Following Your Conscience to Hell

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  December 21, 2016   

The Pope must answer the dubia to help those with a deformed conscience

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Pope Francis will be pressured in the new year to clarify whether sexually active divorcees can be given the sacraments in "good conscience." If he says nothing, then they, along with contracepting couples, active homosexuals and pro-abortion politicians might not have guilty feelings, but will they avoid Hell without repentance? Spoiler alert — St. Paul says no.

In chapter six of his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul was being pastoral when he uttered:

Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God?

The dubia addressed to Pope Francis this fall by the four cardinals essentially seeks to clarify the root issue; specifically, does "Amoris Laetitia" change Church teaching that intrinsically evil acts such as artificial birth control, abortion, adultery and homosexuality can never be done with a clear conscience by anyone?

Pope Francis recently preached on Hell as a consequence of sin. During his November 22 homily in Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City, the Holy Father proclaimed, "[If] you do not take care of your heart … and [if] you always live estranged from the Lord, perhaps there is the danger, the danger of continuing to live estranged in this way from the Lord for eternity. And this is a terrible thing!"

But for the last 50 years, contracepting couples have been told to follow their own conscience when receiving Holy Communion, even though the teaching that artificial contraception is always gravely sinful hasn't officially changed. In the last 20 years pro-abortion politicians have been told the same thing, even though Canon 915 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law says they can't. And even sexually active gay couples are allowed in many places to follow their own conscience when receiving Holy Communion, even though paragraph 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church continues to officially teach that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil and thus gravely sinful.

At a talk in London last month, Cdl. George Pell — a member of the Pope's "Gang of Nine," a group of cardinal-advisors — pointed out the real pastoral problem: "The idea, now, of culpable moral blindness is discussed as infrequently as the pains of Hell."

Terms like affected ignorance or vincible ignorance, whereby a person is morally responsible for his willful ignorance, are seldom spoken of by pastors. In short, virtually all clerics say a Catholic must follow his conscience, but few highlight the fact that a person is responsible for informing his conscience according to Catholic teaching and is culpable for deforming his conscience by sinning repeatedly.

False mercy further compounds the problem that starts with following an erroneous conscience. God's mercy is bandied about with little said of contrition for sin, which presupposes the person will humbly admit to the sin with contrition. Contrition for sin in turn presupposes a purpose of amendment whereby the person has a firm resolve to avoid that particular sin in the future to the best of his ability. A priest can't validly administer God's forgiveness to the penitent without the person first confessing the sin, having contrition for having committed the sin and the intention of avoiding that sin in the future.

Many blame Vatican II for this problem of enthroning personal conscience above the moral authority of the Church. Some may be surprised to find that "Lumen Gentium," one of the 16 documents from the Council, teaches that being saved from Hell is contingent on our thoughts, words and deeds.

In chapter 14 of this document, the Council Fathers admonish:

Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. ... All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.


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