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Fidelity to the Church: Forming Conscience According to Doctrine Rather than Personal Whim

by Catherine Frakas 05 Jul 2003

Fidelity to the Church: Forming Conscience According to Doctrine Rather than Personal Whim Most Rev. Elden Curtiss Archbishop of Omaha, Nebraska September 30, 2000 My role as teacher of the faith I have a religious and moral obligation as Archbishop of the Church of Northeastern Nebraska to proclaim and teach what the Church teaches about faith and morals. Catholics in this archdiocese have an obligation to accept this teaching if they are to remain in union with me and the Church. Anyone who maintains that I do not have the right and obligation to teach what the Church teaches and to require Catholics to accept and live this teaching is in error about my role as Archbishop and about the right of the Church to teach her members about faith and morals. Elden Francis Curtiss Archbishop of Omaha It was a curious headline for the editorial in the Omaha World-Herald (Aug. 27, 2000) The Cafeteria is Closed regarding my article on abortion which was published in the same edition. The editor made the point that Catholics who pick and choose what they are going to believe and follow or not believe nor follow regarding Church teaching are going to be challenged by me. The fact is they are not only going to be challenged by me but by the Church herself in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and by papal and magisterial documents. Properly formed conscience I am not sure why certain Catholics have the idea that doctrine is up for grabs. This has never been an acceptable position for Catholics in the long history of the Church. Even with the teaching of Vatican Council II about the primacy of conscience, the principle of objective truth is never subverted by subjective opinion. All Catholics have an obligation to form their conscience based on God's revelation and the authoritative teaching of the Church. Otherwise they substitute their own minds and hearts for that of the Church. Some consciences are improperly formed by lack of information, some by misinformation from inadequate or incorrect catechesis, and some by deliberate choice to disregard certain doctrines because they are difficult to accept and follow. No one ever said that it was going to be easy to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. Some people can try to rationalize their dissent from Church teaching by certain subjective arguments, but the issue is whether they can substitute their own authority for that of the Church whether their own minds are supreme regarding faith and morals or whether the apostolic college under the leadership of the pope is the guarantor of religious truth in the world. Just because someone finds a particular doctrine or teaching of the Church difficult to accept or live does not mean that it is wrong or that it does not bind one in conscience. Catholicism would be easy to follow if every teaching was easy to accept and live. It is precisely in her challenge to our basic weaknesses and self-interests that the Church has her greatest strength and appeal to modern people. Our hedonistic culture eventually forces many people to seek a spirituality that is grounded in God's revelation to the human family rather than in human opinion. Degrees of faith and dissent It seems to me that all of us Catholics have to examine, from time to time, the depth of our fidelity to the Church and, conversely, the level of our dissent on certain Church teachings. For an example, it is seriously wrong (mortal sin) for us to deliberately refuse to worship the Father through his son Jesus on the weekend. Do we confess this sin before we approach the altar for holy communion? All mortal sins must be forgiven before we receive the Eucharist. Do we accept this Church teaching and follow it? Do we struggle to live chaste lives as Jesus asks us to do in the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church do we gloss over self-abuse (masturbation)? Do we recognize that fornication outside of marriage is always seriously wrong? Do we accept the fact that adultery for married people not only offends against chastity but seriously sins against the marriage vows? Do we guard ourselves against pornography and all sexually explicit media presentations? Do we accept the Church's teaching about the evil of homosexual acts while continuing to love and protect homosexuals? Do we respect all human life from conception to natural death and do everything we can to protect human life and the quality of life for everyone? Do we do everything we can to help women avoid abortion? Do we do everything we can to change the law supporting the death penalty? Do we do what we can to help eliminate poverty and injustice and discrimination against people? Do we respect other people and show consideration for them even when they are different from us? Do we accept the teaching of the Church about the dignity of all human beings regardless of race or gender or status? Coming to terms with dissent in us I think that many of us are guilty of some dissent against Church teaching at times in our lives when we fail to support the values of the Church in their entirety. The problem is that most of us have our own priorities when it comes to supporting the agenda of the Church. But we have an obligation by our baptisms and confirmations to live all the truths of our faith as best we can. We should want to do the will of Christ because he is our Savior and Lord. We should want to be faithful to the Church he gave us and to the apostolic leadership that he left us in the Church to lead us and to hold us together in unity. When people no longer accept the Church as the Bride of Christ, when people have serious doubts about the ability of the Church to remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus and to her traditions, then they cannot be fully convinced Catholics. This places them in an awkward position of remaining nominally Catholics but not believing Catholics. Sooner or later, if they are honest with themselves, they will either struggle to resolve these dilemmas and the conflicts they are experiencing or they will leave the Church. It is unfair for people who are seriously critical of Church doctrine or official magisterial teaching to continue to call themselves Catholics. To say one is a lapsed Catholic or a recovering Catholic is like calling that person a lapsed American or a recovering American. Either you are Catholic or you are not; either you are an American or you are not. Anyone seriously critical of Catholic doctrine has in fact removed himself or herself from unity with the Church. The Church is not going to conform herself to the demands of a few dissenters who want her to change basic doctrines, dissenters are going to have to conform themselves to the Church in order to remain fully Catholic. Thank God that in this archdiocese there is very little dissent against Church teaching on the part of the vast majority of Catholics. When it comes to doctrine, the Church has never allowed herself to be a cafeteria where people can pick and choose what they want to eat. As admonished by St. Paul, the Church has always presented her members with the solid food of sound doctrine. Fidelity to the Church means forming one's conscience according to the teachings of the Church rather than individual whim. She will continue to do this until the end of time. Used by permission of The Catholic Voice. The Archdiocese of Omaha Serving the Church of Northeast Ne

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