Thursday, 9 August 2012

Some examples of "cases of conscience"

See also here

Some sample casus conscientiae (cases of conscience) taken from the early 20th century Catholic publication The Casuist.

May a person be dispensed from hearing Mass on Sundays, if going to Mass becomes a proximate occasion of sin?

....One Robert Smith, a farmer and the father of several children, is greatly addicted to strong drink.... [W]hen he comes to town on Sundays to hear Mass he can not resist the temptation to visit the saloons, where he spends the entire day in drinking, and returns home Sunday evenings regularly in a sad state of intoxication....

[His confessor dispenses him from attending Mass.]

1. Smith is here in the presence of two conflicting duties. On the one hand, he is bound to avoid the proximate occasion of sin, which, in the present instance, is his attendance at Mass on Sunday. On the other, he is bound to fulfil the precept of the Church, namely, to hear Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation. But since the obligation of avoiding the proximate occasion of sin is imposed by a law of nature, absolute and negative, it takes precedence over the obligation of hearing Mass on Sunday, which is imposed by a law of the Church, hypothetical and affirmative....

2. A precept of the Church, at least in so far as it is of an affirmative character, in general does not oblige [Latin: on pain of serious inconvenience or cost or proximate danger of serious cost]. But in regard, particularly, to hearing Mass, St. Alphonsus says: [Latin: Any moderately grave inconvenience excuses one from hearing Mass....].

These passages excuse Smith from hearing Mass....

It is true, indeed, that Smith, owing to his excessive indulgence in drink, has created for himself an [Latin: moral impediment to hearing Mass]. But as he is heartily sorry for this, it is not right, in this particular instance, to hold him to the consequences of his fault, unless we wish to make the evil even greater than it is....

In this case the confessor should not neglect to hold Smith to some special acts of devotion on Sundays, e.g., to the recitation of the Rosary, because it is Smith's own fault that he is not in a position to hear Mass on that day....

Will not this dispensation... cause grave scandal in the parish...?... It is very likely that Smith's absence from Mass on Sundays will cause scandal among the members of the parish. Nevertheless, the reason for permitting the scandal is so grave that there is no occasion for any qualms of conscience. The penitent may also forestall the scandal in large measure by stating openly his reason for staying away from Mass on Sundays, saying that he is acting on the advice of his confessor, and as a last means of conquering his appetite for strong drink....


A dispensation from the marital impediment of a difference of religion

....Bertha, a Roman maiden, was on a pleasure trip through England.... [S]he chanced to meet with Titius, a wealthy Protestant.... The latter, conceiving a strong affection for Bertha, asked her hand in marriage of her father, who was willing to grant the request, placing only one condition, to which Titius willingly assented, viz.: that he (Titius) would take up his abode in Rome....

Bertha, however, remembered that there stood in the way of the union the [Latin: impediment of a difference of religion]; nor did she lack the courage to speak of it. On the contrary, she promptly went with her father and Titius to submit the case to the bishop of the locality....

The bishop, being informed that Titius was willing to make the promises required by the Church, granted the dispensation and gave the necessary authorization to Caius, a priest, a friend of Bertha, to marry the couple. Caius, in order to please the latter, performs the ceremony in the chapel of a convent of which he is the chaplain; and immediately afterward says the Mass of the day — not the Votive Mass [Latin: for a bride and groom].

After this Titius wishes to appear before a minister of his own denomination and repeat the ceremony. Caius, being consulted by Bertha, says that this may be done, [Latin: outside the Protestant church], and provided, furthermore, that the minister uses no religious vestments or ceremonies....

[The answer:]

....The [Latin: impediment of a difference of religion], which has long existed in the Church, is a general law....

With regard to Caius... it can be said that his action was allowable, since it was not in a country where, as for instance, in Belgium, a more rigid discipline is enforced.... But the celebration of Mass, even though it was not the votive pro sponso et sponsa, but the one of the day, can in no way be justified if, as seems probable, it could really in the circumstances be considered as forming a part of the nuptial ceremony. If, however, it could not, and was celebrated after the ceremony merely to satisfy the devotion of the bride, it was allowable.... Finally Caius, asked by Bertha if she might, in deference to the wishes of her husband, go with him to have the ceremony performed by a Protestant minister, replied that she might do so, provided it be not in a church and that no religious rites or vestments be used....

As to this point, it must be granted that some serious theologians and canonists take the same view as Caius.... Supposing, for instance, that the minister in lay clothing, and not in a church, were to wish happiness, etc., to the married couple, recalling the rights and duties of the state of life upon which they had entered, without pretending to add thereby anything sacred to the marriage already performed, and supposing, of course, that the Catholic party does not look upon this as in any way a completion of the same, but simply as an act of complaisance toward the non-Catholic, whether the latter looked upon it as a sacred ceremony or not....

It is true, that it is not here question of a mere civil assistance, for the contracting parties go before a heterodox minister... but, on the other hand, it is also true that no heretical religious ceremony is performed.... However, care should be taken to avoid scandal....

Other theologians... think that such an act could hardly be free from the appearance of at least an external adhesion to a heretical sect, and could not be allowed....

To me it seems that perchance the solution might depend upon the circumstances prevalent in various countries and places....


An invalid absolution

Mr. N. was dangerously sick; he would not listen to admonitions to make his peace with God, and refused to see the priest.... [T]he pastor resolved upon the following proceeding: He secretly took up his position in an adjoining room, only a few feet, therefore, from the patient's bed — then the wife went to the sick man, purposely leaving the door ajar, so that the priest in the front room could hear and understand everything, whereupon she started an intimate conversation with her husband, apparently with the purpose of entertaining the patient, but in reality to draw from him an open acknowledgment of his sins, and to incite in him sincere contrition.... [I]n order to obtain a "confession of sins,"... she asked gently whether he remembered so and so, whereupon naturally the answer was a long-drawn "Yes, that is right," or, "I must admit that," etc.... [T]he good wife endeavored to awaken sincere contrition in the sick man, but she never said a word about the reception of the Sacrament of Penance.... The priest, who had heard and understood everything distinctly... gave priestly absolution to the sick man unobserved and unknown by the latter.... The question is asked whether this absolution was valid or not? To this we must answer a decided No, for the reason that the penitent did not have the necessary intention to Sacramental absolution, and because the [Latin: proximate matter of the Sacrament] was altogether absent,

I. The absolution in question is invalid because the penitent did not have the necessary intention to receive the Sacrament.

God gave to man reason and free will, and willed that no adult... should be saved without personal co-operation.... If sanctifying grace is to be imparted to him, through the administration of any of the Sacraments, he must agree to receive this Sacrament, he must will to receive it.... This intention, it is true, may be of different kinds... but one of these kinds of intention must be present....

Our patient had had none of these kinds of intention; we are even aware that he had declared a positive aversion for, and actual opposition to, the reception of the Sacrament of Penance. The peculiar examination of conscience and the resulting Confession were not calculated to produce a change of mind, and the contrition which his better half endeavored to awaken in him was rather doubtful; in fact, under the circumstances, we can hardly suppose or admit of its presence; otherwise the immediate result would have been the desire for a priest, and for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance....

2. The absolution was invalid, because the [Latin: proximate matter of the Sacrament] was completely lacking....

Apart from the very doubtful [Latin: material completeness of the confession], necessary without question, there was really no confessio, properly speaking; for it can not be said that the patient made a sacramental confession of sin, i.e., that he accused himself to a prescribed confessor of all grievous sins committed in order to receive priestly absolution; he had no idea of the priest's secret presence, nothing was further from his thoughts than to confess and be absolved, and he resisted stubbornly the sacramental Confession....

Furthermore, there was lacking also the [Latin: sacramental satisfaction, or penance]... the confessor could not properly impose such because no confessio had taken place, and had the patient upon himself imposed a penance, it would not have been a sacramental penance....

The third part of the [Latin: proximate matter] is the true contrition which must also de jure be manifest to the confessor. It is not impossible, although highly improbable, that the sick man, in consequence of his wife's representations, attained a true contrition, and hence sufficiently disposed in regard to sanctifying grace, but undoubtedly he was not possessed of that particular contrition required for the [Latin: proximate matter of the Sacrament]....

The validity of the absolution in question is, therefore, to be absolutely denied.


Co-operation by the furnishing of non-Catholic churches

A firm manufacturing stained glass, owned by a Catholic, received a handsome order from a Protestant community. The head of the firm asks Father A. whether he can properly and with a clear conscience undertake the commission.

Father A. forbids this, absolutely, as it would be assisting in building a temple for heretics. Subsequently Father B. is asked, who at once permits the firm to do the work....

If Fathers A. and B. gave their decision without further inquiry into the status of the case, they both erred.... [I]f the house were intended for profane purpose there would be no difficulty whatsoever. But the windows are to adorn a place where will be held worship the participation in which is forbidden by the Church, consequently a co-operation in something prohibited... can not be denied....

It is here a question of material support of a heretical sect; therefore the greatest good, the faith, is at stake. If by refusal of assistance the faith could be preserved, or a real injury to it averted, then our duty is clearly defined. Such would be the case if a new sect was being founded, or if a sect newly entered a locality theretofore free from all heresy....

If, however, a sect is tolerated to prevent greater evil, and officially recognized by temporal authorities, the case is a little different. The danger to the faith has become chronic, not so burning; the scandal has become lessened by conventionalism, though unfortunately not without spreading indifference in matters of faith. For the Catholic there remains the duty of abstaining from material co-operation, especially one directly connected with the promotion of heresy, as, for instance, contributing money to build heretic churches, contributing, or helping, at bazaars for the same purpose, etc. Architects must not make plans for such churches, nor erect the building, unless a more important reason exists than the gain itself. Frequently, however, it will be best not to say anything about this, and not to disturb the good faith that has arisen from long existing practise. The decoration of churches appears to be less intimately connected with the prohibited worship than the building of the church itself. For this reason the furnishing of stained glass work might more easily be permitted; yet there should be a weightier reason than the ordinary gain, for instance actual lack of work which threatens the business, or which necessitates the discharge of workmen, who then would only with difficulty obtain other positions, and similar reasons, such as great improvement of the firm. If such reasons exist, and the locality in question is one of mixed religions, if there is no scandal to fear, or if it may be removed by explanation, the firm may undertake the work. The pictures must of course not bear even a trace of heresy.


How can men be induced to frequent Communion?

"I can not get men to receive frequently the Holy Sacraments," many a priest complains, and therewith he lets them go their own way and turns his attention to the women, who can, with less trouble, be held to heed the priest's advice....

I. Men who seldom or never go to hear a sermon, who content themselves with hearing a low Mass, do not give much opportunity to the priest to get at them. How can, nevertheless, influence be brought to bear upon these men? At meetings of a profane character the priest can hardly deliver a sermon; nevertheless there is no end of opportunities, where in a few words, brief and to the point, attention may be drawn to the necessity of practical Christianity, and some good will always be done by such words.

A thoroughly Catholic surrounding at home will often be the only means of reaching this class of men. A few kind words from a pious mother, wife or sister, have frequently achieved great results.

With men who attend sermons the task is an easier one. Above all things the priest should frequently throughout the year invite the men to the Holy Sacraments. The invitation must be cordial, kindly. A priest who summons the men of his parish to confession in harsh and sarcastic terms will of course get not many to come.... Many priests have found from experience that in cases of death the relatives, including the men, may be easily induced to receive the Sacraments. It will be wise to express publicly appreciation and pleasure when there has been a good attendance of men.

2. A second means consists in pointing out that God has shown special predilection for men, confiding to them the most important positions in family, State and Church; the priesthood is only accessible to men.

3. Many sodalities and fraternities of men receive Communion in a body, which is a great inducement. A prudent priest will find many occasions, even in worldly societies of Catholics (veterans, firemen, policemen, etc.), of suggesting to the men to receive Communion, for instance at the burial of a member, on anniversary days, etc....

4. The reception of the Holy Sacraments must be made for men as convenient as possible. Men should not be kept waiting very long; they have not much patience. On special days for men's confessions appoint special hours, when they can conveniently come. Induce the women to come in the afternoon and to leave the evening to the men....

5. The religious training of men must begin at school age. The priest should take pains to induce boys to receive Holy Communion monthly; the habit to receive frequently will often adhere to them in later years.