I really shouldn't read the Irish Times. Not even when the article is written by that nice Patsy McGarry.
He was close to giving me apoplexy today by drawing my attention to an article in the current (January 2007) issue of the Word magazine on the theme "what is meant by an informed conscience?".
I used to know what a pre-Vatican II "informed conscience" was - very much so. It was a wonderful concept which allowed the Roman Catholic Church to defend itself against the taunt of Protestants that it imposed its views on its flock willy nilly. "Not so", the Church would reply, "every Catholic is not only allowed but is obliged to follow his conscience."
"So", you might ask, "why are we not all Protestants, then?" Indeed, when I heard this line for the first time myself, that is precisely what I wondered.
Ah, but there is a catch, there had to be. And it lies in the definition of conscience for the Catholic. He is obliged to follow his informed conscience. "And what is an informed conscience?", I hear you ask. Well it is a conscience that is informed by the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catholic is obliged to inform himself of the teaching of the Church, and not only that, but to accept it as a matter of obedience/discipline/faith, or whatever you're having yourself. So there is never any dilemma here. Pity the poor Protestants in their anguish. Martin Luther and Henry VIII sold them a bum product, designed to raise their adrenalin and cholesterol levels and all to no good purpose.
Anyway when Vatican II came along (40 odd years ago) it seemed to me that the pre-Conciliar Catholic position had eased up. You were only obliged to gen up on the Catholic position, in good faith, and then act on the basis of your newly informed conscience, so to speak. Mind you, there were still a lot of unresolved issues here for the Church's authority but the position seemed to be veering towards the human.
John XXIII was a nice man but he mistimed his exit to the other world very badly and left a half formed new theology for the traditional vultures to unpick, a gobful at a time.
And now we're back whence we came.
Fr. Twomey, in his Word article, gives a virtuoso exposition of the traditional informed conscience. The current formulation is neatly summarised in the axiom that to be a Catholic is to accept that the Church cannot teach what is wrong in itself.
That's the sort of stuff that got it into trouble in the first place and has kept it skewered on the hook of Humanae Vitae for decades.
In the beginning was the Word, and it used to be a most readable and lookable at magazine produced to the highest aesthetic and production standards.
Maybe in keeping with this new-old theology it should now carry Divine Ads, such as for budding exorcists, which the Pope wants to recruit by the bucketful, to give the Devil a taste of his own pointed tail.
I joketh not. Check it out.
As they say in the cinema, I think this is where I came in.