Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Two extremes: Altar dogs and Altar rails

December 5th, 2011, Promulgated by b a

Fr. Michael Bausch (Transfiguration, Pittsford – supporter of Fortunate Families) recounts in the parish’s Oct 30th bulletin some of the Masses he experienced during his sabbatical. He begins describing positive Masses he attended/celebrated, then he goes into two extreme examples of negative experiences. The first one is clearly off the wall. The second, on the other hand, seems to describe the way the Holy Father offers the Mass.

“Then again, in my opinion, some presiders allowed their personal preference to overshadow the fact Roman Catholics believe the Eucharist is a celebration of the entire community; not something the presider does in isolation.

Then there is the other side of the story. I also ‘attended’ Masses where the presider over personalized the Liturgy. In one parish the priest was very “folksy” and included his dog in the celebration. The dog sat next to the presider’s chair and the end of Mass it retrieved the hymnal from the book stand. At the other end of the extreme I attended Mass where the Priest sat with his back to the people [aka – facing God], refused to participate in the sign of peace, had at least 10 large candlesticks on the Altar blocking everyone’s view and recently reinstalled the altar railing and a raised pulpit.”

So it seems Fr. Bausch is placing a traditional, reverent liturgy like that being promoted by the Pope as an extreme alongside dog altar servers.

It looks like the Holy Father’s uses 7 candles.  I believe that’s called the Benedictine arrangement.  If you have more info on that – please share in the comments.

This is why I don’t like spectrums. Catholicism is not a spectrum. When people start defining spectrums, they usually assume that’s it’s best to fall somewhere in the middle. The problem with this is that it doesn’t really matter what everyone else is doing. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong even if that puts you all the way at one end of the spectrum. All too often, you’re considered “balanced” and “level-headed” if there are 50% of the people on either end of you – even if that means you believe about 50% of the CCC and follow about 50% of the GIRM. If you happen to simply be Catholic (which, by the way, requires believing 100% of the CCC), you are considered a right-wing nut-case.

To give the benefit of the doubt to Fr. Bausch, perhaps there is more to this story than he shared. Perhaps the priest was truly rude in his refusal to sign the peace. But perhaps he simply not do an overabundant dog and pony show that we often see in our masses? According to the GIRM:

Chapter 2: The Structure Of The Mass, Its Elements, And Its Parts

The Rite of Peace

82. There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.

As for the actual sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by the Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest.

I’ve heard it said that the typical part of the rite of peace where the priest tells everyone to shake hands and hug is actually optional. I’ve been at masses where the priest verbalizes his peace to the congregation and that’s the end of it. Personally, I think that’s just fine, but quite honestly I’m not a liturgist, so I don’t know what’s required.  If you have more info on that – please share.


131 Responses to “Two extremes: Altar dogs and Altar rails”

  1. The Egyptian says:

    At the other end of the extreme I attended Mass where the Priest sat with his back to the people, refused to participate in the sign of peace, had at least 10 large candlesticks on the Altar blocking everyone’s view and recently reinstalled the altar railing and a raised pulpit.”

    I’ll take him, Please, sounds great

  2. Raymond F. Rice says:

    If each of the councils of bishops from each country comes up with a norm of their own, will that not result in a spectrum of behavior at the sign of peace??

  3. militia says:

    Two thoughts to share:

    1) I very much like the preface to this post identifying Fr. Bausch as a supporter of Fortunate Families. It is important, where someone has made himself (or herself) public in support for such a thing, that they continue to be identified with what they’ve identified themselves with. We need to be alert — all the time!!

    2) The kiss of peace, handshake of peace has been said by my pastor (a fairly by-the-book person) to be optional, at least regarding physical contact. I simply look at the person on either side of me, smile and say “Peace”. My understanding is that I’m not required to share germs. The awkward part is that if I’m going to decline shaking hands with somebody who’s been sneezing in her hand for the past 15 minutes, then I can’t bypass her and shake hands with somebody else. The “glad-handing” of people crossing aisles appalls me. It is like teenagers trying to get the most “friends” on face-book; like “How many hands can I shake before the priest says “Lamb of God?” Meanwhile, the Body and Blood of Christ lies on the altar. And I’ve been at a few Masses where the priest has made a point to shake hands with every single person (like 50 or so.) And I am not talking about a wedding or funeral.

    So, to Raymond’s point, it isn’t just the bishops of each country, but it is each priest and each person in the pew who is setting local norms. I really do wish the new Missal had dealt with this issue. I simply want to prepare myself to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. A friend of mine who has a serious xenophopia sits all the way in the back of the church. I think it is because some hand-shakers won’t leave her alone if she comes forward.

  4. BigE says:

    I found the comment about having to believe the CCC 100% in order to be catholic interesting. Where did your comment from and can you show me where it is “required” by the Church? Or were you just stating a personal opinion?

  5. Bernie says:

    BigE: I’m wondering what part of the CCC could be considered ‘optional’ other than what the CCC suggests is optional. Can you cite an example?

  6. Scott W. says:

    This is why I don’t like spectrums. Indeed. The problem of the choice of a bottle of wine or a bottle of sewage isn’t solved by chosing something in the middle.

    BigE, Ben is using shorthand to describe the truth that Catholics are bound to accept interiorly and exteriorally all the Church proposes for belief. But to keep this simple, I will second Bernie’s question: what do you think is optional?

  7. bobbyva2001 says:

    I am thrilled that there is such a movement on the part of lay persons in Rochester to restore fidelity to the church within the diocese. I never realized how poor the situation was in Rochester until I moved from it. However, things are not nearly as bad outside of it, and Rochester is certainly one of the worst diocese as far as dissent is concerned. I’m confident that as the “old guard” moves out there will be a resurgence in authentic faith.

    My wife and I have thought about moving back to Rochester. Can anyone tell me anything about Archangel Catholic school?

  8. BigE says:

    @Bernie and Scott W.

    1) I never said the CCC teachings were optional. There is a difference between calling a teaching “optional” and allowing dissent. Certainly the church allows dissent to a non-infallible teaching based on conscience (CCC1776) and still considers someone to be Catholic. Heck, the US Catholic Bishops even laid out the norms for licit dissent in 1969…(1) if the reasons are serious and well-founded, (2) if the manner of dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church, and (3) is such as not to give scandal.”

    2) The examples would be the usual hot buttons. Women priests (CCC1577), Married Priests (CCC1579) and Contraception (CCC2399) just to name a few.

    3) Back to my original question. Where was it ever formally stated that someone had to believe in the CCC100% or they were not Catholic?

  9. Bernie says:

    BigE: I see what you mean. But, if we apply the USSCB norms, and a person -especially a deacon, priest or bishop- were to violate one of the norms, wouldn’t we be correct to say that he is not Catholic? Would not a priest, publishing a contrary opinion to Church teaching in his parish bulletin, be engaging in illicit dissent? Could he even reveal his thinking in a private conversation with a parishioner without giving scandal? I’m not sure that “believe” is the best term Ben could have used but certainly each person must give 100% assent to the CCC, don’t you think?

  10. Raymond F. Rice says:

    I had a few prosthetic teeth placed in my mouth a few years ago to replace failing parts. Am I no longer me??? or am I allowed to be 99.3456/100000 me and still call myself me????

  11. snowshoes says:

    Seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness and all other things will be given to you. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me (to the Cross to be crucified with Me). As confirmed Catholics we have the responsibility to make sure our conscience is well-formed.

    The Church has graciously given us the new Sacramentary, thank you Jesus! The Church has always taught that ordination is reserved to males called by God to the holy Priesthood, thank you Jesus! No valid dissent there, only the opportunity for us to assist those who have been confused by the modern materialist mantra (and satan). This is part of the spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant.

    All is clear in the Light of Christ and His Holy Catholic Church. All flesh is as the grass, regard the lilies of the field… Make haste to prepare a place for Him!!! For very soon you’ll make like a bullfrog… Happy St. Nicholas Day!

  12. Ben Anderson says:

    In regards to being called out on my statement “being Catholic requires 100% of the Catechism”… I understand that probably isn’t the best wording, but you get the point. For the more proper wording see JP2’s letter accompanying the CCC:

    I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.

    You cannot dissent on Women priests – male-only has been definitely declared.

    Celibate priests was never a matter of doctrine – it’s a discipline.

    You can’t dissent on contraception either – sorry.

    So, if you’re into women priests and contraception are you still a Catholic? I don’t know the semantics of it, but you certainly would be considered to be rejecting very serious aspects of Catholicism.

  13. Ben Anderson says:

    in regards to the sign of peace. I did a little more research and found that the text on the usccb’s website a little more helpful than the original ewtn link I provided (I will update the post with the additional info I found – although there’s still some unknowns in my mind.).

  14. Ben Anderson says:

    actually, I’m confused, the girm on the usccb’s site doesn’t seem to state anywhere what the usccb has decided on the options for each episcopal conference.

    Chapter IX: Adaptations Within The Competence Of Bishops And Bishops’ Conferences

    390. It is for the Conferences of Bishops to formulate the adaptations indicated in this General Instruction and in the Order of Mass and, once their decisions have been accorded the recognitio of the Apostolic See, to introduce them into the Missal itself. They are such as these:

    • the gestures and bodily posture of the faithful (cf. no. 43);

    • the gestures of veneration toward the altar and the Book of the Gospels (cf. no. 273);

    • the texts of the chants at the Entrance, at the Presentation of the Gifts, and at Communion (cf. nos. 48, 74, 87);

    • the readings from Sacred Scripture to be used in special circumstances (cf. no. 362);

    • the form of the gesture of peace (cf. no. 82);

    • the manner of receiving Holy Communion (cf. nos. 160, 283);

    • the materials for the altar and sacred furnishings, especially the sacred vessels, and also the materials, form, and color of the liturgical vestments (cf. nos. 301, 326, 329, 339, 342-346).

    but where oh where is the actual US adaptations?

  15. Abaccio says:

    Ray, a baptized person who believes all that the Church teaches is called a Catholic. A baptized person that believes some of what the church teaches is called a heretic. Let’s call a spade a spade and move on. To knowingly state and believe that the church is wrong regarding a doctrinal matter is a mortal sin. I don’t like mortal sins. The following statements are mutually exclusive in their truth: 1) God does not will for women to be priests. 2) God does will for women to become priests. To claim the latter is to claim that the Church is incorrect, thus, that She is not infallible in her teaching authority, and thus, that the Holy Ghost is not protecting her from error. If this is your belief, then no, YOU ARE NOT CATHOLIC, since this is utterly fundamental!

  16. Ben Anderson says:

    If each of the councils of bishops from each country comes up with a norm of their own, will that not result in a spectrum of behavior at the sign of peace??

    touche… the point is that the actual spectrum is not nearly as wide as many people make it out to be.

    also note: “However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest.”

  17. BigE says:


    You have your head in the sand if you don’t think the church has ever been incorrect in a teaching.

    Off the top of my head, the church somewhere over the last 1,500 years has changed it’s teaching on usury, slavery, and religious freedom just to name a few. Not to mention the number of people condemned, ex-communicated, and/or suppressed for their “heretical” views, only to later be made Saints.

    Does that mean all dissent is good? Certainly not. But this idea that stating the church is wrong in a doctrinal matter is a mortal sin is crazy. I would challenge you to show me where that is anywhere stated by the Church. In fact, the Code of Canon Law gives all catholics the right to express their views for the good of the Church (Can 212.3) and to follow their conscience (CCC 1776)

    Ironically, the belief you stated in your post IS NOT Catholic.

  18. Scott W. says:

    Off the top of my head, the church somewhere over the last 1,500 years has changed it’s teaching on usury, slavery, and religious freedom just to name a few.

    Changed it’s teaching on usury? Nope. Still a sin. See 2005 Compendium:

    508. What is forbidden by the seventh commandment?


    Above all, the seventh commandment forbids theft, which is the taking or using of another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. This can be done also by paying unjust wages; by speculation on the value of goods in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; or by the forgery of checks or invoices. Also forbidden is tax evasion or business fraud; willfully damaging private or public property ; usury; corruption; the private abuse of common goods; work deliberately done poorly; and waste.

    Slavery? Nope. When the Church specifically taught on slavery (more specifically, chattel slavery) it condemned it and continued to condemn it. See:

    I haven’t looked at religious liberty much, but see this:

  19. Scott W. says:

    P.S. Just for fun, it has been noted that radical traditionalists and dissenting lefties are like the North Pole and the South Pole: they may be a world apart, but the dead and deadening landscape is eerily similar. Watch as Dave Armstrong dismantles a Geocentrist who tries to use what I call the Usury Gambit:

  20. BigE says:

    @ Scott W.

    I’m not sure why your quoting me the CCC on stealing. I used the term “usury” relative to the charging interest on loans. Of course, the current definition of usury (excessive interest rate) is different than what it historically meant (ANY type of interest rate).

    The change in the Church’s teaching:

    1)What the Church used to teach: “Nevertheless, the 12th canon of the First Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th canon of the Council of Aix (789) have declared it to be reprehensible even for laymen to make money by lending at interest. The canonical laws of the Middle Ages absolutely forbade the practice.”

    What the Church currently teaches: “Of course, the contemporary Catholic Church does not abide by this teaching….By 1750, then, the scholastic theory and the countertheory, approaching the same problem form different theoretical viewpoints, agree in approving the common practice [of demanding interest on loans].”8 As time went on, the majority of respected theologians approved of taking interest on loans, the Holy Office did not condemn these opinions and confessors were not obliged to disturb those involved in the practice. In 1917 Canon law actually required Catholic institutions, such as hospitals, schools, or universities to invest their assets profitably. There has undoubtedly been a change between the ancient teachings of the Fathers and the contemporary Catholic tradition.”

  21. Ink says:

    @Bobbyva2001: drop me an e-mail at and I can give you information about all the Catholic schools in the area. I have sisters of all ages, so I know quite a bit–and if I can’t help you, I know people who can.

  22. Scott W. says:

    I’m not sure why your quoting me the CCC on stealing.

    Because usury is listed if you will read the whole thing.

    Bottom line: Usury is still a sin. Ain't no use pretending it isn't.

  23. Scott W. says:

    P.S. Do you realize that the Kaczor article you link actually supports my position. The quote “Of course, the contemporary Catholic Church does not abide by this teaching” is referencing Scholastic (Aquinas) teaching. Well, as much as I like Aquinas, he ain’t the magisterium. So read a little further and you find this (my emphasis and all caps):

    Although there has been development in determining what constitutes usury, there
    has been no contradiction or radical rejection of previous teachings on the subject in the
    Catholic tradition. As John T. Noonan, Jr. points out:
    [A]s far as dogma in the technical Catholic sense is concerned, there is only
    one dogma at stake. Dogma is not to be loosely used as synonymous with
    every papal rule or theological verdict. Dogma is a defined, revealed
    doctrine taught by the Church at all times and places. Nothing here meets
    the test of dogma except this assertion, that usury, the act of taking profit on
    a loan without a just title, is sinful. Even this dogma is not specifically,
    formally defined by any pope or council. It is, however, taught by the
    tradition of the Church, as witnessed by papal bulls and briefs, conciliar
    acts, and theological opinion. This dogmatic teaching remains unchanged.
    What is a just title, what is technically to be treated as a loan, are matters of
    debate, positive law, and changing evolution. The development of these
    points is great. But the pure and narrow dogma is the same today as in

    Put another way, the Church maintains that usury is wrong; but does not hold AND NEVER DID HOLD that all charging whatsoever of amounts beyond the principal is wrong.

  24. BigE says:

    @Scott W.

    The response you posted deals with Dogma, not Doctrine. (note that the definition you posted on dogma is that it is doctrine taught by the church at all times and all places…which would eliminate the “specifics” of usury as dogma. See the attached definition of Dogma vs Doctrine below.

    “Doctrines are, broadly, the teachings of the Church. Every dogma is a doctrine but not every doctrine is a dogma. A doctrine may apply to a specific community within the Church. It may be binding and authoritative to them and not to other communities within the Church. Papal encyclicals are doctrinal. Doctrines may be different within different communities within the Church and may change over time. For example, Pius IX (IIRC) taught against political democracy. John Paul II taught in favor of political democracy.”

    Abaccio claimed…”to knowingly state and believe that the church is wrong regarding a doctrinal matter is a mortal sin.” (note: he said doctrine, not dogma)

    Even you posted above that “Dogma is not to be loosely used as synonymous with
    every papal rule or theological verdict.”

    So are you agreeing with me or Abaccio?

  25. Scott W. says:

    So are you agreeing with me or Abaccio?

    I’m content to let the readers follow what transpired here and decide for themselves.

  26. BigE says:

    @scott w

    I only asked because I was confused on your position.

    You posted about Dogma (not doctrine) and cited in part a reference that dogma is “not loosely used as synonymous with every papal rule or theological verdict.” Or in another words, the Dogma of the Church never changes, although it’s doctrine can (and has…)

    That would seem to support my initial comment to Abaccio.

    In any event, I enjoyed the debate, and thank all (including Abaccio). I always learn a lot through these discussions.


  27. Ben Anderson says:

    another thought in regards to Rayomnd’s comment spectrum:

    If each of the councils of bishops from each country comes up with a norm of their own, will that not result in a spectrum of behavior at the sign of peace??

    in thinking more on this, I don’t think this is really defining the legitimacy of a spectrum so much as stating that various cultures non-verbal communications mean different things. It’s almost like a translation. For example, in Palestine a kiss would be about equal to a handshake in the US. It’s not really a spectrum of the underlying reality, but a different way of expressing that same reality. Just a thought.

    A couple of things… I read through the CCC 1776 section and further on conscience and I didn’t see anything there about allowing room for dissent. Here’s a couple snips I found useful:

    The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

    A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

    Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

    what am I missing? Where does it say, “if you really think the authoritative teaching of the Church is wrong, then you are free to disagree”? I just don’t see it.

    Also, to reiterate, one may not disagree with a male-only priesthood or the fact that contraception is wrong. Does that make one a heretic? Probably not. But it would be a serious sin if properly informed. As demonstrated, your examples of usury and slavery don’t equate to being allowed to dissent on male-only priesthood and contraception. But we’re all listening if you wish to make your case. Also, anyone interested on heresy and women’s ordination might want to check out Jimmy Akin’s podcast if you haven’t already:

  28. Raymond F. Rice says:

    For years the monies collected for the annual Thanksgiving Appeal were sent to Washington to the bishops conference to be used for the poor. Most people thought it would be sent expeditiously to agencies to help the starving, homeless,etc.

    However the fact of the matter was that the bishops banked the money for a year and kept the interest earned off of it to build their conference center on embassy row. It was considered to be moral or at least legal until some bishops said it was legal but not exactly moral because there was an expectancy from the faithful that it would be given to the poor asap. Was this a change in teaching or a “regression” to morality??

    PS: Abbacio!! Will I be eventually rooming next to Galileo, JeanneD’Arc, Savonarola, Huss,
    Teilhard, and the cardinal from Spain who recently said women will eventally be priests??

  29. BigE says:


    1) “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.”

    What is not clear about that statement for someone who may sincerely disagree with a teaching of the church?

    2) My example of usury shows that Church HAS changed doctrine in the past (not Dogma). Which means that Abaccio’s statement about disagreeing with a doctrine being a mortal sin makes no sense (not to mention that the Church no where says that). That was my only point.

    3) Based on #1 above – if someone’s conscience leads them to disagree with a church teaching how can that be a serious sin when CCC1776 “clearly” states that to NOT follow their conscience is a mortal sin? Again, you are making a statement NOT supported by anything the Church teaches.

    A quote from the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1967(in commentary on the documents of Vatican II):

    “Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism”.

  30. Dr. K says:

    Based on #1 above – if someone’s conscience leads them to disagree with a church teaching how can that be a serious sin when CCC1776 “clearly” states that to NOT follow their conscience is a mortal sin?

    If your conscience tells you to kill someone, you better do it lest you commit the heinous mortal sin of not following one’s conscience?

    Do you see how a properly-formed conscience is important?

  31. BigE says:

    @Dr. K

    Nice non-sequitor, as I never said a properly formed conscience wasn’t important.

    Should I conclude based on your comment, that you must believe no one has ever justifiably killed by following their conscience?

  32. Ben Anderson says:

    women priests from

    In 1994, Pope John Paul II formally declared that the Church does not have the power to ordain women. He stated, “Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter that pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4).

    In 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in conjunction with the pope, ruled that this teaching “requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium (cf. Lumen Gentium 25:2)” (Response of Oct. 25, 1995).

    and more from Dave Armstrong

    Dave Armstrong on conscience/contraception

    “If well-formed and well-informed conscience finds itself at odds with official church teaching–birth control and capital punishment are two contemporary examples–what should one do?”

    This is an illegitimate appeal to conscience with regard to contraception. It is neither “well-formed” nor “well-informed.” Church teaching is absolutely clear in this regard, and is as infallible as it can be in the “ordinary Magisterium” short of a definitive dogmatic pronouncement. So the appeal to conscience is disallowed on that score, and can only be based on invincible ignorance or deliberate disobedience. God would take into account the former, and that person would not be sinning subjectively. But the latter is a sin in any event, because the person knows exactly what they are doing. The ignorance of Church teaching runs very deep these days. Newman certainly would never have countenanced deliberate disobedience against the Church.

    I don’t know what this writer thinks is Church teaching on the death penalty. It has always been allowed (e.g., CCC #2266, “in cases of extreme gravity”). Just war theory (or for that matter, the existence of police) presupposes the right of the state or persons acting in its stead, to take lives in a defensive posture, or in order to procure justice. So no Catholic can properly take a stand that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. If so, that would make God Himself evil, since He commanded the Israelites to do just that, in their very Law. At best, one can oppose it for this particular case, and that would be a legitimate use of conscience. The pope’s recent writing on this – I understand – are directed towards the fair and just exercise of capital punishment, and pastoral concerns, not the inherent evil of it, per the above.

    I urge you to pray about this and bring it to Our Lord and Our Lady. For the sake of your soul, please reconsider and make a decision if you want to go before Our Lord saying, “but Lord, I was right and they [the people you have authority to] were wrong”. . You really need to understand that the Church has authority (“he who rejects you rejects me”). That’s why I’m Catholic and not the Presbyterian I used to be. If you deny the authority of the Church, you are essentially ceasing to be Catholic. The examples you stated on slavery and usury do not prove the point you are trying to make (that you can dissent on the things you’ve proposed). The Church cannot error on matters of faith and morals. It hasn’t and it won’t.

  33. BigE says:


    You are sadly mistaken if you think I reject the Church. And you are also sadly mistaken if you think questioning a teaching is a rejection of the Church’s authority. I love the Church. And part of what I love about the Church is her wisdom in understanding that the Holy Spirit works throughout ALL the church. Not just the leadership. Sometimes the truth comes to us from he top down. Sometimes it comes from the bottom up. Sometimes it is right there in front us, but needs to simply be restated for better understanding. This constant tension, discussion, and search is what leads the Church to the truth, and has led the Church to the truth, and will lead the Church to the truth.

    Critical evaluation is essential for doctrinal development. Without vigorous debate and open discussion, teaching becomes indoctrination, the action of the Spirit is blocked and the search for truth compromised.


  34. Ben Anderson says:

    Critical evaluation is essential for doctrinal development. Without vigorous debate and open discussion, teaching becomes indoctrination, the action of the Spirit is blocked and the search for truth compromised.

    this may be true for doctrines that haven’t been definitively defined. An all-male priesthood and the immorality of contraception both have been definitively defined. The Church cannot and will not change her mind. There is no room for doctrinal development to change her teachings. You have a misunderstanding of doctrinal development. You have absolutely no examples that parallel such a drastic change in Church teaching as reversing the teachings on priesthood and contraception.

    And you are also sadly mistaken if you think questioning a teaching is a rejection of the Church’s authority.

    Let me rephrase and affirm. It is a rejection of the Church’s authority to obstinately deny doctrinal truths that have be definitely decided and explicitly stated by the official Magisterium of the Church.

    There is no point in going on with this discussion. You have encouraged me to delve deeper into my understanding of all of this, so I thank you for that.

  35. annonymouse says:

    Dear BigE, Please provide an example or two of instances in which the Church’s definitive teachings on morals have come “from the bottom up.”

  36. BigE says:


    1) the rejection of arianism in the 4th century, 2) the doctrine of the immaculate conception

    From John Henry Newman:

    “I think I am right in saying that the tradition of the Apostles, committed to the whole Church in its various constituents and functions per modum unius, manifests itself variously at various times: sometimes by the mouth of the episcopacy, sometimes by the doctors, sometimes by the people, sometimes by liturgies, rites, ceremonies, and customs, by events, disputes, movements, and all those other phenomena which are comprised under the name of history. (On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, with an Introduction by John Coulson, London 1961: reissued with a Foreword by Derek Worlock. Archbishop of Liverpool, London 1986, p. 41.)

    “Newman quoted at great length the various ancient authorities to show that what he maintained was in fact the case — that during the greater part of the fourth century the dogma of Nicaea was preserved “(1) not by the unswerving firmness of the Holy See, Councils or Bishops, but (2) by the consensus fidelium”.

    “But while the Papal Bull may have finally determined the issue as a dogma within the Roman Catholic Church, the final promulgation of the doctrine as dogma “to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful” was actually a crowning of the medieval success of Duns Scotus and the Franciscans in gaining formal theological acceptance for a doctrine that finds it’s roots not in the bible or even in the writings of the Church Fathers, but rather in the tidal wave of popular devotion to Mary.”

  37. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Big E!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Love ya!!

  38. Ben Anderson says:

    I’m still looking for the part where Newman (or the CCC, or anyone else) claims that the sensus fidelium can contradict the Magisterium and overturn a definitely declared doctrine. Figure that one out and report back.

  39. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Unfortunately the sensus fidelium, on occasion, does not overtly contradict the magisterium and overturn a definitely declared doctrine. The sensus fidelium, made up of the common conscience, just quietly seems to move on and ignores the doctrine (SEE: artificial birth control).
    You recall that Pius XII wrote to all the world’s bishops prior to the declaration of the Assumption and asked them if it was a belief generally held by them and their flock. When he received overwhelming responses that it was, this became part of the final definition process. As has been said before, last years heretics are this years prophets.
    Why can’t subsequent popes follow Pius XII’s lead??

    You may recall the Church’s position on a just war as it was in the past and how this position now appears to be diminishing/changing along with capitol punishment.

  40. BigE says:


    I would, except I don’t what the definition of a “definately declared” doctrine is.

    Can you show me where the Church has officially tagged something as “definately declared”?

  41. Ben Anderson says:

    I mistyped it – definitively:

    Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

    Here’s a link to Humanae Vitae. I’m not quite as familiar with that one to know which section to snip. If I get time, I’ll come back to it… but I’m pretty sure it’s definitive. In order to accept contraception, you wouldn’t be able to development doctrine to be consistent with this Encyclical by Paul VI. You would have to say he was very, very wrong.

  42. BigE says:


    1) For one, the concept and the term “definitive” teaching – is new and was only introduced in 1998 with “Ad Tuendam Fidem”. The introduction of the term is in itself confusing and controversial (relative to infallibilty). So exactly how would I find a “definitive” teaching before 1998, or that Cardinal Newman (who died in 1890) would have addressed since the theological term didn’t exist then?

    2) You’ve linked me to “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” which is an “Apostolic Letter” and does not appear to be infallible. The Holy Father addressed the letter to the bishops alone, rather than the whole church. He used an Apostolic Letter rather than the most authoritive Apostolic Constitution. Further, he used the first person singular, indicating a private opinion, rather than the first person plural, indicating the papal office. So are you asking me to find a non-infallible teaching that “developed” (changed)over the history of the Church?

    3) Just FYI…Vatican documents include, in descending order of formal authority: apostolic constitutions, encyclical letters, encyclical epistles, apostolic exhortations, apostolic letters, letters and messages. Hmmmmm….how far down that list is an Apostolic Letter?

    So again, I can’t report back on your question since it lacks proper definition.

  43. Ben Anderson says:

    For one, the concept and the term “definitive” teaching – is new and was only introduced in 1998

    Adjective: explicitly defined

    So the Church never explicitly defined any of her teachings?

    how would I find a “definitive” teaching before 1998

    hmmm – try the Nicene Creed or the Council of Trent?

    To end this hullabaloo, I’ll leave you with a story from the other day:

    I was brushing my teeth downstairs the other day and John (my 3-year old) was standing behind me and he says,
    “Daddy, turn my batman costume right side out”
    “ok, John, when I’m done”
    “you need to do it now”
    “have some patience”

    “but Daddy, you need to do it now”
    “remember, John, patience”
    “but Daddy, I’m all out of patience – I don’t have any left”
    “that’s ok. God has an infinite supply of patience and He’ll give you all that you need. Just ask Him.”
    “but Daddy, I really don’t WANT any more patience”

    BigE, I suggest you pray to God for faith to believe in the Church He established, my brother.

  44. Thinkling says:


    Your disconnect is that you are not “thinking with the Church”. Without doing that, one can always discount anything the Church states, and there is thus no appeal from her would be acceptable.

    Your last post is a perfect example. See this comment for the logical conclusion of this type of thought. At some point, one simply has to listen to what is being said (e.g., Ben’s references) and common sensically acknowledge that no, Popes do not randomly say things of this import and gravity, with such clarity, without, you know, meaning what they say.

    When people go through the Lewis Carrollean contortions like you are above, it is a sign you are postulating an opinion of your own as fact and thus finding the least absurd explanation to discount the Church’s contrasting statement, so as to maintain noncontradiction. You are free to do that of course (indeed we all are). But understand what that looks like: one person’s opinion, inspired by mere trendy thought fads less than half a century old, vs. a mountain of thought and reflection (and revelation?) spanning more than forty times that much. If you are one to profess belief in the “Apostolic Church” every Sunday, then that is a remarkably poor way to demonstrate that belief. Now you can do either without logic fail. But you cannot do both.

  45. JLo says:

    Marvelous, Thinkling! Thank you for such clarity on where this whole posting devolved… it needed it. We had an abundance of pride, and what we need to get through the planet and into our real home is just the opposite, humility. Humbly and patiently letting Holy Mother Church form our conscience and lead us. God bless. +JMJ

  46. BigE says:


    “Definitive” teaching for the church has a meaning beyond that simply found in a dictionary. It is not an easy issue.

    But ok, I’ll go with your definition -> a definitive teaching = explicity defined teaching.

    Back to my earlier example. The Church once taught, and explicity defined that accepting ANY interest on loan was sinful:

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Nevertheless, the 12th canon of the First Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th canon of the Council of Aix (789) have declared it to be reprehensible even for laymen to make money by lending at interest. The canonical laws of the Middle Ages absolutely forbade the practice.”

    Would you agree the above teaching is “explicity defined”?

  47. BigE says:


    I’m not thinking with the Church?

    I would ask you: what (and or who) is the Church?

  48. Diane Harris says:

    Not trying to “butt in” but want to offer some scriptural info. The OT clearly proscribes against charging interest, but the NT does not. For example, in Matthew 25:27 “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” In Luk 19:23 “Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?”

    Excerpts from Catholic Encyclopedia:

    Interest is a value exacted or promised over and above the restitution of a borrowed capital.

    •Moratory interest, that is interest due as an indemnity or a penalty for delay in payment, is distinguished from
    •compensatory interest, which indemnifies the lender for the danger he really runs of losing his capital, the loss that he suffers or the gain of which he deprives himself in disembarrassing himself of his capital during the period of the loan, and from
    •lucrative interest, which is an emolument that the lender would not gain without lending.

    Legitimacy of lending at interest

    Is it permitted to lend at interest? Formerly (see USURY) the Church rigorously condemned the exacting of anything over and above capital, except when, by reason of some special circumstance, the lender was in danger of losing his capital or could not advance his loan of money without exposing himself to a loss or to deprivation of a gain. These special reasons, which authorise the charging of interest, are called extrinsic titles.

    Besides these compensatory interests, the Church has likewise admitted moratory interest. In our day, she permits the general practice of lending at interest, that is to say, she authorizes the impost, without one’s having to enquire if, on lending his money, he has suffered a loss or deprived himself of a gain, provided he demand a moderate interest for the money he lends. This demand is never unjust.

    Charity alone, not justice, can oblige anyone to make a gratuitous loan (see the replies of the Penitentiary and of the Holy Office since 1830).

    What is the reason for this change in the attitude of the Church towards the exaction of interest? As may be more fully seen in the article USURY, this difference is due to economical circumstances. The price of goods is regulated by common valuation, and the latter by the utility that their possession ordinarily brings in a given centre. Now, today, otherwise than formerly, one can commonly employ one’s money fruitfully, at least by putting it into a syndicate. Hence, today, the mere possession of money means a certain value. Whoever hands over this possession can claim in return this value. Thus it is that one acts in demanding an interest.

    Even today one can still sin against justice by demanding too high an interest, or usury, as it is called. What interest then is just and moderate? Theoretically, and in an abstract way, the fair rate of interest nearly corresponds to the average gain that those engaged in business may generally expect in a determined centre.

    But if one had to run special risks or had to give up an extraordinary premium, one might in all justice exact a higher rate of interest. Such, therefore, is the theoretical rule. In practice, however, as even the answer of the Sacred Penitentiary shows (18 April, 1889), the best course is to conform to the usages established amongst men, precisely as one does with regard to other prices.

    Everyone admits that a duty of charity may command us to lend gratuitously, just as it commands us to give freely. The point in question is one of justice: Is it contrary to the equity required in mutual contracts to ask from the borrower interest in addition to the money lent?

    The precise question then is this: if we consider justice only, without reference to extrinsic circumstances, can the loan of money, or any chattel which is not destroyed by use, entitle the lender to a gain or profit which is called interest? To this question some persons, namely the economists of the classic school, and some Catholic writers, answer “yes, and always”; others, namely Socialists and some Catholic writers, answer, “no, never”; and lastly some Catholics give a less unconditional answer, “sometimes, but not always”; and they explain the different attitudes of he Church in condemning at one time, and at another authorizing, the practice of taking interest on loans, by the difference of circumstances and the state of society.

    A lender, during the whole time that the loan continues, deprives himself of a valuable thing, for the price of which he is compensated by the interest. It is right at the present day to permit interest on money lent, as it was not wrong to condemn the practice at a time when it was more difficult to find profitable investments for money.

    The entries are just excerpts from “Interest” and “Usury” in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Hopefully the distinction between waiving interest in charity, and receiving interest in justice can be useful.

  49. BigE says:


    This ceratinly isn’t a private conversation. Thanks for the input. Peace.

  50. Ben Anderson says:

    I admit I don’t know all too much about the usury issue. I wonder if we might get Christopher Kaczor (author of the article you linked to) to comment on whether he thinks the change in regards to usury might open a door for dissenting on the all-male priesthood or contraception. I’d be curious to hear his response.

    I will add this in response to your quote:

    “Nevertheless, the 12th canon of the First Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th canon of the Council of Aix (789) have declared it to be reprehensible even for laymen to make money by lending at interest. The canonical laws of the Middle Ages absolutely forbade the practice.”

    It sure doesn’t sound like (in accord with what Diane said) that taking interest was declared to be always and everywhere intrinsically evil (as contraception has).

    I will also tell you this… what you are trying to do is to provide a “defeater” which shows a kink in the armor of the Catholic teaching authority. Such defeaters are used by Protestants all the time to say, “see – the Catholic Church can’t possibly be what you claim it to be”. It means that no further investigation is needed – case closed. If the Catholic Church claims it can’t be wrong (and clearly it has been), then Catholicism is false and therefore I am a Protestant. That’s how the logic goes. And I would actually agree with that logic for the most part. You are doing the same thing the protestants do. They do it to say the whole system is wrong. You do it to say you can pick and choose what you want to believe (which is actually a very Protestant thing to do).

    The problem with this “defeatist” approach is that there are always nuances when you look closely. Quite honestly, I think the most difficult defeater (at least for me) to overcome was the immaculate conception. You have church fathers left and right talking about Mary being sinful. How can this be if the Church claims that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle and it the IC wasn’t infallibly declared until 1850 something? The apparent contradiction (and Catholic error) is extremely strong… that is until you look closer. Once you start turning over the rocks, you find the evidence is there to support the IC and that the case against it can quite easily be refuted. I’m telling you this because I can tell you that when I went through the process of converting to Catholicism, I read many books on both sides of the debate and I worked through many issues like this one. What’s interesting is that usury never came up for me. If, as you say, it’s so clear that the Church actually changed her doctrine in this regard (thus admitting error), then I think you’d hear much more about it from the protestant apologists. And quite simply – you don’t. Why? Because it’s not a very good defeater. Do I know all the details behind it or can I take the time to research them all right now? No, and thus I will bow out for now, but know that you have piqued my interest and I do plan to investigate it further in due time.

    I will leave you with this:

  51. BigE says:


    1) The doctrine around usury doesn’t come up because it’s not a big deal. The doctrine wasn’t divinely revealed, and certainly isn’t a central tenet of our faith. It falls under my claim that not all the teachings of the Church are created equal (some are much, MUCH more important than others). That is why your claim that no one can dissent to ANY explicity stated teaching of the church is mistaken IMHO. That attitude doesn’t allow the truth to be explored and developed. I’m willing to bet someone, someplace, at sometime, eventually challenged the teaching on usury as our understanding of economics and monetary theory developed. I’m also willing to bet that those early challengers probably would have been thrown into the category of “dissenters”. So I bring this usury issue up as an example, not because it is important.

    2) Your comment about “always and everywhere intrinsically evil” is now changing your definition of what you said was a “definitive” teaching. You said if something was “explicity stated” it was a a definitive teaching. The sin of usury was explicity stated in a number of canons. Now you are seperating one explicity stated teaching from another based on how it is described. It is difficult for me to debate a floating definition of a definitive teaching.

    3) And I am also a convert to the faith. And one of the things I fell in love with about our Church is that she is open to discussion and debate. She is not so insecure to think that her authority is so fragile as to crumble under the slightest scrutiny. There is an old proverb that says, “Truth fears no trial”. I wonder who really has the “defeater” attitude here? Who really trusts the truth more? Who really has more confidence that the Holy Spirit will get us to where we need to be? Just sayin’…..

    As always…

    “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty…in all things love”.

  52. Ben Anderson says:

    #2 I didn’t intend to mean that definitive implied “always and everywhere”. You are right – those are 2 different things. If I jumbled them together it was because I was responding in haste.

    #3 I have no fear of the truth. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong and I’ll change my views.

    “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty…in all things love”.

    I apologize if my comments have lacked love. Most of them were written in haste and not re-scanned to check for politeness. In regards to essentials and non-essentials, I think we’d both agree that it’s not up to the individual to define what is essential and non-essential, but rather it’s up to the Church to decide.

    So here’s what I propose. I’ve been trying to get out of this conversation because I currently don’t have the adequate knowledge to fully address it. However, I do think it’s important and you’ve raised good questions. I know enough to know that I disagree with some points you’ve made, but not enough to articulate why I disagree intelligently. IOW – I need to do more research. And I don’t currently have the time to do the research. So, what I propose is that we articulate the current state of the debate so that I (or anyone else including you, as I believe there is a certain burden of proof on you and quite honestly you’re arguments have been lacking as well) can address them more fully when I have more time. So here’s the wrap-up of the discussion. Let me know if this sounds about right or if it needs to be modified. Some of these are just for my own curiousity.

    Agreed upon statements

    • Church teachings (ie doctrines) have various attributes associated with them (eg divinely revealed, infallible, definitive, universal, binding, etc)
    • The Church has a hierarchy of doctrines. Denying the trinity is much more grave than denying the male-only priesthood.
    • The Church’s teaching on usury apparently seems to have changed such that at time T0 the Church taught X and at T1 the Church taught ~X
      (I’ll exclude the word “apparently” below, but assume it to be there)

    BigE asserts

    • The CCC states that there is room for dissent on teachings contained in the CCC.
    • Doctrines that are not infallible are not binding on a Catholic.
    • Without dissent, progress wouldn’t be made on doctrines. In other words, if we didn’t have people dissenting on the Church’s teaching of usury at time T0, then we would still be left with an erroneous doctrine.
    • the church allows for dissent on non-infallible teachings based on conscience
    • it is acceptable for a Catholic to believe that women should be ordained as priests and to advocate for this position
    • (you need to clear these up for me) it is acceptable for a Catholic to use contraception OR it is not acceptable for a Catholic to USE contraception, but it is acceptable for a Catholic to argue against the current teaching so that progress may be made so that someday the Church will correct its erroneous teaching.

    Ben asserts

    • A Catholic is not permitted to dissent on the male-only priesthood. The Church’s teaching is true and can never be changed.
    • A Catholic is not permitted to dissent on contraception. The Church’s teaching is true and can never be changed.
    • The attributes associated with the Church’s teaching on usury at time T0 are not the same as those that are associated with the male-only priesthood or contraception. There is something different about them that allowed for the teaching on usury to be changed whereas the all-male priesthood and the instrinsically evil nature of contraception can never be changed.
    • All teachings in the CCC are binding on Catholics.
    • Infallibility is not the only attribute that makes teachings binding on Catholics.
    • Certainly sincere debate and scholarly insight is necessary for doctrines to develop, but dissenting on teachings such as the all-male priesthood or contracption does not accomplish this and in fact tears down the Church

    Open questions

    • What are all the attributes that Church teachings possess?
    • Is it possible to know the attributes for a particular teaching? How?
    • What attributes does a teaching possess for it to be binding on a Catholic?
    • What attributes does a teaching possess for it to be open for debate?
    • What is one to do if they don’t believe a particular teaching (ie – their conscience tells them something other than the Church)? Are they sinning because of this?
    • Must there be dissenting opinions for doctrines to develop and progress?
    • What were the attributes of the Church’s teaching on usury at time T0?
    • What are the attributes of the Church’s current teaching on the all-male priesthood?
    • What are the attributes of the Church’s current teaching on contraception?
  53. BigE says:


    Your comments have been fine. I have not sensed any lack of love. I included the last line on essentials, non-essentials, and love to summarize MY position – not as any critique of yours. Your fine, my brother.

    Your summary was nice. To be clear, I don’t believe ALL teachings are open to dissent. Only those not divinely revealed. The divinity of Christ, the Sacraments, those beliefs outlined in the Nicene Creed, the Eucharist, etc etc are all essential teachings that one must believe to be a Catholic. The non-negotiables if you will.

    And I do think the Church has a stronger position on the all-male priesthood than it does on contraception. As to whether dissent is allowed for contraception is an interesting question. I believe it was because of this issue that the conscience clause in CCC1776 was added. I think the Church got herself cornered by stubbornly insisting on a teaching that with the last study I saw – said 85% of Catholics were not following. That is Senses Fidelium to the max.


  54. bobbyva2001 says:

    I think you have a flawed understanding of Senses Fidelium.

  55. BigE says:


    Flawed in what way?

  56. annonymouse says:

    BigE – you appear to have a reading comprehension problem. Please re-read my request.

    I repeat: “Please provide an example or two of instances in which the Church’s definitive teachings on morals have come “from the bottom up.”

    Your examples did not pertain to morals – they pertain to “faith.” I am aware that the belief in the Immaculate Conception long predates the ex-cathedra promulgation. I will do my own research with respect to Arianism.

    I wish to know when the Church’s teaching authority has changed in response to the sensus fidelium.

    As an aside, please note that the concept of “sensus fidelium” also includes the Magisterium. It’s not a 1% vs. 99% thing, at least not in the way the Church as defined the concept.

  57. BigE says:


    Thanks. But I think my reading comprehension is fine.

    Morals and faith have been conflated in this discussion through the claim that it is “immoral” to reject ANY teaching of the church (including those that are faith related). Some went so far as to call those rejections a mortal sin. So I think your distinction is irrelevent.

    As to your original question…since you didn’t like my response, let me instead answer your question with a question. Can you give me an example of where the Church has ever insisted on the truth of a teaching that has been rejected by 98% of the faithful?

  58. Ben Anderson says:

    let me instead answer your question with a question. Can you give me an example of where the Church has ever insisted on the truth of a teaching that has been rejected by 98% of the faithful?

    If you’re looking for the many vs the few – read your Bible. Adam/Eve (2/2 rejected God’s teachings), everyone else besides Noah, Sodom/Gomorrah, Ninevah, all the other scouts other than Caleb/Joshua, Jerusalem prior to the exile, the pharisees, Jesus’ parables (eg wide/narrow paths), those who heard Jesus teaching on the Eucharist, those who fled Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, etc, etc…

    If you’re looking for post Biblical times, I believe the Arian heresy may have actually been the majority at the time (even among bishops).

    I’m not so sure about the 98% either. Less than half of “Catholics” attend mass – would it be right to say the Church shouldn’t require people to go to mass? Reports have said that less than half believe in the Real Presence – should the Church change her teachings? If you polled those Catholics who actually believe in the faith, I think you’d get a much different answer.

    Another point, this isn’t necessarily people rejecting the teaching because they have carefully considered it and come to the conclusion that they don’t believe it to be true. They use contraception first because they WANT to and then rationalize it in their minds. This is a basic human instinct – we do it all the time. The truth-seeker must flip that around and first determine truth and THEN attempt to do what is true despite what I want to do.

    As I said, I plan on doing more research at some point and reporting back. I believe the necessary evidence is there for anyone who truly seeks. But I continue to believe that the burden of proof is on you – not us.

  59. annonymouse says:

    Ben, thank you. Well said.

    BigE – I will not contest that the majority of self-identified Catholic couples use artificial contraception. I will say that I will not rely on a study by the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Alan Guttmacher Institute to say that the figure is 98%. Further, the study says that the other 2% of couples use natural family planning. This clearly means that Guttmacher thinks ALL Catholic couples use some sort of family planning, which is ludicrous (I suppose they cannot imagine a couple simply trusting in the Lord’s will). From quite personal experience, I know of at least one Catholic couple who relies on neither.

    Horrifically, your reliance on a Guttmacher study shows that you are happy to reach right into the heart of the culture of death – Planned Parenthood – which will have killed about 350,000 unborn babies this year – to find a statistic to support your self-serving position, without even questioning its source. Do you not see the intimate connection between contraception and abortion (and, for that matter, the implicit denial of God as CREATOR)? Or do you just refuse to open your eyes?

    Conscience is not a license to do whatever you feel like doing, and conscience often dictates that we do precisely what we (in our selfishness and sinfulness), would much rather NOT do. I would assert that the couples who think artificial contraception is just fine have not progressed very far in their spiritual journey. They are betraying their wedding vows to give themselves FULLY (including their own fedundity) to their spouse and to God.

    Let me ask you this – is it HOLY to put on a condom or pop an oral contraceptive? Is it HOLY to have the vasectomy or tubes tied? Do you think God is PLEASED with those acts? Ought our lives not be dedicated to increasing in HOLINESS and PLEASING GOD??

  60. annonymouse says:

    fecundity typo there

  61. annonymouse says:

    BigE –

    I digressed into a perhaps vain attempt to convince you of the error of your support for artificial contraception. So back on point –

    With respect to your reply to my post – so we can agree that there has NEVER been an instance in which the Church’s teaching in the area of morals has been changed in response to a movement “from below” – what you perceive to be the sensus fidelium?

    With respect to your idea of sensus fidelium, how does one distinguish between the legitimate sensus fidelium and the widespread and wholesale embrace of the lies advanced by the Evil One?

    And back to the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception – may I conclude that you believe the Church’s teaching is wrong? If so, please tell me how/where the Church has erred in her reasoning behind this teaching. Surely it has to be more than “everybody’s doing it, so how can it be wrong” (which appears to be your interpretation of sensus fidelium). Surely you have read all of the Church’s writings in support of this infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium and yet you still have concluded that she is mistaken – please tell us about that.

    Could it be that the vast majority of Catholics have never bothered to give the time of day to the Church’s teaching, succumbing instead to the orthodoxy of the popular culture, a culture characterized by our Popes as the “culture of death?” In the course of my life, it has occurred to me that if my own conscience is at odds with the Church’s teaching, then who has the problem? Is it me (sinful and self-centered as I am) or is it the Church? That, my friend, requires great soul-searching and considerable humility. That is the very definition of the formation of conscience.

    Father Richard Neuhaus writes:

    “It is true that, as St. Ignatius of Loyola put it, we should think with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia). It is also true that thinking with the Church begins with thinking. Faithful assent is not a matter of standing to attention, clicking one’s heels, and saluting the appearance of every document from Rome. Rather, it is a matter of thinking for myself so that I can think with the Church, the prior assumption being that the Church possesses a teaching charism and authority that warrants my assent. I think for myself not to come up with my own teaching BUT TO MAKE THE CHURCH’S TEACHING MY OWN. That is not always easy to do. People say they have difficulty with one teaching or another. That is not necessarily a problem. The problem arises when we assume that the problem is with the teaching and not with ourselves.” (caps mine)

  62. BigE says:

    @Ben and Anonymouse

    A few things:

    1) Just to be clear – since I think we are getting a little off tract of exactly what I am defending here. My position is not that dissenters of any teaching are necessarily correct. They (and I) could be absolutely wrong. My position is simply that after proper study, prayer, and reflection, and with all due respect to the Church, one is allowed to dissent to a non-infallible teaching and still consider themselves to be fully Catholic.

    Given that, I think I have already proven my position through a) CCC1776, 2) the USCCB establishing guidelines for licit dissent, 3) the actions of the Church herself, who although at times has limited the voice of dissenters – for most have not gone to the point of saying they are no longer Catholic (ex-communication).

    2) Kudo’s to the moderators for allowing such an open discussion of this issue. My hat is off to you…..

  63. annonymouse says:

    BigE – I don’t wish to let you off the hook so easily:

    You are the one who brought the 98% figure from the Guttmacher Institute into play here, and you strongly imply that there is a “sensus fidelium” that would argue for the Church magisterium to change her teaching on artificial contraception. Or that, at the very least, that argues for you to respectfully dissent, in “good conscience” (I mean, we all know better than Holy Mother Church, do we not?).

    I take that to mean that you have, after “proper study, prayer and reflection” concluded that you can, in good conscience, dissent from this teaching. All I’m asking is for you to share a little of that “study, prayer and reflection” that you’ve taken time to do, in light of the Church’s writings and teachings, to let us know how you came to that conclusion. If one is to dissent, oughtn’t one be prepared to defend one’s journey of conscience?

    Or is it the case that you have decided based on what “feels right” and are now merely rationalizing your decision to dissent?

    You may choose to blow this off. Given that our Church teaches that these are matters of grave (mortal) sinfulness, I think it’s pretty important, don’t you? Or perhaps you are perfectly comfortable that it’s OK to ignore/dissent/blow off Church teachings even when she tells us that the matter is grave.

  64. annonymouse says:

    A couple more things – you are correct that Church teaching allows dissent from teachings which are not infallible teachings. But there has been quite a bit of discussion on these pages as what exactly constitutes “infallible” – some (incorrectly) think that it’s just the Popes’ ex cathedra pronouncements.

    And who decides what is “infallible” – why the Church, of course. So why could you not, in good conscience, dissent even from infallible teachings? It’s the Church, after all, who is saying what’s fallible and infallible! And we all know how wrong she is sometimes, don’t we?

    With respect to formation of conscience – when do you know you are “done” with your “study, prayer and reflection?” I mean, say you read the Church documents, and you study, pray and do some reflection, and you conclude that you disagree, you think the Church has it wrong. Is that it? Are you done? Do you pass go? Or do you humbly say to yourself “I must be missing something here” and so you continue to research, study, pray and reflect because you give religious assent to the teaching authority of the Church.

    I would assert, as I think would Father Neuhaus, that you are only “done” when you’ve done enough “study, prayer and reflection” to bring you to the point where you agree with the Church teaching.

  65. BigE says:


    1) I don’t think I need to rehash all the arguments against the churches teaching on contraception. My guess is you’ve heard ’em all before.

    2) No one should ever be done with their study, prayer, and reflection. Ever.

    3) It would be good to note that the opposite of doing something because it “feels good” is to “blindly follow”. Neither in the extreme are good for the Church.

    4) Yes, I think it is ok to follow my conscience in trying to do the best I can for the God I love. The Church even says so.

    5) And yes, infallibilty can go beyond Ex-Cathedra. But it is also more than the Pope simply issuing an Apostolic letter and declaring it definative.

    6) I agree that the Church decides what is infallible. The WHOLE church.

    7) Your definition of “done” is simply a “no true scotsmen” argument. Which btw, isn’t a very compelling argument.

  66. annonymouse says:

    BigE – yes, I’ve heard some arguments against what the Church teaches on artificial contraception, although none seem very convincing. Would you kindly share what you have found in your own “study, prayer and reflection?” And do share the exhaustive list of resources you’ve consulted. I’d be interested to learn on what theological basis you’ve concluded that the Church magisterium is wrong and the 98% (or whatever the figure is) are right. It would help to dissuade me from my belief that most of the pro-contraception majority haven’t actually done much “study, prayer and reflection” – but since you are obviously an intelligent guy or gal, I’d be interested to hear about your own journey to dissent.

    If one is never done with their study, prayer and reflection, then when/how does one form a moral judgment? Surely in order to lead a moral life, one must decide to stop further study, prayer and reflection in order to act, no? I mean, a man must decide to sheath or not to sheath. A woman must decide whether to chemically render her ovaries sterile or her uterus inhospitable to the fertilized ovum or not.

    The opposite of doing something because it “feels good” is not blindly following – the opposite is to have done enough thinking and examination of one’s own paradigms and the Church’s paradigms to properly form one’s conscience. And I would assert that if one’s conscience is leading them to dissent in the area of morals, then one’s own paradigms are very likely inwardly, selfishly directed.

    With respect to your earlier comment about the Church being able to withstand dissent, I quote the wise and good Father Neuhaus again:

    “Those who think it is no big thing to dissent from or disagree with the Church’s teaching often betray a touching, yet perverse, confidence in the Church that might be described as ecclesiatical fundamentalism. In this view, the fundamental realities that constitute the Church are so taken for granted that it is simply inconceivable that dissent or taking liberties at the edges could do any real damage.”

    You, and all the others who think that your own beliefs are better thought-out, or more reasonable, or less out-of-touch, or whatever, than those put forth by the obviously inferior minds who are leading Holy Mother Church, are causing great damage to Christ’s Church, to the unity for which Christ prayed. In any endeavor, unity always requires a large dose of humility, except some seem to think that humility is “blindly following.”

  67. BigE says:


    Discussion with you about reasons for any dissent would serve no purpose. You’ve already made it perfectly clear that you believe ANY thought not in line with the Church’s is undeveloped. You’ve also made it clear relative to contraception, that it doesn’t matter if I’ve read John Paul’s Humanae Vitae, or the Theology of the Body, or how many local presentations of NFP I’ve attended (all of which I’ve done). If I don’t agree with the church on a particuliar teaching – my study, prayer, and reflection is selfish. You’ve also already admitted to knowing all the dissenting arguments – so I’m not going to tell you anything you haven’t heard before. And you’ve also already made it clear what your responses to those arguments would be. So what exactly is to be gained through any further discussion?

    What you haven’t addressed to me is why if dissent is not allowed….
    a) has the Church included CCC1776 in the Catechism?
    b) why did the USCCB include norms for licit dissent?
    c) why haven’t all the faithful who have openly dissented to a church teaching been ex-communicated?

  68. annonymouse says:

    I merely wished to have you defend your journey of conscience and how you’ve come to the conclusion that, despite the brilliant, holy and spiritually advanced men leading our Church, you know better than they in this matter. How you’ve concluded, in all humility, that you’re right and the Spirit-given leaders of Holy Mother Church are WRONG. Because that’s what your dissent says quite loudly.

    You refuse to elaborate on your reasons. I conclude “you got nuthin.”

    On your other questions –

    Dissent IS allowed on non-infallible teachings.

    a) the Church teaches that we must follow our consciences, and continues to say how we must form our consciences. Conscience is not license to do whatever we feel like, but it sure is what the liberal wing of Our Church resorts to, continually, to justify where Rome is wrong (which is just about everything these days).

    b) The NCCB gave norms for licit dissent from non-infallible teachings in 1968. These norms allow for theological dissent from the non-infallible teachings of the magisterium if the reasons are serious and well-founded, if the manner of dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the church, and such dissent does not give scandal. Humanae Vitae is an infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium, as it is a teaching the Church has always and everywhere taught (as did all other Christian denominations until the 30s).

    c) Excommunication is a serious canonical penalty which is seldom invoked. It is possible (perhaps likely) that all who espouse this view have excommunicated themselves by virtue of their heresy (their obstinate rejection of a teaching that must be held).

    Why do folks who are so convinced that the Catholic Magisterium has its collective head up its butt bother to stay?? It would seem that the Episcopal Church is a much more apt home for folks who believe our leadership is so unenlightened, wouldn’t you say? Why stay and cause scandal and disunity?

  69. BigE says:


    “You got nuthin” is pretty much the reply I was going to get no matter what was posted. I just happened to save us both a lot time. I doubt that you were truly interested in MY thoughts. You’ve already broad brushed me as selfish and any ideas I might have as immaterial. Thanks for your openess.

    a)Conscience is our license to do what we feel is “right”, not “what we want”. There’s a huge difference there. You simply changing the definition of conscience does not really address my question.

    b) So I guess we agree that someone can dissent to a church teaching. We must only disagree as which ones fall into that category.

    c) Hmmm….yet many dissenting theologians/priests are still priests and still allowed to receive communion. How is that possible if they’ve ex-communicated themselves?

    I am constantly amazed how someone can pigeon hole such a big, deep, mysterious, and beautiful faith into a few teachings around sexuality. You would have someone dump all the Church has offer over a disagreement on contraception. Really? So why would someone stay? Well how about the beauty of it’s liturgy. Or the Eucharist. The Sacraments. The Communion of Saints. The Church’s deep history and traditions. It’s preferential option for the poor and cutting edge work in social justice. It’s beautiful churches. Do I need to keep going?

  70. Ben Anderson says:

    OK – my research is just beginning, but for the sake of sharing earlier rather than later the path I’ll be going down, check this out:
    This came recommended to me by a friend who is extremely knowledgeable about the faith. If you need enticement to click the links, I’ll provide the titles here:

    “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium”

    “Infallibility and Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion”

    “Infallibility and Contraception: A Reply to Garth Hallett”

    “The Ordinary Magisterium’s Infallibility: A Reply to Some New Arguments”

    These are all articles by Germain Grisez. Check out his about page:

    Before submitting the manuscript of the contraception book for publication, Grisez had enlisted the Rev. John C. Ford, S.J., a very able moral theologian who had worked on marriage questions, to review it. Soon after doing so, Fr. Ford was asked by Pope Paul VI to serve on the Pontifical Commission for Population, Family, and Birthrate—the so-called birth control commission. Grisez helped Fr. Ford with that work from the spring of 1965 until early July 1966. During the final month of that period, they worked together full time in Rome as the Commission completed its work and the two men prepared a commentary on its final report at the request of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    In 1966–67, Grisez grew increasingly concerned that the widespread acceptance of contraception, including methods that bring about very early abortion, would lead to the legalization of abortion. The false premises and sophistries characteristic of arguments for legalization made it clear that a carefully researched and argued treatment of the subject was necessary, and Grisez began working on that project in the spring of 1967.

    In July 1968, Pope Paul VI finally reaffirmed the constant and very firm teaching of the Catholic Church regarding contraception, sterilization, and abortion in his encyclical, Humanae vitae. Around the world, some Catholics openly dissented from the reaffirmed teaching, and some theologians at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., promoted dissent. A group of priests in the Archdiocese of Washington publicly undertook to apply the dissenting opinion in pastoral practice. As part of his effort to deal with the situation, Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, obtained a leave of absence for Grisez from Georgetown during 1968–69 and kept him very busy for five months. He then gave him time off to complete his book on abortion.

  71. annonymouse says:

    BigE, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. You think contraception is a peripheral issue. John Paul II thought it was a central issue in our faith – our sexuality is the rocket fuel that launches us to heaven, or some such. It’s the very place where we humbly submit ALL of ourselves to Our Lord and Creator and to our husbands or wives, or the very place where we deliberately choose not to. And it’s a place where the Church’s paradigm of human sexuality is light years different from the culture of death of our contemporary culture. It’s a place where we must choose to believe the Holy Spirit-given leaders of our Church or believe the Alan Guttamcher Institute of Planned Parenthood. After much thought and prayer, I choose to conform my beliefs to those of our last three Popes. You appear to place yourself above them, all in good conscience I suppose.

    I don’t fault you for selfishness – we all need to struggle with that. And we all must struggle with sinful pride, the original sin. Some see it in themselves, some don’t. Merry Christmas BigE – I’m out – tag you’re it Ben.

  72. BigE says:


    Yes…we need to agree to disagree. But we should always encourage the dialogue. That is where much is to be learned by everyone. And just to be clear, I do deeply respect yours (and the Churches) position on this. I do continue to “study, pray and reflect” over these issues. And I do admit that I could absolutely be wrong in where my conscience currently leads me. But this is where I’m at today and to state otherwise would feel like a lie to me.

    And my guess is that if we sat down and really compared notes – we’d find we agree on much, MUCH more than we disagree on. We are afterall – brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Lastly, please don’t lump me in with Planned Parenthood just because I believe a committed, married couple should be allowed to use contraception. What Planned Parenthood does and promotes goes WAY beyond what I am advocating. I have no respect at all for that organization.

    May you too have a Blessed and Grace filled Christmas. Peace.

  73. Ben Anderson says:

    Yes…we need to agree to disagree.

    no – that is not the answer. The above links I shared show that BigE’s position is, in fact, wrong. BigE can believe what he wants, but he is wrong to do so and try to consider himself a faithful Catholic.

  74. BigE says:


    Interesting that the snippet you posted didn’t mention the fact that the Pontifical Commission actually recommended accepting contraception. The Pope overruled that commission.

    Fr. Ford’s work was the “minority” opinion within that commission.

    And my position of allowing dissent is not wrong. As I’ve already shown both in theory and practice.

    The only thing up for debate is whether or not the teaching on contraception is infallible. And it is not the slam dunk you seem to think it. There is plenty of controversy around that issue.

  75. Dr. K says:

    Interesting that the snippet you posted didn’t mention the fact that the Pontifical Commission actually recommended accepting contraception. The Pope overruled that commission.

    And a commission decided not to rule out ordaining women, but that doesn’t make their decision Church teaching, and that doesn’t change the fact that the Holy Father has clarified and defined teaching on behalf of the Church pertaining to both subjects.

  76. Persis says:

    I have been following these comments, and find this discussion quite fascinating.
    The topic of “dissent” is one that I know I have a very hard time understanding and have, on more than one occasion discussed it with friends who are priests, deacons and religious, as well as with my spiritual director. My understanding, and what I think BigE is trying (although I do not presume to speak for him/her, this is just my understanding) is that I can disagree with Church teaching, really on any matter. That is what “free-will” is all about. What I cannot do is say “well, I believe the Church is wrong on this, so I am still going to do what I want, and only use the Church to suit the needs I want fulfilled.”
    To use the topic of birth control, the Church explicitly states that the use of artificial birth control methods is wrong. To be a Catholic in good standing, I must accept that teaching and not use ABC. I can believe that the Church is wrong, I can read and discuss and debate how I think the Church is wrong until the cows come home, but in the end, it is what I “do” that is the most important.
    If I truly want to be Catholic, I must assent to what the teaching is through my actions. If I choose (there is that pesky free-will again) to defy a teaching of the Church through my actions, i.e. use artificial birth control, then I must accept the consequences of my actions. In this case, it would be up to me to refrain from the Eucharist, and to work with my spiritual director to bring my thinking into line with the Church.
    If my actions are in line with the Church, and I still disagree, I am no “less” Catholic. Through the grace of my baptism, I am and always will be Catholic, even when I do things that may take me out of communion. I am human, and have human failings, and sometimes, those things get in the way. It is only in prayer and contemplation that I will ever be granted the wisdom to understand these failings, and I know from experience that having well-intentioned people calling me a “heretic” and a “dissenter” for having questions and doubts is one of the things that keep me away from my faith for so long.

  77. annonymouse says:

    Persis, good addition to the discussion.

    Perhaps it’s dangerous to speak on behalf of BigE, but I think he or she is saying something very different. What you are saying, I believe, is “I’ve examined the issue in thought and prayer and formed my conscience and think the Church might be flat-out wrong on this, but I will CHOOSE to give my assent to what the Church teaches.” I think BigE is saying that “I’ve examined the issue in thought and prayer and formed my conscience and believe the Church is flat-out wrong on this, and my conscience REQUIRES me to ACT in a manner exactly contrary to what Holy Mother Church teaches.” Okay, perhaps I’ve phrased it a bit obnoxiously, but that’s the gist, I think. Further, I think BigE is also saying that once I’ve formed my conscience (even if it’s 180 degrees from the promulgated teaching), it’s a serious sin to act in a manner contrary to my conscience.

    Heavenly Father, if ever what I believe is 180 degrees different than what your Church teaches, please give me the grace to see what I’m missing, in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

  78. BigE says:

    @Persis and @annonymouse

    1) For the ease of conversation, BigE = “He”

    2) And annonymouse is right in his/her gist of what I am saying. But I would change Persis’ wording from doing what “one wants” to “what one thinks is right”. They are not the same. And of course, we are always talking about non-infallible teachings (another whole can of worms….)

    3) I 100% agree with the last prayer.

  79. Persis says:

    BigE, thank you for being honest.

    To address you second point, I have to disagree with you here. What “I want” and “what I think is right” are the 2 sides of the same coin, and it belongs to Caesar.

    If my journey has taught me anything, it is that to be truly connected to the mystical body of Christ that is the Church; I have to go beyond the “I”. After all, the prayer says “Thy will be done”, not “my will be done”.

    I would be happy to keep this discussion with you going; however this may not be the place.
    If you would like to continue this discussion, feel free to e-mail me at

  80. snowshoes says:

    Great discussion! Thanks Ben et al for the great links to source docs. As St. Faustina recommends, we pray, “Jesus I trust in You!” As Catholics, we know that to trust the God we do not see, we must trust His Church which He established on St. Peter for our salvation, which we do see.

    The successor of Peter is more our father than our natural father, and if we don’t love and trust Pope Benedict in his office as pope to exercise the grace of infallibility in matters of Faith and Morals, then our faith is seriously defective. We are like the foolish virgins with no oil in their lamps. For the oil is the symbol for our trust in the Mystical Body of Christ founded on the Pope.

    If we reject the Pope and his magisterial office, we Catholics reject God and salvation. It is as Christ said about the Scribes and Pharisees, if they say they see, their sin remains. Ours is a revealed religion, not a debate society or a mystery religion. And as has been so beautifully demonstrated here, the teachings of the Church are the most logical and good teachings on all these moral issues.

    A little boy obeys his father who tells him not to play in the covered silo, and to go feed the calves. The boy doesn’t distinguish between the life and death nature of the first order and the mundane nature of the second, but he obeys both because he is a good, loving, obedient son. We can and should as confirmed Catholics study our faith and discern the gravity of the teachings of the Church as She considers them, but we as good faithful daughters and sons are called to lovingly and obediently obey all of them. Why wouldn’t we?

    To restate, from Blessed JH Newman, a thousand difficulties do not equal a single doubt. At Christmas, we are called to repent, to become as little children who have absolute trust in Christ and the Infallibility of the Pope. This is my prayer for all of us this Holy Season. MARANATHA! Happy 4th Sunday of Advent in a few! God bless.

  81. BigE says:


    Regarding “want” vs “right”….

    So why would a male priest “want” to share his priesthood with a female? Or why would a celibate priest or bishop “want” contraception to be allowed? Or why would a “straight” priest or bishop “want” the churches teachings on homosexuality to be changed?

    And I agree with your statement on our journey and going beyond the “I”. But my prayer and hope is that going beyond the “I” is our shared love for Christ and each other. Not just this strict doctrinal discipline that could be followed perfectly and still have no center in love. I want the Church to guide my spiritual journey through her wisdom and love, not dictate it.


  82. annonymouse says:

    Persis, Snowshoes, Ben –

    In all seriousness, we are not going to convince BigE against his or her will. He or she is obstinate. I suppose we all are to some extent – I know I am – and it’s our own sinful pride. If I am to say “I give full assent to Church teachings A, B and C, but in good conscience I must disagree completely with teaching D” then I am implicitly saying that I am correct on teachings A, B, C and D and poor Holy Mother Church is sadly mistaken on teaching D. I am right 100% of the time, and the Church? Not nearly as high a batting average. That can be described with no better word than hubris.

    To quote Father Neuhaus one last time:

    “R.R. Reno wrote: ‘In order to escape the insanity of my slide into self-guidance, I put myself up for reception into the Catholic Church as one might put oneself up for adoption. A man can no more guide his spiritual life by his ideas than a child can raise himself on the strength of his native potential.'” and Neuhaus goes on:

    “Jesus said, ‘unless you become as little children…’ It is not a regression to childhood but a progression beyond adulthood falsely defined as the autonomous self, as the glorious independent actualization of ME. It is what the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur describes as ‘the second naivete,’ the rebirth of wonder that had been so long stifled under endless complexifications. It is, on the far side of the notional, to surrender to the real. It is even, I dare to think, to be surprised by the unfamiliar and unexpected experience of something like humility. (A Jewish friend said once he would not think of missing my service of ordination: ‘Just once, I want to see Richard prostrated before somebody.’)”

    Let us each pray that all those who dissent from Holy Mother Church’s inspired teachings, and especially BigE, become as little children to be taught at the knee of Holy Mother Church. Now I really am out.

  83. Raymond F. Rice says:

    I seem to remember a few years ago in the CC an article by Reverend Hart that the papal pronouncement on women’s ordination did not meet the criteria for infallibility. Does anyone remember this or am I mistaken and it was something else??

  84. Dr. K says:

    “I seem to remember a few years ago in the CC an article by Reverend Hart that the papal pronouncement on women’s ordination did not meet the criteria for infallibility. “

    Wishful thinking on his part. Is that why he lets Margaret play priest at his parishes?

  85. Ben Anderson says:

    The teaching on the male-only priesthood is infallible. The Church has explicitly stated so. I will be addressing the questions and assertions I stated above in more detail. But if you wish to know the answer on the Church’s stance on women’s inordation and infallibility see here:

    It couldn’t possibly be more clear. There’s more than one way infallibility is determined. Read the document.

  86. BigE says:


    Sure it could be clearer. The words “infallible” could have actually been used. The doctrine could have been declared “Ex Cathedra”. The college of Bishops could get together in some type of ecumenical council, or make it perfectly clear that they are acting together with the conscious awareness of declaring a doctrine infallible.

    All of this would make it perfectly clear that the current teaching on the ordination of women is without a doubt infallible. But NONE of this has been done. All these tools are available to wipe away ANY questions, but have not been used.

    So your statement “that it could not be clearer” is really not true. It could be much, MUCH clearer. But it isn’t.

  87. Ben Anderson says:

    The words “infallible” could have actually been used.

    umm – the word infallible is specifically used and women’s ordination is specifically mentioned to be infallible. You are proving that you’re not reading the links. Do you care to or are you quite happy not to know the truth? Either read the document or wait… I will be answering the above questions in due time and I will include the necessary snippets then.

  88. BigE says:


    From Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

    “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

    Please show me where the word “Infallible” was used in the actual document on women’s ordination? (And yes, I realize subsequent “commentary” on the actual document used the word infallible, but that certainly isn’t as clear as using it in the document itself. It certainly isn’t as clear as defining it Ex Cathedra, and it certainly isn’t as clear as gathering the college of bishops with the express purpose of defining it as infallible.

    I think my point relative to “clarity” still stands.

  89. Ben Anderson says:

    Please show me where you get to set the terms required for your assent. The Church never said every infallible teaching must be explicitly declared so. The instruction (linked above) is crystal clear.

    I think my point relative to “clarity” still stands.

    For those who wish to stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening”, then I agree – it’ll never be clear until you decide to listen.

  90. BigE says:


    1) I wasn’t talking about setting the terms for my assent. I was responding to your statement that the infallibility of the teaching on women’s ordination couldn’t be any clearer. I provided 3 distinct ways that it could indeed be clearer.

    2) Canon Law 749.3 says: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated.”

    3) Your link was to the “Profession of Faith” that all Catholic Teachers must sign (unless I went to the wrong link). For one, it has nothing to do with the laity, and secondly, has nothing to do with the doctrine of infallibility – so I’m not even sure why you linked it.

    4) Bottom line is this: The Church and Pope John Paul at the time had every opportunity to BE PERFECTLY CLEAR on whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was an infallible teaching and they didn’t do it. No matter how hard people want to try and insist that after the fact they did.

    Hope you had a blessed and Merry Christmas. Peace.

  91. annonymouse says:

    BigE – I think you missed the Pope’s point. He stated that he has no authority to confer ordination on women. Therefore he also has no power to even decide on the matter. Jesus Christ already did that, and the Church has consistently maintained the tradition begun by Our Lord. So, it’s not even a question of fallible vs. infallible.

    Why so obstinate, E? Do you really believe that you have the freedom to believe ANYTHING unless it has been infallibly defined? You can’t believe very much then – two teachings is al.

    Moreover, this is not really about infallible or fallible. This is about the condition of your heart – are you willing to submit your heart and mind to the teaching of the Church? Do you believe that Jesus Christ left us a Church with a teaching charism, to which we must give our assent, or do you not?

    Dissent from the teaching authority of the Church is a symptom of pride in the heart of the dissenter and it is a blatant denial of the teaching charism instituted by Jesus Christ Our Lord.

  92. BigE says:


    1) I was responding to Ben who brought up the issue of infallibity relative to women’s ordination. Please relay to him that the Pope has no power to decide on the matter. You’ll save both Ben and I a lot of time. Thanks! 🙂

    2) Where did Jesus Christ decide on the issue? Did I miss something in the Gospel readings?

    3) “Obstinate” tends to be in the eye of the beholder: as one could argue anyone on either side of a debate, remaining unconvinced, is obstinate. I’m not sure that charge does any of us any good.

    4) I am willing to submit my heart and mind to Jesus Christ. I look for the Church to guide me (not dictate) in that journey of love, and the ENTIRE Church, not just the leadership.

    5) And I wonder where pride fits into any topic where someone or something does not value questioning, discussion, and exploration in regards to the search for truth. I have had many teachers in my life who openly foster such discussions without their authority or teaching charisms coming into question. Interesting that you think a teachers authority is diminished by the students challenging and asking questions. Many teachers actually encourage that type of thinking.

  93. Ben Anderson says:

    1) I wasn’t talking about setting the terms for my assent. I was responding to your statement that the infallibility of the teaching on women’s ordination couldn’t be any clearer. I provided 3 distinct ways that it could indeed be clearer.

    Accessibility (what you seem to mean) and clarity (which is what I meant) are two different concepts. I’d agree with you that this teaching isn’t as accessible as it could be. It’s not like the pope sends each individual Catholic a letter in the mail stating, “the following teachings are infallible”. Clarity is another matter. Something can be clear while still requiring a little digging to discover it. This is what I meant by my statement that “it couldn’t be clearer”. And I stand by that. Once you read the documents (yes, it requires some work), you’ll see that it is indeed infallible and that there is no room for dissent.

    2) Canon Law 749.3 says: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated.”

    ok – so what? The Church HAS manifestly demonstrated the infallibility of these teachings. You sound like a protestant who quotes St. Paul to prove Sola Fide, but neglects to listen to St. James. In both cases it’s not a matter of pitting one versus the other, it’s a matter of proper interpretation.

    3) Your link was to the “Profession of Faith” that all Catholic Teachers must sign (unless I went to the wrong link). For one, it has nothing to do with the laity, and secondly, has nothing to do with the doctrine of infallibility – so I’m not even sure why you linked it.


    Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths, based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church’s Magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters.15 Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine16 and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.

    A similar process can be observed in the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively,32 since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

    BigE, the official Catholic Church has stated that you are no longer in full communion with the Catholic Church because you are refusing to give firm and definitive assent to an infallible doctrine. What is not clear about that? Again, I urge you, my brother, to reconsider your position.

    4) Bottom line is this: The Church and Pope John Paul at the time had every opportunity to BE PERFECTLY CLEAR on whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was an infallible teaching and they didn’t do it. No matter how hard people want to try and insist that after the fact they did.

    no – he didn’t stop short of infallibility. He stopped short of defining a dogma. He stated that it is definitive, but remained silent on whether it was “divinely revealed”.

    (from that same document)

    With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).

    I’ve spent a decent amount of time in this discussion as have others and as have you. Do us all a favor (including yourself) and take some time to read the documents. This discussion is impossible until you do that.

    Anonymouse said:

    So, it’s not even a question of fallible vs. infallible.

    but indeed it is (as is contraception which I’ll elaborate more on when I get time). I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how exactly to field these types of questions when this discussion began, but my eyes have been opened. All Catholics should know the importance and certainty of these truths. We should not concede infallibility so quickly.

  94. BigE says:


    1) I guess you and I have a different understanding about what “clearer” means. Something that requires more digging and followup to understand versus something else that requires less digging and followup to understand IS less clear by most definitions. Both could ultimately be true, but the truth of one is certainly less clear than the other. In my example, a document that says it is infallible, or is defined as infallible Ex Cathedra is certainly more clearly understood to actually be infallible than one that does not have these characteristics.

    2) Ben, I think you’re missing the boat on your claim that I’m not in full communion with the Churc – because there is still debate about whether the teaching on womens ordination is indeed infallible.

    Here’s an excerpt from an article that I think pretty clearly explains the on-going debate:

    “Ordinatio sacerdotalis was declared by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to be a teaching act that was, and I quote, “not itself infallible.” It was made explicit by the Congregation at the press conference held to publicize its Responsio ad dubium (relating to the Apostolic Letter) that ordinatio sacerdotalis was NOT an exercise of the pope’s extraordinary infallible magisterium. This was reiterated in the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano at the time, and both these points were noted by Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J. (a noted opponent of women’s ordination)…

    …Although it conceded that the teaching contained in OS was not infallibly taught in virtue of the extraordinary papal magisterium, the CDF nonetheless gave its opinion that the teaching contained in OS was an infallibly taught doctrine in virtue of the ordinary magisterium of the Church as explicated in section 25 of Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church issued by Vatican II. That is, it was the opinion of the CDF that the doctrine had already, prior to and independently of OS, been taught infallibly by the College of Bishops in union with the pope as a teaching that must be definitively held (tenenda definitive) to belong to the deposit of faith. This mode of infallible teaching requires a clear, constant teaching on the part of the bishops as a moral whole that some point of doctrine has been divinely revealed (cf. Lumen gentium, 25)

    There are 3 modes of infallible teaching:

    1. An infallible ex cathedra definition by the pope (this need not follow a consultation with the College of Bishops, though this was the practice in the two clear cases of such a definition, the Immaculate Conception (Pius IX, 1854) and the Assumption of the BVM (Pius XII, 1950);

    2. A solemn definition by a valid ecumenical council of the Church (e.g. the dogmatic decrees on the divinity and humanity of Christ etc, at Nicaea and Chalcedon and many other dogmas); and

    3. A constant teaching, not with any specific definition or formula, by the College of Bishops while dispersed around the world, but maintaining communion with the pope, that a doctrine belongs to the deposit of faith and must be held definitively as such by all the faithful (an example would be the Resurrection of Christ). What the CDF said clearly enough was that OS contains a teaching which has been infallibly taught in the third of these modes. It also EXPLICITLY said that OS was NOT an instance of the first of these modes. And obviously the matter has not been solemnly defined in the second (conciliar) mode.

    Now, the next question we must ask: is the CDF’s opinion about the infallible status of the doctrine itself infallible? The answer is definitely NO. Why? Because NOTHING the CDF says is EVER infallibly said. The CDF is not the pope speaking ex cathedra, nor is it a valid ecumenical council, nor is it the College of Bishops in union with the pope. The only way a doctrine can be infallibly taught is by one of the 3 modes of infallible teaching I described above. The CDF can give an opinion about if or when a teaching has been infallibly taught, but ITS OPINION IS ITSELF ALWAYS FALLIBLE. THE CDF IS NOT ENDOWED WITH INFALLIBILITY. Of course, the CDF can state a doctrine which has been infallibly taught. But so can anyone. If I simply repeated an infallibly defined doctrine, such as the Assumption, I would say something which has been infallibly taught. I would be uttering an infallible truth. But I would not be infallible then or ever. Same with the CDF. Its opinion on this as on any other matter is fallible.

    So what we have is:

    1) No ex cathedra infallible papal teaching about women’s ordination;

    2) No infallibly defined dogma of an ecumenical council concerning women’s ordination;

    3) A fallible opinion to the effect that the ban on women’s ordination has been infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church.

    That’s the debate in a nutshell.

  95. Dr. K says:

    The arguments and conclusions made by Peter Burns, SJ are fallible.

  96. Ben Anderson says:

    Ben, I think you’re missing the boat on your claim that I’m not in full communion with the Church infallible.

    To be clear, the Benny to which you refer isn’t the only one you are at odds with. In fact, you are in disagreement with our Holy Father – Papa Benny. Those words were his, not mine.

    And this house of cards you place your faith in is what you claim to be Catholicism? My initial reaction was, “why are you Catholic?” But then I remember you already stated:

    And I am also a convert to the faith. And one of the things I fell in love with about our Church is that she is open to discussion and debate.

    hmmm – I’m not sure if that’s a good reason to be Catholic. I am Catholic because it is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

    So you only believe doctrines that are ex cathedra or ecumenical council (confirmed by the Holy Father, of course). That leaves you with not so much to believe in at all. That mindset is certainly not Catholic. Let me ask you this… if the CDF (which is an extension of the Holy Father’s authority) has not the authority to declare what falls under the ordinary and universal magisterial teaching, then who does? It would seem to be that the teaching on the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

    there is still debate about whether the teaching on womens ordination is indeed infallible.

    None of which is legitimate debate. That’s like saying there’s ongoing debate that triangles have 3 sides. Sure, someone may claim that, but that doesn’t legitimize it.

  97. Dr. K says:

    “What the CDF said clearly enough was that OS contains a teaching which has been infallibly taught in the third of these modes. It also EXPLICITLY said that OS was NOT an instance of the first of these modes.”

    Read the CDF response again:

    “Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.”

    Let’s look at the Holy Father’s words:

    “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

    Criteria for infallibility:
    1. “the Roman Pontiff”
    2. “speaks ex cathedra” (“that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority….”)
    3. “he defines”
    4. “that a doctrine concerning faith or morals”
    5. “must be held by the whole Church”

    As it applies here:
    1. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is signed by Pope JPII.
    2. “in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren” – The Holy Father invokes his authority.
    3. “I declare” – He makes a formal declaration.
    4. “a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself” – This matter is not merely disciplinary but pertains to the Catholic faith.
    5. “this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” – Closes the door on debate and requires adherence by all.

  98. annonymouse says:

    BigE –

    You claim that you look to Jesus Christ as the arbiter of truth. Wonderful! Did it occur to you that Jesus Christ left us a Church to guide us and teach us that truth? That God REVEALS Himself to us through that very Church? Or are you one of those who relies sola on scriptura, ignoring the teaching authority of the Church Jesus left us (“where in the bible does Jesus say THAT?”)? If so, that makes you not a Catholic. A Christian to be sure, but not a Catholic. A Catholic will recognize that Jesus left us a CHURCH, not a bible. Catholics recognize THREE sources of truth – Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. Protestants deny the last two. What do you believe?

    So maybe it’s not a matter of pride after all – maybe it’s simply that you have a Protestant paradigm of the place of the Church and her Magisterium. One cannot claim to be a Roman Catholic yet deny the rightful place of “Roman” in that title.

  99. annonymouse says:

    One more thing, E – your approach to the teachings of the Church magisterium seems to be one of “what can I get away with” or “what is the rule versus what is only a ‘suggestion'” rather than an attitude of wanting to bring your mind and heart into conformity with what Christ’s Church teaches us. Are you interested in the unity for which Christ prayed in John’s Gospel? If so, it seems to me that unity starts right here in my own heart. If there is something I disagree with her about, do I endeavor to pray and study in an effort to convince others that I am right, or do I pray and study in an effort of conversion of my own mind and heart so that I can be of the same mind as the Church? Listen to St. Ignatius, E – “sentire cum ecclesia!”

  100. BigE says:


    1) Your interpretation of what is required to be in full communion with the Catholic Church is simply that – an intepretation. And it certainly does not square up with how the Church has acted. As far as I know, I haven’t seen any mass ex-communications or major schisms of groups that supports women ordination or are at odds with the church on other non-infallible teachings.

    2) As to why I’m Catholic, you also missed my response to Anonymouse in this thread who asked the same question. My response to her:

    “So why would someone stay (in the church)? Well how about the beauty of her liturgy. Or the Eucharist. The Sacraments. The Communion of Saints. The Church’s deep history and traditions. It’s preferential option for the poor and cutting edge work in social justice. It’s beautiful churches. Do I need to keep going?”

    3) Boy are you twisting my position. I’m arguing what I believe are the “non-negotiables” of being Catholic, not summarizing everything I believe. I happen to believe in all the teachings of the church except for a few that center around sexuality. That probably puts me at believeing 99.9% of what the church teaches. Your continual assertion that someone must believe 100% of what the church teaches (or that everything the church teaches is infallible) is far off the mark, and has not been proven out, either canonically, or through the churches actions.

    4) Of course it’s legitimate debate. It’s not a “someone” that is debating this, it’s a “them” -> priests, theologians and canon lawyers. Do you think I’m the only one arguing this position? Really?

  101. annonymouse says:

    So, as I’ve asked before, BigE, that means that you are correct 100% of the time and the Church is correct 99.9% of the time, yes?

    I am happy that Jesus Christ left us BigE as the arbiter of faith and morals.

    And please don’t make light of the “few that center around sexuality” – we’re talking about grave (i.e. mortal) sinfulness in these few – and souls are being lost over these “few.”

  102. BigE says:


    How would “what can I get away with” have anything to do with what I am arguing here? Most of the issues we are debating would have absolutely no impact on me. I’m not a priest, so the priest marrying issue for me is personally moot. I’m not a women, nor do I feel called to priesthood, so the women’s ordination issue is also moot. I’m not gay, so any thoughts I might have on homosexuality would not impact my life. I’m actually a big supporter of NFP, so the contraception is no big deal to me also. Is it really that hard to believe that people might hold these opinions because they believe it is simply the right and just thing to do, regardless of any personal benefit? Were white people in the 60’s who were against race discrimination just in for themselves?

    As for unity; I look for unity in our love of Christ and our journey to God. In the beauty of our worship together, the Eucharist, and our search for truth. In our love for each other and for the poor. Those are the essentials that I think should bring us together.

    I study, pray and reflect to grow closer to God and to understand the truth. I have absolutely no doubt that this puts me and the Church on the same path and heading in the same direction even if we may occasionally bump into one another.

  103. annonymouse says:

    BigE – You’re missing the forest for the trees. I’m obviously not very eloquently making my point. You are focusing on individual teachings of the Church and selecting ones that you agree with and ones that you do not agree with (sounds sort of like a cafeteria), using fallibility and infallibility as at least one criterion. Those are trees.

    The forest is whether you accept the teaching authority of the leadership of the Church, whether or not its teachings are being infallibly defined or not. By “get away with” I meant you are looking for those teachings you are bound by and those that you feel completely free to disagree with – again merely trees.

    For if you look at the forest and accept that Jesus Christ gave us a Church and gave that Church a leadership (keys to the Kingdom) and empowered that leadership to make judgments about faith and morals to which the faithful humbly submit, then you won’t get all caught up in the trees, and you will find the idea of that you may select those teachings to which you will give assent (cafeteria-style) utterly and completely preposterous.

  104. Dr. K says:

    “I haven’t seen any mass ex-communications or major schisms of groups that supports women ordination or are at odds with the church on other non-infallible teachings. “

    What about Spiritus Christi? What about schismatic parishes led by priestesses from the ARCWP (Association of Roman catholic Women Priests) movement? Formal excommunications are rare, but these groups are excommunicated nonetheless.

    I recall an Australian bishop being sacked about a year ago largely in part due to his support of women’s ordination.

    Once again, the ordination of men alone is infallible. It should not be lumped in with “other non-infallible teachings.”

  105. BigE says:

    @anonymouse (again),

    I already said this before: I may be absolutely wrong on every belief I currently have that may be at odds with a church teaching. My duty is too keep studying, praying and reflecting just as the church is doing. But where I am at with my conscience today is where I am at. To state otherwise, or to ignore what I currently believe is an injustice would be more wrong IMHO. And the church agrees with me as much as you may want to deny it (CCC1790).

    And it’s somewhat ironic that you are saying I believe I am the arbiter of faith of morals. I think I have been arguing just the opposite. That each person needs to individually pray, study and reflect on the teachings of the church and then follow their conscience. I can’t arbitrate anything. I can only argue for the dignity of each individual’s personal journey to God even if it is different than my own. In light of that, I understand how you have come to your beliefs and I fully respect them and do believe you hold them out of love. Yet it is you, I think, who want to kick people out of the church, or make them out to be greedy and selfish, just because they aren’t at the exact same place as you theologically. So who is the really trying to be athe arbiter of faith and morals here?

  106. BigE says:


    I deeply respect the teaching authority of church to guide me. Not dictate. And I expect her to help me understand, to teach me, and to be patient with me in my journey to God. Not to demand that I follow “just because I say…” like the LDS Church and Jehovah Witnesses do.

  107. annonymouse says:

    BigE –

    So in your world, there is no objective morality? Whatever everyone’s individual consciences dictate, that’s what’s moral?

    In the course of your study, you may wish to read past CCC1790 in your search for the meaning of a well-formed conscience. For an infallible teaching, I’d suggest you start with this:

    “In forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself.”
    – Second Vatican Council, On Religious Liberty (1965), §14

    What part of “sacred and certain” teaching don’t you get?

    BigE – you indicate that you’re a convert – I’d humbly suggest that you go “all in.”

  108. BigE says:

    @Dr K.

    I’d suggest they were ex-communicated for what they did, not for what they believed.

    Many priests and theologians can believe women should be ordained and that conversation and discussion around this subject can be fruitfull for all, without believing that rogue priests and bishops should actually go out and start ordaining women, or putting them up on altar dressed as priests while the church still forbids it.

    As for the Bishop in Australia – he was removed from his position, not ex-communicated. I believe Church authorities would still consider him to be Roman Catholic and in communion with the world wide church. If you understand it differently I’d be interested in seeing the article.

  109. BigE says:


    1) Depends. What’s your definition of objective morality? The typical definition is that once an act is defined as sinful (or evil), it is always sinful/evil no matter the circumstances that surround the act. Does that match your definition of objective morality?

    2) I did read beyond CCC1790. The church makes it very clear that we will make the best decisions when our conscience is well formed. I have no disagreement at all with that. But that in no way relieves someone of not following their conscience. The church in CCC1790 even admits some will make WRONG decisions as a result.

    CCC1790: “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.”

    What part of “deliberately acting against one’s conscience condemns them” is not clear? Even if their judgement is erroneous?

  110. annonymouse says:

    BigE –

    First of all, please spell my name correctly. My name is annonymouse. Thank you.

    I don’t know how long you’ve been in the Church, nor how much discussion/training/education you’ve had in moral theology, but I am quite certain that your conception of conscience is much looser than is intended by Church teaching. I also note that you happily proof-text CCC1790, completely ignoring that which comes before that section on the proper formation of conscience, and especially ignoring what comes after. For 1791-3 states the following:

    1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” IN SUCH CASES, THE PERSON IS CULPABLE FOR THE EVIL HE COMMITS.

    1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, REJECTION OF THE CHURCH’S AUTHORITY AND HER TEACHING, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

    1793 If – on the contrary – the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

    You seem to think that a well-formed conscience can betray Church authority and teaching. It clearly cannot. You are obviously an intelligent gent or lady. You have access to the Church’s authoritative teaching to guide you. You clearly cannot claim “invincible ignorance.” Therefore, your well-formed conscience MUST give proper respect to the teaching authority of the Church, and you cannot, in good conscience, dissent from what she teaches. No more proof-texting – read the whole section in its entirety.

    “Conscience” is not the free hall pass you seem to think it is.

  111. annonymouse says:

    BigE- I realize I’m getting a bit too passionate about this lengthy thread. Please forgive my rather brusque tone and my lack of Christian charity.

    One request – you claim to be in 99.9% agreement with Church teaching. You have identified two rather significant contemporary issues on which you dissent – artificial contraception and ordination of women. Please tell us where do you stand on the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, homosexual behavior/lifestyle and same-sex marriage? On abortion? If opposed to abortion, are you as opposed as the Church teaches (i.e. no exceptions – induced abortion intended as a direct act is always and everywhere wrong)? What other issues are you in disagreement on?

    Based on the results of the previous paragraph, do you still stand by your assertion that you agree with Holy Mother Church 99.9% of the time?

    And if the Magisterium gets it wrong so often, how can you be sure when you think they’ve got it right? I mean, how can we trust their teaching on ANYTHING? Real presence? Immaculate Conception? Assumption? Sinfulness of abortion? Obligation to provide for the poor? Couldn’t they be wrong on any/all of these?

    Thanks much. Happy New Year!

  112. BigE says:


    Your tone has been fine. We are both passionately discussing/debating issues. I’m cool if your cool….

    As for your other points:

    I’ve already stated, and the CCC’s you’ve posted, all talk to the importance of a well formed conscience and that we are all responsible for forming those consciences as best we can. I agree 1000%. That however does not change what CCC1790 says or means. And I don’t know why you think it does. If following one’s conscience simply means to believe what the church says – then why even include CCC1790? CCC1790 would simply need to say “always follow the churches teachings”. But it doesn’t say that. Why? – because that is not what following one’s conscience means.

    As for betraying church authority and teaching – you don’t believe someone could betray that in good conscience? Really? Then why did Pope John Paul II apologize to Jews, Galileo, women, victims of the Inquisition, Muslims slaughtered during the Crusades and a host of other sins committed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church? If you saying the authority of the Catholic Church is incapable of sin or error, and therefore no one should ever oppose that authority, then you begin to tread on some very dangerous ground IMHO. Conscience is certainly not a free hall pass – I agree. But it is needed to bring a healthy balance to our Church in finding truth.

    I am also amazed that you think contraception and women’s ordination are anywhere near in theological importance to concepts such as God, Trinity, Scripture, Prayer, the Divinity of Christ, the Sacraments, the Resurrection, the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Mass, the preferential option for the poor, social justice issues, and on and on and on and on….

    So yes, I think I could ideologically dissent on all the teachings you mentioned and still agree with 99.9% of what the church teaches (and btw, I don’t ideoloically dissent on all the teachings you mentioned)

    And finally, just curious….

    If I beleive that women should be ordained, and I think it is an issue that the church should explore and discuss, while also respecting the fact that Church doesn’t currently do that (ie – I don’t think anyone should roguely ordain women and/or put them up on the altar looking like priests, or speak of this from the pulpit, etc) Am I following the Church’s teaching or not?

    Or if I think contraception should be allowed, and is another topic that should be explored and discussed by the Church, but out of respect for the church’s teaching, do not use contraception myself. Am I following the Church’s teaching or not?

    Or if I thought homosexual relations between a committed couple was not sinful, and that this issue should also be discussed and explored by the church, but beleive that no one should be blessing or encouraging homosexual marriages until that teaching is changed. Am I following the church’s teaching or not?

  113. annonymouse says:

    Your paragraph 1 – Sadly, you continue to prooftext, reading CCC1790 in a vacuum, paying no attention to the additional sections around it which give it meaning. You did not see fit to address 1791-1793. If one has the resources and intelligence to do so, one will form a conscience that is consistent with the teachings of the Church. One will humbly submit to the teachings of the Church. One’s conscience may stray from the Church’s teaching without individual culpability only if one is invincibly ignorant or otherwise led astray.

    Your paragraph 2 – straw men all. We’re talking about the Church’s universal and for-all-times teachings on morals here.

    Paragraph 3 – Pope John Paul II thought these teachings were quite important – life and death important, some of them. I’m pretty sure, though, that you can find contemporary Catholic “dissenting” theologians who will question many, if not every one, of the faith teachings you’ve listed. But again, straw men – these are also not moral teachings.

    Paragraph 4 – you need to re-check your math. For you to disagree on only two teachings, faith or morals, you’ll need 1,998 to which you assent in order to come out to 99.9%.

    Paragraph 5 – No. The Pope could not possibly have been more clear nor more forceful on this topic. He stated that this is a matter of faith to be definitely held by all the faithful.

    Paragraphs 6 and 7 – by virtue of your baptism, you have the obligation to propagate the Church’s beliefs. As such, while you may not personally be sinning by engaging in gravely immoral behaviors, for you to hold such beliefs you would be not fulfilling the obligation of your baptism and contributing to the disunity of the Church by these beliefs.

    Now I’ll ask you a very serious question. All of the beliefs that you seem to hold that are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic magisterium are held by a number of Protestant faith traditions, most notably the Episcopalians. It seems to me that your beliefs square 100% with the Episcopalian Church. Why, then, did you become a Roman Catholic? What sets the Catholic Church apart is the very leadership which you decry, and I fear, disrespect. Seriously, why did you choose to emigrate to Roman Catholicism over, say, Anglicanism? And given your issues with (apparently) many Roman Catholic teachings, why do you stay?

    Now I’m not telling you to “leave” – we’re glad to have you – I just want to know how you can, in good conscience, stay – when there are, apparently, options that are much more consistent with your personal beliefs.

    P.S. while Catholics / Christians argue about such things, the world around us sees a fractured, disunited communion, and our obligations to the needy, to the orphans, to the imprisoned – all of those go unfulfilled or less-than-fully tended to. That is not what Our Blessed Lord prayed for. He prayed for unity – that they may all be one.

  114. annonymouse says:

    E – You asked whether the issue of contraception is as important as, say, Sacraments. I think it’s a central teaching to the Sacrament of Marriage and what that Sacrament means to the couple and to the world around them. The meaning of married sexual relations is ordained by God to include the openness to new life, to participation with God in His creative act. Contraception is a defilement of the Sacrament. It is akin to receiving the Eucharist and spitting Our Lord’s Body out on the floor. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of unity between Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church. Sex is an integral part of the Sacrament of unity between husband and wife. To defile either – you cannot possibly get any more important than that right there. So yes, it is every bit as important as any of the other faith matters you listed. Of course if one buys into the culture’s paradigm of sex (recreational activity) then the teaching makes no sense.

    With respect to women’s ordination – while it does not apply to me in my married state, I am content to have that decided at a higher pay grade than mine. I understand Pope John Paul’s reasoning, and think his arguments are quite reasonable. Is it as important as some of the other faith matters listed? Yes, it is. The priest personifies Christ the High Priest, and in this role must be a male to symbolize the relationship of Christ (male) to Church (female). This symbolism is lost on many, if not most, Catholics, but is it important? I think so.

  115. Thinkling says:

    Part of the problem here is the equivocation of what ‘conscience’ means.

    BigE is correct about following his conscience.

    Others are correct in explaining how one’s conscience is formed, what properties it has, and various consequences of having it informed properly.

    So what is the resolution of the quandaries BigE proposes?

    When this situation, this type of conflict, happens, there are four possibilities of decreasing levels of clearcut-ness, with the first two being somewhat exceptional and easy cases:

    1) One does not fully believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. (Emphasis on ‘Apostolic’)

    2) One has some mental deficit which impedes building an informed conscience, or acting consistently with it.

    3) One genuinely misinterprets the application of moral principles to a particular case (this includes not (yet) knowing the principles).

    I assume the first case is irrelevant here.

    For the second case, I only point out there is a well known Catholic writer with bipolar disordar who makes significant positive contributions to the blogosphere even if (per her own admission, and my own observation) her condition impedes her judgment sometimes. I assume it does not apply here.

    For the third case, not knowing is clearly not the issue here, although it is with many many others due to poor catechesis. A couple of cases where legitimate differences of interpretation might arise are that of Live Action’s “Lying for Jesus” controversy, and how to vote when all candidates advocate for intrinsic evil (i.e., must you sit out, or must you vote for the least evil?) But in our case there is no ambiguity in to what assent of the will is required. BigE has been looking for ambiguity because it would make things easier for him due to the fourth point, following. But here there is no ambiguity.

    We come to the fourth case, which applies here. When one is Catholic (assents to the four Marks), competent, and properly informed, then the conflict is resolved by noting that this internal feeling is not one’s conscience. Rather it is one’s opinion. For example, it is my opinion that transubstantiation is voodooesque nonsense, and that the Trinity is a mathematical contradiction. But since I am Catholic, I must give assent to that which I can grasp (logical consequence of the four Marks). If I am mentally competent, then I can grasp what I must give assent to. If I am properly informed, then I do grasp all I am able to and therefore what I need assent to. Note I need not understand WHY, that is to be able to follow the logic or argument perfectly. I need only understand WHAT. (aside: I like to point out the Catechism says the Trinity is an “ineffable mystery”, which means if someone claims to understand the Trinity perfectly, they are actually contradicting the Catechism!)

    Thus I give assent to these things despite my opinion. And everyone in similar situation (including this thread) is called to do the same, in lieu of committing a classic case of Pride (giving primacy to one’s opinion over one’s properly formed conscience).

    Once we resolve what conscience is, and all mean the same thing about it, the the conflicts BigE pose all resolve easily. Well, at least in a theologically straightforward way. It may not be easy in practice at all, as it is no accident Pride was the First Sin.

  116. BigE says:

    1) Ok, so let’s rehash. 1790 says you should follow your conscience. 1791 says we are responsible to make sure our consciences are well formed. 1792 says not following the church’s teaching is erronous (please note that 1790 says following our conscience may lead to error). 1793 says its not our fault if we’re ignorant.

    So please show me where either individually, or in aggragate – any of those say we should not follow our conscience. You can’t, because it’s not there. And telling someone to follow their conscience only when it is well formed is a bit of circular logic…because how does someone know when their conscience is well formed? Only when it matches that of the church? Like I said before, if that were the case, the CCC would only need to say always follow church teachings. But it doesn’t do that because that’s not what following one’s conscience means. Or let me put this way, why did the church even include 1790 in the catechism?

    2) Strawman? Aren’t we talking about the “morality” of following Church authority? Yes or No? Now your saying one only needs to follow “all time and universal” teachings? Without being able to look into the future, how does one know if a teaching is for all time? If the answer is “infallible” teachings – then I’ll remind you that both you and Ben chastized me for thinking those are the only teachings one should be obedient to. I also know the Church “always” taught that salvation outside the church was not possible up until the time the teaching changed. Once again your argument is circular.

    4) If we’re going to get technical. There are 2,854 statements in the Catechism. 2,854 x .001 = 3. 🙂

    5,6,7) You didn’t answer my questions. If someone dissents to the teaching on contraception, but out of respect for the churches authority does not use contraception. Are they following the churches teaching or not?

    And I’ve answered the protestant question at least two times already but i’ll do so one more time. Why would someone want to remain Catholic despite dissenting to a few non-infallible teachings? How about: The beauty of it’s liturgy. Or the Eucharist. The Sacraments. The Communion of Saints. The Church’s deep history and traditions. It’s preferential option for the poor and cutting edge work in social justice. It’s beautiful churches. Do I need to keep going?

    Our Lord prayed for unity in love. Loving God and each other to the best of our ability. If I remember correctly, he snubbed the religious authority of his time when they got a little to rule oriented at the expense of love. Just sayin’…..

  117. annonymouse says:

    BigE –

    Please prayerfully re-read all of the CCC with respect to conscience. If you don’t/can’t/won’t see it, then you simply don’t want to see it. You are engaging in rationalization, justifying your beliefs and behaviors with a loosely-defined notion of “conscience,” one much in line with some contemporary Catholic theologians (Father Curran comes to mind) but one you won’t find promulgated by the Magisterium anyplace.

    Please answer Thinkling’s intelligent and obviously well-formed (and much more eloquent than any of my poor attempts) post that speaks of the difference between your “conscience” and your “opinion.”

    On the protestant question, the Episcopal Church has liturgy, Eucharist, Sacraments, communion of saints, history, tradition, social justice work, preferential option, and very beautiful churches, PLUS they see no issue with contraception, female priests, openly gay priests and now even openly gay bishops. So why Roman Catholic over Episcopal, which seems to match your own beliefs much more closely? Why stay and be frustrated with a Roman Curia which obviously (in your estimation) is out of touch and just doesn’t get it? Further, the Episcopal church has a very loose episcopal structure and far fewer “rules” so what’s not to like??

    On your last point (oh, the old resort to Jesus v. Religious Authority – Jesus wasn’t against religious authority or rules, He was against hypocrisy, but I digress) – we’re speaking of the same Jesus who gave Peter the keys to the kingdom and said “what you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven,” correct? You have become a Roman Catholic but you still seem to have some deep issues with the “Roman” part of that and you seem to have issues with submission to authority.

  118. BigE says:


    Thanks for your input. I love this type of discussion……

    You claim an “internal feeling” is not conscience. Here are a few definitions of conscience I quickly pulled off the Web:

    1) “An INNER FEELING or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.”

    2) “Conformity to what ONE CONSIDERS to be correct, right, or morally good”

    Please show me where ANY generally accepted definition of conscience claims it is not some form of an internal feeling or voice. None of the defintions I saw tries to introduce the concept of opinion vs. conscience. That is your own unique definition.

    Even CCC1781 notes that “Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice.”

    How under your definition of conscience can a “man commit evil” while having “the just judgement of conscience remain within him”? In another words, your definition conscience also does not match that of the Catechism!

  119. annonymouse says:

    BigE –

    Serious question – have you ever been wrong? I mean, have you ever had your paradigm, your own worldview, completely overturned and changed, discovering that you’ve been 180 degrees wrong all along?

    I hope you have. Because that’s what we mean by “conversion.” Conversion of heart. We start out as hopeless sinners, focused completely inward. At some point on our spiritual journey, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we begin the process of conversion, which necessarily includes changing many of our self-centered ways and worldviews and paradigms and taking on a heart of humility, which means humble submission to God (and more to the point of this thread, to God’s Church) rather than trusting completely in our own (very limited) intelligence and knowledge.

    BIG E – I might suggest that you think about following the “Little Way” – and you might start with your screen name.

  120. BigE says:


    I have read all the CCC’s. You are the one not seeing. I have yet to see your explanation as to why the Church felt the need to include CCC1790 when you claim all decisions made “in conscience” should follow church teachings. That makes CCC1790 totally redundunt and unnecessary and confusing. And yet there it is….

    I have also failed to see anyone put this quote by then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1967 (in commentary on the documents of Vatican II) into perspective around our discussions:

    “Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism”.

    What exactly was he saying?

    As to the Episcoplal question: That Church only formally recognizes two Sacraments – Baptism & Eucharist. The other 5 are missing or informal. I’ve also never heard Episcopalians ask for a Saints intercession or recite a Litany of the Saints. I don’t believe they even have a formal process for declaring Saints. Their tradition certainly can’t be traced back to the Apostles, only to King Henry. And their social justice programs and work for the poor are nowhere near that of the Catholic Church. Are you really saying that the only difference between the Catholic and Episcopal churchs are their views on Contraception, Women Priests and Homosexuality. Really?

    Your conclusions are also a non-sequitor as you have somehow concluded in error that I see no value in a united church. As I have stated before, I don’t believe we should all be running off and “doing” what we want. Bishops shouldn’t be roguely ordaining women. Priests shouldn’t be roguely blessing gay marriages. That kind of disunity hurts the church. That does not mean however, that we shouldn’t be allowed to discuss issues and search for the truth.

    As for leaving a church, I guess I could ask you the same question. If being in a Church where no one questions authority is so important to you…why don’t you join the Mormon Church? No one there is allowed to question ANY of the Churches teachings, and whatever the Prophet (their version of the Pope) says goes. There’s no haggling over “infallibility” vs “definitive” vs “only in regards to faith and morals” or any of those other issues. If the Prophet declares something, it automatically becomes a spiritual fact. No ifs, ands, or butts…..and if anyone questions something they are booted. Same with Jehova Witnesses.

    And how have I not followed the “bindings” of the Catholic Church? By wanting to discuss issues? Submission to authority means I am not allowed to ask questions, challenge, and explore (while still following ALL that the church has bound). That’s not binding. That’s mind control. And I thank God our Church doesn’t advocate me leaving my brain at the door before I walk into the Church. I guess that puts me in St. Paul’s camp, who had quite a few pretty vigorous disagreements with Church leadership (including Peter) over circumcision. And I think if you ever looked closely at the church’s history, you’d see this type of questioning, haggling, debating, searching as a means for discovering the truth throughout its history. That’s why I fell in love with Catholic Church. That’s part of her continual search for truth.

  121. BigE says:


    Given that I was an agnostic with leanings towards atheism for much of my adult life; Yes, I would say I have experienced pretty significant worldview and paradigm shifts.

  122. annonymouse says:

    I suspected that you were not a convert from another Christian tradition.

    Generally such converts see the Roman Catholic Church as the fullness of truth that was lacking in their own native tradition. They have respect for, even devotion to, the leadership of the Church because they were starved of such strong and consistent leadership in their past faith journey. I’m thinking of Father Neuhaus (whom I’ve quoted above) who converted from conservative Lutheranism, and Scott and Kimberly Hahn and most of the Catholic Answers folks, who made the journey from anti-Catholic fundamentalism to orthodox Catholicism. And seldom do we see converts from liberal protestant sects who come over only to dissent from the very teachings that differentiate Holy Mother Church from their former tradition.

    I suspect that you’re still journeying. I do pray for the day when you come all the way home. Heart and head, both. God bless you.

  123. annonymouse says:

    Because time does not permit me a more in-depth response to your lengthy post, and because I am not the one who is going to bring about a change of heart in you, I will answer these:

    The Anglicans recognize two sacraments as “sacraments of the Gospel,” instituted by Christ, and the other five as sacraments that are not sacraments of the Gospel.

    The main difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopalian Church is not any of what you’ve mentioned. The main difference is the God-given leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, leadership which Henry rejected, leadership for whom John Fisher and Thomas More gave their fullest measure of devotion.

    And, yes, the matters of contraception, ordination, and homosexuality are rather significant components of the ever-widening gulf between the Anglican Communion and our Church.

    Finally, you’re not questioning. You’ve not asked one question about why the Church teaches what she does on artificial contraception, or women’s ordination, et al. You’re advocating your positions, all of which our leadership has in no uncertain terms opposed if not condemned.

    I am not looking for a Church to tell me what to do or think. I am looking for a rightly ordered spirit, a rightly-ordered heart, in which I will more and more think and believe with the Church. Jesus left us a Church, He ordered its leadership (Peter and the apostles –> Pope and bishops), and the Holy Spirit continues to guide her. It is my obligation as a Catholic to give my intellectual assent to all that she teaches, and through God’s grace, to allow my heart to be formed to truly believe her deposit of faith.

    God bless. I’m really out this time. New Year’s Resolution.

  124. Thinkling says:

    Simple. Not all inner feelings are conscience. At least for the theological concept of conscience, which is the relevant one here.

    I started my answer by pointing out that others discussed what this concept is, how it is properly informed and what are the consequences of having it so. I stand on the shoulders of giants 🙂 But they provide the foundation of this simple demo. If one makes a Profeesion of Faith, has the mental competency to understand what “the Church cannot do X” means (say), and actually informs oneself of that exact thing, then any feeling that says “the Church can indeed do X” or even “the Church must do X” simply cannot be your conscience. Simple Syllogism Full Stop.

    Don’t worry though. You are far from alone on this, that misunderstanding is very, very widespread.

  125. BigE says:


    Of course conscience is not ALL inner feelings. But it is those inner feelings that attempt to distinguish right (moral) action from wrong.

    And your definition of conscience still eludes me.

    It sounds a bit like the “no true scotsman” fallacy. If it leads me to follow every church teaching it is conscience. If leads me to follow anything less than that it is opinion. I’m not sure your definition of conscience allows room for one’s conscience to lead to them to an erronous choice. Your definition sounds more like a definition (from the Church’s perspective) of a “well formed conscience”.

    Can you site a source for or post a link for your definition of conscience? (just conscience, not a “well formed” conscience)

  126. Thinkling says:

    Just appealing to the properties given in the CCC. That is all that is necessary — a full seminary level def would include all of this, but all that is needed has already been laid out.

    Not allowing for error? No this can indeed happen. For example, check out public statements made by Drs Janet Smith and Peter Kreeft regarding the Live Action controversy. They are mutually contradictory but we can assume they were made in good informed consciences. But one of them (at least) is wrong. (writing fast so Smith might not be the best example, but there are good ones regardless!)

  127. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Big E:
    I have reviewed all the data, comments in CF, documents from the Vatican , and have come to the conclusion (not infallible) that there are probably 328 people who are pure and faithful 100% Catholic in the United States, 237 in Europe, and 431 in Africa.


  128. BigE says:



    Although I think your Europeon estimate may be a tad high….


  129. Ben Anderson says:

    Raymond and BigE,
    I assume you’re trying to argue against a position that says there is some sort of catechism test and only those that pass it (and live up to it) are faithful 100%. I’ll admit my original wording was a poor choice and it’s not entirely accurate, but I believe I’ve clarified enough by now. Let me rephrase it this way, “all Catholics are required to give assent to doctrines that are infallible else they remove themselves from full communion”. This assent isn’t meant to be a quiz or anything. It’s more like, “if you know the truth that the Church teaches and choose to obstinately defy it, then you are in the wrong.”

    Let me try to rein this discussion in a bit. Can we set conscience aside? We all agree you can’t in good conscience deny the divinity of Christ and yet remain a Catholic in full communion, right? Why do we believe that? Because it’s an infallible teaching of the Church. What you have to do to show that you can dissent on contraception or women priests is show that neither of these doctrines meet the requirements of the infallibility of the universal and ordinary magisterium of the Church. You have not done that. All you’ve done is said that it is the CDF’s opinion that you (and many other “Catholics”) don’t share. Well, OK, let’s hear why your opinion is better than the CDF’s… how exactly do these teachings fail to meet the infallible requirements of the ordinary and universal magisterial teaching authority of the Church?

    Also, my answer to this above was wrong:

    2) Canon Law 749.3 says: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated.”

    You are right that infallibility is not manifest in these doctrines… however that canon does not apply to universal and ordinary magisterial infallibility.

  130. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Catholicism has a spectrum. Any gouping of any kind of living creatures is going to have the spectrum of a “bell” curve. God and his saints are the only one’s who do not have a bell curve in their present life in heaven.

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