When Non-Catholics fail to live up to Catholic Teaching

There is a certain type of Catholic commentary, on the pluralistic and largely secular culture which surrounds us, which evaluates the words and deeds of non-Catholics according to Catholic teaching. Then the commentator rails against these individuals, essentially complaining that they are not conforming their lives to the teaching of the Catholic Church. But does this really make sense?

Remember Jesus? He is so often ignored by Catholics today writing about Catholicism. They speak as if Catholicism were a social philosophy or a political party, rather than a religion. They seldom write about God when writing about Catholicism. Instead, they emphasize the socio-political controversies of today.

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well. He did not rebuke her for following the Samaritan version of the Jewish religion, rather than Judaism. He still taught her, and she brought many souls to Him.

{4:6} And Jacob’s well was there. And so Jesus, being tired from the journey, was sitting in a certain way on the well. It was about the sixth hour.
{4:7} A woman of Samaria arrived to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me to drink.”
{4:8} For his disciples had gone into the city in order to buy food.
{4:9} And so, that Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, being a Jew, are requesting a drink from me, though I am a Samaritan woman?” For the Jews do not associate with the Samaritans.
{4:10} Jesus responded and said to her: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me to drink,’ perhaps you would have made a request of him, and he would have given you living water.”
{4:11} The woman said to him: “Lord, you do not have anything with which to draw water, and the well is deep. From where, then, do you have living water?
{4:12} Surely, you are not greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and who drank from it, with his sons and his cattle?”
{4:13} Jesus responded and said to her: “All who drink from this water will thirst again. But whoever shall drink from the water that I will give to him will not thirst for eternity.
{4:14} Instead, the water that I will give to him will become in him a fountain of water, springing up into eternal life.”
{4:15} The woman said to him, “Lord, give me this water, so that I may not thirst and may not come here to draw water.”
{4:16} Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and return here.”
{4:17} The woman responded and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her: “You have spoken well, in saying, ‘I have no husband.’
{4:18} For you have had five husbands, but he whom you have now is not your husband. You have spoken this in truth.”
{4:19} The woman said to him: “Lord, I see that you are a Prophet.
{4:20} Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
{4:21} Jesus said to her: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you shall worship the Father, neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.
{4:22} You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know. For salvation is from the Jews.
{4:23} But the hour is coming, and it is now, when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such persons who may worship him.
{4:24} God is Spirit. And so, those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
{4:25} The woman said to him: “I know that the Messiah is coming (who is called the Christ). And then, when he will have arrived, he will announce everything to us.”
{4:26} Jesus said to her: “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”
{4:27} And then his disciples arrived. And they wondered that he was speaking with the woman. Yet no one said: “What are you seeking?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”
{4:28} And so the woman left behind her water jar and went into the city. And she said to the men there:
{4:29} “Come and see a man who has told me all the things that I have done. Is he not the Christ?”
{4:30} Therefore, they went out of the city and came to him.

Jesus teaches the woman truth. He specifies that the Jewish faith is a true religion from God. But He also references her invincible ignorance: “you worship what you do not know.” Even so, He does not condemn her, nor does He expect that she, a Samaritan woman, will believe and act according to Judaism. (The Samaritans practiced an altered version of the Jewish faith, just as Protestants practice an altered version of the Catholic Christian faith.)

Recently, in a discussion group (not my group), I argued that each person is judged by God according to their own conscience. A person who commits an act that is objectively a grave sin (objective mortal sin) might not be guilty of actual mortal sin, due to a sincere but mistaken conscience. And such mistakes happen often to believing and practicing Catholic, not only to non-Catholics or non-Christians. Only unrepentant actual mortal sin condemns to Hell — nothing else.

But what I found is that many supposedly devout and supposedly knowledgeable Catholics in that group — who spent large amounts of time, month after month, year after year, teaching error under the guise of teaching the Faith, while hiding behind anonymity — do not allow that persons are judged by conscience. They think that if a person knows what the Church teaches, there is no room for conscience left. They claim that the person is obligated and any objective mortal sins are also actual mortal sins. Well, if that were true, then many Catholic souls would be lost (perhaps most) and very few persons outside of Catholicism today could be saved. And the false teachers who promote this grave error would also be lost, if that were so.

The harshness with which many Catholics judge the conscience of non-Catholics is contrary to the example of Christ in the Gospels. For when Jesus met the Centurion — who was neither Jew nor Christian, but most likely a follower of Roman paganism — Jesus held up his example of faith as above that of even devout Jews. The Centurion was in the state of grace, and many of the Pharisees were not.

So now this brings us to the situation where Catholic bloggers and commentators express indignation and condemnation when they learn, through the news media, that some non-Catholics are making decisions that contradict Catholic teaching. Are these persons acting according to their own conscience? Perhaps they are. If so, then they could be in the state of grace, despite their objective sin. And yet this is not taken into account. The commentator speaks as if we should expect non-Catholics to think and act as if they were Catholic. Their attitude lacks mercy and lacks justice. God judges each person by their own conscience. And judging others harshly is contrary to the Gospel.

[Matthew 7]
{7:1} “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
{7:2} For with whatever judgment you judge, so shall you be judged; and with whatever measure you measure out, so shall it be measured back to you.
{7:3} And how can you see the splinter in your brother’s eye, and not see the board in your own eye?
{7:4} Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter from your eye,’ while, behold, a board is in your own eye?
{7:5} Hypocrite, first remove the board from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Now what is the board in the eye of at least some of these Catholic commentators? As I have pointed out in past posts, some Catholic commentators have publicly taught abject heresy, which of course is an objective mortal sin. And if one is not excused from objective mortal sin by a sincere but mistaken conscience, because, as they say, the teaching of the Church is clear, then how will these teachers of heresy avoid Hell? And how can they hold non-Catholics to the standard of Catholic teaching, while they themselves reject definitive Catholic teaching by promoting heresy? The hypocrisy is stunning.

The other issue, even for Catholic commentators who have not taught heresy, is that they argue strongly against non-Catholics who fail to live according to Catholic teaching, while ignoring the aforementioned teachers of heresy. In fact, many of these commentators are guilty of promoting and supporting Catholic teachers of heresy.

Does Jesus expect non-Catholics to live according to Catholic teaching? No, He does not. For He judges each person by their own conscience. So unless the conscience of a non-Catholic or non-Christian is clearly telling the person to convert and to act according to Christian or Catholic teaching, Jesus only expects the person to live according to those truths that the person was able to perceive in their life.

All persons are bound to seek the truth in those things which regard God and his Church and by virtue of divine law are bound by the obligation and possess the right of embracing and observing the truth which they have come to know. No one is ever permitted to coerce persons to embrace the Catholic faith against their conscience.

If a non-Catholic, who cares about moral truth and who loves their neighbor, sincerely believes that act A is moral and act B is immoral, that person is not condemned by God for doing A and avoiding B, even if the Church teaches the opposite.

The vast majority of Catholics, very unfortunately, do not believe and practice the Catholic faith. And many teachers of Catholicism have gone far astray. As fishers of souls, we need to clean and repair our own nets, before we can be effective in bringing souls into the ship of salvation.

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

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