What you Think is moral versus Church Teaching

One of the most common issues in Catholic ethics is the conflict between what seems moral and what the Church teaches on morality.

The problem arises because we are fallen sinners. We were conceived with original sin, and after baptism we still have concupiscence — a tendency toward sin. The fallen sinner, though in a state of grace, has a mind and heart clouded by concupiscence, and by past personal sins, and by current unrepentant sins (venial), and by the influence of other sinners and sinful secular society. We are sinners living in a fallen sinful world. Our culture has adopted grave sins, as if these things were good and moral. We therefore have a very difficult time perceive what is and is not moral, all on our own; we are prone to errors in this regard.

The ability of the human person, exercising reason and free will, to seek, find, and follow moral truth is termed the natural law.

“The precepts of natural law are not perceived by everyone clearly and immediately. In the present situation sinful man needs grace and revelation so moral and religious truths may be known ‘by everyone with facility, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.’ ” [CCC 1960]

The whole moral law, in all that it requires and forbids to us, is accessible to reason alone. However, the reason of fallen sinners is prone to error. Therefore, Divine Revelation includes the eternal moral law, so that we might more easily and more surely understand right from wrong.

Church Teaching

The teachings of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture on morality (and every other subject as well) are infallible truth. If Tradition or Scripture teaches that an act is immoral, but it seems moral to you, then YOU ARE WRONG. If Divine Revelation teaches that an act is moral, but it seems immoral to you, then YOU ARE WRONG. If the Magisterium infallibly teaches that one act is moral and other act is immoral, and you disagree — no matter what your reasons — then YOU ARE WRONG.

And if the Magisterium teaches, even though non-infallibly, that an act is moral or immoral, and you disagree, in all likelihood you are still wrong. The non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium are more reliable than the thought and feelings of fallen sinners on moral truth. Now, in the absence of a magisterial teaching, if a Saint teaches that an act is moral or immoral, and you disagree, in all likelihood you are wrong. The understanding of the Saints on morality is more reliable than the vast majority of fallen sinners in the Church today.

Many Catholics today are so poorly-catechized that they have very little understanding of what the Church teaches on particular sins as well as on the basic principles of ethics. They are also so filled with pride that when one act seems moral to them, and another act seems immoral, no theological argument, no appeal to Scripture or the Saints, and no explanation of magisterial can change their minds.

If you cannot accept what the Catholic Church teaches on particular acts and on ethics in general, then you are not a faithful Catholic. If you do not even know that the Church teaches on ethics, how will you live by that teaching and how will you avoid sin?

Worse still, many poorly-catechized Catholics, who cannot give a coherent and correct explanation of the basic principles of ethics, have decided to go forth and teach their own understanding, in direct contradiction to Church teaching — along with the claim that their misunderstanding is actually the doctrine of the Church. And they do not accept correction from anyone.

And then certain theologians and priests, whether out of incompetence or sinfulness is hard to say, undermine and contradict the teaching of the Church on morality, with distortions of sound theology and clever rationalizations. Much harm is being done by false teachers of every kind to the souls of the faithful.


Catholics who possess and exercise the virtue of faith will accept what the Magisterium teaches on ethics, even when their own thinking and feelings are to the contrary. For faith requires the humble submission of mind and will to the teachings of the Magisterium.

Teachers will have the stricter judgment (cf. James 3:1). No one should teach Catholic ethics unless he or she has studied and understood magisterial teaching on the basic principles of ethics as well as on particular acts.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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