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The Malignant Virus Of “Invincible Ignorance”

September 11, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Again and again we hear the refrain.
“Follow your conscience.”
We know all too well that a poorly formed conscience can cheer on all sorts of malevolent mischief. The importance of conscience invites scrutiny of the formation of the conscience, and of the teaching which that formation imparts.
When my hometown congressman, Notre Dame graduate Joe Donnelly, was dithering before the vote on Obamacare twelve years ago, he received a call from Fr. Ted Hesburgh, CSC. Fr. Hesburgh, prompted by Nancy Pelosi, had called to urge Donnelly to vote for Obamacare. He told the dithering Donnelly, “Just follow your conscience.”
To no one’s surprise, Donnelly’s conscience had been quite ill-formed at Notre Dame, so he voted “Aye” in support of federal funding of abortion.
Three years later, Donnelly was elected to the U.S. Senate. He is now a high-dollar lobbyist in one of Washington’s premier influence firms.
Hayek was right, the worst do “rise to the top.”
And they’re still “following their conscience.”
On June 18, 2021, sixty Catholic Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives released a “Statement of Principles.” In it they explain “how their faith influences them as lawmakers, making clear their commitment to the basic principles at the heart of Catholic social teaching” — including, apparently, their unanimous voting records in favor of abortion.
“The document expresses the signers’ commitment to the dignity of life and their belief that government has moral purpose,” writes Cong. Brendan Boyle (D., Pa.), a signatory to the statement.
Boyle’s Congressional biography tells us that he “went to the University of Notre Dame on an academic scholarship, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and completed the Hesburgh Program in Public Service.”
We “agree with the Catholic Church about the value of human life,” write Boyle and his Democrat colleagues, and “we seek the Church’s guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience.”
And just where will a seeking congressman find “the Church’s guidance” to form his conscience regarding abortion and the Eucharist?
Of course, Holy Mother Church has provided ample teaching to inform the public figure who deals with objective goods and evils confronted in the public square. However, Mr. Boyle and his Democrat colleagues might find little guidance indeed if they are looking to America’s bishops to provide it.
Mr. Boyle resides in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In the 95 pages of the “Manual for Selected Guidelines & Policies” on the archdiocesan website, the word “Communion” appears 52 times. Not once does the Manual refer to Canon 915, which reads, “[those] who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
Well, Mr. Boyle might not have received much guidance for his conscience at Notre Dame or in Philadelphia, but he and his colleagues still seem to perceive that they are somehow out of step. “In recognizing the Church’s role in providing moral leadership,” they write, “we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas.”
They’re not quite clear about which areas are troublesome, but hey, “no political party is perfectly in accord with all aspects of Church doctrine” anyway, right? (They didn’t study logic either).
And just to drive their point home, Boyle and Co. invoke Pope Francis, who teaches that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent’” (CCC, n. 1857).
The Catechism makes it perfectly clear: “Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice” (CCC, n. 1859).
So if we’re ignorant of Church teaching, we’re in the clear, right?
Not so fast. “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin” (ibid.).
The Catechism addresses “conscience” closely as well, and here too we see a caveat:
“A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed” (CCC, n. 1790).
Aha! A conscience “in ignorance” can make “erroneous judgments.” Does this absolve Catholic public figures who support abortion?
Not necessarily, as the Catechism continues:
“This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man ‘takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.’ In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits” (CCC, n. 1791).
Well, bad habits are indeed hard to break. But how are they acquired?
“Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct” (CCC, n. 1792).
Now, Boyle & Co. admit that they can’t plead ignorance. They “acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas.”
Tension? Try this:
“If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, [mortal sin] causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell” (CCC, n. 1861).

Be Sure To Get
Your Ignorance Vaccine!

Today we confront a fatal error. It is being marketed like a vaccine. It promises immunity from sin and, ultimately, from eternal damnation.
It’s called “invincible ignorance.”
It is the last refuge of the Democrats’ “Personally Opposed, But . . .” Coalition.
“If — on the contrary — the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience” (CCC, n. 1793).
Let’s face it. Support for abortion is the evil twin of the “contraceptive mentality,” the spawn of the Sexual Revolution.
But it might be the case that some who deny Humanae Vitae and support abortion simply “don’t know better.”
Well, we must “correct the errors.” But who’s going to do the correcting?
In the 1970s and 1980s, many of our current bishops studied theology at the North American College in Rome. In those days, the party line was that Humanae Vitae would eventually be overturned, so students were told not to waste any time on it as ministers of the Gospel.
The result? Most of them didn’t preach it as priests and they don’t preach it as bishops.
The fallout didn’t take long. In the 1980s, orthodox Pre-Cana teachers were often scolded when they brought up the evils of contraception. “Don’t mention the damage that it could do to a marriage,” they were told. Why not? “It’s controversial, and it’s a very difficult Church teaching to obey. So if they don’t even know about Humanae Vitae, they won’t be sinning when they violate it!”
“If the bishops don’t preach against it, it can’t be that bad,” the vaccine campaign soothingly assures the “hard of heart.” In fact, opposing global warming or illegal immigration must be the greater sin — just look at all those hectoring letters to Congress from the USCCB!
So when those sixty Catholic representatives meet Jesus, and He introduces them to the hundreds of millions of babies killed by abortion and abortifacients, they can certainly plead “invincible ignorance.”
Right?
Satan dances.

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