I would appreciate your thoughts on a conversation that I had with a friend regarding the philosophical concept of “erroneous conscience.” This friend was told by his confessor that it is not necessary to confess mortal sins (as defined by the Church) if, after full examination of the Church’s teaching, one honestly believes that the action in question is not sinful. One who commits such acts may also receive the Eucharist.
According to the confessor, such a person is acting with an “erroneous conscience.” In this case, confession is not required because:
One who does not honestly believe that an act is sinful cannot be acting with “full knowledge,” one of the three requirements for a sin to be mortal. (CCC 1855)
According to St. Thomas, it is a sin to violate one’s conscience.
One who confesses an act that one does not consider sinful cannot truly have contrition and is thus committing the sin of sacrilege.
Can anyone comment on this advice? I’ve done some research myself online, and all I can find is the exhortation that “one is bound to form one’s conscience in light of Church teaching.” I’m not sure that it matters, but I’m pretty sure the sin in question is the use of artificial contraception. My friend and I have discussed Humanae Vitae and John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” on occasion, and I know that he has considered extensively church teaching on contraception and does not agree with it.
Should I advise my friend to seek another confessor? In all my years of being Catholic and studying about the church, I’ve never come across this concept of “erroneous conscience,” and I’d hate for my friend to be led astray by an unorthodox teaching or (perhaps more likely) one priest’s idiosyncratic view of St. Thomas.