The guilty conscience, according to Cardinal Ratzinger


"I brought Pope Benedict's book On Conscience," said my friend over breakfast this morning. Well actually he wrote it as Cardinal Ratzinger, but that's besides the point. "You're more than welcome to borrow it. It's a great read that answers many of your questions."

My friend is a theologian who specializes in the sacrament of reconciliation and the theology of conscience, confession, forgiveness and healing. With all the questions about Maciel, his methodology, and the formation of consciences in the movement he founded, I had invited my friend to breakfast in order to tap her expertise as a theologian and spiritual director. Basically we discussed issues that have been discussed here and at other blogs like Life After RC, issues surrounding reports of visible signs of Maciel's final impenitance, the subjugation of conscience to utilitarian purpose within the movement, and the seeming inability of Legion superiors to recognize or apologize adequately for the horrors inflicted upon Maciel's victims.

Opening Ratzinger's book, or the English translation published by Ignatius Press, God directed me to the following passage - one that provides a good perspective of what we see happening with the movement:

Gorres shows that the feeling of guilt, the capacity to recognize guilt, belongs essentially to the spiritual make-up of man. This feeling of guilt disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience's complaint against my self-satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain that signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning. Whoever is no longer capable of perceiving guilt is spiritually ill, "a living corpse, a dramatic character's mask," as Gorres says.
Monsters, among other brutes, are the ones without guilt feelings. Perhaps Hitler did not have any, or Himmler, or Stalin. Maybe Mafia bosses do not have any guilt feelings either, or maybe their remains are just well hidden in the cellar. Even aborted guilt feelings... All men need guilt feelings.

By the way, a look into Sacred Scripture should have precluded such diagnoses and such a theory of justification by the errant conscience. In Psalm 19:12-13, we find the everworth-pondering passage, "But who can discern faults." That is not Old Testament objectivism, but profoundest human wisdom. No longer seeing one's guilt, the falling silent of conscience in so many areas is an even more dangerous sickness of the soul than the guilt that one still recognizes as such. He who no longer notices that killing is a sin has fallen farther than the one who still recognizes the shamefulness of his actions, because the former is further removed from the truth and conversion.

Not without reason does the self-righteous man in the encounter with Jesus appear as the one who is really lost. If the tax collector with all his undisputed sins stands more justified before God than the Pharisee with all his undeniably good works (Luke 18:9-14), this is not because the sins of the tax collector were not sins or because the good deeds of the Pharisee were not good deeds. Nor does it mean that the good that man does is not good before God, or the evil, not evil or at least not particularly important.

The reason for this paradoxical judgment of God is shown precisely from our question. The Pharisee no longer knows that he too has guilt. He has a completely clear conscience. But this silence of conscience makes him impenetrable to God and men, while the cry of conscience that plagues the tax collector makes him capable of truth and love. Jesus can move sinners. Not hiding behind the screen of their erroneous consciences, they have not become unreachable for the change that God expects of them--of us. He is ineffective with the "righteous" because they are not aware of any need for forgiveness and conversion. Their consciences no longer accuse them but justify them.


If the truth we see is through the crystallized lens of sin, we can render ourselves blind in a way the lets us see. And such blindness is true blindness--since it masquarades as the truth.

"40 And some of the Pharisees, who were with him, heard: and they said unto him: Are we also blind? 41 Jesus said to them: If you were blind, you should not have sin: but now you say: We see. Your sin remaineth." (Douay-Rheims)

I think the final impenitence history (while leaving the ultimate truth to God, and christian hope for mercy) has been sent to LC and RC as a gift. Evil can hide and move right into the Church, nothing in scripture says we are protected from that. It does say however evil will not prevail, and we can see that now in this man's life.

It would be a great act of mercy to all persons LC/RC to make sure the facts keep flowing in to them.

Even though the distinction has been made before, we should not brand all LCs or consecrated members who live if an information restricted environment, as having a free enough choice to be responsible for it. I am still amazed that in spite of all the control, there are those LCs who 'get it' emerging, who ultimately leave or vocalize reform from within. The 'awakening' is happening in the rank and file LC world, but anyone have ideas as to how far it goes?

From what I have read and seen: Trastevere claims right now about 100-150 LC priests are currently on the fence and ready to jump if the AV does not go deep enough- but then again they may leave anyway. (LC's total to 750+ priests) That is a jump from the 25 that were claimed to be wanting to leave last February. I wonder if this is a number that will grow, will more get the facts, will more continue through family, laity be questioned enough, and informed enough by them to wake up.

It is said also on the Trastevere blog that one bishop has the impression that the AV is seriously considering asking the Holy See to declare all the vows of LC null, given all the deceit. From there they will have to choose dioceses or a totally remade LC. However in my estimate without months of a self-critical evaluation of all the facts, there would be too much pre-programing to consider LCs truly free- most would feel some strange compulsiove obligation to move forward no matter what that they would interpret as coming from God.

So in the time that remains bloggers and readers- report, report, report. Keep the pressure of truth in, and all around all things LC so they think, reflect, evaluate... It is working- at least somewhat.

A very interesting post, Anonymous. Every sentence is something worth pondering. Would you mind re-posting this on life after rc since there are several people who use that sight and they would benefit a lot, I believe, from what you have to say.

I would tend to agree very much with the bishop who thinks the vows should be declared null. Vows are not vows if they are not made in freedom and the control, manipulation and deceit that is the Legion does not make for any freedom, in my opinion.

Please submit your information, thoughts and feeling to Abp. Chaput, anyone who is still holding back. He has just made an immediate and gracious reply to the communications I finally felt compelled to send him. He is waiting yet for your comments!

Leave a comment

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

You write, we post
unless you state otherwise.


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Pete Vere published on February 12, 2010 8:46 AM.

A fatal flaw in Legionary formation was the previous entry in this blog.

Healing, forgiveness and the Legion of Maciel is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.