis is silhouetted after his private audience with President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma, at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)

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.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Michael Barberi
6 years 8 months ago

While the Church/popes have historically supported the primacy of conscience in one breath, they say something completely different in another. As a consequence, we have two theologies of conscience. On the one hand, one theology of conscience can be characterized as "conforming" where the agent conforms his/her conscience to the teaching of the magisterium, full stop. If their conscience differs from a teaching of the magisterium, their conscience is considered erroneous.
On the other hand, the other theology of conscience can be characterized as one of "informing" where the agent makes his/her decision before God after their consciences are properly formed and informed.

The so-called 'conforming' theology of conscience is often assigned to Germain Grisez while the 'informing theology of conscience' is often assigned to Bernard Haring. Of course, these are not the only theologies of consciences, but the two I identify here are the most prevalent.

The Problem: These two theologies of conscience have, in part, polarized any discussion about the morality of voluntary human acts as well as any discussion about the moral theory in support of the Church's teachings (e.g., Artificial Birth Control, Homosexuality, Holy Communion for divorced and remarried). On the one hand, we have absolute moral norms that the agent's conscience must never violate. On the other hand we have moral decisions in due circumstances that can differ from doctrine. This is where the process of discernment, accompaniment, graduation and virtue come into play as explicated in Amoris Laetitia.

The problem is that there is confusion because this is the first time that a Pope is integrating into the praxis of the Church the difference between the letter of the law (doctrine) and the spirit of the law (its pastoral application).

For some bishops both doctrine and its pastoral application must result in the same outcome. In other words, the moral law governs. There are no exceptions. For many other bishops, both doctrine and its pastoral application can result in different outcomes without contradiction. In other words, the spirit of the law gives consideration to moral dilemmas and circumstances. To embrace the later requires a careful understanding of God's love and mercy. In other words, it reflects what God may be asking of the agent now because this is what he/she is able to do at the present time. It is not about mustering enough courage to conform with doctrine, period, end of discussion. It is about mercy, graduation, accompaniment, discernment "and virtue".

In my opinion, the changes that Pope Francis is instituting are, in many ways, the only theological pathway that needed 'reforms and developments' can occur in the Catholic Church today.

Robert Lewis
6 years 8 months ago

This is very good, but I think that the final word on the primacy of conscience in Catholic moral theology was written by John Henry Newman, in his "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk," in which he says, rather bluntly, both that conscience is "the primordial word of God" written in human hearts, and that to "conform" one's conscience to a decree of a pope that one knows in one's heart to be wrong would be a "mortal sin." In other parts of the "Letter," he does say, however, that, if one is a Catholic, on must USE the teachings of the Magisterium to inform one's conscience.

biwaji0 biwaji11
6 years 8 months ago

★ ★ i am currently simply creating $15k to $18k each month and also the actual quantity of my last month cheque was $16598 from this job. i'm doing this job in my half time, affirmative solely in my half time. i need you all to hitch this job currently and begin creating real money on-line at once by follow directions on this journal.....

www.jobstoday60.com ★★

MJ Painter
6 years 8 months ago

Thanks for sharing :-( It's sad to see that even the webpages of America are now infiltrated by SPAM.

I wish there were a way to flag these comments.

Dominic Deus
6 years 8 months ago

Russians. It's the Russians.

Dominic Deus
6 years 8 months ago

Dominic Deus here--Brother Robert, I find your illumination exemplary but for the first sentence. First off, I suggest that John Newman would not support the contention that he wrote the final word on anything! Second, I believe your comments are entirely compatible with and complimentary to the original post and do not take exception to it. I hope I am correct.

Dominic Deus
6 years 8 months ago

Dominic Deus here. Brother Michael, you write thusly:

"The Problem: These two theologies of conscience have, in part, polarized any discussion about the morality of voluntary human acts as well as any discussion ..."

You are correct, they have, but they should not have.

Discussion usually becomes polarized because at least one of discussants wills it so. The inability to comprehend apparent contradiction rather than grasp a larger reality encompassing multiple truths is a results of intellectual inadequacy in ability, education or both and is often unrecognized by those whose ego will not allow self examination or humility. We all share a common ignorance and once we agree on that we can move on to how little our moral certainties matter. If we recognize that we are naked in the storm, blind in the light, deaf to the words of our brother Jesus and wholly insensible to God's Divine Truth, then we see the road to grace can only be traveled together. It stands to reason then that our petty differences should be no excuse for abandoning our shared humanity, even though it includes our shared ignorance and even our outright stupidity.

Multiple informed Catholic consciences can and should populate the Church. Those who insist on "division by conscience" will certainly find it if that is what they wish to do, but it will be their doubt, their inability to see the saving grace of conscience which allows them to celebrate their ignorance.

Pope Francis is magnificently correct. No doubt he listened.

Magy Stelling
6 years 8 months ago

Primacy of conscience is for mature Catholics, all others must use a catechism before accusing themselves of sinning. (Please forgive this "heretical, sarcastic" but realistically thought)!!!

Bruce Snowden
6 years 8 months ago

Holy Father Francis’ teachings are in synch with the heartbeat of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus, Who has given His Word that MERCY is above all his Works! Why then the hullabaloo about “Amoris Laetitia” saturated as it is in the Mercy of Jesus and pulsating with the Love which is also God?

Yes, belief in the Primacy of Conscience is prerequisite to understand Pope Francis’ Apostolic “inner-sight” which is the all-seeing Eye of the Heart, not soul, or mind, regarding “Amoris Laetitia.” The Eye of the Heart is activated through Holy Spirit’s Gifts of Wisdom and Understanding, sinewed into ONE identity through Love. When one recognizes that the heartbeat of the the People of God is One in effect with the Merciful Heart of Jesus, alleluias begin! Also wasn’t it Pascal who said, “The heart understands what the mind cannot comprehend?”

Of course conscience can be uninformed and therefor needs someone to reform it. Your conscience is the only conscience you have and you must follow it until proven in error. In June 2010 John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., wrote an article titled “Uninformed Conscience" in which he quoted Aquinas that, conscience may be certain but not correct. My online response suggested that conscience can also be correct but not certain, a dilemma caused by the convergence of moral objectivity and the necessity of practical moral subjectivity. If anybody is interested in Fr, Kavanaugh’s article and they should be and maybe the rest of my simple, heartfelt posting, they’ll find it AMERICA Back Issues June 2010.

This current on-liner is simply my attempt to support Pope Francis in his Jesus-like leadership, especially his “Amoris Laetitia.” I have nothing more to add as there is nothing dubious in my heart about it!

Eileen Malloy
6 years 8 months ago

I don’t find Francis’ leadership to be Jesus-like at all. Jesus condemned divorce clearly in the Good News. Jesus twice explained that marriage is indissoluble. Pope Francis has taken the Pharisees’ position. Jesus was clear in the Gospel that mercy comes with repentance. “Go and sin no more.”

Jesus’ teachings were always clear and concise. Not so with wordy and ambiguous documents put forth under Pope Francis.

With plenty of word games and ambiguity we’re now at a place where things like divorce, racism/supremacism, and same-sex genital acts can be argued away as not sinful because the person’s “conscience” deems them ok?

Tanner Michels
6 years 8 months ago

Yes. One's own journey with Christ and the peace of the conscience they may have when approaching the Eucharist is more important and provides more growth. No, it is not arguing away "sinful" or less ideal actions, an act isn't a sin to begin with, it is the orientation of one's heart amidst the action. What this instead allows, is a human being to realize how unworthy they are, how imperfect the person is, and how in need they are to be nourished by the love and Eucharistic elements. Even after confession one's a sinner. One.can claim to be in a state of "grace" all they want, but at the end of the day we all fall short of the glory and perfection of God. Christ didn't come for the healthy but for the sick, ostracized, and the poor. If anything Jesus is Ministry was supposed to be for the Jews, although he helped the Samaritan woman and the Canaanite woman. I digress.

Alfredo S.
6 years 8 months ago

Eileen Malloy: Well, no. Think about what else Jesus said:

"I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming."

Anne Danielson
6 years 8 months ago

"Now go and sin no more." - Jesus The Christ

In meeting persons where they are, Christ does not desire they remain in their sin. Christ desires that we overcome our disordered inclinations so that we are not led into temptation but become transformed by repenting and accepting Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy.
A conscience that denies Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy, is one that is autonomous, and thus not in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In fact, the erroneous belief, that apart from God, we can declare what is Good, is that notion that set Salvational History in motion. If it were true that it is Loving and Merciful to desire that we remain in our sin, we would not need our Savior, Jesus The Christ, from the start.

We can know through both Faith and reason, that being in communion is not a matter of degree. If you are not with Christ, you are against Him.
Lukewarmness is not an option.

The "Joy of Love", sparked controversy because it makes it appear as if it is Loving and Merciful, in meeting our beloved sons and daughters where they are, to desire they remain in their sin, rather than sharing The Good News. This has resulted in the erroneous notion that if one is personally opposed, but does not desire to share The Good News, one's conscience can remain in communion with Jesus The Christ and thus with His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Truth will not contradict truth, as every element of truth, like every element of Love, will serve to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Truth. Private morality and public morality will never serve in opposition to one another, but rather, are complementary.

The fact is, “schismatic temptations and dogmatic confusion” has been exposed as a result of the debate over the document. It is that confusion that has been "dangerous for the unity of the church", because it denies The Unity of The Holy Ghost and the fact that unrepentant sin, is the unpardonable sin, that sin that denies Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy.

Christ Has shown us through His Life, His Passion, and His Death on The Cross, that no Greater Love is there than this, to desire Salvation for one's beloved.

“And he said to me: Write: Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith to me: These words of God are true.”

Dominic Deus
6 years 8 months ago

Dominic Deus here. Anne--your faith is obvious fervent and I respect that, but having established your position, humility, charity, grace and the teaching of Jesus require you and all of us to make room for others sitting at his feet.

"We can know through both Faith and reason, that being in communion is not a matter of degree. If you are not with Christ, you are against Him."

Not so, good sister. Jesus is unequivocal in teaching that all are welcome, all who thirst may drink, all who hunger will be fed. The better analogy is that if one takes to the road with Jesus and his disciples, following, believing, doing good, the grace of God will do its work. A Helpful Hint in traveling that road: Appreciate the undecided, the still exploring, the not totally convinced lukewarm believers. It's the on-fire-true-believers who are more likely to make the trip miserable. That's why Francis wrote what he wrote. "Cherish the uncertain for they are just being honest,"

"The fact is, “schismatic temptations and dogmatic confusion” has been exposed as a result of the debate over the document." ( ? Which document?)

Absolutely true, but better to expose them rather than let them fester for centuries as the Magisterium so often does. I will let those who declare schism defend it and themselves if they can. They are like relatives who never got along with the rest of the family at Christmas and are just waiting for a real or imagined offense to self-declare secession. Francis continues to welcome them, as should we all, and refuses to respond to their self-absorbed *dubia*.

Dogmatic confusion exists because there is more light in the world than there used to be and the Catholic Faithful don't need or want as much dogma as they have and certainly not more. The voice of the Faithful is ascending in the Church and the Magisterial leaderships needs to listen.

"Truth will not contradict truth, as every element of truth, like every element of Love, will serve to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Truth."

Well, yes and no. Divine Truth woudl seem likely to be one Truth but how would we know? We can never know Truth entirely. We can only grasp small truths which, in turn, point the way to a Truth we will never fully understand in this life but which we can seek--on the aforementioned road of life, as a follower of Jesus. So you are correct, but not perfectly correct. You never will be and neither will I. :-)

Just a brief fraternal comment: I strong;ly suspect Jesus will allow as he is the only one who will decide if another's soul is in communion with him. Not you, not me, not the Church.

Thank you for your comments--very challenging!

Jack Feehily
6 years 8 months ago

It seems to me that those who are confused by some of Francis’ teaching believe that theology stands alone when determining how we judge sin and grace. Are they unaware that developments in anthropology, psychology, and sociology must also factor in when speaking of the interplay between conscience formation and subjective culpability for the actions on the list of objectively grave matter? So we can all admit that Jesus taught that divorce did not originate in God’s plan for those he joined together. We can further affirm that Jesus taught that those who divorce (may)cause the partner to commit adultery. Let’s all agree that we stand against adultery! But since nearly all of us are related to people who suffered a failure in marriage either through their own grave failings or those of the spouse, we can’t work up much animus, if any, against divorce as a practice. We can lament it, regret it, or even rail against it in principle, while still loving and supporting those who are doing their best to move on with their lives. I have a brother who is in his third marriage. I don’t believe he is committing adultery because he has never experienced to my knowledge the kind of encounter with God that has turned his heart to Christ and his ways. I fervently pray that he will one day turn to the Lord and if he does I will not condemn him as an adulterer. Recently, I asked an 83 year old graduate of Notre Dame and lifelong devout Catholic if he believed that divorced and re-married Catholics were committing adultery. Without hesitation he responded “no”. Anyone who is confused must come to terms with the fact that this teaching has not been received by a significant portion of practicing Catholics.

Michael Barberi
6 years 8 months ago

It seems that many of us think the Magisterium, especially the official church documents, refer exclusively to the teaching function of bishops (the Episcopal Magisterium), as if they alone can or are allowed to teach. This is theologically wrong and leads to an impoverishment of the "faith of the Church".

Vatican II, in its dogmatic constitution on divine revelation (Dei Verbum), affirms there is growth in the understanding of God's revelation and that this happens in three ways. These ways may be said to correspond broadly to the Episcopal Magisterium, the Theological Magisterium and the Lay Magisterium. Each share in and contribute to the sensus fidei, albeit in different forms and ways. More importantly, the relationship among the bishops, theologians and laity is not to be conceived as a pyramid descending from bishops to theologians to laity, but as a circular process of mutual learning and teaching.

As one priest theologian put it "There is no doubt that the laity, and especially lay women, can teach bishops almost everything about marriage, sexuality, and family. It strains credibility to suggest that celibate old men can teach married people in these matters without first being taught by them, and I do not mean merely 'consulting' them. How else can the current chasm between the episcopal magisterium and lay magisterium be explained in matters regarding contraception, divorce and remarriage, and more recently same-sex marriage, except by the fact that bishops are willing to 'consult' the laity but are not "learning and being taught by them"?

Pope Francis's Amoria Laetitia is offering divorced and remarried Catholics who seek forgiveness with a contrite heart but find themselves in moral dilemmas, a pathway to Holy Communion without an annulment or the requirement of sexual abstinence. Existential reality is not simply black and white where everything is governed by a rigid interpretation of 'the law.'

Finally, there is much controversy over the interpretation of Matthew's exception clause where the most common interpretation is that divorce for adultery was permitted. More importantly, the Church seems to ignore the fact that Jesus, Matthew and Paul each provided exceptions to the law of marriage and divorce at that time.

E.Patrick Mosman
6 years 8 months ago

Then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed "Conscience and Truth",his 1991 presentation to the American Bishops in Dallas Texas.
The full address can be found at:
The following summarizes the conclusions;
Cardinal Ratzinger touched on the correct understanding of conscience," "Conscience is understood by many to be sort of deification of subjectivity, a rock on which even the magisterium can founder. It claimed that in the light of conscience no other reason applies. Finally, conscience appears as the supreme level of subjectivity; but conscience is an organ, not an oracle; it requires growth, exercise and development."
For those who hold that one's own subjective conscience is infallible, superior to all others and that the Church Authority cannot impose restrictions on those whose conscience brings them to decisions contrary to the Church's teachings, Cardinal Ratzinger points out the obvious error in this rationalization by the following "It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it. But whether the judgment of conscience or what one takes to be such, is always right, indeed whether it is infallible, is another question. For if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth - at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject's own truth, which would be reduced to the subject's sincerity."

Cardinal Ratzinger describes the concept of the erroneous conscience as follows:
"The erroneous conscience, by sheltering the person from the exacting demands of truth, saves him ... - thus went the argument. Conscience appeared here not as a window through which one can see outward to that common truth which founds and sustains us all, and so makes possible through the common recognition of truth, the community of needs and responsibilities. Conscience here does not mean man's openness to the ground of his being, the power of perception for what is highest and most essential. Rather, it appears as subjectivity's protective shell into which man can escape and there hide from reality. Liberalism's idea of conscience was in fact presupposed here. Conscience does not open the way to the redemptive road to truth which either does not exist or, if it does, is too demanding. It is the faculty which dispenses from truth. It thereby becomes the justification for subjectivity, which should not like to have itself called into question. Similarly, it becomes the justification for social conformity. As mediating value between the different subjectivities, social conformity is intended to make living together possible. The obligation to seek the truth ceases, as do any doubts about the general inclination of society and what it has become accustomed to. Being convinced of oneself, as well as conforming to others, are sufficient. Man is reduced to his superficial conviction and the less depth he has, the better for him."

The erroneous conscience also would allow the false and utterly despicable conclusion, "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. 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." Cardinal Ratzinger concludes this section by writing "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. For, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom do not justify man.

Furthermore, "No one may act against his convictions, as Saint Paul had already said (Rom 14:23). But the fact that the conviction a person has come to certainly binds in the moment of acting, does not signify a canonization of subjectivity. It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at - in fact, one must do so. But it can very well be wrong to have come to such askew convictions in the first place, by having stifled the protest of the anamnesis(an inner repugnance to evil and an attraction to the good) of being."

Michael Barberi
6 years 8 months ago

One can easily come to a decision that what Ratzinger said is that because conscience can err and is not automatically infallible, one should follow every moral teaching of the Magisterium.

Below is a short description that might help you understand what an informed conscience is. It is not doing anything you think or desire, full stop. This is not a 'properly formed and informed conscience'.

> conscience is not infallible, it can err.
> one must form and inform one's conscience properly. In this regard, one must adequately education oneself as best they can about Church teachings and their rationale. One should ask questions until there are no more to ask. However, this does not mean that one should not comprehensively understand alternative scholarly viewpoints for reflection.
> Equally important, one must also be 'open to and seek further on-going education' of the subject in question especially if one's judgment of his/her informed conscience might be in tension with a Church teaching. In this regard, further education must last a lifetime. One must also seek frequently priestly and theological advice, pray often for enlightenment and God's grace, and frequently embrace the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.
> one must have humility and recognize that if one's informed conscience is in tension with a teaching of the magisterium, the teachings of the magisterium should be given preference. However, this does not mean that Catholics should automatically abandon one's judgement of his/her informed conscience.

In conclusion, we all sin and make bad decisions that some of us, including popes and councils, thought were right and truthful (e.g., slavery, denying freedom of religion). Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that while we need to look back at the past and learn and be guided by it (Church Tradition and Doctrine), we must also look forward to further education and understanding in terms of a rightful informed conscience with the help of the Holy Spirit and the virtue of prudence. This will not eliminate respectful disagreement but it will not plunge us into excessive guilt and doubt.

As Aquinas and the Church teaches, no one should go against their properly informed conscience even if it is in tension with a moral teaching of the Magisterium. If one does everything reasonable to seek and understand the truth, and to properly form and inform one's conscience as expiated above, Aquinas teaches us that there is no culpability for an erroneous conscience. To be clear, if a decision of a properly informed conscience is believed by the agent to be truthful and right, and not erroneous. he/she must never go against it. If one believes his conscience to be erroneous, he/she must never abide by it.

E.Patrick Mosman
6 years 8 months ago

"Below is a short description that might help you understand"
Thanks for the advice but I fully understand as did Pope Benedict XVI. So in your analysis two well informed individuals both having studied the moral teachings of the Magisterium and the sought the truth through other sources arrived at completely different "properly informed conscience" and act accordingly. In reality only one can be right "for if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth - at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject's own truth, which would be reduced to the subject's sincerity." Pope Benedict XVI

Michael Barberi
6 years 8 months ago

I never said that a properly informed conscience was infallible. Quite the opposite. Nor did I say that there is no truth.

The problem is that you are misunderstanding the theology of conscience. Your example of two people who properly informed their consciences but reached different judgments is a poor one because it leaves no room for legitimate disagreement. More importantly, this does not mean there is no truth.

According to your way of thinking everyone should "conform" their consciences to every teaching of the magisterium. If this be the case, then there is no room for a conscience at all or legitimate disagreement. Witness the disagreement among the bishops today on Amoris Laetitia (AL) especially Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. Would you say that the bishops who legitimately interpret AL one way (permitting Holy Communion for divorced and remarried) have an erroneous conscience and those that read it a different way speak the truth? Witness the fact that many teachings of popes and councils have been taught "as truth" for centuries but were eventually changed (e.g., slavery, usury, freedom of religion). Witness the fact that 40% of US priests today believe that artificial birth control is seldom or never a sin, not to mention that 80% of worldwide Catholics do not believe it is a sin as well. Do these priests and Catholics all have an erroneous conscience?

Make no mistake about what I am saying. All Catholics are free to abide by every teaching of the magisterium as long as such a decision does not go against their properly informed conscience. For many Catholics, the teachings of the magisterium are the judgment of their informed consciences. For many other Catholics, some teachings of the magisterium go against their informed consciences.

There is culpability for an improperly informed conscience. There is no culpability of a properly informed conscience even if it disagrees with a teaching of the magisterium.
What Ratzinger was talking about was in improperly informed conscience. Unfortunately, there is a significant divide within the Catholic Church over the theology of conscience, namely, a conforming or informing one.

The Church teaches that Catholics must never go against their informed consciences (emphasis-added) even if it is in tension with a papal encyclical or teaching of the magisterium. Even Ratzinger said that.

As for 'truth'. No one sees the moral truth with perfect clarity even popes and bishops. While the truth never changes, our understanding of the moral truth does change as we grow wiser based on our continuing scholarship and understandings of scripture, the world, human sexuality, et al.

Henry Smith
6 years 8 months ago


What, exactly, is a properly informed Conscience ?

How can fallible humans know, without doubt, that they have one ?

Michael Barberi
6 years 8 months ago


I already answered your question. Please read what I wrote before my last comment. However, I will offer some brief additional comments.

1. The theology of conscience is complex and a short blog comment cannot cover this subject sufficiently. If you truly want to know this subject, I suggest "Conscience" Edited by Charles Curran (15 articles by various authors) and "Conscience and Catholicism" by Robert J. Smith.

2. As to what a properly informed conscience is: There is no rule book or absolute process for all persons in all circumstances. The formation of conscience is not a matter of imposting rules and regulations on somebody else. That would be simply legalism. Nevertheless, there are guidelines and I have mentioned a few that I discerned from my education. However, they are not the only criteria for informing one's conscience, nor do they exhaust all the criteria ever proposed.

You might ask: How do I know my conscience is true? Unfortunately, there are no criteria that can give an infallible answer to that question. Many different criteria has been proposed down through the ages, but the most adequate criterion by some experts is the peace and joy of a good conscience. On the other hand, the remorse of conscience can be a sign of an erroneous conscience. However, that one criteria alone does not exhaust a host of other criteria.

3. As Richard M. Gula, Professor of Moral Theology put it: "Christian theology teaches that God will judge us, not on the basis of our actions being objectively right or wrong, but on the basis of the sincerity of our hearts in seeking to do what is right, even if we make a mistake."

For centuries, popes and councils have make mistakes. Slavery, usury and freedom of religion were taught as truth for centuries but were eventually reformed. Yet no one seems to give this fact much weight when arguing about a change in a current teaching. For example, for centuries Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried was only possible if one obtained an annulment or agreed to live as brother and sister. While the doctrine on marriage has not changed, its theological and pastoral application today makes this possible under certain circumstances per Amoris Laetitia.

Lastly, I offer my comments here in humility because they have helped me to understand the issue of conscience. I do not doubt that I will change them or refine them as I educate myself further. Others may follow other guidelines. For example, some Catholics will prefer to following every teaching of the magisterium because they believe every teaching is the truth or a wiser judgement than their own. However, other Catholics will trust their informed consciences are right and true even if it is in tension with a teaching of the magisterium. If that be the case, the Church teaches that we must never go against our informed conscience.

As for culpability, conscience compromises its dignity when it is 'culpably erroneous' that is when we show little concern for seeking what is true and good.

Bruce Snowden
6 years 8 months ago

Hi Mr. Mosman, As I was taught and as you pointed out, if two equally competent sources studying the same question seeking truth, come up with two completely different opinions, we may in good conscience follow either.
But you say both cannot contain truth, since there is only ONE truth. I’m not so sure about that conclusion. Could it be that since both equally competent sources are seeking truth that both sources have in fact found truth now at last the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Truth like Baskin Robbins ice cream comes in many “flavors”!

As an example Trinitarian Mystery comes to mind. Father, Son, Spirit, equally God, yet separate, One from the Other, separate but not separated, All inseparably the Truth. However, the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father and the Holy Spirit is neither of the two but its own person. They come in “three flavors” so to speak. To me the Trinity shows that Truth can be “fragmented” a part here, a part there, another part somewhere else, just as the Godhead is “fragmented” into “three pieces” or “flavors,” which when studied together reveal the full truth, whole and entire, nothing but the truth.

If what I’ve tried to say is correct, it validates somewhat the above-mentioned opinion that truth because it is fragmented, can in found in different but equally competent sources. When pulled together by the liberating cords of study, prayer particularly helpful, truth separated, but not separate, comes together completed, an achievement truth restlessly awaits fulfillment! At least, so it seems to me.

Andrew Perlik
6 years 8 months ago

Just one question for Pope Francis, "So how did the primacy of conscience work out for Adam and Eve? Hmmm?" I think we all know the answer as we are all suffering the consequences!

The latest from america

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, by Father Terrance Klein
Terrance KleinJuly 24, 2024
The world's tallest cross dominates the scene above a Spanish Civil War cemetery and memorial in the Valley of the Fallen (renamed the Valley of Cuelgamuros) near Madrid, pictured in October 2019. (CNS photo/Emilio Naranjo, pool via Reuters)
Spanish media reports that the ministry of culture is drafting a law that will expel monks. But that task will not be easy. The 21 monks do not wish to leave their monastery,
Bridget RyderJuly 24, 2024
Those who knew Father Norman Fischer said the priest’s easy ability to model the love of Christ and build bridges—sometimes through a beaming selfie or a fist bump—was legendary.
The realization that a younger person is more fit, more alert, more capable, more relevant, more suited to the job one has long done is not fun. We baby boomers can relate.
Valerie SchultzJuly 24, 2024