Last summer, after the pope placed greater limits on the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy with the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, Many Catholics struggled to accept this decision. They had difficulties reconciling Francis’s decision with that his predecessor. They also struggled to reconcile Traditionis Custodes with their own positive experiences of the Tridentine rite.
This struggle to grant assent to the teaching and governing authority of the Church is not new or unique in the Church. I would go as far as saying that pretty much every Catholic has, at one time or another, disagreed with the Church on something. I regularly see this struggle with Catholics who disagree with the Church’s teaching about contraception, capital punishment, same-sex relationships, war, immigration, and the list goes on. I am also very aware of my own struggles with Church teachings.
Such disagreements can be an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult for Catholics. They can be especially difficult the first time someone experiences it, or when a teaching or discipline makes concrete demands on our lives or political beliefs. Perhaps the greatest trial is when a Catholic becomes convinced that a teaching or discipline is actually harmful to the Church or to their loved ones.
How do we navigate these disagreements? How do we reconcile our love for the Church with teachings and decisions that we believe are harmful? How do we reconcile our belief that the Holy Spirit guides and protects the Church with our own real life experiences? When should we—as did some great saints and theologians—suffer injustice from Church authorities out of obedience? When, like some other great saints and theologians, do we work for change?
I believe that the only way to navigate these disagreements is with a well-formed conscience. Only when we can clearly hear the “aboriginal Vicar of Christ” can we know how to act without causing division in the Church or becoming entrapped in anger and bitterness.
Dominic de Souza and I discuss this in the newest episode of the Pope Francis Generation podcast. We talk about some of the faulty beliefs we have had about conscience and then turn to what the Church actually teaches about it. And we end with some ideas about how to navigate disagreements with the Church.
You can watch this episode on Youtube or check it out wherever you listen to podcasts. Paid subscribers to Pope Francis Generation get to watch each episode before everyone else, join private Q&As, and you’ll be able to pitch ideas for the topic of our final show this season!
[Part of this episode is based on my article from last summer titled: Disagreeing with the Church.]
Paul Fahey lives in Michigan with his wife and four kids. For the past almost eight years, he has worked as a professional catechist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology and is currently working toward a Masters Degree in Pastoral Counseling. He is a retreat leader, catechist formator, writer, and a co-founder of Where Peter Is. His long-term goal is to provide pastoral counseling for Catholics who have been spiritually abused, counseling for Catholic ministers, and counseling education so that ministers are more equipped to help others in their ministry.