The First Judgement

“Who am I to judge?” I see that Pope Francis’s remark in the matter of a homosexual person has entered into our discussions. It is interesting to think about the deeper background which could throw light on some of the issues. Over the lifetime of most us there has been a gradual development within the Church’s pastoral approach. It has by no means been acceptable to all,

A current example has been the judgments which are made about people who, following a failed sacramental marriage, have entered a new, non-sacramental marriage. The traditional view claims that such a person has adopted a life of mortally sinful adultery. And so it follows that they cannot be full members of the Church and therefore cannot receive Communion because they have spurned ‘communion’ by their continued choice. The newer view would say that we cannot make such a simplistic judgment. Objectively the situation has involved something seriously wrong, but we do not know the circumstances. It may well be that the potential sinner has made the best decisions he can, and now lives in a situation where he or she sees that the successful continuance of the second marriage is necessary for all the people involved. Are we to cut off the grace which is needed to carry that through?

Similarly, thinking of our recent discussion on abortion, we cannot say that any particular individual choosing abortion is on the high road to Hell. They may genuinely believe that it is the right thing to do, or they might be so frightened by the situation that they cannot make a free choice. We are talking about a decision serious enough to be grounds for mortal sin, but not about the actual guilt of the chooser.

Homosexuality may give rise to a similar parting of the ways. We have no difficulty is recognising the mismatch between gender and sexual expression, but does it follow that every particular case is sinful? What does the moral choice look like to the person who has a strong homosexual temperament and could not emotionally sustain heterosexual coition? He or she might, for all we know, find goodness and love in a homosexual relationship. Are we, who may not have such tendencies, entitled to make a moral judgment for that person?

In my time as a marriage counsellor I met several clients who were intent on choices with which I disagreed. But my job was not to tell them their fortunes, it was to help them to think through the issues involved. I was in fact leading them through their examination of conscience. If, however, they ended up with the ‘wrong’ decision I had to respect that. To attempt to push them into a different decision (perhaps by my authority or my greater skills in argument) would have been an attempt to violate their consciences.

The tension in such and similar cases, appears to be between the moral law as taught by the Church and the conscience of the individual. Perhaps we feel that either of these can be taken too far. In one direction we could end up in a merciless clamp of legalism: the other could lead to a moral slackness born from our inherent tendency to find excuses for anything we really want to do.

And where does love come in?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to The First Judgement

  1. Horace says:

    I was brought up yp believe that the most important rule of behaviour was to obey properly constituted authority.
    My father was an Anglo-Irish Protestant but he knew that Catholics were obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. He would therefore insist that my Mother and I attend Mass on such occasions unless prevented by some valid reason, such as significant illness or the exigencies of travel.
    Similarly he arranged that I should be educated at a Catholic (Jesuit) school.
    This inbred discipline makes it difficult for me to understand Quentin’s “merciless clamp of legalism”.

    On the other hand I instinctively concur with “conscience” as “leading to a moral slackness born from our inherent tendency to find excuses for anything we really want to do”.

    And then “where does love come in?”. Well in “Amoris Laetitia” we find “The word ‘love’, however, is commonly used and often misused.” but obedience is surely a proper manifestation of “love”.

  2. Quentin says:

    I notice that discussion is continuing on the matter of abortion. My hope is that we move on from this one issue and look more generally at the relationship between conscience and the moral law as presented to us by the Church. It’s an important subject in its own right. Horace has started us off.

  3. G.D. says:

    “In one direction we could end up in a merciless clamp of legalism: the other could lead to a moral slackness born from our inherent tendency to find excuses for anything we really want to do.

    And where does love come in?” ………….. Slap bang in the middle of the two extremes.
    Doing away with the necessity for either, eventually, uniting them into a third way of living what is ‘correct’. Namely, that Love Itself .

    The interplay between objective external teachings and/or subjective internal choices (neither of which is perfect or complete) will guide to the embracing of that love.

    People seem to hold fast one or the other because it’s less painful, less demanding and easier than seeking unity beyond either or both. ( That goes for any ‘extreme opposites’ and so called ‘paradoxes’ ).
    Embracing both, and letting both go, enables the Spirit (Itself) to produce a life that sincerely seeks the ‘right & just’. And eventually lives that life. Be it before or after death.

  4. Brendan says:

    There is some truth in what G.D. is saying , in that while embracing ” extreme opposites ” – seemingly ‘ objective ‘ moral on Church Teaching and realising at the same time that differing circumstances allow for ‘ subjective ‘ appraisal with opposite conclusions – only results in having two ‘ consciences ‘. Off course this is absurd. Human beings are not in exact proportion when it comes to finding unanimous agreement . If it was down to the just The Holy Spirit …. why is Christianity broken and Protestant Christianity ( and why might add Orthodoxy ) broken into a myriad shards of their own exclusive ‘ truth .’
    A a Catholic , all my life through the ‘ batterings ‘ of conscience in and out of ‘ objective ‘ and ‘subjective ‘ truth – one thing stands out….. The Truth of The Catholic Faith . Love is in persevering in this truth in season and out of season and presenting it to others who would listen.
    In our perplexing mixed up world ( painfully reflected in Church affairs at present ) and in my human weakness , occasional own ; I find strength in this quote I found from a Catholic lawyer , Anthony Hofler :-
    ” The Catholic Church possesses, uniquely in this world , the authority of Christ. Therefore its doctrinal and moral teachings are intrinsically supreme among religions , and are the standard by which truth is to be distinguished from error. That needs to be stated regularly to counteract the damage from ‘ members ‘ who dispute it openly or undermine it by waffle or silence , compounded by ecumenical or inter-faith vagueness , the surrounding secular atmosphere of pseudo-tolerance , and the predictable , intrinsically-hypocritical condemnation of ‘ judgmentalism ‘.

  5. galerimo says:

    Thanks Quentin – another good old chestnut this one.

    In our Protestant and Catholic traditions we have done much to reduce Christian discipleship to morality. There are always going to be more exceptions than good fits to rules and a lot of what goes for conscience is pure rationalised bias.

    In his Seventh Homily on 1 John, St Augustine gives his famous pastoral advice, “Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt.” and just what Jesus said – to anyone with ears to hear.

    When I hear “Who am I to judge” I hear a lot of exhaustion from engagement with this morality tennis match. Maybe someone should plonk a little child in our midst or give us a rerun of the Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

    I’m not denying the need to distinguish right from wrong but it is a very early stage in the spiritual life and when people get stuck there sometimes quite wilfully they can spin off into a whole galaxy of rules to keep for comfort sake instead of moving into the journey of growing responsibly in the love Jesus offers.

    A great arena this morality is for sheer thugs and bullies.

    Can we as a Church have a great light on Jesus for a change – maybe Vatican III can move us into recovery mode.

    In light of all the wonders of our new technologies, grass roots movements toward liberation, Feminist thinking, Environmental engagement, openness and dialogue with other Religions – in light of these few among many of the signs of our times we might do the work of our own age at such a gathering and open up for ourselves in our time what meaning Jesus is offering us. There’s bound to be an answer there.

    • twr57 says:

      Well, maybe -up to a point?
      Several things need to be clarified before knowing what to say about this. For example, when you say ‘ lot of what goes for conscience is pure rationalised bias’ , give us examples of what you have in mind.
      And I’m all for engaging with other religions (environmentalism, for example) provided this means bringing out their truths that we have neglected or underemphasised, rather than ignoring their mistakes.

      • galerimo says:

        Yes twr57 as you say dialogue is the basis for such engagement (with other religions).

        The Examples you ask for are all too easy to bring to mind.

        For example I might leave the Catholic church because my conscience tells me that Infallibility is wrong but I could be rationalising a personal bias I have against any form of authority.

        Or I might claim that my conscience demands that I speak out against abortion but I could be acting out of a deep seated misogyny and simply rationalising this bias to disguise my contempt as “God’s Will for me to speak out”.

        Or my bias against homosexuals might be paraded as my conscience telling me that same sex marriage goes against my religion – even though I don’t accept the basic tenets of charity that my religion requires. Religion can provide a handy way of masking my homophobia.

        There are millions of ways that we can easily deceive ourselves when we say that we act according to our consciences – I like to think of Becket’s famous line from Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”.

        “The last temptation is the greatest treason to do the right thing for the wrong reason”

        or in this case the wrong thing disguised by the right reason – or conscience as rationalised bias.

  6. G.D. says:

    This post may seem off topic but …… The Way between objective moral teachings & subjective morality ………

    Did not Jesus himself come to a realization that the faith of the ‘pagan’ centurion was greater than the faith of those in ‘Israel’? … And similar incidences in the Bible?
    He didn’t ‘preach’ the law or the morality of his time, he gazed with the eyes of love at all he met and related with that love. Sometimes ‘hard love’ to many no doubt. And was crucified for it!

    Was it not, through many long (and painful?) ‘nights’ in prayer acceptance of that Love that enabled him (as man) to let go of his own subjective and cultural (status quo) situation to fulfill the Christ he was?

    He was a Jewish man brought up, and faithful to, the Truth of his religion. And, yet continually went beyond the limits of the ‘law’ and status quo to love, to forgive, and heal. Without betraying the Truth contained within that Love he’d embraced.
    Are we not all duty bound as members of Christ’s body to imitate that?

    Relating to the ‘pagan sinner’ and seeing faith etc, gazing with the eyes of love instead of our own ‘truth and conclusions’. We need not betray anything we hold as dear and ‘sacred’, and need not ignore anything that is negative ( sinful ) but we do need, learn to at least …….. Let Go: Let God!

  7. Brendan says:

    … ” Sometimes ‘ hard love ‘ to many no doubt. And was crucified for it ! ”
    That’s the ‘ bottom line ‘ for all who would ..” know the gift of God ” . One has to do and be like Him ( The Christ of the scriptures ). Certainly , Christ showed mercy where he deemed mercy was due. But we are not ‘ Christs.’……at least not yet.
    ” Tough love also recognises that to have one’s will contradicted is an essential part of becoming good in becoming a saint. Desires of the flesh want what they want . But a soul aspiring to serve God must not confuse pleasure with what is morally right and confuse pain with what is morally wrong. If so, this kind of materialism will prevent us from seeing the value of short term sacrifices for long term gains . We sometimes forget that great things are only achieved through sacrifice. [ whatever our ‘ crosses ‘ in life – brought on oneself , or not ] When people cease acting on sound moral principles – which many times require sacrifice – and instead rely on impulses , it is then that the common good is compromised…….To be holy requires that we do tough things .” ( ‘ Tough Love ‘ – Joe Tremblay )

    • St.Joseph says:

      Brendan. ‘to be holy requires that we do tough things Tough Love.
      2359 CCC. .Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they could and gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
      Would that be tough love.

      • Brendan says:

        No St.Joseph . What you have cited is The Church’s ‘prescription ‘ or ‘ antidote ‘ if you like , to the person who fully accepts that his will ( not following Church Teaching) is a contradiction to Church Teaching , which in in the eyes of the ‘ world ‘ may seem cold and unfeeling towards him ; but will if persisted in help him/her to find freedom from the ‘ slavery ‘ to imperfection through to ‘ Christian perfection ‘. Tough love ( wrongly construed by the eyes of our world , not by the ‘ penitent ‘ ) is the inner personal sacrifice that truly leads to this desired state…. through Gods unfathomable mercy.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Brendan thank you.
        More easy for a Christian who loves God and with His Grace can perhaps overcome the temptation to sin with the help of prayer, also the organisation that gives them support.
        Their name I can’t think of for the moment.
        When it comes to a second marriage for a male and female-perhaps I can understand what Quentin described in his post above.
        Especially if the woman has been left with children to support.

    • Alan says:

      Brendan – “But a soul aspiring to serve God must not confuse pleasure with what is morally right and confuse pain with what is morally wrong. If so, this kind of materialism will prevent us from seeing the value of short term sacrifices for long term gains .”

      A kind of materialism that didn’t miss the long term gains of sacrifice would seem more effective then. More generally beneficial than a confused picture which ignored that potential it would seem. Reason enough perhaps for it to exist, compete and at least find some favour.

      I just wanted to suggest that, given the bad press it often gets, that a confused materialistic approach does not necessarily represent its limits/best.

  8. St.Joseph says:

    Pope Francis’s remark ‘Who am I to judge’.
    The Holy Father is head of the Church on earth and chosen perhaps not to judge but to guide .
    If Jesus wanted to give the Apostles the responsibility he would have given them all the power to loose and to bind!
    The words of Pope Francis only gives cause for more confusion within the Church from the highest to the laity.
    Does he mean that we can all now choose what sin is and to lead our lives as we feel fit according to our conscience?

    • Vincent says:

      St J, just for a moment forget the word ‘sin’. Think in terms of whether you think a possible action is good or evil. You will look first at the Church’s moral teaching, and the reasons for it. Remembering that it is authoritative, try to see why the Church is right. But if you sincerely judge that, in the situation in question, it is right for you to do otherwise, then you are obliged to follow your judgment. You must not do something you judge to be wrong whatever the Church may say.
      This is not a modern. progressive teaching. It is clearly stated by Thomas Aquinas — which takes us back to the 13th century.

  9. ignatius says:

    This is what he says he mean’t: From The National Catholic Reporter 10.1. 16
    ROME Interviewing Pope Francis in July, Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli asked the pope how he might act as a confessor to a gay person in light of his now famous remarks in a press conference in 2013, when he asked: “Who am I to judge?”
    Francis’ reply appears in a new book The Name of God is Mercy to be released Tuesday.

    “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” the pope says. “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”

  10. ignatius says:

    This is a thread that could easily descend into vapidity, which is a shame because there is something quite important to think about. What would it be like ‘not to judge’?
    Mostly the phrase ‘ we mustn’t judge’ means that we have already.. but are a bit embarrassed about it and need to justify ourselves. How would it feel ‘not to judge’?

  11. Brendan says:

    St. Joseph – Just to develop the point you have highlighted. The Church ( objectively ) can initiate and develop good and worthy organsiations/movements to meet the needs of its ‘ members ‘ , and as it were hope to ‘ evangelise ‘ society at large ; and in themselves they hold a kernel of truth that will lead to fruition…..of sorts. No one is saying this is easy ( the worlds ‘ tough love ‘ ) , for those of us with a lifelong struggle with sexual ,marital or other mental/psychological social issues ; but subjectively , .. ” for the Christian who loves God ..” there is that ‘ crossing of The Rubicon ‘ from which when fully ‘ imbibed ‘ by the receiver , there is never again a ‘ wanting ‘ to return.
    This is the ‘ promise ‘ given directly by Our Lord in John 4:10 to the Samaritan woman ( initiated through ‘ baptism ‘ ) :-
    ” If you only new what God is offering
    and who it is that is saying to you,
    ‘ Give me something to drink , ‘
    you would have been the one to ask,
    and he would have given you living water.
    ……no one who drinks the water that I shall give him
    will ever be thirsty again:
    the water that I shall give him
    will become in him a spring of water , welling up for eternal life . (NJB)

    St. Paul give lavish testimony to this ( like countless others after him ) through life and action and in his ‘ final ‘ statements …. ” it is not I that live, but Christ who lives sin me (Galatians )…..I have fought the good fight to the end ; I have run the race to the finish ; I have kept the faith….” ( Timothy )

    • St.Joseph says:

      Brendan. Yes you are right.
      Jesus said there is only two Commandments that are necessary , Love the Lord your God with your whole soul and with your whole mind and your neighbour as your self.
      Go and do likewise.
      I take that to mean ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’
      We as Christian’s have a moral duty to inform those who are ignorant of the truth.
      Even if it means dying as Jesus did for the Truth. He is Truth.as he said to Judas!
      If there were enough faith in the world it would set the world on fire.
      We have gone a long way in 2000 years.

    • Brendan says:

      Sorry. replace ‘sin ‘ with of course , ‘ within ‘.

  12. G.D. says:

    Are there not two ‘types’ or ‘ways’ of judging?

    If i am aware of someone acting negatively (sinning) i am duty bound, in love, to take (appropriate) action, after discernment, in whatever way is in my power to do. Be that ‘saying something’ to them, informing others, or only taking a distant stance and praying for them.
    All in and for the love of God, and well being of ALL concerned.
    Then there is a judging where i am CONDEMNING THE PERSON for the ‘sin’. Which isn’t of love.

    The first is challenging, hard and often personally painful; in communion with, and taking on something of the negative from the ‘sin’ to help ‘deal’ with it, WITHOUT RETALIATION.
    The second way i wash my hands of any personal responsibility … taking the moral high ground so to speak, which is easier … it’s all their problem.

    (Judge) Discern the negative and do everything (i am able too) to make it positive yes; but, as Francis said, who am i to judge? (Condemn them?).

    Guess it comes down to the old adage of ‘condemning’ sin not the sinner sinner?

    • G.D. says:

      ‘The second way i wash my hands of any personal responsibility’ .. my Pontius Pilate as St.J points out.

    • Vincent says:

      Pontius Pilate’s problem was that he did not reflect on what was the really right and good thing to do with regard to Jesus. Instead he chose other, superficial, reasons. We can only claim conscience when we have come seriously and humbly to terms with ourselves.It is only then that God speaks to our hearts,

      • G.D. says:

        He did reflect, Vincent. Disturbing dream and all. His questioning of Jesus is part of his reflections. Questioning who he was etc. as I read it with a hint of fear and trepidation. He may even have had an idea who Jesus was.

  13. St.Joseph says:

    G.D
    Yes, also saving a life, which is the most important thing.
    St Padre Pio whose anniversary was the 23 Sept. had the wonderful gift of reading souls.
    One day a lady came to him for Confession, he told her to go up to the hill and pray then come back to him.
    This happened three times, on the third time on the hill a priest appeared to her in a white Habit, she was very frightened, and went back to St Pio to Confession. He told her that he was her son who she aborted many years ago and he was waiting for her to confess.
    Who knows what God has prepared for those babies who were not allowed to live their lives on earth.
    We can not play God!

    • G.D. says:

      Ah, yes, St.J. One of my ‘guardians’ St Pio. Pray to him regularly.

      • G.D. says:

        Maybe the innocents that are killed in such a way are the greatest witnesses to holiness? Who knows how God works in such ways.
        (I’m not justifying or excusing the horrendous act of abortion, i hasten to add!)

      • St.Joseph says:

        G.D. I was a leader of the Padre Pio Group for years. My husband and I went to his Canonisation ,and my late husband had a vision whilst looking at the Crucifix where he received his stigmata, and suddenly he said he was going to become a Catholic and work voluntary for EWTN in the UK which he did so that it would come on SKY TV which it did shortly before he died.My youngest grandson was born on 23rd of Sept, he has a strong love and my family, son as well to St Pio.
        I think I may have told you this, but 2 years ago I was in terrible pain from my Pancreas and liver cancer until I held St Pio’s Mitten on my stomach, thank God I have had no pains since.
        And being told 2 weeks ago nothing more can be done for me-last week the news was different from he Consultant, Thank God He must want me here for a bit longer!

  14. St.Joseph says:

    G.D. Yes maybe so. God speaks to us maybe through the slaughter of innocents, so that we can become holy by defending them and help save the souls of their mothers.
    They need our prayers also to change the immoral law against Gods Will.
    As someone mentioned before. St Mother Teresa who would save babies from the dustbins and look after them said ‘ There will never be peace in the world until there is peace in the womb.
    How can there be.
    We see the holocaust as an extremely wicked thing, how can we sit back and do nothing?
    If we turn our backs we are no better than ‘Herod on the slaughter of the innocents’!

    • G.D. says:

      Many miracles by St Pio! If only there were more of ‘him’!
      Glad you got yours! Good to hear; faith building for all.
      The womb & the world … like peas in a pod!
      Yes, prayer and more prayer …
      Alas too much of a ‘reclusive’ myself to do much else.
      But, it seems that’s where God would have me be.

      • St.Joseph says:

        G.D. Prayer is a wonderful weapon in the war against Satan. The prayer to St Michael he hates.
        If we can do nothing else, we must pray, pray until it hurts.
        As Jesus said .’The least you do for these my little ones you do for me’

  15. Brendan says:

    St. Joseph – Absolutely right ! …” Prayer is a vital necessity ” ..CCC. 2744. Pray everyday, everywhere ; it’s too good to be left to religious people !

  16. Nektarios says:

    I find it interesting, just how quickly we lose sight of who and what we are when it comes to moral stances and the like.
    We forget so often, whom we are speaking with when taking a strong moral stance. But coming to a right understanding when taling to another is very different from talking with others, writing, or posting here on SS blog.

    Quentin will like this link I am send you all by the late and former RC priest, John O’ Donohue.
    It is only 6 minutes or so long full of wise counsel when deal with others and how to deal with oneself. Something here for everyone I am sure.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Nektarios
      Thank you for the video.
      However I don’t know what he was on about. I was just wondering why he is a former priest.
      Perhaps you will explain it to me. As to how I would benefit from his talk.

      • Nektarios says:

        St. Joseph

        Why the late John O’ Donohue gave up the priesthood as such, I don’t really know, but like some down through the centuries, they outgrew the confines of priesthood.
        Like me, perhaps you may have to listen to this several times before it becomes apparent how it relates to you or would benefit you.
        It was part of what was delivered at a symposium of Psychotherapists, though it is not exclusively and just applying to them, but it all of us, in our interactions with one another – or where one is talking to another about abortion, or the faith or about anything really.
        How do we see others, talk to others? How do we see ourselves &c?

  17. G.D. says:

    Thanks for that N. See that as ‘Being free from our own evaluations’. (Delusions!)

    Seeing beyond the ‘assumptions & prejudices’ we all carry with us. About ourselves and the other.
    To hold our habitual way of interpreting in ‘silence’ and letting the Spirit inform our thinking, feelings and imagining.
    In the ‘silencing’ of our own ‘presumptions’ (about self & other) we let God’s Creating, in the present moment (Sacrament of), the Truth of God’s Presence. (As Trinitarian relationship).
    When two people relate like that to each other – there is a third revealed.
    (Reminds me of Martin Bauber’s ‘Ich & Du’ – ‘I & Thou’).

    Sitting in silent meditation (for me at least, it’s not the only way) is the ‘school’ where I ‘learn’ the above – to ‘Let go : Let God’. And ‘allow’ that letting go to guide my ‘Being’ within every action & moment.

    ( Mostly fail miserably of course! But it does bear fruit in the long run.)

  18. St.Joseph says:

    G.D.
    I believe that the CCC 2705 -8 .explains Meditation very well Also CCC 2709-2730 Contemplative.
    prayer.-.
    Of course there is also vocal prayer. Which is also in the CCC 2697The Life of Prayer
    I know the Blessed Trinity is with is at all times, but I find my closeness in the the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
    As St Augustine Of Hippo said, .O late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and new. Late have I loved Thee. My soul doth rest until it rests in Thee.

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