30 – The Church is pharisaical when she wants to take charge of the consciences of people

Conscience is the sacred place where we find ourselves alone with God, where the most important matter of our existence is decided: the salvation or loss of our souls. For this reason, we have the obligation to orient our consciences always along the right path, for, on the contrary, we may culpably compromise, in a fleeting moment, our friendship with God and the life of grace that He gives us. However, our human condition is so poignant that only with the immortal teaching of the Holy Catholic Church are we able to guide our conscience with certainty along the right path.

The education of consciences is one of the most beautiful missions confided by the Redeemer to Holy Mother Church, a mission we could call angelic if it wasn’t really divine! Would that all thought this way!



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‘And today is also a day to pray for our Mother Church,’ Francis added, ‘because of so much sterility within the people of God. A sterility arising from egoism, from power … when the Church believes she can do everything, that she can take charge of the consciences of the people, walk along the road of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, along the road of hypocrisy, yes, the Church is sterile. Let’s pray. That this Christmas our Church may be open to the gift of God, that she may allow herself to be surprised by the Holy Spirit and be a Church that gives birth, a mother Church. Many times I think that in some places the Church is more like an entrepreneur than a mother’. (Homily, Casa Santa Martha, December 19, 2014)
Conversion is not easy, because it means changing one’s life, changing one’s ways, changing so many things, even changing the soul. But this path of conversion will give us the identity of a people who knows how to bear children, not a sterile people! If we, like the Church, do not know how to bear children, something is not working! The great challenge for the Church today is to become mother: mother! Not a perfectly organized non-profit, with so many pastoral plans…. We need them, sure… But that is not essential, it is just a help. A help to what? To the motherhood of the Church. If the Church is not mother, it is sad to say that she becomes a spinster, but she does become a spinster! That’s how it is: she bears no fruit. The Church not only makes children, but it is part of her identity to make children, that is, to evangelize, as Paul VI says in Evangelii nuntiandi. The Church’s identity is this: to evangelize, that is, to make children. I think of our mother Sarah, who grew old without children; I think of Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharius, old without children; I think of Noemi, another old woman without descendents… And these barren women did bear children, they were given descendents: the Lord is capable of doing that! That is why the Church must do something, must change, must convert in order to become mother. She must be fruitfull! Fruitfulness is a grace that we today need to ask from the Holy Spirit, so that we can go forward in our pastoral and missionary conversion. This is not a question of seeking to proselytize, no, no! To go ring the bell: “Would you like to come to this association called the Catholic Church?…”. We need to make a card, another member… The Church — Benedict XVI told us — does not grow through proselytism, she grows through attraction, maternal attraction, offering her motherhood: she grows through tenderness, her maternity, the witness that generates ever more and more children. She is a little aged, our Mother Church… We shouldn’t call her “Grandma Church”, but still she is a little older… We must rejuvenate her! We must rejuvenate her, but not by taking her to the plastic surgeon, no! This is not the true rejuvenation of the Church, it doesn’t work. The Church grows younger when she is capable of generating more children; she grows younger the more she becomes mother.(Address to participants in Rome’s Diocesan conference, June 16, 2014)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter the various parts of our study



Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

Christian faithful must form their consciences according to the definite doctrine of the Church

In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church (cf. Pius XII, radio message, March 23, 1952). For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself (Vatican Council II, Declaration Dignitatis humanae, no. 14, December 7, 1965)

Pius X

Bishops have the duty of forming the consciences of the people

As for you, Venerable Brethren, carry on diligently with the work of the Saviour of men by emulating His gentleness and His strength. Minister to every misery; let no sorrow escape your pastoral solicitude; let no lament find you indifferent. But, on the other hand, preach fearlessly their duties to the powerful and to the lowly; it is your function to form the conscience of the people and of the public authorities. The social question will be much nearer a solution when all those concerned, less demanding as regards their respective rights, shall fulfill their duties more exactingly. (Pius X. Notre charge apostolique, no. 39, August 23, 1910)

Pius XII

The Church: inexhaustible fecundity and inviolate in her sacred laws

Certainly the loving Mother is spotless in the Sacraments by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary grace through which with inexhaustible fecundity (cf. Vat. Council I, Sess. III, de fide Cath., cap 3), she generates hosts of martyrs, virgins and confessors. But it cannot be laid to her charge if some members fall, weak or wounded. In their name she prays to God daily: ‘Forgive us our trespasses;’ and with the brave heart of a mother she applies herself at once to the work of nursing them back to spiritual health. (Pius XII. Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 66, June 29, 1943)

John Paul II

With the spread of relativism the Church stresses the correct formation of consciences

At a time when in the sphere of morality there is a disturbing spread of relativism and subjectivism, the Church in America is called to proclaim with renewed vigor that conversion consists in commitment to the person of Jesus Christ, with all the theological and moral implications taught by the Magisterium of the Church. There is a need to recognize ‘the role played by theologians, catechists and religion teachers who, by setting forth the Church’s teaching in fidelity to the Magisterium, cooperate directly in the correct formation of the consciences of the faithful’ (Propositio 68). (John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, January 22, 1999)

Pius XII

Conscience can and should be educated; the Church must intervene authoritatively in moral questions when necessary

It is necessary to turn again to some fundamental concepts of Catholic doctrine in order to duly understand that the conscience can and should be educated. The divine Savior has brought to man, ignorant and weak, his truth and grace: truth to indicate the path that leads to his end; grace to give him the strength to be able to reach it. […] But, where may the educator and the educated find, concretely with facility and certainty, the moral Christian law? In the law of the Creator, engraved on the heart of each one, (cf Rom 2: 14-16), and in revelation; that is to say, in the ensemble of truths and precepts taught by the divine Master. Both, the law engraved in the heart, which is the natural law, as well as the truths and precepts of supernatural revelation, were left by Jesus the Redeemer, as the moral treasure of humanity, in the hands of his Church, so that she may preach them to all peoples, explaining and transmitting them integrally and free of all contamination and error from generation to generation. […] Conscious, therefore, of the right and the obligation of the Holy Apostolic See to intervene, when it be necessary, authoritatively in moral questions, We in the address of October 29 last year, proposed to enlighten the consciences in that which refers to the problems of conjugal life. With the same authority we declare today to educators and to the youth: the divine commandment of the purity of soul and body is also necessary without diminishment for the youth of today. They in the same way, have the moral obligation – and with the help of grace – the possibility of keeping themselves pure. eposciences, (Pius XII. Radio message for the celebration of ‘Family Day’, March 23, 1952)


The light of the Church illumines, enkindles and enflames

For here Our concern is with the doctrine of the Catholic and Apostolic Church. She is the Mother and Teacher of all nations. Her light illumines, enkindles and enflames. No age but hears her warning voice, vibrant with heavenly wisdom. She is ever powerful to offer suitable, effective remedies for the increasing needs of men, and the sorrows and anxieties of this present life. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et magistra, no. 262, May 15, 1961)

Her holy Founder entrusted the Church with the task of teaching and guiding her children

She is ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ (Cf. 1Tim. 3:15). To her was entrusted by her holy Founder the twofold task of giving life to her children and of teaching them and guiding them—both as individuals and as nations—with maternal care. Great is their dignity, a dignity which she has always guarded most zealously and held in the highest esteem. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et magistra, no. 262, May 15, 1961)

John Paul II

It is the mission of the Church to form consciences and to offer criteria in delicate matters

In fact, it is the mission of the Church to form consciences and to offer criteria in such delicate matters that have a great influence on behaviour and on the moral principles of people, especially on children and youth. (John Paul II. Address to the  Ambassador of Costa Rica to the Holy See)

The Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth

Christians have a great help for the formation of conscience in the Church and her Magisterium. As the Council affirms: ‘In forming their consciences the Christian faithful must give careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. Her charge is to announce and teach authentically that truth which is Christ, and at the same time with her authority to declare and confirm the principles of the moral order which derive from human nature itself’ (Dignitatis Humanae, 14). (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, no. 64, August 6, 1993)

The sphere of human hearts and consciences needs the direction of the Church

The Church’s fundamental function in every age and particularly in ours is to direct man’s gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity towards the mystery of God, to help all men to be familiar with the profundity of the Redemption taking place in Christ Jesus. At the same time man’s deepest sphere is involved – we mean the sphere of human hearts, consciences and events. (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptor hominis, no. 10, March 4, 1979)

Benedict XVI

Forming upright consciences receptive to the demands of justice

Yet one of the tasks of the Church in Africa consists in forming upright consciences receptive to the demands of justice, so as to produce men and women willing and able to build this just social order by their responsible conduct. (Benedict XVI. Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus, no. 22, November 19, 2011)

Congregation for the Clergy

The priest must practice the ministry of the formation of consciences

Sacramental Reconciliation re-establishes friendship with God the Father and with all his sons in his family which is the Church, which, in turn, is rejuvenated and edified in all of its dimensions: universal, diocesan, parochial (cf Council of Trent, sess. Vl, de iustificatione c. 14; sess. XIV, de poenitentia c. 1 2, 5-7, can. 10; sess. XXIII, de ordine c. 1; Vatican Council II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 2, 5). In spite of the reality of a loss of the sense of sin, greatly extended in the culture of our times, the priest must practice, with joy and dedication, the ministry of the formation of consciences, pardon and peace. (Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, no. 51, March 31, 1994)

John Paul II

To contest the Magisterium is to reject moral conscience

Since the Magisterium of the Church has been instituted by Christ the Lord to enlighten the conscience, appealing to this conscience precisely in order to contest the truth of all that the Magisterium teaches comports a rejection of the Catholic concept of the Magisterium and of moral conscience. To speak of the intangible dignity of the conscience without posterior specifications, brings on the risk of grave errors. (John Paul II. Address to the participants in the Second International Congress on Moral Theology, November 12, 1988)

Saint Augustine of Hippo

The minds of men are obscured, and require the guidance of authority

Where, then, shall I begin? With authority, or with reasoning? In the order of nature, when we learn anything, authority precedes reasoning. For a reason may seem weak, when, after it is given, it requires authority to confirm it. But because the minds of men are obscured by familiarity with darkness, which covers them in the night of sins and evil habits, and cannot perceive in a way suitable to the clearness and purity of reason, there is most wholesome provision for bringing the dazzled eye into the light of truth under the congenial shade of authority. (Saint Augustine. Of the Morals of the Catholic Church, Ch. 2, no. 3)

Compendium of the Catholic Church

The Church transforms the moral life of Christians into an act of spiritual worship

How does the Church nourish the moral life of a Christian?
The Church is the community in which the Christian receives the Word of God, the teachings of the ‘Law of Christ’ (Gal 6:2), and the grace of the sacraments. Christians are united to the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ in such a way that their moral life is an act of spiritual worship; and they learn the example of holiness from the Virgin Mary and the lives of the Saints.
Why does the Magisterium of the Church act in the field of morality?
It is the duty of the Magisterium of the Church to preach the faith that is to be believed and put into practice in life. This duty extends even to the specific precepts of the natural law because their observance is necessary for salvation. (Compendium of the Catholic Church. no. 429-430)

One must work to correct the errors of moral conscience

How is a moral conscience formed to be upright and truthful?
An upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by assimilating the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. It is supported by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and helped by the advice of wise people. Prayer and an examination of conscience can also greatly assist one’s moral formation.
Can a moral conscience make erroneous judgments?
A person must always obey the certain judgment of his own conscience but he could make erroneous judgments for reasons that may not always exempt him from personal guilt. However, an evil act committed through involuntary ignorance is not imputable to the person, even though the act remains objectively evil. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience. (Compendium of the Catholic Church. no. 374 and 376)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

We are guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church

In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path (Ps 119:105), we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church (cf DzH 14). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1785)

The conscience of each person should avoid confining itself to individualistic considerations; and should not be set in opposition to the Magisterium

Ministries should be exercised in a spirit of fraternal service and dedication to the Church, in the name of the Lord (Rom 12:8,11). At the same time the conscience of each person should avoid confining itself to individualistic considerations in its moral judgments of the person’s own acts. As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the Church and in the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on moral questions. Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2039)

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