Cardinal Napier: Let Conscience Reign Supreme!

Cardinal Napier: Let Conscience Reign Supreme!

[Following the Jiminy Cricket school of morality: “Always let your conscience be your guide”]

12/17/16

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Who would have thought dispensing with 2,000 years of faith,
law and practice could be so very easy?

Is King Henry VIII owed a huge apology?

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Cardinal Napier publicly states that it is “nearly impossible” for Pope Francis to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the Dubia. The reason stated is that you cannot legislate for the internal forum. Within the internal forum, he contends that God and conscience reign supreme since discernment involves conscience more than law.

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However, Cardinal Napier’s tweet does not do the Dubia justice at all.

Here is why:

Question 2 is asking whether there exist absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and whether these are binding without exception. This has nothing to do, either with the internal forum or with conscience, certainly not subjective conscience unformed by the Church. This is asking a simple question as to whether objective moral norms even exist, whether these norms are binding on all without exception. Basically: Does the moral law exist? Does it apply to all of us?

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Similarly, question 3 follows naturally on from this to ask whether – in all cases – committing adultery is always wrong and gravely sinful. Again, this has nothing to do with the internal forum or the conscience of the would-be communicant. Does the sixth commandment still apply to humanity or is it all relative to each person? This is what is meant by objective situation of grave sin. Does the moral law exist? Does it apply to all of us?

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Likewise, question 4 follows naturally on to ask whether “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility” can ever transform an evil act into a good or defensible act. Again, can intentions or circumstances make an evil choice into a good or excusable one. This is asking: Does the moral law exist? Does it apply to all of us?

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Question 5 is (ironically for Cardinal Napier) asking whether a “creative interpretation” of the role of conscience can ever be used to justify sin or authorize or legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms. Can a creative interpretation of conscience make the violation of the objective moral law justifiable? Does the moral law exist? Does it apply to all of us?

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Only in question 1 of the dubia could it reasonably be argued from perspective of a pastor that it is “nearly impossible” for the Pope to answer due to an appeal to the subjective discernment that may take place in the internal forum and to ‘the supremacy of conscience’ therein. This is the only question that directly concerns not in the first instance the objective moral law only, but the Church’s constant teaching and practice.

The question is directed at a specific situation concerning the divorced and remarried and not to the divorced and remarried generally, but to those divorced and remarried in a new union who are not committed to living in continence and who continue sexual activity in a manner which Christ’s teaching holds to be adultery, thereby violating the sixth commandment in an objective manner. Here, a nuanced attitude of ‘discernment’ and a ‘creative interpretation’ of conscience cannot readily be applied.

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Indeed, it implies a certain discernment that a pastor might make of a couple’s situation as to the repentance (or conversely, its absence) which is required in order for Absolution even to be granted. This, indeed, requires an examination of conscience, informed by the Church’s teaching, for the penitent(s) and an application of the objective moral law and objective moral norms binding on all people, regardless of their subjective situation, to their actions.

Please feel free to correct me, but it is in the light of this that it is asked whether those who ‘continue to live as husband and wife’ may be granted access to the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. It is therefore asked whether the notorious footnote permits unrepentant adulterers with no intention of ceasing gravely sinful activity may henceforth receive both Absolution without repentance and Holy Communion while making no break at all with their sinful activity. Is an unrepentant adulterer in Communion with Christ? Is adultery now sacntioned by the Catholic Church? Does the objective moral law exist? Is it binding on all? My friends, these are not difficult questions – not even question 1 – for Pope Francis to answer. Far from nearly impossible, they are simple. The answers are withheld for reasons known to the Pope, but they have nothing to do with the supremacy of conscience and nothing to do with the internal forum, unless the internal forum is simply to become the Church’s official means of aiding and abetting, or ‘accompanying’ unrepentant adulterers on their journey to eternal perdition.

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Now the idea that the Pope cannot answer these questions because of the supreme role of conscience and the internal forum is shown up for what it is. Complete rubbish! Either Cardinal Napier needs to go back to the seminary or to catechism class or he hasn’t read the dubia and therefore speaks in ignorance of its contents. There is another option, that Cardinal Napier is being dishonest, but I’d rather think that this was not the case. I’d rather he was confused, but this option doesn’t instill me with confidence in the Hierarchy either. Human conscience is bound to the moral law. The moral law is unchanging and its violation is objective, regardless of the subjective situation in which it is either upheld or violated.

Sorry Your Eminence, but there is no good reason – not one – why the Pope cannot answer the dubia, unless he wishes to permit great confusion in the Church for a specific reason, known only to him, or wishes confusion to flourish in order that the Church’s constant teaching and practice may be altered in an underhand manner that is not faithful to the teachings of Christ, Her Founder.

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