Fr. Murray on “lived experience”, “accompaniment”, “conscience”


Since I posted this a short while ago, I saw at First Things a commentary by Gerhard Ludwig Card. Müller (third in a series) precisely touching on the issues raised by Card. Cupich in England.  This is obviously Müller’s response.  Here is a taste… then read the post below, then read all of Müller and all of Murray.  It’s like a seminar!  With homework!  Time well spent.  FATHERS!  You MUST know this stuff.

Thus, Müller:

Can there be “paradigm shifts” in the interpretation of the deposit of faith?

In commenting on Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, some interpreters advance positions contrary to the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, by effectively denying that adultery is always a grave objective sin or by making the Church’s entire sacramental economy exclusively dependent on people’s subjective dispositions. They seek to justify their claims by insisting that through the ages there has been a development of doctrine under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a fact that the Church has always admitted. To substantiate their claims, they usually appeal to the writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman, and in particular to his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). Newman’s arguments are indeed worth considering. They will help us understand the sort of development that is possible in the matters touched upon by Amoris Laetitia.


The criteria that Newman unfolds are useful, then, to disclose how we should read Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The first two criteria are “preservation of type” and “continuity of principles.” They are meant precisely to ensure the stability of the faith’s foundational structure. These principles and types prevent us from speaking of a “paradigm shift” regarding the form of the Church’s being and of her presence in the world. Now chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia has been the object of contradictory interpretations. When in this context some speak of a paradigm shift, this seems to be a relapse into a modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith.


See what’s going on?

___ Originally Published on: Feb 21, 2018 @ 09:28

My friend Fr Gerald Murray, frequently on EWTN with Prof. Robert Royal on Raymond Arroyo’s show – which some with globalist and Jesuit ties want silenced – has a good piece at The Catholic Thing about some statements made recently by His Eminence the Archbishop of Chicago, Card. Cupich.

Cardinal Cupich’s Revolutionary Conscience


Ever since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, doubts have been cast upon the necessity of adhering to this understanding of marriage. Chicago’s Cardinal Blasé Cupich recently spoke on Amoris Laetitia at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge, England. His line of argument undermines the Church’s teaching on marriage, and everything else, [NB] by treating one’s lived experience as some sort of divine revelation. This means that what one does becomes the standard of what one should believe. [This “lived experience” is a staple of the Kasperite approach, which replaces philosophy with politics.  Utter “lived experience” and everyone nods, knowingly.]

Cardinal Cupich speaks about a synodal church in which:

there is no hierarchical distinction between those with knowledge and those without. As such, the most important consequence of this call to accompaniment ought to be greater attention to the voices of the laity, especially on matters of marriage and family life, for they live this reality day to day.

Laymen are often better instructed in Catholic doctrine than their pastors. The shepherds should rejoice when they find their flock to be knowledgeable and faithful believers. But what if they reject Church teaching? Is that rejection to be embraced as a sign of God’s action in their lives?  [The answer is, of course, YES!  “Lived experience”!  Remember that the Church might offer “ideals” for life, but no one can really be held to those ideals, after all.  “Lived experience” suggests that commandments, like policies, can be bent and even changed.]


Cardinal Cupich claims: “accompaniment also is an act of forming Church teaching. There is a continuum of accompaniment which undergirds this entire range of actions by the Church. And thus . . . the core goal of formal teaching on marriage is accompaniment, not the pursuit of an abstract, isolated set of truths.  [“ideals” apart from “lived experience”] This represents a major shift in our ministerial approach that is nothing short of revolutionary.” [Emphasis added.]

What does this revolution involve? Cardinal Cupich says:

When taken seriously, this definition demands a profound respect for the discernment of married couples and families. [And if the married couple reject the Church’s teachings on anything? But watch this next part…] Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives. In other words, the voice of conscience – the voice of God – or if I may be permitted to quote an Oxford man here at Cambridge, what Newman called “the aboriginal vicar of Christ” – [We’ve seen elsewhere how this use of Newman is tenuous at best.] could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal, while nevertheless calling a person “to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (AL 303).  [In my conscience, based on my lived experience, I affirm my own decisions – even when they clearly contrast with the Church’s perennial teaching – as being the VOICE OF GOD.  And YOU not only can’t disagree, you must affirm me and accompany me.  Moreover, because of my “lived experience”, which automatically trumps anything you “official” teachers say, my decisions and your obligation to accompany, is an act of “forming Church teaching”.]

Thus a decision of conscience, for instance, to leave one’s wife and civilly “remarry,” is labeled “God’s personal guidance” that would grant divine approval to one’s blameless embrace of the “necessity” of what is euphemistically called “living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal.” Cardinal Cupich is telling us that God will inspire someone to serenely decide in his conscience that it is necessary for him to commit adulterous acts, and that this is therefore God’s will for him.

Is there any possible way that this opinion is reconcilable with Catholic teaching on the nature and proper formation of conscience, the necessity to avoid mortal sin at all times, and the impossibility of God approving of what He condemns, i.e., adultery?


I am sincerely looking for a way to reconcile the ramifications of this with the Church’s teaching and I’m coming up with nothing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Aquinas Gal says:

    The book “In the Beginning” by Dr Eduardo Echeverria (a defense of Church teaching on homosexuality) has an excellent chapter about treating personal experience as divine revelation. He shows why we can’t do that.

  2. Tara Tremuit says:

    ” This is religion pure and undefiled . . . to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation — and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
    The great tragic side effect of all this casuistric contortionism is that the Church has, and at its uppermost levels, abandoned the children, and most usually the mothers of those children, who will suffer the most as a result of this paternalistic plastering-over of the proclivities of their parents.
    What a shame that the Church has missed out on this most golden opportunity to look after the ‘orphans’ and ‘widows.’ How about we skip trying to justify the abandoners, and speak straight to the the abandoned. I would love to see a document or speech or anything directed to the casualties of the casuistry. “God hates divorce. See what havoc the sins of your parents have wrought, and upon you whom they should protect at any cost! Your cries of suffering have reached the ears of your Holy Father and your Father in heaven. We will never abandon you! Join us in a year of penance and fasting for the reconciliation of all separated spouses…With God, all things are possible.” <—those are fantasy quotation marks, by the way.
    …Oh, but I forget, children do not tithe or donate to Bishops' appeals.

  3. pseudomodo says:

    I happened to notice the little ‘Freudian” accent slip at the beginning of Fr. Murrays article!!

    “Ever since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, doubts have been cast upon the necessity of adhering to this understanding of marriage. Chicago’s Cardinal Blasé Cupich recently spoke on Amoris Laetitia at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge, England. ”

    Blasé as opposed to Blase Cupich!

    Says it all.

    [I’m sure that’s just a spell corrector error.]

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    My lived experience is that actions have consequences, and that sinful actions have bad consequences — sometimes permanent consequences. I also find that fasting and almsgiving, performing annoying helpful tasks for good causes, walking barefoot over rocks, doing the Stations on one’s knees, and other penitential behavior, tend to create a reluctance to repeat one’s sinful behavior. Your mind learns that it is a pain in the butt to do sinful things, not a happy fun time. Meanwhile, receiving approbation for good behavior helps one to develop a habit of virtuous deeds.

    It’s almost as if rewards and punishments are part of one’s lived experience. It even seems that rewarding good behavior while repenting and amending from evil behavior is a way to become a better, happier, more sensible person.

  5. Midwest St. Michael says:

    “I am sincerely looking for a way to reconcile the ramifications of this with the Church’s teaching and I’m coming up with nothing.”

    Right. It means that the citations below from the CCC will have to either be purged or altered to say something like this at the end of every article:

    “Yet this teaching is the *ideal* on how to grow in communion with God and His Church. Personal decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives. So one may live in such a way that is far from God’s revelation of faith and morals, but it can be God revealing Himself to them via the lived experience!”

    [note to reader: all of these citations are soon to be altered in the Acta]

    The sixth beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith:

    The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed “so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.” (CCC 2518)

    Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (CCC 892)

    The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason. They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity. (CCC 2037)

    Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity.” (CCC 1814)

  6. Dan says:

    “the voice of conscience – the voice of God” Of course this ignores the fact that God isn’t the only voice that whispers to us. In fact the other voices, temptation, are by far louder because God does not force us to him, but patiently waits for us to turn to him.

    Cupich is going full on the offensive with his take on Amoris Laetitia. I hear he is planning on putting on a conference for a select group of US Bishops. I wonder if Archbishop Chaput is invited?

    Of course doctrine and the teachings of the Catholic church don’t actually have to change. It is enough just to make people believe it has changed. I set before you the example of Friday penance outside of lent in the US.

  7. rtjl says:

    What’s that voice saying? Yes, What’s it saying? Oh, yes. That’s it.

    “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

  8. GregB says:

    Isn’t conscience a form of private revelation? If so, isn’t it subordinate to the public revelation and the perennial Magisterium of the Church?

  9. LarryW2LJ says:

    “Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives. In other words, the voice of conscience – the voice of God.”

    I may be just a stupid layman; but when I was a kid, watching cartoons, there was always a little angel AND a little devil talking into someone’s ears.

  10. Kent Wendler says:

    If I should ever personally meet His Eminence, Cdl. Cupich, I would like to invite him to pastorally accompany me on a discernment of the meaning of the parallel verses of Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2 as possibly related to the occupants of Circle 8 of Dante’s Inferno, cantos 26-28.

  11. scotus says:

    The late Fr Thomas Dubay published the first edition of his book, “Authenticity – A Biblical Theology of Discernment” in 1977. (There was another version published in 1997.) Thus he wrote his book long before Amoris Laetitia was ever conceived. He wrote, “Karl Rahner and Bernard Vorgrimler are correct in looking upon situation ethics as ‘an extreme individualism, a short-circuit chosen by a mind that wishes to spare itself the trouble of patient reflection such as is necessary to clarify a complicated situation.’ It is entirely possible that one may appeal to listening to the Spirit as a substitute for listening to the evidences of study or hearing the Spirit-sent teachers in the Church.” Based on what I have read so far of this book, it would appear that Fr Dubay had a much deeper understanding of discernment than many Catholics who are now so keen to talk about it.

    [Good catch.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award


  12. AA Cunningham says:

    My “decision of conscience” tells me that there will be no sin or secular crime committed if I steal the 2018 Easter and Christmas collections from Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. If caught I will use the prudential relativism of the diminutive Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago as a viable defense and will instruct counsel to subpoena said cleric as a character witness. I fully expect the Archdiocese of Chicago to unequivocally and unambiguously support me in my discernment of God’s personal guidance.

  13. David says:

    Cardinal Müller’s remarks are, I think, the boldest thing he has said yet about the vagaries of the current papacy. We can’t know who the electors will end up being at the next Conclave, but I wonder if there are any left who support the cardinal’s analysis but are now too timid to say so publicly if they might well be prepared in private to fight a battle royal to make sure we do not have a repetition of this ecclesial crisis. We may have to resort to the historical precedent of pulling the roof off the roof over their heads to get a new Pope.

  14. jaykay says:

    And yet, the “lived experience” of those faithful Catholics who, in good conscience, decide that they can be fruitful and have many children is dissed. “Like rabbits”, was that it?

  15. tamranthor says:

    So, if my “lived experience” (as if there were any other form of experience) tells me that the Magisterium of the Church is correct, and we should all strive to conform our lives AND our consciences to the gentle yoke of Our Lord and Savior, does that mean that YOUR conscience that tells you not to do so is not sufficiently influenced by MY conscience?

    I do not understand how any rational, thinking person could espouse such utter garbage. The reasoning reminds me of a toddler justifying his or her bad behavior, not an adult charged with teaching and guiding the faithful. But that’s just my “lived experience” talking.

  16. tho says:

    The real harm of watering down the teachings of the church, is to the average pew sitter, who wants to obey the undiluted teaching of our Lord. What these half witted liberal prelates are doing, is establishing an escape clause, that can be acted upon by anybody who finds themselves in an uncomfortable position. Some one once said, that God gave us Ten Commandments not ten suggestions.
    Pope Pius X was clairvoyant and Pope Paul VI was destructive. Heaven only knows how Pope Francis will be described.

  17. richdel says:

    When using data (what the conscience of those with “lived experience” tells us) to drive decisions (discerning in what manner doctrine is developing) we need the proper metrics by which to determine that the data we are using is measuring what we think it is. Our metrics are off, to say the least, if we allow the “lived experience” of those whose lives have had very little to do with doctrine in the first place to determine in which manner doctrine may be developing. There would then be no organic development in doctrine, since this would require an least an attempt in the living out of doctrine to begin with: a convergence of doctrine and “lived experience” by which to determine how lives which strive to conform to doctrine result in a “lived experience” which in turn impacts a mutual direction in which doctrine would be developing. For the past 50 years, for example, we have been faced with whole factions within the Church who have justified dismissing Humanae Vitae‘s teachings on the use of artificial contraception by assuring the laity that if their conscience tells them they may use artificial contraception, then it is fine to do so. Yet, suddenly, it is the “lived experience” of such to which we are looking to discern in what manner doctrine may be developing.

    What happens when the “lived experience” of 1) those who heroically strive to follow the Church’s teachings regarding marriage and sexuality tells us something different than the “lived experience” of 2) those who have scoffed at the Church’s teachings and done whatever their “conscience” told them was fine? I know a couple who, despite being at a ripe, child-bearing age, abstain from sex altogether since getting pregnant would seriously endanger the health of the woman and their child-to-be. Of course, the “lived experience” of such don’t really count for Cdl. Cupich. Instead, we are letting the “lived experience” of others, the vast majority of whom have historically been dismissive of the Church’s teachings, initiate a “paradigm shift” in the development of doctrine.

    If the “lived experience” of those who have striven to conform their lives to doctrine is ignored, we can tell that Cdl. Cupich is himself not sincere about the very reasoning he is putting forward with “lived experience” and the development of doctrine. If there is only one subset of the laity whose “lived experience” arbitrarily means anything in determining the development of doctrine, then we know it has nothing to do with “lived experience” after all, but with attempting to manufacture a “development” in doctrine while using the laity – even those whom Cdl. Cupich purports to “accompany” – as pawns in the process.

  18. JonathanTX says:

    I wonder if these Bishops and others in the Church are actively trying to destroy it, or are just completely blind to the logical end that this subjectivism leads to. If something as basic as adultery can be reversed into a virtue by clever sophistry, then there is no reason to trust that the Church holds any Truth. It is the responsibility of those faithful leaders of the Church to call out by name those who are destroying it on purpose or by negligence. “Heretic” is a legal term, but it’s time we start applying it without fear. Call. Them. Out. We deserve to know whom we can trust.

  19. SenexCalvus says:

    Suburbanbanshee writes:

    “It’s almost as if rewards and punishments are part of one’s lived experience. It even seems that rewarding good behavior while repenting and amending from evil behavior is a way to become a better, happier, more sensible person.”

    To which Screwtape replies, “But I’m so hungry.”

  20. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    What in Hell is Cupich talling about?

  21. benedetta says:

    Far from “accompaniment”, this seems much more an abandonment.

  22. JARay says:

    I would be quite happy to echo what the writer above me here has written were it not for the last paragraph saying that Pope Pius X was clairvoyant and Pope Paul VI was destructive. Maybe Pope Pius X was clairvoyant but Pope Paul VI issued one of the finest summary of Church Teaching when he published his encyclical regarding artificial contraception and the sanctity of marriage.

  23. Pharisee says:

    Henry VIII didn’t want to keep his wedding vows. What’s happening now is the popularisation of that oath-breaking.

    Christ points towards Calvary. We must renounce sin, and carry our crosses. We must get clean. Adultery also means sullying something pure.

    This is just the same old depravity, come leering ’round again, dressed up in technical jargon. What sacrilege, inviting Christ to unite with sin, however momentarily.

    I wonder how long God will stay His hand over such dull-minded wickedness? Personally I hope the dearth of vocations to heretical institutions and the passing to their reward of old revolutionaries may result in a more traditionalist, organic development, without Him taking a swipe at us.

    The great thing about Catholicism is that it’s a complete, practical and simple way to holiness if 1. You take it at face value 2. You treat God as real as you and me, who is Lord, who is owed and also, generous, and yes, stern towards evil doers and 3. You educate yourself properly, if you can’t find sound teachers.

    Why would sober, intelligent men mortify themselves, in ways laughed at by modern man? What were they getting in return?

    _That’s_ the question.

  24. Fallibilissimo says:

    These discussions on conscience are all fine and dandy but, speaking of concrete lived experience, maybe it’s time we start hearing something about what obedience and disobedience to Christ look like in our daily lives. Is there really such a thing as disobedience? Do sons and daughters of Eve have a tendency to explain disobedience away? How, in concrete, day-to-day, on the ground reality does that normally happen in our lived experience? What are the usual tactics, like rationalizations (just a guess), we normally apply?

    And what about Jesus’ obedience specifically? When He said “not my but Your will be done”, what’s that all about? Does this paradigm shifting on conscience strengthen or weaken our imitation of Christ?

    I disobey the will of God all the time. I’ve come to the point where I’m a little devastated by what I see in myself. The weakness inside of me, when it hears anything about creating fog over matters of conscience, rejoices as it sees loopholes to justify sin and get away with it with no help from Jesus’ grace or forgiveness. It’s true enough for me, and I suspect it’s true for others, but maybe these discussions about conscience have nothing to do with conscience, not really, but have everything to do with justifying the will….at least for some of us.

    Striving for virtue has its difficulties. The yoke of Christ is light and easy to carry because He aids us, not because we deny its existence. Otherwise, we risk exchanging one form of pelagianism for another. I hope these discussions on conscience don’t snare us into traps where we negate this undeniable reality that loving obedience, even when it hurts, is the substance of Christian sacrifice.

  25. GHP says:

    Blase Cardinal Cupich is preaching a real blasé soup-sandwich (as in “messed up like a soup-sandwich … try eating a soup sandwich and you’ll get the drift).

    Geee … didn’t the Samaritan woman at the well have a “lived experience?” I suppose it was all well and good then, right? If not, then what has changed since then?


  26. LeeGilbert says:

    Given the lived experience of Cdl Cupich, you’ve got to have some sympathy for the man. Not long ago, contrary to all reasonable expectations, he was taken by the hair of his head and made archbishop of Chicago, and then made cardinal. Did he ask for this? Surely he must view this preferment as a choice of the Holy Spirit, the will of God. Wouldn’t you? Looking at this from the outside, this position is clearly beyond his abilities, yet he seems to be trying to rise to the occasion albeit hamhandedly, mistakenly, disastrously. What a pitiful spectacle the whole thing is. He could use some prayers. In all this controversy and brouhaha it is difficult to remember that he is a brother in Christ after all.

  27. scotus says:

    Fr Z,
    Many thanks for the Gold Star. It’s funny how you can be reading something purely by chance which is highly relevant to a current situation. It’s now highly improbable that (m)any more people are going to read the comments to this article but here’s a couple more quotes from Fr Dubay’s book.
    “Experience in itself begets certainty regarding the experience but not regarding the interpretation of it. This distinction is important for a sound evaluation of supposed listening to God. The illusions of which I am speaking in this chapter are largely due to faulty interpretation of what goes on in one person. Subjectivity desperately needs objectivity.”
    “One further problem remains. It is the exaggeration of religious experience out of all proportion. As I write this paragraph I am reminded of a lecture I gave four or five days ago. Suring the ensuing discussion period, I pointed out to a questioner that she was rejecting something clearly taught by the Magisterium (and not disputed among Catholic theologians.) Her response to my previous reasoned presentation and to this external authority was: My experience is otherwise; I have nothing else to go by. Her position is, of course, illuminism. Evidence does not penetrate the illuminist mind. Subjective ‘experience’ rules out objective fact.”
    It’s almost as if Fr Dubay was writing his book as a response to certain eccentric Catholics today.

  28. tho says:

    JARay, I accept your correction. What I was trying to say, in a rather clumsy way, was that allowing the so called spirit of VII to take over the church was very destructive.

  29. Ben Kenobi says:

    When I went through my discernment I had to assess the question, “If my church were wrong about God and his mission, who is in the right?” It was easy enough to do what so many had been doing and say, “no one”, but this question demands a much different answer. If one sincerely believes that God is real and that God would never abandon his children then the question of “who is right”, is a significant one.

    What Cupich forgets is that what sets the Church apart from everyone else is her stance on divorce, on contraception, on marriage, that the Church has not and will not capitulate on those things. Blasé seems to believe that accommodation – that old saw I’ve heard from so many people is necessary and right. I see no purpose to it.

    One, the couples that presumable Blasé has been talking to are pretty much all the same. We’re talking 40 somethings, 50 somethings who have little connection with the Catholic church. They might occasionally come in and if they feel ‘left out’ because of their decision to emulate the 60s, leaving a long, tired and sad string of brokenness behind and that the Church doesn’t accommodate them… well, they will just go down the road to the COE, which does this sort of thing.

    Why is Blasé adopting the failed model? I left the COE because the Church has defended Christ. Where is the fruit in accommodation? It might make a few couples feel better about themselves, but it will weaken the value of the sacrament.

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  31. maternalView says:

    Face it these folks don’t want to be saints.
    As for me I’m going to learn all I can about the “lived experience ” of the saints as they reached the “ideal’.
    I want what they have and not what Cardinal Cupich is offering.

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