Using the word believe in a wide sense, one believes everything one accepts because the Church teaches it. In a strict sense, however, only that is believed which is accepted with faith. Yet popes and bishops often exercise their magisterium—that is, their role as Church teachers—by noninfallibly proposing teachings which are not matters of faith, but are somehow related to it. As has been said, one should not put one’s faith in such teachings. Nevertheless, under appropriate conditions they should be accepted in the sense that one agrees with them, holds on to them, and acts in accord with them. Religious assent refers to this sort of submission of mind and will, which faithful Catholics give to authoritative teachings other than those calling for acceptance with faith (see CMP, 35.F–G).
Vatican II teaches: “In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of intellect must be shown in a special way to the authoritative magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (LG 25).90
a) Popes and bishops cannot limit their teaching to matters of faith. If popes and bishops limited their teaching to matters of faith, there would be no need for religious assent. As a living community, however, the Church must think about many things beyond what she believes on God’s word. Some are closely related to faith, others less so, but all are important if the Church is to think with one mind, as she must to carry on her common life (see CMP, 23.F). For the effectiveness of the Church’s common action plainly presupposes a firm consensus, not only with respect to faith itself, but also with respect to many truths relevant to communicating it and bringing it to bear on contemporary situations.91
b) Religious assent is reasonable submission to the Church’s teachers. In giving religious assent, something is accepted on the authority of the pope or of one’s bishop. Thus, one submits one’s judgment to his. In doing so, one agrees with him about the point he teaches even if one would think it untrue except for his teaching. In this sense one submits one’s mind and will to his.92
Someone might object: To submit one’s judgment to another’s in this way is unreasonable, since people ought to make judgments only in accord with relevant evidence and reasons. Part of the answer will be given below (in c): There are good reasons, grounded in faith itself, to submit one’s judgment to that of the Church’s teachers. The other part of the answer is that it is necessary to distinguish two senses of in accord with relevant evidence and reasons.
In one sense, judging in accord with relevant evidence and reasons means not accepting others’ judgments when they conflict with something of which one is certain on the basis of compelling evidence and reasons. In another sense, it means never believing anyone, but only judging to be true that of which one is convinced apart from what anyone else says.
Since teachings to which religious assent is due are not matters of faith, one could not submit one’s judgment to that of the Church’s teachers if their teaching were inconsistent with evidence and reasons which convinced one, whether one wished it or not, of the opposite. But papal and episcopal teachings hardly ever raise problems of that sort. Rather, any teaching calling for religious assent either is supported by available evidence and reasons or, if not, is likely to be consistent with them. Accepting another’s judgment on such matters cannot be ruled out as unreasonable unless it is unreasonable ever to believe anyone.
c) Religious assent is rooted in divine faith. The primary ground of the responsibility to give religious assent is the following fact, itself a truth of faith: God gives popes and bishops their teaching role, and the Holy Spirit helps them fulfill it (see CMP, 35.F). For someone who believes this, it is only reasonable to believe that, when popes and bishops fulfill their teaching role, God sees to it that those who submit their judgment to what is taught are not led into serious and harmful error.93 Moreover, any teaching which calls for religious assent is at least partly drawn from truths of faith. If one believes the relevant truth of faith, one will be inclined to accept teachings drawn from it. Thus, in two distinct ways, religious assent is rooted in divine faith.94
d) This assent is submission to teachings rather than to decisions. Since religious assent involves submission of mind and will, it is easily confused with the obedience a Catholic also owes the pope and his or her bishop as governors of the Church community. However, insofar as the Church’s pastoral leaders govern, they do not teach, for governing and teaching, although often closely related, are two different things.
In governing, the Church’s pastoral leaders formulate directives concerning suitable ways for the members of the Church to act together in their common life and communicate those directives in the form of laws or policies or precepts. In teaching calling for religious assent, they try to discern what is true and communicate that judgment as a truth, although not as a matter of faith. Such teaching calls for acceptance as true, and so in giving religious assent a Catholic is accepting as true what the pope and his or her bishop teach, not obeying their directives to act or not act in certain ways.
e) This assent is submission of will as well as of mind. Since religious assent is not obedience, it requires more than mere outward compliance. Religious assent is submission in one’s heart to the judgment of the teachers of the Church. This submission is of will as well as intellect for two reasons. First, when one would not make the same judgment oneself, one should be willing to follow the judgment of the pope or bishop as a teacher, but one can refuse to do so. Second, like truths of faith, truths which call for religious assent also make practical demands. Religious assent is given only if one both says yes and means it, in other words, only if one undertakes to act accordingly.95
The responsibility to give religious assent has limits. Understanding the responsibility requires carefully distinguishing cases which fall within the limits from those which fall outside them.
a) Religious assent is called for only under certain conditions. One’s responsibility to give religious assent comes into play only if the pope or one’s bishop acts in his official capacity, proposes a teaching bearing on a matter of faith or morals, and calls for its acceptance as certain. Dealing with religious assent to papal teaching, Vatican II alludes to this last condition by saying such teaching must be sincerely adhered to according to the pope’s “manifest mind and will, which he expresses chiefly either by the type of document, or by the frequent proposal of the same teaching, or by his manner of speaking” (LG 25).96
Thus, there are five kinds of cases in which one has no responsibility to give religious assent: (i) when popes and bishops express opinions on matters outside faith and morals, (ii) when they speak or write on matters of faith and morals but as individual believers or private theologians rather than in their official capacity, (iii) when they teach officially but only tentatively, (iv) when they put forward observations and arguments, without calling for their acceptance in themselves, but as incidental to a truth of faith or a teaching which calls for religious assent, or (v) when they give merely disciplinary directives, for example, that certain opinions should not be taught while certain others may be. In all these cases, one’s responsibility is not to assent, but to listen respectfully, try to understand what the pastors are saying, and obey any disciplinary directives.97
b) One sometimes owes assent to collective episcopal statements. The teaching proposed in collective episcopal statements calls for religious assent if (as is often the case) it repeats teaching which otherwise calls for such assent, or if the statement is endorsed by the pope and/or by one’s own bishop and its teaching meets the other conditions under which religious assent is required. Sometimes, when something contained in a collective episcopal statement troubles faithful Catholics, what troubles them is not proposed as certain, but only as a probable judgment. Such a judgment calls for respectful consideration but not for religious assent. If a collective statement—for example, a statement by a national conference of bishops—which is not endorsed by the pope should propose as certain a teaching on a matter of faith and morals which is compatible with but not included in other magisterial teaching, any Catholic troubled by the teaching should ask his or her own bishop what he intends to teach in a way that calls for religious assent.
Not all teachings to which religious assent is due are of the same kind, but one cannot always tell which are which.
Sometimes the teaching is one which the Church proposes as revealed, so that it actually calls for the assent of faith. However, the teaching’s status may not be clear to some Catholics, so that they mistakenly think it falls outside the ambit of faith. Still, as a constant and most firm teaching on a matter of faith or morals, it surely deserves at least religious assent.
Sometimes the teaching is not one which the Church proposes as revealed, yet in reality it pertains to revelation. Popes and other bishops not only teach the truths of faith which they have received, but clarify and defend them with the help of the Holy Spirit, bringing forth new things in harmony with the old (see LG 25; cf. DV 8, DH 1). At the leading edge of the development of doctrine and its expression, bishops (and even popes when not speaking ex cathedra) do not individually enjoy the gift of discerning infallibly what belongs to divine truth. Thus, while their newly developing teaching may in fact pertain to revelation, the manner in which it is proposed does not make clear that it does, and so it calls only for religious assent.98
Sometimes the teaching is a theological explanation. As has been explained, popes and other bishops not only hand on the faith but form a common outlook in the Church for the sake of solidarity in the common work of catechesis, evangelization, liturgical practice, and so on. Teachings noninfallibly proposed for this purpose often join truths of faith with other propositions which seem true.
While the responsibility to give religious assent is limited, so too are the limits themselves.
a) Mistakes in papal and episcopal teaching are not to be presumed. Teachings to which religious assent is due usually are truths, even if not truths of faith. In the few cases in which such a teaching is mistaken, the mistake is hardly likely to be obvious. Popes and bishops generally seek theological advice and study it carefully before teaching on complex and difficult issues. If their authoritative teaching rejects some theological opinion, as it must if it concerns a question disputed among theologians, that is a better reason for thinking the theological opinion mistaken than for rejecting the papal or episcopal teaching.
Moreover, most Catholics have no more reliable way of interpreting Scripture or knowing and interpreting the Church’s tradition than listening to and thinking with the magisterium. Very few are such experts in philosophy, science, or other fields of scholarship that they would really know that the Church’s teaching depended on a mistaken premise from one of those fields, even should that occur. In practice, most of the faithful could question a pope’s or bishop’s judgment only by trusting some scholars in preference to others. But in doing that they would presume to make for themselves the judgment among experts which the pope and bishops are not only divinely authorized but better qualified to make.
b) The limits of the responsibility to obey laws are not relevant. Because giving religious assent to the teaching of popes and bishops is not obeying them as the Church’s governors, the responsibility to assent is not limited by the limits of the responsibility to obey. It is a mistake to suppose that, because doubtful laws do not bind, teachings which seem doubtful do not call for assent. Quite the contrary. Propositions regarding faith or morals which otherwise would be doubtful deserve assent if the pope or one’s own bishop teaches them as truths to be accepted as certain. Similarly, it is a mistake to suppose that epikeia (see CMP, 11.E.10–11) applies to the responsibility to give religious assent, or that teachings which some neglect are therefore invalidated as are laws which fall into disuse.
c) Still, authoritative teachings can be known to be mistaken. Teachings which otherwise would call for religious assent can, however, be known to be in error. The responsibility to give religious assent therefore is limited, and its limits vary with the diverse ways in which papal and episcopal teachings, although proposed as certainly true, can be mistaken. Needless to say, the existence of these limits in no way justifies radical theological dissent from the Church’s constant and most firm moral teaching.99
d) A more authoritative teaching can limit responsibility. A papal or episcopal teaching might be incompatible with a truth of faith asserted in Scripture, solemnly defined, or already proposed infallibly by the ordinary magisterium. Then the act of faith of someone aware that this was so would block religious assent to that element of teaching. If the teaching of one’s bishop (or of a group of bishops including one’s own) which would otherwise call for religious assent were at odds with papal teaching, religious assent to the latter would block assent to the former, due to papal primacy (see DS 3059–64/1826–31). A teaching of a general council, such as Vatican II, even if not proposed as definitive, can be proposed infallibly inasmuch as it was previously defined or infallibly proposed by the ordinary magisterium. But if such a teaching does not pertain to faith, at least it calls for the religious assent due the teaching of the pope who confirms it, and so supersedes prior papal and episcopal teachings which otherwise would call for religious assent. However, elements of conciliar teaching which otherwise would call for religious assent could be superseded by subsequent papal or conciliar teaching.
e) A contrary certitude can limit responsibility. The responsibility to assent to authoritative teachings which are theological explanations can be limited in an additional way. Teachings of this kind depend partly on propositions which do not pertain to faith but seem true. But such propositions can be false, and someone who really knows the relevant subject matter can be certain they are. Such certitude limits the responsibility of religious assent, since one reasonably assents only to elements of a theological explanation which are consistent with other truths of which one is certain.100 However, while a contrary certitude can block religious assent, the responsibility to assent is not blocked by considerations which merely raise doubts; thus, such assent is owed to many teachings which one otherwise would doubt.101
Where religious assent is known to be due, it is a sin to withhold it. Here this sin is called deliberate nonassent. To communicate such nonassent to others with the intention of encouraging them to share in it is a more serious sin, called here sinful dissent.102 Those who withhold assent from a truth of faith, mistakenly thinking that it calls only for religious assent, also are guilty of religious nonassent rather than of heresy, and propagating such an opinion is sinful dissent rather than propagating heresy.
a) Deliberate nonassent is a grave matter. As has been explained (1.c), religious assent, although distinct from faith in God, is an act of human faith grounded in divine faith. Thus, while the sin of deliberate nonassent is not directly against divine faith, it does violate (without withdrawing) the commitment of faith, insofar as that is a human commitment not only to God but to the covenantal communion which is the Church. Because of the seriousness of this violation in itself, and because it interferes with ecclesial solidarity, it seems that deliberate nonassent is a grave matter.103 Two factors can aggravate its gravity: (i) if one denies not the teaching of one’s bishop but papal or conciliar teaching, and (ii) if one persists in the sin after being warned by the Holy See or one’s bishop.104
b) To dissent sinfully is graver than merely to refuse assent. Just as one can commit heresy in one’s heart by a single choice, so the sin of deliberate nonassent can be committed simply by choosing not to submit to a teaching to which assent is due. However, sinful dissent is an even graver matter, since it gives others an occasion of sin and more seriously damages the solidarity of the Church.105
c) Not all who deny an authoritative teaching commit these sins. As explained above (2.a, 4.d–e), religious assent is required only under certain conditions, and the responsibility to give such assent is limited, because assent can be blocked. In that case, those who do not accept an authoritative teaching are not guilty of deliberate nonassent.
Moreover, even if many Catholics’ adherence to dissenting positions is objectively indefensible, they do not commit the sin of deliberate nonassent if they really are convinced that on those issues the conditions requiring religious assent have not been met. And when ongoing, radical, theological dissent has caused great confusion in the Church, many Catholics may suppose that the conditions requiring religious assent are never met with respect to nondefined teachings which they personally do not find convincing. Of course, even if they do not commit the sin of deliberate nonassent, their error still might be culpable, as resulting from self-induced blindness due to previous sins (see CMP, 3.C.6–7).
d) Following subjectivist conscience is deliberate nonassent. The sin of deliberate nonassent is committed by those who rationalize their failure to assent as following their “conscience,” using the word in a subjectivist sense. Conscience truly so-called is formed by moral truth, which can be known with certitude by the help of the Church’s teaching (see CMP, 3.E–F).106 “Conscience” in a subjectivist sense refers to one’s own opinions and preferences, treated as more authoritative than any practical truth or requirement originating beyond oneself (see CMP, 3.G). But to treat one’s own opinions and preferences as more authoritative than the Church’s teaching is deliberate refusal to give that teaching the assent it deserves; and this refusal is only rationalized, not justified, by saying: “My conscience tells me it is right for me to do X, so it is right for me, no matter what the pope says!” While not the position of those convinced that in some instance the conditions requiring religious assent are not met, this is the position of those who do not care whether the conditions are met. Quite simply, these latter refuse assent on the general principle that no one, not even those who speak in Jesus’ name, can tell them what to do and what not to do.
90. Vatican II nowhere uses the Latin phrase assensus religiosus, and in the passage quoted from LG 25 uses a single word, obsequium, to express what is meant by the English assent and submission. The relevant submission of soul—that is, of will and of intellect—is to the teaching proposed (the sententiam) insofar as the magisterium of the Church authoritatively proposes it (and so in the case of papal teaching is submission Romani Pontificis authentico magisterio). The very act, to accept, is to agree with (concurrere) and to hold fast to (adhaerere).
91. Leo XIII, Sapientiae Christianae, ASS 22 (1889–90) 393, PE, 111.18–19, argues from the need for solidarity in the apostolate to the Church’s need to be of one mind: “To bring about such a union of minds and uniformity of action—not without reason so greatly feared by the enemies of Catholicism—the main point is that a perfect harmony of opinion should prevail; in which intent we find Paul the Apostle exhorting the Corinthians with earnest zeal and solemn weight of words: ‘Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you: but that you be perfectly in the same mind, and in the same judgment’ (1 Cor 1.10). The wisdom of this precept is readily apprehended. In truth, thought is the principle of action, and hence there cannot exist agreement of will, or similarity of action, if people all think differently one from the other.” Cf. Benedict XV, Ad beatissimi Apostolorum, AAS 6 (1914) 576–77, PE, 180.21–23.
92. Some people appeal to the so-called sensus fidelium to argue that if a large portion of those who identify themselves as Catholics hold some dissenting opinion, popes and bishops should submit their minds and wills to that group’s opinion, rather than vice versa. This argument assumes that the dissenting opinion manifests a genuine sense of the faith. The sensus fidei (supernatural sense of the faith), however, is not something independent of the magisterium (see LG 12). For the distinction between the consensus of the faithful, which offers no criterion of moral truth, and the supernatural sense of the faith, see John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 5, AAS 74 (1982) 85–86, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 2; Aidan Nichols, O.P., The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1991), 221–31. In clarifying the distinction between the sensus fidei and the opinion of a large portion of the faithful, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 35, AAS 82 (1990) 1565–66, OR, 2 July 1990, 3, points out: “Although theological faith as such then cannot err, the believer can still have erroneous opinions since all his thoughts do not spring from faith [note omitted]. Not all the ideas which circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith. This is all the more so given that people can be swayed by a public opinion influenced by modern communications media.” Some who appeal to the so-called sensus fidelium claim the support of Cardinal Newman, but that claim rests on misinterpretation; see James Quinn, S.J., “The Laity and Doctrine,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review 91 (May 1991): 58–62.
93. For a fuller statement of this argument against theologians who claim that the Church’s authority in teaching on moral issues must yield to ethical arguments, see J. L. A. Garcia, “Moral Reasoning and the Catholic Church,” New Oxford Review 59 (June 1992): 13–17.
94. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 23, AAS 82 (1990) 1560, OR, 2 July 1990, 3: “When the Magisterium, not intending to act ‘definitively’, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of religious submission of will and intellect (LG 25; CIC, c. 752). This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.” In 15–17 (AAS 1556–58, OR, 2), of the same document, divine assistance to the successors of the apostles in their whole teaching role is emphasized as the ground for assent.
95. This submission of will in no way violates the freedom of the act of faith, about which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 36, AAS 82 (1990) 1566, OR, 2 July 1990, 4, teaches: “In fact this freedom does not indicate at all freedom with regard to the truth but signifies the free self-determination of the person in conformity with his moral obligation to accept the truth.” Nor is the submission of will involved in religious assent in any way at odds with Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty (see DH 1–4, 7; cf. CMP, 3.B.9 and 3.G).
96. See CIC, cc. 752–53. Teaching documents issued by the various offices of the Holy See with express papal approval are acts of the ordinary papal magisterium, since in approving such a document the pope formally cooperates with the action of the relevant office.
97. Some reduce the responsibility to give religious assent to that of the respect which remains even in cases in which religious assent is not due. For instance, Coriden, “Commentary: Book III: The Teaching Office of the Church,” 548, commenting on CIC, c. 752, translates religiosum obsequium as “religious respect.” But obsequium means submission (although in this case not the submission of faith). For Vatican I (DS 3008/1789) and Vatican II (DV 5) describe the act of faith as “plenum revelanti Deo intellectus et voluntatis obsequium,” which can hardly be translated “full respect of intellect and will to God revealing,” and the formula for religious assent plainly is derived from the description of the act of faith.
98. CMP, 35.F–G, mainly considered this sort of case. Plainly, in some cases teachings of this sort are hard to distinguish from those infallibly proposed by the ordinary magisterium. Thus, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that only religious assent is due the latter and that the assent of faith is reserved for truths which are clearly included in divine revelation by being witnessed in Scripture or solemnly defined by the Church (see CMP, 36.B).
99. Radical theological dissent means the dissent of those theologians who not only both refuse to assent to the Church’s constant and most firm teaching and propagate dissent from it but offer pastoral guidance to the faithful contrary to that given by the pope, and thus usurp his pastoral office (see CMP, 36). In doing so, they violate a norm stated by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Human Life in Our Day,” 53, in Pastoral Letters, ed. Nolan, 3:174: “Even responsible dissent does not excuse one from faithful presentation of the authentic doctrine of the Church when one is performing a pastoral ministry in her name.” In his exchanges with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Charles E. Curran, Faithful Dissent (Kansas City, Mo.: Sheed and Ward, 1986), 152–53, 212–13, 266, invoked these “Norms of Licit Theological Dissent,” but omitted the crucial sentence. Radical dissent also is rejected explicitly by the Holy See: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 27 and 33–34, AAS 82 (1990) 1561 and 1564–65, OR, 2 July 1990, 3.
100. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 31, AAS 82 (1990) 1562, OR, 2 July 1990, 3, allows for this limit by speaking of cases in which “the theologian’s difficulty remains because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive to him [praevalere videntur]. Faced with a proposition to which he feels he cannot [non existimat se posse] give his intellectual assent, the theologian nevertheless has the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question.” The translation, “seem more persuasive to him” is too weak; “seem to prevail” would be accurate, for the logic of the passage makes it clear that the contrary arguments must have apparent force sufficient to block assent. In volume one, this limit on the responsibility to give religious assent was overlooked (see CMP, 35.G).
101. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 28, AAS 82 (1990) 1561, OR, 2 July 1990, 3: “Such a disagreement could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable.” Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 159, holds the view rejected here. While rightly arguing that obsequium is correctly translated as submission not respect, he mistakenly claims (164) that submission can be reduced to an attitude of docility, so that assent on the part of those not convinced of the truth of a teaching is not required by virtue of the Church’s teaching authority (166). Thus, Sullivan reduces obsequium to the attitude one should take toward those official statements of popes and bishops which do not call for assent. The same author, “The Theologian’s Ecclesial Vocation and the 1990 CDF Instruction,” Theological Studies 52 (1991): 63, makes it clear that he continues to hold the position which the Congregation rejects. For a more adequate treatment of the responsibility of religious assent, see James J. Mulligan, Theologians and Authority within the Living Church (Braintree, Mass.: The Pope John Center, 1986), 95–118.
102. Logically, one might define nonassent as the omission of due assent and dissent as the assertion of a proposition incompatible with one to which assent is due. However, in both cases the sin is in the deliberate nonfulfillment of the responsibility to give religious assent (which, if it were given when due, would forestall the assertion of any incompatible proposition). Common use is followed here in referring to the communication of nonassent as dissent, since such communication plainly challenges the Church’s teaching authority, whether or not it involves an explicit assertion of an incompatible position.
103. Papal teaching on the obligation to give religious assent is so insistent that it would be ludicrous to suppose that the popes have been dealing with a merely light matter. See Pius IX (DS 2879–80/1683–84, 2922/1722); Leo XIII, Est sane, ASS 21 (1888) 321–23 (cited in LG 20, n. 16 [86 in Abbott]); Pius XI (DS 3725/2253). Pius XII, Humani generis, AAS 42 (1950) 568, PE, 240.20, points out the seriousness of the obligation to give religious assent; he also explains that if a pope makes a point of settling a matter disputed among theologians, it can no longer be treated as an open question. Vatican II does not repudiate Pius XII’s position on this matter, but cites as authoritative the passage which includes it (see OT 16, n. 31 [46 in Abbott]).
104. That the first factor aggravates the seriousness of deliberate nonassent is clear from Vatican II’s statement of the obligation of religious assent in LG 25. That the second factor aggravates its seriousness is clear from the fact that after a warning, persistence in deliberate nonassent from papal or conciliar teaching is a canonical crime: CIC, c. 1371.
105. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 30 and 40, AAS 82 (1990) 1562 and 1569, OR, 2 July 1990, 3 and 4, tells theologians to make known to the magisterial authorities any problems they have, thereby to work toward their resolution. In 27, 30, 34, and 39 (AAS, 1561, 1562, 1565, and 1568; OR, 3 and 4), the Congregation excludes publishing divergent opinions “as though they were non-arguable conclusions,” “turning to the ‘mass media’,” “shaping a common opinion” at odds with the teaching proposed by the magisterium, and “opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a ‘consensus’ among theologians, maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a ‘base’ or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth.” Some theologians argue that the exclusion of dissent would prevent theological progress, but that argument is unsound in two ways. First, theologians can publish their views and arguments in academic journals and present them at professional meetings, where they can state them as opinions or difficulties without asserting them unqualifiedly as truths; at the same time, they can warn the faithful that they should never use the authority of any theologian or group of theologians to justify a refusal to assent to papal or episcopal teachings; in this way theologians can do everything necessary to promote study and reflection without ever contradicting the teaching proposed by the magisterium. Second, throughout history, the greatest and most original theological work has been done by those explaining, developing, and defending truths of the Christian faith and way of life against nonbelievers and heretics. Dissenting theologians seldom manifest much originality and creativity; almost always they do little more than restate views and arguments which were already in circulation outside the Church.
106. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 38, AAS 82 (1990) 1567, OR, 2 July 1990, 4, explains: “Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one’s own conscience cannot legitimate dissent. This is true, first of all, because conscience illumines the practical judgement about a decision to make, while here we are concerned with the truth of a doctrinal pronouncement. This is furthermore the case because while the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it. Conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty. It is an act of moral judgement regarding a responsible choice. A right conscience is one duly illumined by faith and by the objective moral law and it presupposes, as well, the uprightness of the will in the pursuit of the true good.”