Plain Talk on Conscience
DID IT REALLY NEED television and David Frost to make generally known Cardinal Heenan's frank and intimate views about the controversy of controversies? Evidently so, even if it was the straight talking rather than the content of the Cardinal's words that was startling.
Genuinely and fervently we hope that His Eminence will not be pilloried for his clarification, remembering that The Catholic Herald was banned in places for making similar suggestions.
The Cardinal was felicitous in his choice of language: "The teaching of the Church is very clear. Every man is bound to follow his conscience." But this did not by any means invalidate the Encyclical since "it is the duty of a Catholic to inform his conscience." The Cardinal added that he "would have been very surprised if the Pope could have decided that artificial contraception is right."
Demolished then are the arguments obstinately held that "erroneous" consciences must be battered into submission. Equally discredited are facile suggestions that authoritative teaching can be blandly ignored. Those who were prema turely condemned for implying what has now been made explicit may regret that such opinions were not made clear earlier; but now that they have, who better to voice them, and who could have voiced them better?
By no means all difficulties, however, have been removed. One in particular may have been been thrown into sharper relief. It concerns those who do not fit snugly into the category either of contented conformists or convinced conscientious objectors. Such people will remain torn, at least for the time being, between personal indecision and traditional loyalty.
Compassion has at least replaced intellectual moralising over a dilemma anticipated by Aquinas in discussing the nature of truth. We have since come to learn that conscience alone, however important, is not always enough to solve such a dilemma.
Needed over and above are that prudence and discretion in the Christian tradition providentially instinctive to those who love God in difficult circumstances.