to be discounted only after mature reflection

By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 01, 2006

"The committed Catholic cannot be satisfied that his conscience is properly formed and informed simply by pledging adherence to Vatican declarations," Fr Brennan said. "Authoritative church teaching is a privileged guide to be discounted only after mature reflection and prayerful discernment."

That's Australian Jesuit Fr. Frank Brennan, in a signally humorless address given last week in Melbourne (tip to Jeff Miller). The occasion of his lecture was a jubilee celebration to commemorate Jesuits Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Peter Faber, none of whom would have tolerated Brennan's idea about when authoritative Church teaching may be "discounted" -- a notion the Society of Jesus formed itself to combat. Where St. Ignatius urged his companions to "set the world on fire," Fr. Brennan, like a crippled oiler trapped in a naval barrage, busies himself with putting out smoke.

Ironies are piled on irony. St. Francis Xavier was, after St. Paul, the archetypal missionary, traveling huge distances and baptising many thousands, all on the belief that the salvation of souls was at stake. In an age when nearly every heathen is deemed an Anonymous Christian and damnation has dropped out of the picture, there's no reason for the missionary to stir from his barcalounger in Amsterdam or New Rochelle or Leeds. 500 years after the birth of Xavier, his successors, after some bewildered scrabbling in their desk drawers, find they have no gift to offer the unredeemed world apart from some trite admonitions about the primacy of conscience and inclusive language.

The obvious (if unnamed) target of Brennan's petulance is Cardinal George Pell, whose teaching on conscience moves one toward the center of Church instead of away from her. It's a gutsy stance, and one young Catholics find considerably more attractive than the alternative, if Sydney's ordinations and seminary admissions are any indication. While the institutional legatees of Loyola, Xavier, and Faber may have assembled at the Melbourne jubilee, their true spiritual descendants are carrying on their work elsewhere.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: sparch - Aug. 10, 2006 5:34 PM ET USA

    Understanding of all things, especially church teaching comes through faith. Our understanding as christians can come no other way. Our faith never displaces that which we beleive. As Catholics, this includes our church.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 05, 2006 9:08 AM ET USA

    I've enjoyed these posts. I'm sure many of my fellow CWNews readers are hungry, as I am, for encouragement in looking out over the Church in the Modern World. It is great to see so many fellow readers not fooled in the least by Father Frank & his ilk & not unduly discouraged by him. And one more thing: As an American addressing at least several Aussies, let me say that you folks give me the distinct impression that you are generally a bit better catechized than we are.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 03, 2006 7:16 PM ET USA

    Primacy of consciencereally takes aim at the Pope for if that doctrine is true then we are all our own pope. We have no need then of any physical body of Christ represented by the Church. It is a new ballgame! Everything becomes relative and dependent only on what we judge acceptable. I don't think so!!!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 02, 2006 11:50 AM ET USA

    I continue to suspect that the calling of the Jesuits' General Congregation 35 came as the result of an "offer" by Pope Benedict XVI that Fr. Kolvenbach could not refuse...

  • Posted by: Venerable Aussie - Aug. 01, 2006 11:35 PM ET USA

    Fr Brennan's comments are about as welcome (and as frequent) as email offers for Viagra. But don't think natural attrition (implosion) is going to take care of things! Fr Kolvenbach's Zenit interview today envisages a new army of lay SJs (Brennan clones?). We need more visits here in Melbourne from some of those good jebbies so we can maintain a true Ignatian fix. Fr Fessio dropped in a couple weeks back, and also some other US Jesuit last week who teaches in Rome, and he wasn't too bad either.

  • Posted by: JARay - Aug. 01, 2006 11:18 PM ET USA

    Fr. Frank Brennan is one of those priests that the media likes to trot out when they want something controversial said. He is well known in Australia for this kind of line.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 01, 2006 9:55 PM ET USA

    Fr. Brennan flunks Catholic morality 101. Conscience is not the ultimate guide. A "properly formed conscience" is to be trusted and acted upon.If one is in conflict with Church teaching -- one accepts the responsibility to submit to doctrine rather than one's own preference. So, if after serious thought and reflection one still wants to violate Church teaching the solution is really simple. Christ speaking through the Church doctrine trumps personal inclinations -like it or not.

  • Posted by: Clorox - Aug. 01, 2006 7:10 PM ET USA

    "...primacy of conscience and inclusive language"? According to my new Lectionary St. Paul really, really liked inclusive language. But he wasn't a radical. He uses "brothers and sisters" instead of "sisters and brothers." That is, until the Lectionary is revised again. And again.