Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Prejudice Trumps Informed Conscience

Prejudice Trumps Informed Conscience

I wrote yesterday about how prejudice can block the truth. Today I came across another example of just how harmful prejudice can be. It can literally prevent us from being able to use the message given to us as a means to learn and grow. You see our prejudices cause us to needlessly experience a host of emotions that completely blocks or blurs the real message. Effectively what we then receive is not the real message, only the message that is palatable.

On this occasion it involves two bishops from the Archdiocese of Detroit and the always emotionally charged subject of same sex marriage. The bishops offered their opinions on whether the supporters of same sex marriage should receive Holy Communion.

It is reported that Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit stated that he believed Catholics who support same sex marriage should not receive Holy Communion. It is important to note that he was responding to a very specific question from the Free Press on this subject, after a lay professor and legal adviser to the Vatican had made this statement. Archbishop Vigneron had not broached the subject himself.

On the other hand, the retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, voluntarily chose to weigh in on this subject and offered his opinion saying: “Don't stop going to communion.  You're okay.

I don’t want to get into a discussion about who is right or wrong, or any of the many other discussion points that are available around these statements, the events leading to the statements, as well as the people who made the statements. That will defeat the object of this post.

We can all agree, I am certain, that Catholics must always follow their conscience. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear in this regard:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment.... For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.... His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.[1]

The Catechism is also clear that our conscience “must be informed and moral judgment enlightened.[2] In addition the Catechism teaches us that in order to help us to have this properly formed conscience, we are given the assistance of “the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.[3]

Effectively these bishops, through their individual opinions, have given Catholics cause to pause and reflect. They have offered their opinion or advice on this matter. They have served as one of many forms of assistance that are available to Catholics through the Church.

Catholics obviously should see these messages from these two bishops as an opportunity to consider again what it is that they believe. These messages are therefore almost certainly an excellent opportunity to again examine sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church and others, so that Catholics will be certain that they still do have properly informed consciences.

Sadly, as usual, the prejudices of one side of the debate interfered. Instead of accepting both messages as an opportunity to examine the matter again and decide whose opinion they will or won’t accept, the same sex marriage proponents saw all manner of evils being perpetuated against them.

The same sex marriage proponents vilified Archbishop Vigneron, lashing out and accusing Archbishop Vigneron of forcing them to ignore their consciences. The media, obviously including the schismatic National Catholic Reporter, as usual also helped to stir up and promote the vilification of Archbishop Vigneron.

On the other hand, Bishop Gumbleton, who like Archbishop Vigneron had offered an opinion, was reportedly considered by the same sex marriage proponents to have acted entirely appropriately.

How on earth is it possible that when two people do the exact same thing, namely offer an opinion, one can be accused of infringing on a Catholics conscience while the other is not?

I could well argue that if my conscience informed me that I should not receive Holy Communion because I was a supporter of same sex marriage, Bishop Gumbleton was infringing on my conscience by telling me to continue doing so. Yet this would be silly because I don’t have to obey him. I obey my conscience, despite his opinion. So why is this not also true of Archbishop Vigneron?

This is the net effect of prejudice. Bishop Gumbleton, because his opinion coincides with that of the same sex marriage proponents, is deemed to have acted appropriately while Archbishop Vigneron is deemed to have acted inappropriately.

It is clear that what these Catholics want has nothing to do with properly informing their consciences. No, what they want is that their consciences should be manipulated to whatever it is that is most comfortable for them. Prejudice is blinding them and allowing them to receive only filtered messages that are palatable to them and which will not give them cause to consider, let alone reconsider, their position on any given subject.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church #1776
[2] ibid #1783
[3] ibid #1785

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