|This picture is from the Southern Orders Blog|
The Southern Cross ran a couple of articles on the subject of conscience during the first quarter of this year. At the time I remarked, both through comments on the newspapers website and on my Blog here, that these articles were incomplete in their explanation of conscience.
The newspaper had failed, in my opinion, to make Catholic readers well aware that ones conscience must always be subject to the Magisterium of the Church. One article gave an example, involving contraception use by Catholic families, which would undoubtedly have left most readers with the distinct impression that somehow the use of contraception could be justified, despite Church teaching.
The editor of course did not take kindly to my comment and my comment on the website was quickly deleted because it allegedly attacked the integrity of The Southern Cross and was therefore considered to be slanderous. As usual, that was the editor’s sole focus, protecting the newspaper. As is his custom, he simply ignored the fact that Catholic readers could, due to the incomplete nature of these articles, have been misled, which was my entire reason for highlighting this fact. Sadly, the harm done to the Catholic reader was evidently considered by the editor to be less significant than admitting the newspaper may have made an error!
I note that now Michael Shackleton, advisory editor of The Southern Cross, has responded to a question from a reader about the misleading impression that may have been created in the article. Damien McLeish asks: “Fr Sean Wales CSsR states that ‘the family that goes the contraceptive route is mistaken in the eyes of the Church but they are acting in good conscience, in good faith, and do not sin’. This statement encourages Catholics to ignore Humanae vitae, and also to utilise, inter alia, abortificient birth control. Does it have the backing of the Church?”[i]
I was pleased when I read the question because it was encouraging to discover that it was not only I, who felt that the article had been misleading. (Though of course I always knew that I was not alone because of the number of personal emails that I had received thereafter thanking me for making the comment and encouraging me in my work.) Vitally, I however saw this question from Damien McLeish, as an extremely wonderful opportunity for The Southern Cross to correct the incorrect impression that may have been created amongst its readers, due to the previous incomplete articles on conscience.
Michael Shackleton acknowledges in his response that “Fr Wales’ quote which you refer to might have required further explanation…” thereby confirming the correctness of my comment, which the editor of The Southern Cross deleted so promptly, that the article was incomplete and therefore inaccurate.
Michael Shackleton does also say quite clearly that: “Well informed Catholics know that the Church prohibits arificial contraception and abortion. They will therefore follow this teaching in practice.”[Sic] He goes on to say that: “The Church teaches what Paul VI defended in Humanae vitae, namely, that any act that renders procreation impossible is intrinsically evil. It condemns procured abortions in the same way. Informed Catholics know this.”
I cannot however help feeling that he has sadly missed a wonderful opportunity. In my opinion, Michael Shackleton was clearly overly focussed on being too politically correct in his response. (Maybe he was concerned that the editor would delete his response too.) He steers well clear of highlighting clearly to the reader that our Catholic conscience is subject to the Magisterium of the Church and avoids admitting openly that the article may have created the wrong impression amongst Catholics on the teaching of Humanae Vitae. Such an open admission would have made it evident to Catholic readers that they should take note and reconsider what they may have previously learned from these incomplete articles on conscience.
We should, I suppose, at least be thankful that the question was published and the answer provided, even if the newspaper does not stand absolutely firmly behind the Church’s teaching on contraception, which is exactly what is required, instead of this consistent lukewarm approach to the subject by The Southern Cross.
Fr John Hardon, who in his lifetime published some excellent books on our Catholic Faith, says exactly this in “Contraception: Fatal to the Faith”: “The single most crucial need to stem this haemorrhage from the Catholic faith is for the Church's leaders to stand behind the Vicar of Christ in proclaiming the Church's two millennia of teaching that no marital act can be separated from its God-given purpose to conceive and procreate a child.”
It would be well worth your while to to read Fr John Hardon’s entire post “Contraception: Fatal to the Faith” which, however brief, covers the subject of contraception and conscience extremely well and leaves no doubt whatsoever about the position that Catholics must take in this regard.