Clear conscience

The teaching of Vatican II on conscience is often invoked in discussions about moral obligation. While the traditional doctrine of the freedom of conscience is stated clearly in Gaudium et Spes (and Dignitatis Humanae) it has been read by some people as a general licence simply to decide for oneself.

But this is an old problem which Cardinal Newman explored in the 19th century. Gladstone had published a short book which argued that Vatican decrees and civil allegiance were incompatible. Newman came back with his celebrated Letter to the Duke of Norfolk. It opens with the words: “The main question which Mr Gladstone has started I consider to be this: Can Catholics be trustworthy subjects of the State? has not a foreign Power a hold over their consciences such that it may at any time be used to the serious perplexity and injury of the civil government under which they live?”

In the section on conscience Newman distinguishes the Catholic concept of conscience from the fashionable version. And, in doing so, he takes the opportunity to note the limitations of infallibility. There is an interesting background article by the  eminent theologian, John T Ford, for those who want a fuller picture (details below).

Here I have given myself the task of summarising Newman’s points. I do not focus on his references to Gladstone, but confine myself to his general description of conscience. The full text is available via

The Supreme Being has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy as eternal characteristics in his nature, the law of his being. And, as Creator, he implanted this law as the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a participation in the eternal law in the rational nature. Although we may not all understand it equally well it does not lose its character nor its prerogative to command obedience. So it is never lawful to go against our conscience.

This differs from the fashionable view that conscience is a creation of man rather than the voice of God. The latter is the view of the Catholic Church and is broadly shared by the Reformation religions. The fashionable view has no concern with the rights of the Creator, it has no relationship to any moral law. Rather, it is an exercise of self-will. This is a counterfeit version unknown to previous centuries of Christianity.

The Church has indeed described freedom of conscience as a sort of deliramentum (See Pius IX, Quanta Cura, 1864). But statements need to be interpreted in context and here it is plain that the popes are referring to the “counterfeit” modern concept of conscience. Indeed, for a pope to deny true freedom of conscience would be suicidal since his fundamental mission is to proclaim the moral law.

But objections remain. Is it possible that the popes have distorted moral law to suit their own objectives? Can our understanding of moral law ever be free when it is so closely interrelated with religious authority? Would there not ensue an unmanageable collision between Church and state? And, to take it to the logical conclusion, how can the pope’s absolute authority be compatible with the absolute authority of private conscience?

We should recall here that conscience is not concerned with speculative truth or abstract doctrine but only with conduct: it is the practical judgment on something to be done or not done. Conscience, therefore, can never be in collision with infallibility because that is concerned only with the teaching of general propositions. Collision with the Pope’s authority can only occur when the Pope legislates or gives particular orders and the like. But in all these the question of infallibility does not arise. Was Peter infallible when Paul stood up to him in the matter of gentile converts? Or Liberius when he excommunicated Athanasius? Was Urban VIII infallible when he persecuted Galileo? No Catholic makes such claims.

If a claim of conscience is made contrary to papal authority it must be the true conscience not the fashionable counterfeit. It can only follow thought, prayer and every available means of arriving at right judgment. The onus of proof lies with us. Unless we can claim in the presence of God that we must not, and dare not, act upon the papal injunction we must obey.

We must avoid that vulgar spirit which automatically bridles at the voice of authority, or that wilful determination to think or do just what we please – whether true or false. And, if we were to do that, defiance of papal injunction would be rare indeed.

It is also clear, from many authorities, that even an erroneous conscience must be obeyed. It may be our fault that we are in error (and we may have to answer for that) but we must still obey. So, for example, those who have been brought up in heresy, and are persuaded that we are idolaters, and should be shunned as pests, cannot with safe conscience hear the Church.

“Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please – still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”

Link to Ford article:

Link to original text:

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106 Responses to Clear conscience

  1. milliganp says:

    In 1966 I was asked, in an interview for an RAF scholarship, whether, as a Catholic, I could obey orders if the Pope told me not to; this prejudice against Catholicism still lived on.

    However there is an obvious certainty of the past we no longer hold true – the divine right of kings. It would be considered a matter of conscience fully supported by the church in the 16th century to hold to this. If we supplant this with a more modern version of “lawful authority” how do we deal with the legalisation of abortion or gay marriage.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Jesus said- ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar,s and to God what is Gods.
      Abortion and Gay ‘marriage’ should not be a problem for our conscience.

  2. ionzone says:

    I think we do need to drop the gay marriage protests and focus on the abortion ones. The way Christians have been acting lately you would think that two people who love eachother (but happen to be the same gender) getting married is way worse than doctors killing children.

    “The fashionable view has no concern with the rights of the Creator, it has no relationship to any moral law. Rather, it is an exercise of self-will. This is a counterfeit version unknown to previous centuries of Christianity.”

    I hear this a lot, atheists tend to tell their children that ‘if they think about it they should be able to work out for themselves what is right and wrong’. Since, as we all know, social morality is just programmed right into children who are total saints from birth and don’t need any kind of coaching….. To be honest the whole idea that morality is inherent seems like just another part of the secular obsession with doing (what they think is) the opposite of whatever the RC Church does or believes.

    • St.Joseph says:

      It is not a case of ‘Marriage or Abortion’,
      As Christians we have a duty to do what is right with our conscience even if we do not succeed.

  3. claret says:

    I have never quite understood how dropping opposition the one issue suddenly frees up the time and commitment that can be given to another issue. How does our conscience help us decide which to abandon and which to hold true ?
    We are not a ‘pick and mix’ religion. Some issues perhaps come more easily to us to us, as they directly contravene the ten commandments or are derived from them . (Derivations leading to same gender marriage and abortion both being a case in point.)
    It is the old moral maze again. Our Catholic teaching , based on the ten commandments should prevent us from stealing, but what of the person who has nothing to eat for themselves or their family to survive, through no fault of their own. Would the theft of food be a sin ?

    • John Candido says:

      No, it would not be stealing in God’s eyes. However, it would be stealing as far as the law was concerned. The concepts of objective morality and subjective morality would apply here.

      • St.Joseph says:

        One could ask the Law why is a person hungry?
        When so much food is wasted and thrown away.
        In to days age is it possible to starve in Western countries.? One of the Beatitudes is to
        ‘Feed the hungry’. We ought always to look at the cause. Conscience plays a big part in this and responsibility
        You have a nice smile John!!

      • Nektarios says:

        Now your into situational ethics – a minefield if ever there was one!

  4. Singalong says:

    St. Thomas More is a very good example of what can, and has happened many times, “I die the King`s good servant, but God`s first.” Punishment in this country in times to come will probably be the lesser penalties also used in his time, loss of employment and status, imprisonment and fines, but in Nazi Germany, Soviet countries, as well as in missionary countries across the world, and over the centuries, the ultimate price has been paid by countless martyrs. We had the feast of St. Charles Luwanga and his companions last Monday.

  5. Singalong says:

    Of course, many people pay the price of conscience to the State, without any direct reference to Papal authority, guest house owners have been in the news, people who want to wear crosses, nurses who refuse to take part in abortions. A higher profile case is Tim Loughton MP, who has been demoted from his position as Minister for Children because of his opposition to same sex “marriage.” It remains to be seen if he and others will be deselected from their constituencies before the next general election.

    • Nektarios says:

      It has been said, `Conscience is God’s monitor on the soul, warning us when we are in moral danger’.
      The fallen state of our nature, unless we are born again, our conscience is seldom listened to. Our conscience, has become, one not of God so much as some think, but a matter of conditioning and influences by others religious, the state, secularism,
      education, philosophical, and by family and friends.
      LIstening, hearing and acting upon such a so-called conscience is one borne out of fear,
      but not the fear of God, but of man.
      Conscience placed within the heart by God, is there for two particular reasons. 1. Ones direct relationship with God. 2. Ones direct relationship with each other.

      It’s a neat passing the buck to say, What the Church teaches, or what the Pope ponticates on regarding our conscience – it or they speak for God – really? But we have to hear our conscience without fear, only then can we truly act, otherwise one is just reacting to what someone or some institution or group says , and reaction of this sort is always wrong and leads to sorrow and emotional pain.

  6. Vincent says:

    There is an issue here I think that we ought to consider, When we employ our conscience we are making a (necessarily) subjective judgement of an objective truth. A common example is the matter of abortion. It seems obvious to me that, although many abortions occur for wicked reasons, some at least occur because the mother really believes that it is the right thing to do. So she correctly follows her conscience. (Compare what Newman says about it sometimes being obligatory for a heretic not to hear the true Church.)

    But the baby is still dead. In other words the objective evil of the loss of an innocent life created by God has occurred.

    This reinforces the importance of finding out the objective truth. While the Church’s moral teaching must not overrule our conscience, I think we can be sure that any Catholic who does not treat this teaching with great seriousness will not be able to hide behind his conscience.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I think Cardinal Newman was being rather clever with his comment in as much as he was saying his conscience was in line with the popes. It was ‘informed’ by the Magisterium!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Vincent so true. Jesus’ last prayer to His Father- ‘May we all be one.
      We must pray too for unity in the ‘Spirit of Truth. God’s Will be done not mine. Like what He did for us- His Fathers Will.

    • Nektarios says:

      It is really not very intelligent to keep banging on that the RCC is the One True Church
      and that St. Peter was the first Pope He was not a Pope as such at as invisaged by the RCC nor was that the way the early churches were set up.
      My experience of religious people, as far as their particular denomination goes, and the RCC is one among many, concerning what their church says about conscience, in practice, they accept what they want and the ignore what they feel guilty about.

      As usual, we are getting bogged down with issues of conscience rather than, what is conscience?, Why did God give us a conscience? What is a totally distracted, secularly brought up, religiously biased and conditioned person in a state of fear supposed to do?How are they able to exercise a clean or clear conscience?. It is possible, it has to be, otherwise God could not judge us, no more than he would judge a fish or a worm. For without conscience, or a seered conscience, man is not living up to being a human being made in the image of God, but descending to the level of a beast.

      • St.Joseph says:

        It may not be for very intelligent for you-but to me it is the Faith of the RCC.
        And I will remind you that this blog is about Faith and Science.!
        I will show you my faith- you show me your proof!

    • John Candido says:

      Correctly reasoned Vincent!

  7. claret says:

    Again we seem unable to escape the ‘case in point’ when debating issues. Vincent gives an example of how a woman may have an abortion in all good conscience ( although I remain confused as to whether he is of the opinion that excuses what she has done or not.)
    In any event a sin committed in good conscience remains a sin, or does it?
    Six million Jews were murdered in WW2. The perpetrators apparently acted in good conscience. I have not seen any figures but I think it a fair assumption that most women who have an abortion do so in good conscience. The figures for the killing of unborn children are incalculable as they are so great.

    • St.Joseph says:

      That is why we have to have guide lines and not leave it to our own conscience to decide what is right and wrong, not what is right for me.
      Until we die to sin and do as St Paul say’s ‘It is not I that live now- but Christ that lives in me! Or words to that effect!

    • Vincent says:

      Oh dear, Claret, I have failed to make myself clear. The mother has done something which is very wrong, but she is not guilty of sin if she had genuinely concluded that the abortion was the right thing to do. (If you prefer to say that she committed a sin but wasn’t guilty of it, that is just another, but perhaps less precise, way of saying the same thing.) Her ‘guiltless’ wrong nevertheless had consequences.

      We cannot of course judge the Nazis’ degree of guilt. That is God’s job. But to escape guilt they must really have looked deep into their own hearts and been convinced that what they were doing was consistent with the love they owed their neighbours. But the practical reality may have been that they had initially sought to improve their country’s lot after World War 1, and the Treaty of Versailles. They may not have realised how deeply they would be drawn into racial hatred. Incidentally we must not shy away from the fact that the Allies shared a good deal of guilt by the stringency of Versailles. A mistake which was fortunately not repeated after WWII.

      • RAHNER says:

        “I have failed to make myself clear……….she is not guilty of sin”
        What exactly are you denying?

      • Vincent says:

        I am doing no more than clarifying something which Claret raises. I think the point I am making is clear.

  8. Nektarios says:

    St. Joseph
    Faith is a gift of God, not a Church institution.
    I have faith and I have works to to back up my faith….
    for as you well know from Scripture, `faith without works is dead.’
    But we also know that Salvation is not one of works, lest any man should boast….
    so, St. Joseph, what do these works consist of?

  9. St.Joseph says:

    You seem perturbed by my reply’s to you-so as you asked me a question and you will not look it up in the CCC,and out of politeness I will answer it.

    You say ‘Salvation is not one of works lest any man should boast What. are these good works’?
    My reply to you is what Jesus told the rich young man-and the young man then asked Him what he should do to gain Eternal Life, he was told to give up every thing he owned and follow ME.
    There is no need to tell you what that all means.

  10. Singalong says:

    St. Joseph, I think that Our Lord`s reply to the rich young man is a counsel of perfection rather than a commandment, and does not bind the conscience in the same way, but I wonder if his refusal to accept Our Lord`s invitation still weighed on his conscience to some extent for the rest of his life?

    • St.Joseph says:

      The first answer Jesus gave was to keep the Commandments .
      We are not bound to give up everything and follow Him ,so the young man may not have had it on his conscience. I think Jesus was asking him to be an Apostle-probably the future Priesthood. Which I presume would be easier to find Eternal Life.
      Just my thoughts!

      • St.Joseph says:

        I mean sacrificing our lives for the sake of the Kingdom.
        It shows to me how much of a responsibility the Holy Priesthood has to the laity.

  11. mike Horsnall says:

    You will find what I think you are looking for in the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’.”

    I have by now worked my way through quite a lot of the CCC and it is a beautiful book. I think, particularly for non catholics wishing to engage catholics in discussions of doctrine-such as the relationship of reason to faith or the relationship between the individual and the church-those people would do very well to pick up a copy of say Michael Sheehams Apologetics and Catholic doctrine or any other such tome and work through it slowly and thoughtfully over time. Otherwise there will only ensue misunderstanding after misunderstanding. For example the notion that the human reason is fallen and therefore useless for reaching out to God is completely alien to catholic thought and belief as is the line that ‘thought’ alone cannot proceed to or comprehend spiritual truths. There is little point in engaging with someone from a different tribe if you cannot speak their language at least a bit and are not prepared to make the attempt. Catholic thinking ,worship and belief is an integrated thing worked out over thousands of years of men and women seeking after God in an organic manner-it is not ‘passing the buck’ to join in with that living tradition of enquiry and accept its findings to the degree that one is able.Far more suspect is to simply ignore the treasure house of riches which is available then go and grub for pennies where one can simply because one cannot persuade oneself to sit still and listen long enough to value what is given.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike I was not suggesting that Nektarios would be converted to Catholicism by reading the CCC. Only the question he asked me!.
      I agree with your comment though.

    • Nektarios says:

      St Joseph,
      I am not preturbed really, just did not wish to get emroilled in arguments about the CCC.
      I went through Catechism 46 years ago.
      I refer us to Scripture: where we are told, ` This is your work, to believe on Him whom He has sent’.
      In otherwords, works of faith may include good works, a clear conscience and a Christian morality, but that is not the principle of works of faith.
      I am not justified by good works nor by a clear conscience nor by a Christian morality, but by believing on Him whom God the Father has sent. Then I have His righteousness imputed to me, for a truth, I have none of my own. And all the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection are communicated.
      To believe on Him is part of the gift of faith, puts us into relationship with him and Him to us.
      We also have the Comforter, the Holy Ghost to impart God’s Salvation in Christ to us.
      I don’t think you will find anything there to disagree with? So are we agreed?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you, yes.

      • Vincent says:

        Nektarios, you are of course giving a brief description, but I think that for clarity we should add that the effect of grace arising from out identification with Christ makes us truly good, and our works also. The version that somehow Christ’s merits give us a kind of whitewash of holiness — although we still stay mucky underneath, is essentially a novelty that Protestantism brought in at the Reformation.

      • tyke says:


        Our identification with Christ does not make us truly good because we remain fallible humans.

        It does make us truly saved because Christ died for us when we will still sinners. Grace shows that God continues to love us even though we are not (yet) truly good. Which should encourage us to make more efforts, even though true goodness is itself a grace –a free gift of God– and so outside of our unaided reach.

      • Vincent says:

        Ah Tyke! A misunderstanding I think. I didn’t intend to suggest that grace makes us altogether good but that the actions which we do through grace are truly meritorious. This contrasts (and I am back in an old controversy) with the Protestant idea that we remain corrupted by original sin but that this is, so to speak, overlooked because of Christ’s merits.

      • tyke says:

        I wasn’t criticising so much as being plain ‘picky’. Sorry!

    • Nektarios says:

      Mike Horsnall
      I agree with most things you say in your posting, but believe me when I tell you
      I am more connected to Catholic docrines etc than you may suppose.

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Then demonstrate this ‘connectedness’ a little in your discussions.

      • Nektarios says:

        Clarify for me, what you men by identification with Christ,please? This is not an easy question to asnswer, as one may at first superficially think.

  12. ionzone says:

    St.Joseph, as far as I’m aware it has been at least a year, if not much longer, since the prolife times carried a front-page piece on abortion and I have never seen the Catholic Herald or any other Christian paper give abortion a bigger billing than homosexuality. I have heard my priest speak out against gay marriage at least twice in recent times but not for three or four years have I heard a word about abortion. As far as I can tell, generally, this is seen as the bigger issue. Regardless of what you actually think of gays there really needs to be some examining of priorities.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I don’t read the pro-life times only SPUC’s paper.
      My priest has made a homily on same sex intercourse, also on abortion.
      Cardinal O’Brien, made a statement and was told in a little trouble for what he said by other bishops, I think the Archbishop!I believe he was ‘set up’
      I don’t read daily papers either Catholic or not, buy the Mail for my neighbour every morning, the headlines put me off!
      I don’t have anything against homosexuals only their sexual relationship, which is not always perfect with heterosexuals..
      I am against same sex marriage , all married couples ought to be too it is an encroachment on something Sacred. Civil partnership, up to them.

  13. claret says:

    This post topic is not about same gender marriage or abortion as its main thrust but only as so far as it imputes on conscience, but as the matter has been raised in this debate it needs to be stated that the Catholic Church cannot just give up on same gender marriage and dismiss it as no longer a ‘priority.’
    It really should have been spelt out that the Catholic Church can NEVER countenance same gender marriage. No pope , college of cardinals, or meeting of Bishops has the authority to in any way to have the Church agree to same gender marriage. It will therefore inevitably come to pass that there will come a time, not too far away, when there will be no ‘approved’ weddings in Catholic Churches in those countries that have passed laws approving of same gender marriage.

  14. Nektarios says:

    Mike Horsnall
    I did say I was more connected to Catholic doctrine…..
    but I am not Roman Catholic, but Orthodox from a catholic point of view.
    Please refrain from being bossy with me, being rude does not suit you and does nothing
    to further discussion.

  15. Nektarios says:

    Please forgive me for asking you to define what you meant by identification.
    It would take too long to discusss it here and I don’t really feel it is worth going into at the moment with you. Please disregard it. Thank you.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I an interested to know which ‘Catechism’ you went through 46 years ago?

      • Nektarios says:

        St Joseph
        46 years ago I went through the Westminster Catechism. Since then, the source documents of the Orthodox Church and the RCC ones, well some of them, it would take a lifetime to go through everything, and the Christian life is not all about argumment and reading books, important though that is. Balance is the watchword when it comes to reading.

  16. John Candido says:

    ‘And, to take it to the logical conclusion, how can the pope’s absolute authority be compatible with the absolute authority of private conscience?’ (Quentin de la Bedoyere)

    There will always be an underlying tension between an authority figure, and its subject. Examples come to mind such as a parent and its child, teacher and pupil, a police officer and a member of the public, a judge and an accused person, an employer and his/her employee, and the authority of the Church and its millions of members.

    There should be a wide-ranging study, by a group of eminent theologians on this very issue. Why does the Pope have to have absolute authority in the post-Vatican II era of international collegiality? Why does the Pope have to have papal infallibility, in an educated age? What is the human conscience and what are the limits of its authority? And finally, regarding the natural and underlying tension between the Church and its members; what is the role of the Church towards all of its members, with regards to the freedom and inviolability of their human consciences?

    My own view is that the freedom of the human conscience reigns supreme, with the Roman Catholic Church having a gentle, guiding, and ‘parental’ role towards any of its members, on any issue before any lay person. This would include hot button issues such as abortion, academic freedom for theologians, homosexual marriage, the entire position of Catholic teaching on sexuality, all issues relating to the LGBTIQ community and euthanasia.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you. The reason why I asked was that in the 60’s 70′ 80′ there were some written which did not have an Imprimatur. Hence the New Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994.
      700 pages . The Holy Father brought out an Compendium to it later.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Candido.
      I hope you don’t think that my conscience is ruled by the Pope.
      If I teach my children the Truth-I don’t want a church that contradicts it!

      • John Candido says:

        Sorry St.Joseph, but as I know you a little bit, it’s probably ruled by the Pope.

  17. St.Joseph says:

    John good thinking, but can you tell me what I believe would be ruled by the Pope.

  18. John Candido says:

    When you say, ‘ruled by the Pope’, what do you exactly mean? Are you talking about Church teaching, i.e. all that is laid out by the teaching authority of the Church’s magisterium? Or do you mean everyday matters, such as your political beliefs, work and business practices, etc. etc.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Ah now you are speaking about a different thing now.
      My political beliefs are my own thinking, based on my moral thinking.
      My moral thinking is based not on the ruling of a Pope, but by my own common sense-by way of example contraception abortion same sex marriage one does not need a Pope to tell us about that.
      There is such a thing as the natural law which should apply to our conscience.
      It is more important that we do not offend the Lord than the Pope.
      I respect the Holy Father his position on authority, but however if he were to change which I felt was going against the Will of God- I would soon tick him off! Without sounding presumptuous -that is my conscience or thinking.
      There are times when we can not always keep to what our conscience tells us is wrong but it does not mean that we should shout about it and try to change things so that we can have a clear conscience.We ought to be humble enough and not expect ourselves to be perfect. God understands. It is when we try to boss God about thinking we know best!!
      I could go on but you may or not be clear about this. Come back to me if you are not.
      BTW I was pleased that the Pope wrote HV that he did not say otherwise just to clear peoples conscience. That is not what Jesus died for!

      • Nektarios says:

        Yes there are many who say they want God among the religious, but only as an advisor.

  19. Jacobi says:

    I agree with you that conscience is about conduct. Newman probably did the Church a disservice in introducing Infallibility, with all it limitations, into this particular argument.

    Dignitatis Humanae declares the Catholic Church to be the one True Church that all are bound to seek truth in the Church, and that conscience is properly formed by the Church. Anyone of good will knowing this, whether schismatic Orthodox or heretical Protestant, or whatever, should in conscience examine and be guided by the teachings and moral decisions of the Church. If they then reject them fair enough. But they had better have a good argument to back this up on Judgement Day.
    Also, non believers aware of the immensity, the degree of design and fine tuning in the universe should also, in all conscience, examine the claims of the Church

    Incidentally, Dignitatis Humanae, full of ambiguities as it is, is a much misunderstood document. I’ve always thought it is primarily about freedom in the face of persecution by “Government”, a word which occurs 18 times in the document. It was written at the height of the Cold War, three years after the Cuban missile crisis, when the Church was being persecuted by Communist regimes, just as it is now being persecuted by Secularist regimes.

    • Nektarios says:

      The idea of infallibility within any man, apart from Christ, did not come in till the late 1800s
      and was a political move.
      Again, the Pope as infallible is also an error, if one says, is infallible when he speaks on Church matters. In truth, not so.
      The teaching and practice as laid down by the St. Paul and the Apostles, your present and past administrative head is simple just the chairman. Go read Romans 12 for yourself. See there, the way it was laid down by the Apostles. See also in Romans 12 the
      place of the believer, those who all had gifts and the place of bishop.
      Lastly, I hope you realize that you are not only going against Scripture by making derogatory remarks about the Orthodox and Protestant Churches who are your Christian brethren, but also against your so-called infallible Popes past and present who, in their lust for dominance and power set up and largely finances the whole Ecumenical Movement since the 1920s. And you speak of others in heresy?

      • Quentin says:

        Nektarios, I think everyone was aware that you and your co-religionists did not accept the primacy of the Pope. But there is really no point in anyone putting forward arguments on this question. If no agreement has been reached after 1000 years, we are unlikely to do so now. We would all find it more valuable to exchange our insights which arise from our different traditions. In a world which is becoming more and more secular we need each other more than ever.

        I do not understand your reference to the Ecumenical movement. In our terms it means the recognition of the value in the other Churches, and a willingness to have constructive dialogue. What do you have in mind?

    • Quentin says:

      In the context Newman was making a clear distinction between the Pope teaching doctrine (infallibility potentially involved) and the Pope giving instructions binding on the members of the Church (no infallibility involved). He was seeking to deal with the old libel — that Catholics would obey the Pope rather than the law, by pointing out that conscience took precedence over obedience to the pope’s commands.
      You may remember the use of the ‘bloody question’ to Catholics after the Pope had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth and relieved Catholics from their loyalty. ‘If the Spanish invade will you fight for them or fight for your Queen?’

      • Nektarios says:


        As to not reaching agreement for around 1000 years, we are unlikely to do so now.
        Well, that is why in the last topic `Get rich quick’ topic, I enclosed a link which was a sermon/lecture on the history of all this and the lessons we can draw from it.
        Regarding the Ecumenical Movement, from an Orthodox point of view, some want it, go along with it, and others within the Orthodox Church are totally against it.
        In the Orthodox Church we have no problem with the Pope being the 1st protos, but that does not mean Primacy over all the other Patriachs.
        When you say Primacy, one is talking in eccleciastic terms, not as the 1st protos, which is a place of honour and a chairman, but the ruler over all the other Patriachs.
        Both are departures from Biblical and Apostolic teaching I am afraid. This has to be faced
        head on by all Christian religious demominations and groups.
        In Christ, we are indeed members one of another and as you say, in a secular world we need each other more than ever.Could not agree more, but not at the price of truth of Apostolic teaching. We have no other authority. I will leave it there.

  20. Jacobi says:


    Reference CCC 2089.

    Any comments on the faith/science aspects ?

  21. Jacobi says:

    Quentin. Yes it is about Papal authority, not infallibility, two very different things, and to what extent that bears on national and political matters. A difficult area, which brings us back to conscience and personal behaviour.
    Would English Catholics have fought the Spanish? Of course they would have. Elizabeth may have been Protestant but she was also sensible and tolerated large parts of the north of England remaining Catholic on that understanding. These areas remained Catholic right up to, well I hope, present day. I know at least one such indigenous Catholic. That was why Charles Edward Stewart marched his army through Lancashire – and why he got little support from the local Catholics.
    Recusant Catholics were tolerated on the understanding that they were loyal in political terms, except the few who tried their hand at regicide, and even that was probably a put up job.

  22. Iona says:

    Nektarios: CCC2089 consists of four definitions:

    Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.
    Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.
    Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith.
    Schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

  23. Iona says:

    Among Orthodox Christians, what happens – or, what would happen – if the Patriarchs did not agree on a matter of faith or morals? This is one problem which can’t arise in the RC Church.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I don’t know, but maybe the decision is made by the majority vote.!
      A democratic church.

    • Vincent says:

      What happens in a Church where a serious and sustained ruling on an aspect of sexual morals such as contraception is not accepted by a majority of its members, including many of its officials?
      Beams and motes?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent a good comment.
        Also what happens where the aspect of morals such as contraception, abortion and same sex marriage ‘is taught’ in a Church?

    • RAHNER says:

      If you think all Cardinals and Bishops agree on matters faith and morals you must be pretty naive.

  24. St.Joseph says:

    Maybe my comment is confusing to some, I will explain a little more.
    The Pope in ‘ Veritatis Splendour made it quite clear that bishops “have a duty, as bishops to be vigilant that the Word of God is faithfully taught”. and had told them that ‘it was part of our pastoral ministry to see to it that the moral teaching is faithfully handed down and to have recourse to appropriate measures to ensure that the faithful are guarded from every doctrine and theory contrary to it’. “As bishops, he told them , ” we have a grave obligation to be personally vigilant that’ sound doctrine’ (Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our Dioceses.

    What happened to’ Humanae Vitae’ ? Thing may have been different if it had!

  25. claret says:

    I lean from John Candido that we now have a LGBTIQ Community. The initials grow almost daily. Only 20 more to go and we will have the full alphabet to ponder on.

  26. claret says:

    Should be ‘Learn’ not ‘Lean’ ( although a second ‘L’ for ‘lean ‘ might prove to be a useful addition.)

  27. Iona says:

    Claret – I had to google it! – I knew about the LGBT but not the IQ. I = intersex and Q=questioning.

    • John Candido says:

      LGBTIQ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex & Queer or Questioning.

      For a brief discussion about the politics of parts of the acronym, go to,—.html

      • St.Joseph says:

        Interesting enough is a story line in Corination St whereby a homosexual male has fallen in love with a female! Much to the anger of his homosexual friends who believe that he is letting them down, he is adamant he is gay but happens to have fallen in love with a woman instead of a man.
        If a gay man can fall in love with a heterosexual male, why should it bother them if he falls in love with a women.
        I was reading some research into the causes of homosexuality, and there is many a reason.
        This brings me to the question if they do find it is hormonal etc and could be put right, as the research into downs syndrome, what argument would that be. After all homosexual male must want children-so for the future it would be more in line with Gods Creation to have them naturally with the person they love and their eggs where the children will be both their own ,not someone else’s .
        I don’t have a conscience in saying all this! Before maybe someone argues the situation.
        Its all for good and surely homosexuals would appreciate it.
        Why would they not?

  28. John Candido says:

    ‘After all homosexual male must want children-so for the future it would be more in line with God’s Creation to have them naturally with the person they love and their eggs where the children will be both their own, not someone else’s.’ (St.Joseph)

    There is nothing wrong with homosexuals wanting to be parents. This is an entirely natural desire. However, they are not prepared to somehow become heterosexual, in order to ‘qualify’ for parenthood. All members of the LGBTIQ community have a human right to become parents, without the need to ‘flip’, change or evolve to a heterosexual sexuality, as a prerequisite for parenthood. A rigorous program of assessment for their suitability for adoption, which ignores their sexuality, and recognises their natural and human right to adopting children, is what is required. Nothing more and nothing less, is required.

    All LGBTIQ people would object to anyone saying that they are unnatural and in need of either medical or non-medical therapy, to become approved members of the community. Finally, it is not hormonal but genetic differences that determine if one is homosexual or heterosexual. Not being medically or scientifically trained, my guess is that the human genome of a person, who is homosexual, is what leads to any hormonal events in their body consistent with homosexuality. Again, I am not sure if there is a homosexual hormone or set of hormones, that are concomitant with the state of being homosexual.

    Here is a good reference source on the subject,

    • St.Joseph says:

      John there are many sites that have different answers. Also many homosexuals who would like to have their own children ‘naturally’. And who belong to an organisation who help them to cope with their orientation.
      We discuss equal rights so many times- so why not the rights to have their own children from the person they are in love with. I am not speaking about adoption a couple make them their own and thank God there are those willing to do that, and there are those who will go to extremes to have children of their own. There is on going research on that
      There is so much research going on to day so why not on homosexuality where there are those who would welcome it! Equal rights must apply to all not just one issue for homosexuals!

    • RAHNER says:

      “All members of the LGBTIQ community have a human right to become parents,”
      Including, for example, two ninety five year old lesbians?
      Do you ever actually THINK before you post on this blog????

      • St.Joseph says:

        It shows me Rahner, that you don’t read comments clearly.
        Did I say that Homosexuals don’t have a right to become parents.What I said is that there are homosexuals especially Christians who have a conscience,( do you know what that is)-who do not want to go against theirs The Law doesn’t give a Christian who believes in what the church teaches about homosexual sex. or any sex outside marriage.
        So they have a right for research to be carried out to find an answer.
        Don’t muddy the waters I made it quite clear and if you do not understand it you have a problem.
        Practicing homosexuals have equal rights if it passes so should those who wish to love a female and have children in line with their conscience.
        You can not have it all one sided! What is good for the goose is good for the gander!!!

      • St.Joseph says:

        P.S I don’t need insults Rahner it is unbecoming.

      • John Candido says:

        When are you going to post something longer than one or two sentences Rahner?

      • John Candido says:

        Do you actually read what I say Rhaner?

      • tyke says:

        My first reaction is to ask what _right_ anyone, homo- or heterosexual, has to become a parent? Are children really just another commodity to be acquired?

        I believe that most Christian Churches would consider parenthood to be a gift. Not being a parent is in no way a punishment, although for many couples, both homo- and heterosexual, it is certainly very painful.

        And if we rally want to talk about rights, what about the rights of the child? What will happen to the child of your two ninety-five year-old lesbians in five, ten years time?

  29. Iona says:

    John C. – neither “I” nor “Q” is discussed in your Law Professors link above, which is a disappointment as those are the ones I am puzzled about. Especially “Q” which apparently can stand for either “questioning” or “queer” – which seem to me to be very different things.

    Back in the 1950s / 60s, “queer” seemed to be used as an informal and somewhat derogatory term for “homosexual” (along with terms like pansy, poof and fairy), but more recently it seems to have been adopted by some individuals or groups as referring to a cluster of attributes, on the whole interesting and even attractive, having not much in common except being out of the way and unusual.

    • John Candido says:

      There is a very good summary of the meaning of various terms in this acronym in this online link from the United States,

      Under the heading of Questioning, we have this easy and simple explanation. I hope it is of assistance to everyone.

      ‘When a person is in the process of exploring their sexual orientation, they may choose to identify as Questioning. Whether done consciously or not, this process is a healthy part of understanding one’s own sexual orientation. Typically, this happens during early puberty, but can happen at any time during a person’s life.’

  30. RAHNER says:

    My comment at 3:44 was directed at Candido. I quoted from HIS remarks.
    St Joseph – Do you ever actually READ before you post on this blog??

    • St.Joseph says:

      It would be better if you had posted it to John. As you know replies don’t always go where they should.
      Perhaps John will reply to you then
      I would like to know from you what exactly you are referring to with your 2 insults. If you can.!!
      Manners maketh the man.!

  31. momangelica says:

    I heard an interesting thing last week from a friend who told me about a priest who worked among HIV patients abroad, the priest told him that when the patients are near to death they all admit to the very moment when they ‘chose’ to indulge in homosexual activity. They knew the very moment that they ‘fell into sin’. I think it is wonderful that we have priests and the Sacrament of Penance and lovely to think that the ‘sinner’ can find forgiveness and be assured of Heaven (even if it is deferred for a while from a little spell in purgatory)

  32. Iona says:

    Being homosexual and choosing to engage in homosexual activity are two different things.

    • John Candido says:

      They need to be one though, for the sake of their mental health.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John it is difficult if one is a Christian to be ‘one’ as you say.
        I know it is not like abortion however it is still what we believe in.
        There is a great void between the secular and religious as much as we love the sinner we must follow our conscience in what we believe in.
        No matter what the law says it wont make it right. It is not what the Church teaches we love all those who are not with us.
        Because we don’t accept it that does not make us homophobic.
        If the law says it is marriage it wont make a bit of difference to those who are ‘it will only make things worse because it will never go away. If that is what the Prime Minister thinks
        he is in for a surprise. He ought to have been wise and let it stay at civil partnerships. But maybe he would not have got his votes or his money!

  33. Iona says:

    John C – are you seriously saying that if someone who is homosexual does not engage in homosexual practices then his (or her) mental health will suffer?
    If so, do you think the same of heterosexuals?

  34. tim says:

    Is there a human right to talk nonsense? Probably – but that doesn’t mean we should encourage it. Apologies if I am getting off-topic.

  35. Mike Horsnall says:

    Goodness I´m glad I´m on holiday! On the way to Santiago where happily I don´t often get the internet!!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike that goes for you too!
      It would interest me what you meant.
      Honesty is the best policy when we are able to say what we ‘mean’ to those who don’t understand;.

  36. mike Horsnall says:

    Pay no attention to me St Joseph I´m only chipping in to show off the fact that I´m happily on my way to Santiago de Compostella wiv de pilgrims and far away from normal cares except for this posh hostel here which has internet access- just donning my boots for the last 12K to Santiago hopefully in time for the 11am Mass…Hasta luego!!

  37. Mike Horsnall says:

    No I didnt..I remembered you all just before the pilgrims mass in the cathedral at the end….not sure who gets the indulgences though!

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