Only a well-formed conscience can decide: Cardinal Marx on sexual morality

Munich, Germany, Dec 28, 2017 / 02:39 pm (CNA).- German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has stated that decisions about sexual morality must be discerned according to a well-formed conscience, respecting “the interplay of freedom and responsibility.”

The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference said in a new interview that a person “has to be guided into the full reality of the faith and heed the voice of the Church. It is not sufficient to say that one knows by oneself whether something is good for you, or not. That would not constitute a conscientious decision-making process in the context of the Gospel.”

Speaking to the German magazine “Herder Korrespondenz,” Cardinal Marx affirmed that this also applies to homosexuality.

A “truly comprehensive assessment of the severity of guilt” is not possible “without looking at the individual’s conscience, without looking at his reality, at the concrete circumstances.”

Cardinal Marx warned against interpreting this “interplay of freedom and responsibility” as “relativism,” saying that while “there must be respect for the decision that one freely takes,” it is always within the context of the Gospel.

“It would be quite terrible to consider this as relativism, like some indeed have repeatedly claimed, as though everyone could just go about doing whatever they please.”

Asked whether he sees a risk of a new schism in the Church, given the current debates and controversies in Catholicism, Cardinal Marx answered: “I don’t see this being the case. I’d rather say not to be afraid, the Lord guides the Church.” In fact, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising continued, “productive debates” are “particularly important in our time.”

With regard to the question of “synodality,” something Pope Francis has repeatedly underscored as an important part of his papal agenda, Cardinal Marx said that he considered synodality an expression and consequence of the responsibilities and autonomy of the local churches, for example in liturgical translations.

“We can’t just publish texts in Rome that are then simply translated around the world. Even under John Paul II there were synods for each continent in order to focus more on specific regions. We should continue on that path.”

On the question of ordaining women to the priesthood, which the German interviewers also raised, the Cardinal gave a short, definitive answer: “That really is not for discussion. The pope has spoken decisively on the matter.”


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  1. Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: “The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience”.

  2. Conscience means to act with knowledge. Cardinal Marx addresses the tension between reason and doctrine favoring doctrine with exceptions such as homosexuality. If reason is the rule of truth then revealed truth is not. “What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe ‘because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived’” (CCC 156). Man has the inherent capacity to identify truth that is the basis for forming conscience and responsibility for his actions. That is why Aquinas acknowledged that reason is the measure of truth not the rule.

  3. I have ALWAYS believed that people making rules and judgemments must be a participant in the society in which they govern. Cardinals and Bishops and priests when they are MARRIED seem to have a better understanding and ability to govern on this subject! It is ludicrous to allow this. Much like a married couple should explain Marriage to Teens not a priest. Gosh this is quite a step in the wrong direction!

  4. According to CNA German and the German language portal, what Cardinal Marx has said smacks more of situation ethics than what appears in this current article. Following (‘Conscience decision of homosexuals must be respected’) the Cardinal warned against ‘blind rigorism’ in sexual morals. ‘Of course there must be a responsibility with regard to the gospel and the teaching of the Church, but (finally) the conscience decision made in freedom must be respected.’ Depending on CNA German the Cardinal stated that ‘questions of sexual morals are decided by your personal – though formed by Christian principles – conscience.’ And again ‘there must be respect for one’s decision made in freedom.’ The Kardinals assertions go well together with the ‘Königsteiner Erklärung’ in which the German bishops after ‘Humanae vitae’ put the decision of the ‘personal conscience’ above the norm of the encyclical regarding contraception. One is reminded of the guidelines of the Maltese bishops on ‘Amoris laetitia’ saying that a divorced and remarried person should be admitted to Communion if, “with an informed and enlightened conscience”, they believe they are “at peace with God”. These guidelines were reportedly acknowledged with gratitude by Pope Francis (

  5. The post pedophilia era, if there is a post, places the church in a somewhat deleterious fall out. Promises made by Pope Francis to “clean house” of criminal hierarchy began with a tribunal that was short lived. Compounding that false start was a rare display of acknowledgement to two Cardinals that were criminally responsible for moving criminal priests in Boston and Los Angeles. How does a faithful lay person remain so in light of these atrocities against innocent young people? Then we hear all about how our conscience should be involved in sexual matters from clergy who are supposedly a-sexual.

    When it comes to restricting the ordination of women, we are living in a netherworld of old manmade tales. Women would make better, less complicated priests. The church may not have spent $1.5 billion to lawyers and the injured children in retribution had there been female clergy.

    One day as he was driven up Riverside Drive William Sloan Coffin was asked what he, a Protestant minister, though of the current Catholic Church? He quipped… “they are still trying to steer the car based on what they see in the rearview mirror”. That is a saying any Catholic should remember.

    • “The church may not have spent $1.5 billion to lawyers and the injured children in retribution had there been female clergy.” The recent (and ongoing) spate of stories about female teachers engaged in sexual relations with teenage boys would indicate otherwise. But perhaps I underestimate the moral propriety of the fairer sex.

    • You need to stop perpetuating the “pedophilia” myth. The overwhelming majority of abuse cases in the Church involved homosexual ephebophiles – aka chickenhawks; intrinsically disordered sexual deviants masquerading as Catholic Priests.

      As for the proposal to ordain women is concerned, we’ve all seen what a disaster that has been for the Anglican denomination. You think you’ve got problems now just proceed on that tangent.

      No, the solution is to enforce the longstanding ban on the ordination of homosexuals; reaffirmed in February of 1961 during the Pontificate of Pope St. John XXIII. Furthermore, rid the seminaries, Diaconate, Priesthood, Episcopacy, Curia, College of Cardinals and consecrated religious life of homosexuals and return to a culture where virtues of discipline, obedience, humility and chastity are no longer paid lip service. That is the solution.

      • Exactly right could not agree w you more. Perfectly said. And to this I would add…religious should wear thier religious clothing Priest and Nuns…

  6. You need a mystical understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ in order to understand the male priesthood. The relationship between Christ and His Church is said to be spousal. Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride. When a husband and a wife enter into the one flesh union it is the man who enters into the woman. Likewise, in conception it is the male sperm that swims up to and enters into the female egg. It seems clear that the act of entering within is a male act. The male is the doer of intimacy. The female is the one who receives this intimacy. This explains why Christ came as a male, and why male terms like Father and Son are used to describe God, and why the Church is called Holy Mother Church. 
    Because of the Hypostatic Union, Christ is One Person in two natures, divine and human. The priest acts In Persona Christi, in the person of Christ. In Holy Orders during the ordination the priest is configured to Christ in a very special way. As such, Holy Orders is in the image and likeness of the Hypostatic Union. The priest is the living icon of Christ. Consecrated women religious are considered to be brides of Christ.
    The priest acts In Persona Christi during the Consecration. In the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist during the Consecration the Real Presence of Christ enters into and becomes one with the bread and the wine. Transubstantiation at its core is a male act. The Body and Blood in a similar fashion enter into the communicant. The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament that is permeated with Christ’s maleness, and gives us a foreshadowing of the final nuptial union that is described in Revelation.
    Women don’t have to be priests to have an impact on the Church. We can begin with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the women disciples. There are many important women saints: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. Faustina for starters.
    Any woman who thinks that she has a calling from the Holy Spirit needs to study the works of St. Teresa of Avila, who is a Doctor of the Church. She wrote extensively about prayer and mysticism. St. Teresa was also a reformer who sought to restore a spiritual focus to the Carmelite Order that had fallen into lax spiritual practices. St. John of the Cross joined her in this reform effort. They both met with considerable opposition to their reform efforts. St. John was taken prisoner, jailed, and flogged.
    The arguments that are being made in an attempt to redefine the priesthood are very similar to the arguments being used in an attempt to redefine marriage.

  7. “On the question of ordaining women to the priesthood, which the German interviewers also raised, the Cardinal gave a short, definitive answer: ‘That really is not for discussion. The pope has spoken decisively on the matter.'”…With all the talk we hear about the importance of dialogue and informed conscience, does it bother anyone else that this is the Cardinal’s quick response to a question burning on the minds of many Catholics, not at all aware or convinced this cannot be changed in the name of, “guidance of the Holy Spirit”? Does it reveal that he does not agree? Is he suggesting he yields in fidelity to the Church’s teaching? #JustAsking

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