Continued from Primacy of
The post-Vatican II model
of moral theology that seems to be emerging seems to view the
process of "getting to heaven" in a sea-change new way. In this
the process of "getting to heaven" is seen as a "way" of thinking
and acting. Life is viewed as a complex puzzle of moral choices.
The model is not one of "hoop jumping" but more like a game of
"snakes and ladders" except instead of chance determining if we
land on a snake or a ladder our moral choices are the determinant
(or maybe someone can come up with a better descriptor). How we
get to heaven is by training ourselves to be able to make the
correct moral choices. Unfortunately this is not easy because
the rules are not simple as they were in the "hoop jumping" model
but are actually very complex. (For example; just look at the
number of rules in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church
some 800 pages compared to the 60 or 70 pages we had to learn
in the slim Penny Catechism of my childhood.) And they interact
with one another. What might be morally correct in one situation
might be morally wrong in another situation that is almost identical.
The Church, and no one in the entire world, can actually write
out all the possible permutations of how these rules and laws
interact with one another. That final process has to take place
in the individual human mind, emotions and conscience. This again
is, as I see it, the insight the Church is trying to lead us to
in this doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience.
In the example of the "Am
I my brother's keeper" illustration I provided the other day,
the person who operates in a "hoop jumping" frame of reference
tends to read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in an unsubtle
or simplistic way. It is perceived as something of a black or
white presentation as to how we are called to respond to someone
who has literally fallen down on a road and broken their leg.
They seem to lack the capacity for abstract thinking as to how
one moves the paradigm of what is being presented there to other
moral scenarios. For example the person I was referring to in
the second post cannot see how that parable could possibly apply
to a person who was injured not in a physical way but in a non-physical
way by words through defamation.
I would argue to those who
believe there is merit in Dr Pell's argument that the doctrine
on Primacy of Conscience ought to be publicly rejected that this
flies in the face of how the thinking of most ordinary, intelligent
people is evolving and changing today. It is a path backwards
towards the moral thinking employed by cavemen and women.
What people are crying out
for today is some guidance from the Church as to how we go about
making the correct moral choices in life. I am not suggesting
that society is necessarily "crying out" in an articulate way
as to what they want. I am certain though that they do know that
they do not want the "hoop jumping" alternative that is suggested
by what Dr Pell seems to be wanting to take us back to.
We (educated, socially sophisticated
humankind) are crying out to the Church "show us how to make the
correct choices in our lives". What this translates into is "show
us how to use our consciences to choose between these often difficult
moral choices and dilemmas so that we do choose the long term
benefit of truth in preference to the sort term benefit of emotional
Sadly, I think Dr Pell's
solution is actually dangerous because it fails to recognise almost
totally that "hoop jumping" Catholicism is as much driven by the
drive for emotional security as opposed to the search for real
truth. The "hoop jumper" often wants simple answers because they
make him or her feel good and really could not give even a tinker's
curse as to whether truth is part of the equation.
Dr Pell is as guilty of
pandering to the emotions as much as those whose arguments he
is seeking to oppose with this proposal. I believe the doctrine
of the Primacy of Conscience is an essential and critical part
of Catholic theological insight, understanding and teaching today.
It needs to be properly explained not overturned or rejected.