Conscience, Communion in this epoch of mercy. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

In this epoch of mercy, encounter and accompaniment, it seems that the categories of law, doctrine and conscience are becoming less and less meaningful.

Certain churchmen today are opining about, for example, conscience and the reception of Holy Communion.   The thrust of their notion is that people can go to Communion pretty much no matter what they do, what their state is before the eyes of God and of the world, if they want to.  That “want to” is spun out though the use of fancy language about “following their conscience”.

Furthermore, everyone has a “conscience” that gives them carte blanche to do as they please except, however, ministers of Communion. Ministers are not permitted to excercise their own consciences in a choice to stick to the Church’s doctrine and laws.  As a matter of fact, if they exercise their consciences they are condemned as merciless, legalistic nitpickers lacking in compassion and, worse, nuance.

Thus, there is created a two tier membership in the Church: those who can do anything the hell they want and those who are simply there to facilitate doing whatever the hell the first group wants.  Some people have a conscience that counts, and others don’t.   In this era when no one can be condemned, unless they use air conditioning and/or maniples, we condemn the legalists who cling to their doctrines and tradition.

This exercise of the supreme factor of conscience that some churchmen support should be put to the test.

Let’s start with the base line that liberal, progressive churchmen have established, namely, people in publicly manifest sin (such as dicey sexual relationships, heterosexual divorced and remarried, homosexual legalized sodomy, those who aggressively promote abortion, etc.) cannot be denied Communion because, in the “internal forum” (after discussion with some spiritual director or other – and we all know that just about anyone can hang out a spiritual director shingle these days) they made a decision in their consciences.  They get to, in fact have to, follow their consciences.  Subsequently, the rest of us have to facilitate their choices.

Here’s a scenario.

Stan and Bruce, openly homosexual, civilly “married”, present themselves for Communion.  They are wearing shiny rainbow sashes over their bustiers.  The bishop, priest or deacon (Minister of Communion) smiles benignly on the couple and gives them Communion, as he does with Adam and Steve, Ashley and Megan… etc.  It is an age of sophisticated compassion and nuance.

Fully cognizant of Godwin’s Law, immediately behind the homosexual contingent at the Votive Mass Liturgy of Mercy, Accompaniment and Encounter there are lined up the “Heinrich Himmler” Neo-Philo-Nazi Youth Battalion, in their black shirts, armbands, boots and caps with those little skulls.  Their chaplain and spiritual director is with them.  He helps them with their moral dilemmas.  The Battalion have made a decision, with the counsel of their spiritual director chaplain, to promote euthanasia of the mentally and physically challenged and stomp the life out of Jews, homosexuals and other inferior social deviants.  They are following their consciences. Their knuckles are still stinging from beating up that old black guy at the newspaper stand for selling subversive literature, and they are going to Communion because… they want to.  After all, for decades now everyone goes, all the time, no matter what, no confession or amendment of life involved.  It must be okay.  Right?  They approach the minister who smiles benignly on them and… but wait!  What’s this?  The minister reels back in horror at the sight of the Neo-Nazi youths!  He withholds Communion from them.  They are not permitted to receive!  The chaplain comes forward and asks “Why do you, who give Communion to politicians who actively promote the murder of babies by abortion, deny us Communion?”  “Well,” the minister sputters with raised chin, “there’s canon 915…”.

Another scenario.

A former-man working for an diocesan chancery has decided that she is underpaid.  In conscience, and with the help of a spiritual director, she comes to the determination that she is justified to skim $5000 per month out of the diocesan bank accounts.  This is brought to the attention of the bishop, who calls her in.  “Why have you done this!  This is theft!”, he says.  She replies, “After hearing your words about the primacy of conscience, I determined that I had to do this. I had to follow my conscience.  I knew you would understand and be accepting of my decision, just as you were about my self-mutilating surgeries, fourth marriage, and Communion everyday at daily worship.”   “Ah!,” the bishop sighs, “You are right.  My mistake.  You can go back to your office now and… keep up the good work!”

Likely?  I suspect that, for all the talk about primacy of conscience, nuance would end with embezzlement of money and that s/he would be mercilessly encountered by security and accompanied through chancery door to the police.

There’s conscience and then there’s conscience.  Sometimes it counts and sometimes it doesn’t.  When it counts and doesn’t count is determined by … whatever the hell liberals want, it seems, since it is no longer sufficiently nuanced or compassionate to follow the standards laid down by, reason, the natural law, and Holy Church in her laws and in her teachings on faith and morals.

The moderation queue is ON.

UPDATE: 16 Dec

Check out Canonist Ed Peters on clergy and conscience HERE!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in 1983 CIC can. 915, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TNCath says:

    This opens the door to all kinds of inconsistencies and exceptions. We thought the years after Vatican II were confusing. Ha! Wait until this Pope retires or dies and the next one tries to clean up the mess left over from what they cooked up in the Synodal kitchen. It may be too late.

  2. Joseph-Mary says:

    During the years when I lived in a state of mortal sin my conscience did not bother me a bit as I continued to sin and go to Communion, etc. And I was a life long ‘catholic’ with a ‘well formed’ conscience too! When a soul is not in a state of grace, it gets pretty hard to see God’s will and follow His law muchless hear the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.

  3. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Your timing is unbelievable, Fr. Z.

    I was having this same conversation with one of the matriarchs of our parish last evening. She told me that our pastor feels that those who may be in a… um, questionable state to receive – will get “some graces” that may lead them to confession and live a sacramental life within the Church.

    I asked her how that squares with what St. Paul says about receiving unworthily in 1 Cor. 11? She said she didn’t know. (What the Purgatory, over?)

    What an incredible mess we are in. What (should be *St.*) Pope Pius the XII said, in a discourse in *1946* [when the lines to confession were long] still holds true today:

    “The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.”


  4. chantgirl says:

    There is no such thing as sexual sin to a liberal, unless you are talking about rape or child molestation, unless the woman was really into S&M, or an eighteen-year-old lesbian really wanted to be with her sixteen-year-old girlfriend- then it’s all ok.

  5. thomas tucker says:

    This si a great illustration of what happens when people think following their conscinece means doing what they think or feel they should do in the realm of morality, instead of doing what the Church has taught them to do.

  6. dans0622 says:

    Thanks, Father. The comments which, I imagine, inspired this post are based on always shifting sands and, like sand, the argumentation can’t be grasped (at least by me). I fail to see how any legitimate practice can be built on such a foundation. Is it only applicable to certain actions connected with the 6th Commandment? Why/why not? The Pope has frequently spoken against the mafia. What about them?

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    You make more sense ranting than many people make discussing.


  8. MarkJ says:

    A sure-fire test of the limits of the “right of conscience” is to kneel for Holy Communion (“my conscience tells me that I should kneel in the Presence of Almighty God”). I think in a lot of parishes the “right of conscience” would end right there at the Communion rail (if there were one of course).

  9. Paulo says:

    Father, the 2 scenarios you present are very close to the ones I use when discussing the issue of conscience during those heated after-meal debates the often take place when I invite family – blood relations and extended – to a big dinner. I call them “The compassionate abortionist” and “The kind serial killer”. In both cases, the protagonist is, in all respects, an apparently upstanding citizen, whose motives are presented as being noble. In the former scenario, the catholic (lower-case “c”) medical doctor is convinced that killing the unborn provides the best outcome to a stressed mother-to-be. In the latter, a catholic (lower-case “c”) man, married and father of children, spends some nights of the week on the prowl, taking the lives of those who he deems are dangerous to society and to themselves – homeless drug addicts, petty thieves, the occasional mentally ill. Both protagonists are absolutely in peace, as far as their consciences are concerned.

    In both scenarios, there are obvious and unmistakable violations to God’s commandments. Interestingly, it is only the second scenario that elicits real eye rolling during the post-prandial digressions: while many of my guests seem to be comfortable with “The compassionate abortionist” (pity!), all still see “The kind serial killer” as aberrant. After probing further, and in various different occasions, with (sometimes) different sets of guests, it became obvious that the defining element identified as “conscience forming” by my guests was the concept of “personhood”: in Canada, from where I chime, the unborn is not a human being until “it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother”. This pernicious concept – along with the idea of complete autonomy of one individual over one’s own body – surpasses (and suppresses) the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment, providing subjective nuances, and mal-forming people’s consciences.

    At the time of writing, Quebec has allowed “assisted suicide”; with the right redefinition of concepts and a bit of time, “The kind serial killer” will also soon be walking among us, receiving communion, and the approval of my guests.

  10. McCall1981 says:

    An open letter to the Pope, from an anonymous, former member of the Curia:

  11. Gerard Plourde says:

    I’d like to propose a scenario that doesn’t involve communicants at the altar rail, but reflects a possibly common issue of conscience for many of us in the laity. I don’t pretend to know the answer and would appreciate comment.

    Anselm, Catholic small business owner treats his employees justly, ensuring that they receive a wage that can sustain them, vacation time, sick leave, and leave for childbirth or adoption. His operation is small enough that he is not required to offer health insurance, but he is located in Massachusetts, so the benefits of Romneycare are readily available to his employees. He is a member of the local chamber of commerce and knows that one of his suppliers, Boudica, also a member of the chamber and whose business is about the same size and in about the same sound financial position as his, staffs her business with part-time workers, pays her workers minimum wage, and offers no benefits. Boudica’s prices are 20% lower than other suppliers (who offer compensation and benefits similar to Anselm’s). The savings improve Anselm’s company’s profit but the higher cost of changing suppliers would not put his company’s finances in jeopardy. Knowing what he knows, what decision should Anselm make regarding the purchase of the supplies in question?

  12. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    This is an important post, Father.

    I was especially struck by your pointing out that freedom to follow conscience is denied to ministers of Communion – at least, those with well-formed consciences.

  13. Michelle F says:

    I’m pretty sure that 1 St. Timothy 4:1-4 is in the process of being fulfilled right now:

    1Tim 4:1 Now the Spirit manifestly saith that in the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error and doctrines of devils,
    1Tim 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy and having their conscience seared,
    1Tim 4:3 Forbidding to marry, [requiring people] to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful and by them that have known the truth.

    St. Paul concludes with this advice:

    1Tim 4:16 Take heed to thyself and to doctrine: be earnest in them. For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.

    I think the advent of “gay marriage,” especially on a world-wide scale, is sufficient to count as “forbidding to marry,” but I can see it leading to a positive law forbidding people to marry because marriage will become too much of an administrative nightmare for the state.

  14. rmichaelj says:

    My main frustration with certain priests/bishops is that they act as if they don’t care whether my family and I go to Hell or not. Doubly frustating is when these same individuals fight to keep good priests from doing more.

    I have learned to shield my family from these individuals, but I still pray for them- I do care whether they go to Hell.

    I get the feeling that God is trying to beat clericiolatry out of Catholics, as he once beat Polytheism out of the Jews.

  15. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    In the new regime, Ministers of Communion are without doubt not allowed to have a conscience.

    When Fr. Marcel Guarnizo refused Communion to a lesbian who accosted him in the sacristy before Mass for the precise purpose of informing him that she is a Buddhist lesbian married to another lesbian, he was called to the chancery immediately. There, he was handed a SEALED ENVELOPE (so much for “dialogue”) containing the decree of Cardinal Wuerl expelling him from the Archdiocese of Washington.

    So, it’s official: No conscience permitted for Ministers of Communion in the Archdiocese of Washington.

    Archbishop Cupich has issued no assurance to the priests of Chicago that they are permitted to have a conscience when it comes to Communion for pro-abortionists or homosexual couples, or any other would-be communicants.

    This new regime is not just a matter of a few scattered prelates. The official position of the USCCB (Cf. “Catholics in Political Life”) is that any bishop is at liberty to commit the mortal sin of giving Communion to persons who publicly promote abortion. Since, once that is policy, there is no rational basis for denying Communion to ANYONE, one by one the bishops are announcing that, indeed, Communion IS to be given to ANYONE.

    No adult Catholic is ignorant of the fact that bishops can sin. What is genuinely NEW is this: One-by-one, two-by-two, the bishops of the U.S. are in the process of ANNOUNCING that they intend, henceforth, to commit mortal sin, week after week, month after month, year after year.

  16. Matt Robare says:

    Ven. Fulton Sheen gave a talk on this very subject:

  17. Augustine says:

    The only consistent thought hidden by all this sophistry is that the bishop has already decided that homosexual acts are not sinful, probably following the “prompts of the Holy Spirit”, that other tired and blasphemous line used to defend one’s whims and passions.

  18. benedetta says:

    I think that we all, and especially those charged with responsibility over the sacraments in any given locality, have to get our heads around the fact that no longer are there only “conscientious objectors” (code: pro expansion of infant death in the womb so much as possible using political apparatus to serve the cause of greed) presenting themselves for and receiving without any question communion routinely but we now have the advanced and further occurrence of people presenting and receiving in total sacrilege, as oppressors of Christians, there to “blend in” and menace and threaten Mass go-ers. We wonder why God is not answering our prayers in our times, not granting spectacular miracles to us in these strange times. Perhaps our giving permission to others to receive in sacrilege in our times plays a role there?

  19. benedetta says:

    Obviously, if it’s just a Protestant symbol then those in charge really need not get their hands dirty with assuring certain things vis a vis the Eucharist. Then we can pour the Precious Blood from our flagons and give to all and sundry. Then the vessels just need be cleaned up by just about anyone. Then the pastor or the one saying Mass hasn’t a clue as to the spiritual fitness of just about anyone showing up in the usher-directed communion line. Then we see the consequences of shrugging at the VII universal call to holiness — if we are a sacriligious people then perhaps God does indeed respond in kind. If we are a holy people, then we are a holy people. It’s not difficult or complicated. It’s actually rather obvious.

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