[Rough Draft]

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primacy of conscience

read a short article this a.m. (thanks to a tip from relapsed catholic) about australian archbishop george pell's drive to get the r.c. church to drop the "misleading doctrine of the primacy of conscience." another article linked @ the end of the cathnews piece fleshes out the issue somewhat and reveals its complexity. andrew hamilton, sj, wrote in the jesuit mag eureka street:
the archbishop claims that in committing themselves to the catholic church, catholics accept that god’s authoritative guidance about life and belief are given through the church. it is therefore unreasonable to accept that god’s guidance is given through church teaching and simultaneously to appeal to the primacy of conscience to dismiss that teaching.
interesting thoughts in light of calls from a handful of american bishops to deny communion to catholics who support "insert-hot-button-political-issue-here." having been raised a protestant, and now being part of a church that claims for itself the position of the via media, i'm more familiar w/ claims that "truth" is (a) embodied in scripture, (b) interpreted traditionally and (c) expounded by reason, and that this "truth" should be allowed to "stand over" one's individual conscience if conscience urges conduct or belief that contradicts such truth. the entire debate is interesting, however, b/c some of my dearest friends use "conscience," as well as reason, to reach doctrinal positions far different from mine (or, for that matter, orthodoxy), and a relativistic arena isn't well suited for finding "the answer" to questions surrounding, inter alia, women's ordination, international economic policy, (un)just war, and homosexual marriage.

i agree w/ archbishop pell @ least on this: the danger, as he points out, is that "increasingly, even in catholic circles, the appeal to the primacy of conscience is being used to justify what we would like to do rather than to discover what god wants us to do." the fact that evangelicals (presidents or otherwise) also use the bible itself to similar ends doesn't negate the fact that wholesale rejection of traditional doctrine in favor of more modern and enlightened understandings of scripture creates the dual possibilities of great reformation and great apostasy. the jury's still out. but we do well to remember prov. 14.12: there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

kyrie eleison.


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