Ateneo, La Salle, and RH Bill: Is the primacy of conscience incompatible with the primacy of Catholic teaching?

From RH Bill and the Catholic University:

OBJECTION 3.  The primacy of Catholic Theology in Catholic Universities is incompatible with the primacy of conscience

The primacy of Catholic Theology in Catholic Universities is incompatible with the primacy of conscience. As the Catechism says:

1776 “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

Thus, if a Catholic professor claims that he is only following his conscience in supporting the RH Bill, then the Catholic Church cannot judge him that he is wrong, since conscience is the voice of God Himself.


Because the objection quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we must also turn to the same Catechism for our response.  Articles 1776 and 1782 constitute only half of the picture.  The other half are as follows:

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

Thus, the Catechism says that conscience can err.  An Aztec emperor offering human sacrifice to the gods to bring rain to the parched fields is obeying his conscience.  A Nazi officer obeying the commands of Hitler to exterminate all Jews is obeying his conscience.  A woman who aborts her baby because she is still young and cannot afford to raise the child is obeying her conscience.  And the couple who uses condoms and pills because having children are burdensome are obeying their conscience.  If one elevates the voice of what people believe to be their conscience as the standard for truth, then truth becomes relative depending who says so, because  each one defines for himself what is good and what is evil.  Isn’t this what Satan, in the form of a serpent, told Eve in the Garden of Eden?

You certainly will not die!5 God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil. (Gen 3:4-5)

If men were left alone to their own consciences, the world will never know what is truly good and truly evil.  Let us take the Library as an analogy.  If the librarian does nothing and students get to decide for themselves where the best place for each book should be–on the floor, on the table, or on the shelf–then the library would be in chaos.  The state of disorder of the library can never decrease, and can actually increase, as the Law of Entropy states.  That is why a librarian is needed to put order in the books and impose rules: keep quiet when you are in the library and don’t return the books to the shelf but leave them on your desks.  Only the librarian has the shelving authority to put the books back in their proper places.

In a similar way, the morals of men will become highly disordered if men were left to themselves.  That is why God intervened in history and made covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel).  He chose the people of Israel to be His own and gave them the Ten Commandments.  He also established the Levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices in atonement for sin.  God appointed judges to interpret his laws; no one is allowed to hop from one judge to another in search for a favorable ruling.  But Israel rejected God by asking for a King like other nations.  God gave them Saul, but Saul was disobedient.  So God made David a King and promised him an everlasting Kingdom.  But the kings after David worshiped heathen idols, so God sent prophets to remind them of His covenant with  Israel at Sinai: He is their God and they are His people.  But Israel must obey God’s voice.  Yet Israel killed many of the prophets.  So in the fullness of time, God sent his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  And God Himself became the teacher of Israel.  He healed their infirmities, fed them in the wilderness, and established His Church as the New People of God, opening the doors of the Church not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.  He gave His Church the Sacraments to sanctify nations and the Teaching Authority to teach in His Name.  And for nearly 2,000 years the Catholic Church that Christ founded continued to exist throughout history, a witness to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the conversion of the barbarian nations of Europe, the conquest of Islam, the Age of Discovery, the formation of modern republics, the rise of Communism, the two World Wars, and the present age.   Christ fulfilled His promise that He will always be with His Church and His Church will never fall into error.  And the Church through the Ages has never failed to teach what is truly good and what is truly evil, even if the world does not wish to hear Her message, even as the world does not anymore see Her relevance, as what we have now today.

Dr. David Calhoun on Vagina Monologues in a Jesuit Catholic University

from the Gonzaga Bulletin (courtesy of Insight Scoop):

ark Alfino’s response to Eric Cunningham’s article concerning “The Vagina Monologues” controversy raises a smokescreen that sidesteps the salient issues.  In the first place, Alfino is wrong that the VM controversy is a matter of academic freedom, and secondly, his account implies a conception of mission in which anything is consistent with Gonzaga’s Jesuit Catholic identity.

Alfino claims that performance of “The Vagina Monologues” is a matter of academic freedom.  However, academic freedom is not a blanket principle that mandates or legitimates that anything and everything can or must be done in an academic context.  It is, rather, the policy that specifies that academic life presumes the free inquiry into truth.  Perhaps the most authoritative statement on academic freedom in the United States, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors, outlines the issue by noting, “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good. … The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition” ( The free search for truth does not require that every available book be read, that every poem be recited, that every available speaker be invited to campus.  In the present context, genuine academic freedom does not require that every play ever written be performed publicly on a university campus.  The objective is not the airing of every possible form of every possible idea.  Rather, practical judgments of pedagogy and practice are employed all the time by teachers and administrators regarding the best means to critically explore ideas and the arguments that support them.

. . .

Similarly, “The Vagina Monologues,” as a particular expression of ideas, is not necessary to explore questions of violence against women, or indeed of human sexuality and female self-image.  Not only is it not necessary, good arguments can and have been made that it is a poor vehicle for exploring these ideas.  It does not speak univocally against violence against women, insofar as it depicts sympathetically female-on-female sexual abuse of a minor.  Despite Eve Ensler’s brilliant marketing campaign, the play is not even so much about violence against women as it is a celebration of polymorphous sexuality.  Beyond its poor literary quality, the play features unnecessary vulgarities which amount to vicarious live sex demonstrations.

There are further reasons for rejecting “The Vagina Monologues” as an occasion for academic inquiry at a Jesuit, Catholic institution.  The play ignores the multifaceted nature of female experience by eliminating entire ranges of human sexuality from its purview.  It offends against human dignity by reducing human personality to sexuality, and female dignity to sexual activity.  It completely ignores the rich literature and vocabulary of Catholic and Christian sexual teaching.

A Jesuit, Catholic institution can explore the full range of questions — of ideas — of human nature, human biology, human sexuality, and human social relations.  Not all expressions of these ideas are necessary, pedagogically effective or ethically justifiable. “The Vagina Monologues “presents ideas in literarily clumsy, pedagogically inferior, and ethically offensive ways.  If Gonzaga truly cared about academic freedom, we would have an open and honest conversation about these matters.  We will not, however, as the planners of the week of events surrounding the Gonzaga performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” have studiously avoided including dissenting voices.  All we will get is a set of monologues on the Monologues.  That is hardly an ideal embodiment of either academic freedom or the traditions of a Jesuit, Catholic, humanist institution of higher learning.

Monk’s Hobbit:

Replace Gonzaga University by Ateneo de Manila University and you get the picture.