Prudential Judgments

We’ve all used, or heard, ‘prudential judgement,’ when discussing various issues. Prudential judgments is normally used when one claims liberty to disagree with the authoritative men of the Church on an issue; even in the face of several men of the Church speaking on an issue.

While I accept there are things we can disagree with, I have to question when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. If several men speak one way on an issue, and I hear ‘prudential judgment,’ I question, ‘where are those men of the Church that also disagree.’ It seems that when there is no dissenting voice on an issue, from another authoritative man of the Church, the men are united, and we should give special consideration to what they say as a moral teaching.

How is it acceptable to disagree, when there are no voices from the Church to agree with the disagreeing opinion?

That is not what prudential judgment is.

What you describe seems to center around doctrine. Doctrine requires assent. It is. There is no “prudential judgment” argument for dissent.

Prudence is one of the cardinal virtues. Prudence assists us in knowing right and wrong and acting rightly. We use the virtue of prudence when we make a decision to act.

Perhaps reading on the virtue of Prudence will help:

Prudence is always in the context of applying Church doctrine and teaching in the concrete circumstance. Prudence is not about dissenting from Church teaching.

Not even close to an understanding.

Prudential judgment does not allow disagreement with doctrine, any more than private opinion allows active, public disagreement with doctirne… It allows disagreement about the means of achieving those principles in the practical realm. Thus, How best can pro-life principles be achieved in society, reducing or eliminating abortion, discouraging artificial contraception? How can the various social justice mandates regarding the poor, regarding labor, regarding migration be advanced – keeping in mind also the entire framework of Catholic priorities (including but not limited to subsidiarity), etc.

Clergy are not experts on these means. Some have read more than others, regarding practical details of implementation, but most have read little, as they have little time to engage with experts in these fields, regarding the effects of illegal immigration, the causes, the solutions. The place of Church officials is to be the voice of conscience, the clarion call, the prophetic reminders. Specific measures, proposed or enacted, do not necessarily meet Catholic social justice imperatives, depending on those details. Some of us actually have far more radical proposals in the area of social justice than what has ever been proposed officially in Congress or the several States. Those are examples of prudential differences which do not violate doctrine, and in fact may exceptionally support that doctrine.

If you believe that only certain formulaic and stereotyped responses to social justice are sufficiently doctrinaire, then you would believe that prudential judgment has no place in Catholic citizenship. But the Bishops would disagree with you.

I believe PS1 isn’t asking about the virtue of prudence, but is seeking clarification when people say that a particular statement of the Church or of a Pope can be subject to prudential judgment.

The death penalty debate is one particular area.

Thanks triumphguy.

Prudential judgment is the excuse, to disagree, used most often in these discussions. Sometimes people explain the justification to disagree as area the authoritative men of the Church are ‘inexperienced’ in, for example. I’ve see the claim of liberty to disagree on several issues; e.g. gun control, death penalty, immigration, war, and social issues like social security and welfare, etc. When those issues are discussed, and statements from the men of the Church are presented to support a view, I’ve noticed a trend where there is a lack of statements from other men of the Church who disagree with the statements provided.

Some will claim that silence cannot be taken as agreement. If that is true, the silence cannot be taken as disagreement either. It seems, without a disagreeing voice, the other men of the Church are letting the more vocal, or representative documents like from the USCCB, speak for them. Certainly disagreeing voices would speak up on an issue once in awhile, and not remain silent on all.

Except for the many times that it is not an excuse, that it is not a disagreement, and during which it supports Catholic teaching.

Please stop generalizing. (Both inaccurate and uncharitable as to assumptions about other people’s orthodoxy and intentions.)

As opposed to trying to argue, please explain the ‘liberty’ to disagree on those issues that are not non-negotiable. That’s the point I’m trying to understand.

When there is no disagreement from the men of the Church, there appears to be a ‘clarion call.’

We live in a secular world, that the men of the Church are as experienced as living in as the majority of the people. They guide us on issues that affect each other, or more precisely the dignity of life for everyone. Our decisions on other issues have affect on everyone, and not just ourselves. For me, Christ’s call is to live our lives for others and not so much ourselves.

So, it’s not a doctrine challenge on any doctrines, it’s a question about that ‘liberty to disagree.’ Does everything require an infallible statement to be moral, or can moral issues exist outside the realm of ‘infallible?’ Let’s not forget that some infallible issues were not always infallible.

I apologize Elizabeth, for the way I maybe wording incorrectly. Please feel free to change ‘excuse’ to ‘explain,’ or simply ask me for clarification. It is not my intention to argue, or even generalize. I certainly have no intention to be uncharitable, or question other people’s orthodoxy and intentions. I am simply trying to understand how one can be at liberty on so many issues, especially in the absence of any disagreeing statements from other men of the Church.

Because you simply do not understand how disagreeing with the means to arrive at social justice is the same thing as disagreeing with the doctrine, or even the details of the doctrine. (For example, immigration; for example; solutions to poverty.) When anyone (clergy or lay) equates particular approaches to social justice as being the doctrine itself, those persons are misinterpreting Catholic doctrine. Such statements are opinions. Other statements (lay and clergy) can be legitimately different in opinion yet still support, and just as strongly, the same social justice doctrine on the same issue and sub-issue.

And by the way, the same thing can occur in moral theology, not just social justice doctrine. Plenty of us have proposed different solutions to the abortion problem, and to contraception, than specific individual clergymembers have proposed. It doesn’t make our idea for solutions “in opposition to Catholic teaching.” Not whatsoever. It makes us having different prudential judgments than the prudential judgments of others. That’s all.

Aren’t the authoritative men of the Church the ones to define doctrine? The same holds true to applications of those non-doctrinal issues.

As you mention differences in opinion, lay and clergy, the absence of differences between clergy speaks to the issue in a form of guidance, in my opinion. When there are no differences from them, what gives liberty to the laypersons to disagree? At what point are we obligated to obey our prelates?

Abortion and contraception are non-negotiable. I’ve explained I’m looking to understand the disagreements on non-negotiable issues, that still affect everyone and their dignity of life. It certainly seems that, depending on one’s view, some are condemned for their view, even if it is in agreement with the vocal men of the Church. At least that’s been my experience on these forums.

Yes. And as I have said at least 3 times now, I support that doctrine without reservation, as do many of my fellow Catholics who don’t happen to support failed traditional approaches to that same absolute doctrine. You will not find a single document from the Magisterium that dictates how every doctrine of the Church should be realized. If you are waiting for this, or if you are falsely equating a random comment from a random clergymember as being equal with the doctrine itself, I need to correct you: You are in error.

Again, you are in error in that assumption, and it is an assumption on your part. Let’s take it out of the realm of religious doctrine for a moment. Millions of people have not considered options to solving X problem in the world. Does that mean that because so many people are marching in lock-step, or haven’t thought beyond what looks "obvious,’ or what’s been tried a million times (and failed!) that anyone who opposes “conventional thinking” on the matter is merely a rebel, opposing the “orthodox” tide of pubic opinion on Problem X? No, it often means that the new idea is the more pragmatic, creative, and even more radically in keeping with a solution.

The words the prelates themselves have said, that’s what gives us that liberty. The Magisterium gives us the liberty, that’s who.

When, speaking as the Magisterium, or in communion with the Magisterium, they are making doctrinally authoritative statements.

I haven’t “condemned” you. However, I will defend vigorously any Catholic’s right to propose different solutions to the same social justice concerns that the Church brings up, especially if they can argue convincingly that their specific proposals would do a better job than any uncreative approach currently proven to have failed social justice.

The term “prudential judgement” gets used often in dealing with contingent matters – especially in the secular arena – in “how to apply” the Church’s Teachings on in a particular matter. Various persons offering their opinion. These can vary. The person who is charged with the duty of making the judgment -does so by informing his conscience with the Teaching of the Church and by the virtue of prudence (which can include seeking wise advice) he judges what is the right good means to the good end.


1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going."65 "Keep sane and sober for your prayers."66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

While the topic of the death penalty is one that is subject to prudential judgement, it doesn’t really fit PS1’s criteria in the OP. Church leaders have taken lots of varying positions on that topic. I can’t think of any issue where Church leaders have been unanimous but where lay Catholics disagree under the concept of prudential judgement.

Please don’t think I am speaking specifically of anyone, or myself, beyond my attempt to understand the liberty to disagree with the men of the Church.

Let’s move beyond those things that are doctrinal/dogma, or those things that have been infallibly defined. It’s the other issues that affect everyone, and their dignity of life, that I am specifically speaking about.

I have seen people who have disagreed with the men of the Church on every other issue; e.g. death penalty, gun control, immigration, war, social security/welfare, etc. It seems to ‘convenient,’ for the lack of a better word. When you disagree, you are in affect saying, ‘they are wrong, and I am right.’ I find it hard to believe that the men of the Church could coincidently be wrong on every other issue that affects us all.

The death penalty is one of those issues people claim the liberty to disagree on. Part of what Pope John Paul stated has become a part of our Catechism. It speaks of the necessity of the death penalty in today’s world. There are no men of the Church that are disagreeing with what he has stated.

You are speaking in very broad and inappropriate generalities, i.m.o. Those generalities would not only not apply to me, they don’t apply to anyone I know, or even to most people on CAF. Maybe you see particular posters raise the same objections; it is unlikely that you see dozens of posters objecting to everything that they can possibly get away with. This is a very negative view of your fellow Catholics.

Second, you mentioned earlier about settled issues like pro-life ones. Actually, the same does apply. People have been attacked on this forum for suggesting merely different strategies for the identically same moral end as held by the Magisterium and the bishops. Why? Because the same old ineffective approaches are too often used for a problem against which extremely little progress has been made. Newsflash! How about a different idea than prayer alone? Dare to say that, and some of us are called pro-death, heretical, and all kinds of unsupportable names. It’s all because we dare to think outside the box with regard to solutions. Yet there is absolutely nothing heterodox about that. I just think some people feel a psychological need to protect their “turf” and can’t abide any competition from new ideas. They’re invested in rosaries to end abortion; the idea of vigorous new ideas which have practical application is too threatening, so they begin calling their fellow Catholics names. Yeah, real charitable. (Not.)

I have said I am not speaking of anyone, or myself, specifically. I’m sorry you feel an attempt to understand is a ‘negative’ view.

The rest of your post doesn’t address the points I tried to articulate in the post you quoted.

Thanks for your input, but I guess I’ll discuss it with others who won’t find it too personal to discuss.

There are no men of the Church, that I know of, disagreeing with Pope John Paul II when he says that the death penalty is overused. But there are certainly those, such as Cardinal Dulles, who disagree that it is essentially unnecessary in today’s society .

The Church doesn’t provide teaching regarding all the minutiae of everyday life. It is impossible for any person to do everything exactly according to Church teaching because in many areas there is none; or there may be only general principles, but not clear specifics. So, we are called on to apply prudential judgment. This holds for big issues and small issues; any issue where the doctrines of the Church do not tell us exactly what we must do. Some examples:

How much do we give to the Church/charity? We apply prudential judgment, since the Church does not provide a calculator for such things.

Should we regularly wash our hands? Of course, we apply prudential judgment in determining a reasonable frequency for washing our hands for the sake of good hygene and preventing spreading our germs to others. Our love of neighbour calls us to do this, but we need to use prudential judgment to determine exactly how often, what circumstances, etc.

Should I attend my cousin’s presumably invalid wedding? The exact circumstances surounding this will need careful consideration and again we must apply prudential judgment in reaching our conclusion.

Should a married woman take hormonal medicine (otherwise used for contraception) to treat {insert relevant medical condition here}? And if so, does she need to abstain from sex with her husband? Again, prudential judgment is requried to work through these issues.

These are some examples. In the case of social justice, the issues are much more complex than these situations above.

I am not an expert on Catholic theology as to what can be changed what cannot be changed. What is the difference between doctrine, cannon law, catechism etc. For example I don’t understand how it used to be not ok to eat meat on Fridays and now its ok. I don’t understand how the pope can declare himself infallible when for most of the 2000 years he wasn’t. I don’t know those kinds of specifics. Therefore I can only speak as a Catholic American who has been educated in catholic schools (jesuit) with a concentration in sciences.

As a an American it is completely unnatural for me to say that there cannot be disagreement. I do understand the whole idea of obedience but I don’t particularly think disagreeing is disobedience. Plus I believe catholics should be thinking catholics who are well versed in the areas of philosophy, logic and who can ask questions without fear.

I agree with what undercloud said almost 100%. I feel that catholic theology gives us a foundation of what is morally good and evil as a set of principles and we then must use our own experiences and judgement on specific issues and circumstances.

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