In my opinion, the faithful may dissent from the ordinary teachings of the Magisterium, without incuring guilt, under certain conditions.
The most common case of faithful dissent occurs when an individual Bishop teaches in a way that contradicts or undermines the teaching of the body of Bishops, or of the Pope, or even of certain infallible teachings of the Magisterium. In such a case the faithful can, and generally do, regard that Bishop's teachings with caution and adhere instead to the opposing teachings taught by higher authority in the Magisterium.
The faithful are not required to believe an ordinary teaching of the Magisterium if there exists a contrary teaching with greater authority from the Magisterium.
And in general, the faithful can dissent from any ordinary teachings of the Magisterium on the basis of a more authoritative source, such as an infallible magisterial teaching, or Tradition, or Scripture.
The role of an informed conscience
What role do you allow for an informed conscience?
I often see conflicting statements from Church sources regarding the role of conscience, all the way from "primacy of conscience" to a statement that a well-informed conscience will never be in conflict with the magisterium.
I believe the correct asnswer is somewhere in between these two extremes.
Re: The role of an informed conscience
On the other hand, there are those who claim that one must be unswervingly obedient to one's local Bishop, and must believe every fallible ordinary teaching of the Church without question. They ignore the fact that there always seems to be some Bishops who disagree with their fellow Bishops. We cannot treat each diocese led by a Bishop as if it were a separate religion, each going its own way.
I'm working on some articles that adress this topic of faithful dissent. There is certainly room for any member of the faithful to question and dissent, to some degree, from ordinary magisterial teachings and from the temporal decisions of the Church.
Primacy of conscience follow up
Ron, thanks for your thoughts. In another post you mentioned that the Catholic Democrats had fallen into the heresy of priamcy of conscience.
I think I know what you mean and I'd agree but I'd like to explore this a bit.
The statement seemed to be addressing abortion.
What is the level of the Church's teaching on abortion? I do not think it's dogma, nor is it a subject of a papal ex cathedra declaration. Still, the church's teaching is so closely connected to scripture, so specific and the subject of a multitude of encyclicals, letters,etc., that I don't think a serious argument could be made that the teaching is not part of the ordinary magisterium.
I point all this out to contrast with some other subjects. I'm happily married in the Church with my child-raising years behind me so neither the church's teaching on homosexuality or its teaching on artifical contraception directly impact me. But I still think that he Church's teachings on these two subjects are far less scripturally connected, far less universally recognized and far more likely to be incomplete. How do you see these teachings with regard to the ordinary magisterium and the level of assent?
primacy of conscience: when this term is used to over-ride the teachings of Tradition and Scripture, or any infallible teachings, then it is heresy. But when it is used to encourage persons who have formed and are still forming their conscience in accord with Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium -- so that conscience is above social pressures, peer pressures, culture, personal weaknesses, etc., then is it true. Conscience is primary when compared to these other lesser things, but not when compared to the Word of God.
the teaching against abortion is infallible: it is clear from Tradition and Scripture that abortion is gravely immoral, it is also a teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, and it was infallibly defined as always gravely immoral by Pope John Paul II and the Bishops of the world in Evangelium Vitae.
the teaching that homosexual acts are always gravely immoral is clear from both the Old and New Testaments, it has also been the consistent teaching of the Church throughout the centuries, so this teaching is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. So also is the teaching that the orientation is intrinsically disordered; it is not good, nor the will of God.
However, there may be other related teachings that are still under development. For example, as to the homosexual orientation and its causes, and as to priests who are homosexuals and their status in the Church. Faithful Catholics have a range of opinions and ideas about how society and the Church should treat homosexuals.
So some teaching on this subject fall under the Sacred Magisterium to which one must give sacred assent, but other teachings are under the Ordinary Magisterium, from which one might faithfully dissent (if the basis for dissent is Tradition or Scripture or prior teachings of the Magisterium).
Concerning contraception, Humanae Vitae condemned contraception, but permitted natural family planning so far as to permit NFP to be used very strictly, in an attempt to avoid all conceptions, if the couple has a grave reason. This doctrine was later developed, so that NFP could be used less strictly, not attempting to avoid all conceptions but to space out one's children, if the couple has only a just reason (a lesser standard). Also, new methods of NFP continue to be developed. And the teachings on this subject may develop further.
Now the teaching against contraception has never been infallibly defined, but it does, in my view, fall under the ordinary and universal Magisterium (requiring sacred assent): contraception is immoral and NFP is moral. There may be some further development of doctrine, but I don't think faithful dissent can go so far as to approve of artificial contraception.
Faithful dissent, in my view, is limited to the teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium and only then when one's dissent is based on Tradition or Scripture or Magisterium. It is sometimes difficult to tell which teachings fall under the ordinary and universal Magisterium, but such teachings so require sacred assent.
Typical dissent against Church teaching is not faithful dissent, partly because it is dissent from teachings of the Sacred Magisterium, and partly because people dissent due to the influence of their culture and society, not due to their understanding of Tradition, Scripture, Magsterium.
This is also true with some leaders of approved groups within the Catholic Church who think that they (these particular leaders) are the Magisterium themselves and start teaching things contrary to what the Magisterium teaches or contrary to the limits the Magisterium have allowed or given permission for them to teach.
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