What if its against my conscience to be Catholic?


This question may be confusing for those of you who don’t know a little history about me b/c my username is not so appropriate…

Last year, I decided that I could no longer, in good conscience remain Catholic. I realized that I had convictions far more in line with anabaptist beliefs than I ever realized. I sought a conservative Mennonite congregation and began visiting their services and becoming a part of their community (as far as was possible, since they are not so close to me).

Anyway, I never stopped studying the Catholic faith. I have a pretty good understanding of Catholic apologetics, and over time, I’ve looked more into history and started to see the idea of “sola scriptura” as problematic. I had to admit that, even though I believed the same things that Mennonites believed, it was still based on my own personal interpretation of scripture. Perhaps it was coincidence that we agreed? I never thought so, and that was what moved me to continue. But over the year, history troubled me more and more and the church’s claim of authority (deciding canon, etc.) got to me. By Lent I had decided to return to the CC.

It has only been a matter of weeks since my return, and I’m getting that uneasy feeling again. I simply can’t pick up a bible and not see my fundamentalist, anabaptist beliefs there! I know that the CC does seem to have a scriptural basis (in many instances) for its beliefs and practices, but I still maintain that many of them contradict other scriptures. I’ve seen many other denominations do the same. I’ve seen JWs and other like groups use scripture (convincingly, until further research…) to “disprove” the deity of Christ for instance.

I’m going on a tangent here…

My main question is: I’m not the smartest, and I am easily fooled. I admit that my interpretation of anything is not infallible. My evaluation of a church’s beliefs may be just as fallible as my understanding of scripture. Do you see my problem here???

I am curious what the Catholic church teaches about conscience. I believe the Word of God (that we have in scripture) was not meant for learned men alone. I believe salvation should be obtainable, for simple ordinary man, through the Bible. I don’t believe that God has made salvation so complicated that we need to understand complex doctrines or go through rituals or sacraments…

If it goes against my conscience to continue to be Catholic because I simply can’t grasp and accept its practices and beliefs (albeit, possibly b/c of my own flawed capacity to understand it), should I remain Catholic anyway? What does the Catholic church teach about following one’s conscience? It’s not that I am uninformed either. I’ve studied and studied and continue to study, but regardless, I simply don’t see it in the Bible and I understand that I shouldn’t necessarily see it there, or at least, not explicitly so.

IOW, I see in the Catholic church the possibility that its claims are true, but I feel as though I am going against my own convictions and against my own conscience when I follow it

Isn’t there a scripture about this? Even though, in truth, meats that were sacrificed to idols were clean, if it was against someone’s conscience to eat it and they ate it anyway, they would be commiting sin. So, if, in truth, the Catholic church is all it claims to be, but its against my conscience to practice it, wouldn’t that too be a sin?

Thanks in advance for trying to break through my denseness :o


Go make an appointment to see a priest.


"Conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine." (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Instruction of the Vocation of Theologian, par. 28).

You have to ask yourself, what is the proximate norm for determining the truth of Christian doctrine? The Christian answer is and has always been: AUTHORITY.

What if the Circumcisor Party who came from St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem in the 1st century, could not in “conscience” accept the authority of the decrees (Gk dogmata) of the Council of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts? Would their lack of obedience be a sin (cf. Heb 13:17)?


Well, I don’t mean to demean your struggles but one thing you mentioned jumps out at me immediately, and you’re not the first one to have this problem but I think there’s a more than adequate response. Its the idea that the Catholic Church makes salvation difficult and complex through lots of rules and rituals, like the 7 sacraments, and that if we just go by the Bible it would all be so much easier. Well, that might sound convincing at first, but try to remember that you’re criticizing a religion that has happily served, alongside the theologians, millions of illiterate but devout peasants for 2000 years. Do you really think all those poor Catholic serfs in the Middle Ages thought it could be all that hard if so many of them remained committed Catholics until their dying breaths? Furthermore, if you had told any of them that instead of going by what the Church teaches they should learn to read and instruct themselves in all the teachings of the Bible, on their own, for the rest of their lives, what kind of a response do you think you would’ve gotten?


First, let me make an observation about your bible reading. You say that you read something in the bible and conclude that it supports a particular belief. This seems to be what is causing you the entire problem to begin with.

Many religions develop beliefs and then look to the bible to support such beliefs and they certainly are able to find passages that do just that. It appears to me that that is exactly what you are doing.

The Catholic Church reads the bible in an entirely different manner. We read the bible in whole with emphasis on the teachings of Christ. The teachings of Christ override other passages. We also read the bible with reference to Sacred Tradition. Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. Remember the Bible came out of the Church - not the Church out of the Bible.

With that said - yes the Church does say that one must follow their conscience. However, you also have an obligation to educate your conscience. I would suggest that you Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church.” From your posting it does not sound like you are reading Scripture in this manner.

May God Bless you on your journey and guide you in your decisions


Well, first we need to look at the maturity of one’s conscience. Everybody has a conscience, but some may be more developed than others. I’m not saying that yours is not developed, but it is something to think about.

Sometimes the voice in our head may not be God’s. Sometimes it could be Satan. One of my closest friends tells me that Satan will give you 99% Truth in order for you to believe in the 1% lie. This may be what’s going on here.

One thing you need to keep in mind as you read scripture is that the Church uses Tradition, which allows the reader to see with a clear light what the passage is trying to say. There are so many denominations because each see the scriptures in their own light, not in Tradition, which has kept the Church together for close to 2000 years. 

It takes faith and the grace of God in order to place your full trust in Him. Jesus established His Church on earth (Mt 16:16-19) so that all may be led to Him. "There Is No Salvation Outside the Church" is true. People may be angered by that saying that the Church has no place in telling people they're going to Hell. But it's true. Jesus is the way, the Truth, the life. He established His Church to put that in effect. So logically, reject the Church, reject Christ. Would you like that on your conscience?


In all honesty, I think part of your problem (and I’ve struggled with this too, I don’t mean to insult you) is that you’re looking at all you know about what the Church teaches and thinking something along the lines of, “gosh, what if I’m forgetting something that’s required for salvation, what if I never learn all that I’m supposed to, what if I forget to offer up a penance one Friday, then die right after, and go to Hell?” If I’m way off base, I apologize. But the thing is, the mental scenario I just outlined, while it can get into our brains and scare us, its actually pretty unrealistic. You probably know all that’s required for your salvation. This is basically the 10 Commandments, the doctrine of the sacraments, the 6 precepts of the Church, and the Apostles’ Creed. I might be leaving a few out. At a minimum, you should know these in substance. Now, for me to rattle off this list might sound like the Catholic way to salvation is like preparing for a midterm, but that’s mainly because we all too soon forget how much knowledge the human mind can retain. Its an awful lot. Compare knowing these basic tenets of the faith with the expectation that to be saved we must all teach ourselves from the entire contents of the New Testament. The elders at the Mennonite Congregation might be doing it, but do you really think all their congregants are expected to do the same? No, because they’ve got jobs and families, most likely. That’s why they elected leaders to do it for them. Trying to come up with a comprehensive plan of salvation by reading the entire New Testament is a full-time job. That’s why the Catholic Church has a divinely-appointed hierarchy to do it.


I like to follow up on that and say that the more you know, the more you humble yourself. Learning more and more about Jesus, the more you realize that “Wow! I cannot believe He would do this for me. Why me? I am just a simple sinner.”

Trust me, the more you know, the more you realize that you don’t know and that the only way you can fully know is being with God.


I really recommend reading the Church Fathers. They are absolutely fluent in Scripture, and many of the traditional interpretations of passages come from them.


Thanks for your responses.

Like I said, I do realize that it is my own personal interpretation that just seems to jive so perfectly with anabaptists, but likewise, if I see validity in the claims of the Catholic church, why should I trust my opinion about that either? If I can fool myself in reading scripture, can’t I just as easily fool myself in my reading of the ECFs or the catechism?

I guess years of doubting have led me to disbelieve just about everything. I hardly believe in anything anymore. I know as Catholics we shouldn’t base our faith on experience either, but I know that as a Catholic I feel like I am swallowed up in a big black hole, with no motivation in the Christian life. I feel frozen. As a Mennonite, I felt invigorated and inspired to live a Christian life with zeal and charity… I truly felt alive. As a Catholic, I just feel dead. I go to church almost daily, we pray the rosary as a family, I pray it alone, morning and evening prayer, the Divine Mercy, we go to confession weekly, I watch EWTN, watch the archived stuff and the Scott Hahn audios online yet it all seems very, very wrong to me… Not just the devotions (which seem rather distracting to me), but the doctrines themselves; even though I seem to understand them as I study them, they still seem wrong to me.

I know that if I pick up my Bible again and just start reading, that former zeal will come back to me, but so will my prior convictions (not that they’ve ever left really. Just being repressed as I try to follow the church)…

I will talk to a priest. We go to the Franciscans for confession every Saturday.


More on the Catholic understanding of “conscience”…

"It can also happen that at the conclusion of a serious study, undertaken with the desire to heed the Magisterium’s teaching without hesitation, the theologian’s difficulty remains because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive to him. Faced with a proposition to which he feels he cannot give his intellectual assent, the theologian nevertheless has the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question.

For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail. …

…argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one’s own conscience cannot legitimate dissent… the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it. Conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty. It is an act of moral judgement regarding a responsible choice. A right conscience is one duly illumined by faith and by the objective moral law and it presupposes, as well, the uprightness of the will in the pursuit of the true good.

…Setting up a supreme magisterium of conscience in opposition to the magisterium of the Church means adopting a principle of free examination incompatible with the economy of Revelation and its transmission in the Church and thus also with a correct understanding of theology and the role of the theologian. The propositions of faith are not the product of mere individual research and free criticism of the Word of God but constitute an ecclesial heritage. " (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Instruction on the Vocation of Theologian)


Before you read your bible, PRAY! The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth and wisdom

COME, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.
Send forth Thy spirit and they shall be created.
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
Let Us Pray.
O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


One thing that you said which puzzles me is this:

Probably the vast majority of simple ordinary men over the past two thousand years have not been able to read. Not only that, but up until the invention of the printing press in the 1500’s, there was simply no way for the bible, as a compact entity, to be made available to the vast majority of mankind. For a great many people, even today, the ability to read is no simple and ordinary thing, but a luxury afforded by leisure and education. Is salvation restricted then to the literate? The Catholic Church has never thought so.


I see that, but nonetheless, we do have the bible today. I’m not sure why the fact that there was a period without it being mass produced should be a factor in reading it today.


It is if you belong to a sect that teaches that the Bible is the only authority for knowing God.

Sola Scriptura is the the fundamental error of all n-C teachings.


I do see your point. Not trying to frustrate you. I realise that it was up to the church to preach the gospel…


I think the point Jim is making is not that we shouldn’t read the Bible today just because people didn’t have it/weren’t able to in the past, but that the mode of salvation didn’t change with the introduction of the printing press and widespread literacy. What you’re proposing, that salvation comes from reading the Bible alone, is at odds with how the vast majority of humanity was saved for 1500 or more years after the death of Christ, even in some parts of the world today. All those Christians (most of whom were Catholic and Orthodox, but even those in ancient Oriental churches and the like, weren’t saved by personal interpretation of the Bible. They listened to the Church, or to their particular church. As Catholics in 2007, we can now and are encouraged to read the Bible to grow in our knowledge of Christ and the faith, but at the end of the day, we still are expected to go by what the Church teaches.



I don’t see it as a matter of conscience as much as an inability or unwillingness to accept the authority of the Church and its Sacred Tradition. It appears the faith that the Catholic Church is the only church Christ gave to humanity is illusive despite the evidence supporting that truth. Something is driving the need to find an alternative meaning. It might be helpful to focus on the driving forces of the will to refuse the truth versus the minutia that supports the untruth.

The second thing is a little more blunt, but the hard reality is that one’s conscience doesn’t change the truth. Put less politely, it just really doesn’t matter what you think. The truth is what it is.


Lol - yes, that certainly is true! (no pun intended), but we can’t walk around just accepthing things b/c someone says they are true, now can we?


I guess I’m looking at it from the point of view that canon is what it is b/c its supposed to be the rule of measure. Who decides when something is in line with the rule of measure? If the church does, does this not put the church above scripture? If the rule of measure cannot even be determined by ordinary man, then what does he have to base his evaluation of the truth on? IOW, why should he take someones word for it? What rule of measure does the new Christian use to judge each church out there?

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