Conscience and Catechism

Pixabay - Rosary Bible

Pixabay - Rosary Bible

The Catechism of the Holy Catholic Church

I recently had two very enlightening conversations on the subject of conscience: one with a teenage girl at CCD, and one with a Jesuit priest in his seventies. The teenage girl told me that she thought that homosexuality was okay, because, she said, love is love, and love is good. I told her that if that were true, then I could cheat on my wife with another woman, because I could love two women at the same time–love is love in both cases. I think she got the point. I encouraged her to look up the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to better form her conscience. The conversation with the Jesuit priest went something like this: “Father, so many people think that homosexuality is okay nowadays. Why don’t you give a sermon on what the Catechism says about it?” He said that you have to be living under a rock to not know the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, and that anecdotal stories with a moral make the best sermons. But kids are living under a rock these days (or rocks, known as peer pressure, Madison Avenue, academia, rock stars, sexting, movies, etc.) that brainwash them into believing that homosexuality is okay. So this article is dedicated to telling us all about sexual topics most priests shy away from in the pulpit, for whatever reason.

Never Fear to Proclaim the Truth

We, as Catholics, should never be ashamed to proclaim the truth from the rooftops. If some people don’t like hearing the truth, it doesn’t mean that the truth isn’t the truth; rather, it means that they prefer a lie instead of the truth. After all, before you receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, you say “Amen.” That means that you are saying that you agree with everything that the Catholic Church believes and teaches, which would include the “hard sayings” in the Catholic Catechism.

Properly Forming One’s Conscience

Human beings have a choice to make when it comes to decision making. Usually, the choice involves either choosing the good, or choosing the bad. How do we know which is which? By having a well-formed conscience, which is formed by immutable truth. Jesus said in John 14:6 that He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. So logically, then, it would follow to have one’s conscience formed by Jesus Christ (The Truth) who left us His Church to speak for Him. Otherwise, one’s personal opinion, which is usually negatively influenced by the ever-shifting sands of the pop culture and moral relativity, becomes one’s conscience. And therefore, a personal opinion not based on everlasting truths, cleverly disguised as one’s conscience, can certainly be wrong.

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide?

During the period following the 1960s, many priests and bishops became their own popes and dispensed advice to Catholics about artificial birth control which was based on the false premise that said, “Let your own conscience be your guide.”

The problem is, this is merely a euphemism for “Do whatever you want.” It completely ignores the need to form your conscience according to the truths known by reason, revelation, and the teaching of the Church. Why would we not seek the Church’s guidance? That would be like going to see the doctor and asking what you should do about cancer, and having the doctor say, “Let your own judgment be your guide.” That doctor would rightly be called a quack. If we are all going to let our conscience be our guide concerning the sin of artificial birth control, what is to stop us from using that philosophy with all sin, which means that six billion people on the planet can have six billion different sets of rules to follow? That would be chaos. Imagine if everyone made up their own rules when driving a car on the freeway! The Bible condemns individualism in setting one’s own moral codes in Deuteronomy 12:8, Judges 17:6, and Proverbs 12:15. Why then would we need a Church to tell us about morals, if our moral code consists of “whatever we think is right in our own eyes” is okay? What if what we believe is wrong in the eyes of God, which is all that really matters, after all?

“Do-It-Yourself” Theology?

Why did Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in Truth (John 16:13) if every individual can become his/her own infallible source of moral theology? Jesus founded a teaching Church to do just that for us.  For priests and bishops to abdicate their official Catholic teaching responsibilities in favor of giving us their own personal opinions for whatever reason (to be liked by their parishioners?), and to tell their parishioners that whatever they come up with in their mind is OK, is heresy. The Church has seen a great drop-off in the number of attendees at Sunday Mass, and this is one of the reasons why. If one’s conscience is going to be the infallible guide to truth, then who needs the Church to define morality anyway?  It all becomes “do-it-yourself” theology!

The Church has a Catechism, which is the official teaching of the Church.  It is a product derived from sacred scripture, sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. It has been approved by St. John Paul II, one of the greatest Catholic minds to ever live. No Catholic who wants to be in good standing with the Church and its head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23), has the right to make up his/her own personal theology, based on personal preferences to one’s own lifestyle. The Catholic Church is an all-encompassing way of life.  It’s not open to picking and choosing some of this and rejecting some of that. Every household has rules for their kids, and good parents don’t let their kids decide on their own which rules they will decide to follow, i.e., when they will go to bed (midnight on school nights), or what they should eat (ice cream every day, for example). The Catholic Church is no different (Matthew 18:3), because the Holy Catholic Church is a FAMILY, God’s Family! Having a personal relationship with Jesus is great, but not at the expense of ignoring the truth taught by His Church! Salvation is not “me and Jesus” alone, apart from His Church that He founded. It’s important to remember that whatever the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven, from Matthew 16:19, so what the Catechism teaches is from heaven, and not just the Vatican.

Official Church Teachings from the Catechism

To answer the questions concerning Church teachings on abortion, pornography, homosexuality, artificial contraception, and masturbation, here are the answers, linked back to the Catechism for your reference. The good news is that if we are guilty of these sins, Jesus awaits us in the confessional to forgive us with His limitless Divine Mercy, and to bring us back to complete unity with Him in the Eucharist.

Abortion – 2271 – “Since the first century  the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception:  abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

Pornography  – 2354 – “Pornography  consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity  because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.”

Homosexuality  – 2357 – “Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents  homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Artificial Contraception  – 2370 – “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.  In contrast, ‘every action  which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes,  whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil….

Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality…. The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle… involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.”

Masturbation  — 2352- “By  masturbation  is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. ‘Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.’ ‘The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.’ For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of ‘the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.'”

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

What Now?

So there you have it. The Church, which speaks for Christ, says that the above actions are all serious sins. The question we all must answer in the confessional then becomes, “Will I listen to the Church, or to my own ego instead?” Choose wisely!


Here is the link to the Catechism, by topic.

Got a question on Canon Law?









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11 thoughts on “Conscience and Catechism”

  1. Ray,
    I’d urge you to talk with a Catholic authority on two ideas you put forth: that everything in the catechism comes from Heaven not just from the Vatican and that to receive the Eucharist, one needs to believe the whole catechism as to hard sayings. I hold that both of those are error. But I’ll just give you the proof that the second one is and urge you to check the first with a high authority in your area…be it a Bishop or an approved theologian at a nearby Catholic college.
    Here to your second point is the USCCB ( the Bishops of the US) statement on receiving the Eucharist:
    ” Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (canon 844 §4). Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of Communion by Christians of these Churches (canon 844 §3).”
    The Orthodox Church in the US allows barrier contraception but no abortifacient contraception. In some other lands, they agree with us and in still others, they have groups that see NFP and barrier methods as wrong.
    In short, you’ve wandered into a very complex topic that I wouldn’t try to handle and I had 16 years of Catholic school and a minor in theology.

  2. Unfortunately, I think we are headed in the opposite direction.

    The word “adultery” is apparently taboo now. We must use the term “irregular situation” instead, lest we offend. And the scare quotes are apparently required if we want to follow the example of Amoris Laetetia . We wouldn’t want to convey the impression that we really believe the situation is “irregular”.

    Because, mercy.

    The same thing happened to the word “sodomy” already. It is (was?) one of the 4 “sins that cry to heaven for vengeance”. That’s still in the Catechism but we dare not say it out loud anymore.

    We are seeing a severe “watering down” of the Church’s language concerning the seriousness of sexual sin. Meanwhile, we have elevated the personal conscience to the point that many (mistakenly) believe that it takes precedence even when it contravenes the Truth.

    1. Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.” and when the Truth is not really the Truth, conscience should always take precedence!

  3. “He said that you have to be living under a rock to not know the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, and that anecdotal stories with a moral make the best sermons”. Send him your article! REALLY, send it to him!

    1. He’s a Jesuit, and I don’t think anything more I have to say will get through. His mind is made up. Anecdotal stories, like President Reagan used so well, are his method of giving homilies.

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