Claire Chretien

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Cardinal Donald Wuerl (right) concelebrates Mass with other U.S. bishops Claire Chretien / LifeSiteNews

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U.S. bishop: If ‘conscience’ alone determines access to Communion, why not Holy Orders too?

Claire Chretien Claire Chretien Follow Claire

March 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Can anyone receive the Catholic Church’s Sacraments, such as Holy Orders, provided he feels it’s the “right” thing to do, something done in "good conscience"?

Bishop Thomas Tobin is asking that timely question, which would have seemed ridiculous just a few years ago. (Bishop Tobin, of Rhode Island, is not to be confused with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, of “nighty-night, baby. I love you” fame.)

Bishop Tobin’s questions, which point out the flawed reasoning behind lefty prelates’ waxing and waning over basic Catholic teaching, come at the same time as Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich is celebrating D.C.’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s new pastoral plan on Amoris Laetitia because of its “masterful...treatment of conscience.”

In Sharing the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family: A Pastoral Plan to Implement Amoris Laetitia, Wuerl wrote:

Priests are called to respect the decisions made in conscience by individuals who act in good faith since no one can enter the soul of another and make that judgment for them. As Pope Francis teaches, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL, 37).

This slippery passage suggests that if someone living in an objective state of serious sin feels that according to his “conscience,” he may receive Holy Communion, then priests should respect that.

(Another troubling aspect of Cardinal Wuerl’s pastoral plan is that the archdiocesan webpage on Amoris Laetitia recommends Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s squishy take on the exhortation. Lest anyone think Wuerl and Cupich are completely aligned, though, remember that at a June 2017 meeting, Wuerl defended continuing the U.S. bishops' pro-religious liberty efforts while Cupich questioned them.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act” (CCC 1796). Cardinal Wuerl acknowledges this in his document.

The Catechism also says:

Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (CCC 1783)

Bishop Tobin’s question raises an important point: if “conscience” (possibly poorly-formed) is the only criterion for reception of Holy Communion, why not apply that same reasoning to other Sacraments?

What if my “conscience” tells me I should be “ordained” a bishop even though I’m a woman? And that determination is made “in good faith”? Should Church authorities be able to block me?

What if someone, on his deathbed, feels “in good faith” that the work he’s done aborting tens of thousands of babies throughout his life was done in “conscience” and won’t repent? Should a priest still give him the Last Rites?

A properly formed conscience is an important part of the life of every Catholic striving to live the faith. But the Church’s teachings, not subjective feelings, determine if a conscience is properly formed.

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Claire Chretien

Claire is grateful for the opportunity to write about human dignity, bioethics, faith, and related issues for LifeSiteNews as a journalist and Washington, DC Correspondent. She became involved in pro-life activism while a student at The University of Alabama, where she served as the President of Bama Students for Life and directed 40 Days for Life campaigns.