Catholic MP Robert Flello misrepresents Church teaching on conscience to justify MPs voting for gay marriage

In correspondence with Ms Patricia McKeever, editor of the Catholic Truth Scotland website, Catholic MP Robert Flello misrepresents Church teaching on conscience by selectively quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Gaudium et Spes and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Robert Flello MP writes:

“The shared experience of Catholic Parliamentarians, whichever way they chose to vote, has been that these decisions were hugely important and most difficult. I know from private conversations  with a large number of Catholic colleagues that the overwhelming majority, indeed all those to
whom I have spoken, reached their final position in relation to this measure only after carefully informing, intensely examining and then voting in accordance with their conscience – an approach which our Church not only permits, but in fact demands.”

“Indeed, the Church has always affirmed that we must not deliberately act against the certain judgment of our consciences (cf. Catechism, nos. 1790, 1800). Saint Bonaventure, the great thirteenth-century Franciscan scholar and doctor of the Church, put it this way: “Conscience is like God’s herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God’s authority, like a herald when he  proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force.”

Its strange that Robert Flello quotes CCC 1790 because it states that an individuals conscience can be in error:

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.’

If Robert Flello had gone on reading the Catechism he would have discovered that a couple of paragraphs down from 1790 the Catechism outlines the sources of error in moral judgement that deform conscience:

1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

In light of the fact that Pope Benedict XVI and the Bishops of England and Wales had made in clear that the Catholic doctrine of marriage was totally incompatible with same-sex marriage then it would appear that some Catholic MPs  have asserted a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience and rejected the Church’s authority and teaching.

CCC 1791 states:

‘This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.’

However, CCC 1793 states

1793 If – on the contrary – the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience. 

Either way Robert Flello MP cannot make an appeal to conscience to justify Catholic MPs voting for same-sex marriage in defiance of the doctrines and discipline of the Catholic Church.

Robert Flello MP also quotes CCC paragraph 1800, while missing out the two following paragraphs that qualify and explain its meaning:

1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.

1801 Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.

1802 The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.

Robert Flello MP then goes on to quote from Gaudium et Spes paragraph 16 to justify his claim that Catholic MPs have autonomy of conscience in defiance of the Magisterium of the Church. Before building his argument on selective quotation the Rt Honorable Flello MP should have read further through Gaudium et Spes. In fact the section on marriage in Gaudium et Spes sets out the full teaching of the Church on conscience for the Catholic which demolishes Flello’s claim to autonomy as a Catholic politician:

‘But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment.’ (GS 50)

Robert Flello MP then again selectively quotes from the CDF document  ’Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life’ in such a way that completely distorts the Church’s teaching on conscience and politics as articulated by Cardinal Ratzinger.

Before reading Robert Flello’s partial quote from section 6 it is necessary to read part of section 4 about conscience and the Catholic politician:

‘….it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. ‘

Robert Flello MP makes much of part of section 6 while completely ignoring the unambiguous statement about a ‘well-informed Christian conscience in section 4:

“Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of confessionalism, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person.”

This last sentence from section 6 is from a paragraph challenging those politicians who justify voting against the teachings of the Church by proposing a false dichotomy between their role as politicians and their lives as practicing Catholics:

‘There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact, every area of the lay faithful’s lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the ‘places in time’ where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others.’

Having selective quoted from Magisterial documents to justify other Catholic MPs defiance of the doctrine and authority of the Church through a  false notion of the autonomy of conscience Robert Flello MP concludes with this disingenuous paragraph. Legal advice to the Church of England and the Catholic Church predicts that both will be subject to legal challenges under Equality legislation.

‘Colleagues have observed that in reaching their difficult and different decisions they weighed carefully many conflicting arguments, not least the observation that the measure does not affect in any way sacramental marriage as recognised by our Church.’

The cause of Robert Flello MP’s selective representation of the Church’s teaching on conscience was Catholic Truth Scotland’s petition demanding that Catholic politicians who voted for same-sex marriage are excommunicated. Robert Flello MP writes:

‘For all these reasons, I write now to register the profound concern, bordering on the repugnance, with which I read the online petition which suggests that Parliamentarians who voted in favour of the legislation in question are “manifest public sinners” who should be denied Holy Communion. I note that there is a link on the home page of your web site promoting this petition and a link on the petition to your web site. I have also been appalled by the tone and content of a number of emails and other communications which have been sent to my Parliamentary colleagues by supporters of your initiative, including some items over your own signature, which endorse the petition and your Society, which go on to refer to my colleagues as “dissidents” and reiterate your calls for them to be denied Communion. Quite what you were seeking to achieve by this ill-informed, confrontational and condemnatory approach I cannot imagine. What I can tell you is that by the tone and content of your communications you bring our Church into disrepute in the eyes of some Parliamentarians and of the wider community.’

Protect the Pope comments: The interesting thing is that Robert Flello voted against the Same-Sex Marriage bill, but in his letter justifies other Catholic MPs voting against the teachings of the Church through an inaccurate and incomplete understanding of the Church’s teaching on conscience. Protect the Pope recommends that our readers sign this petition. Go to:

H/T Catholic Truth Scotland


16 comments to Catholic MP Robert Flello misrepresents Church teaching on conscience to justify MPs voting for gay marriage

  • Robert Flello is to be congratulated. The Same Sex Marriage Bill is about secular marriage which has been totally different from Christian marriage ever since Henry VIII stole the institution for his own benefit. Mr Flello recognises that the State has a duty to care for all its citizens without fear or favour. It cannot properly impose the teachings of the Church upon them. It is therefore right that Catholic politicians should uphold Catholic marriage as wholly different in kind and purpose from state marriage. It is time we Catholics stopped compromising on this issue. Stand up for Catholic marriage but don’t pretend it’s the same as the secular offering of the State.

    • Andrzej


      So, if the State were to legalize, say rape, good Catholics, should insist that this doesn’t have anything to do with the Catholic approach to love, but, hey, they should respect the autonomy of State?

      First of all, Catholics are citizens and can voice their opinions and lobby for laws they find fit – informed by religion, comic books, celebrities or whatever. Why do you want them to shut up? Maybe you shut up instead?

      Secondly, gay marriage is damaging both to the people who engage in it and to society in general due to the depravity it causes. All people of good will, and Catholics explicitly, MUST oppose it or bear the consequences of inaction on Judgment Day.

    • Dr Mark Thorne

      ou claim that “Mr Flello recognises that the State has a duty to care for all its citizens without fear or favour”. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort is happening in this country, with approximately 200,000 lives so “disadvantaged” that they are destroyed wantonly on an annual basis, old people are dying through callous neglect and goodness knows how many children will be denied the right to grow up in an environment that at least has a chance of approximating to the anthropological norm. That’s hardly a satisfactory concept of equality in my book.

      Being in possession of a marriage certificate from the state will now carry less import than owing a dog licence. The sooner the Church withdraws from registering civic marriages, the better. Even if you could set aside the gender neutrality issue, there isn’t even a recognition in law that spouses need to be faithful to each other – it all comes down to the choice of the individuals concerned. Having your marriage recognised by the state is now absolutely worthless – a total redundancy.

  • Michael Petek

    As Newman wrote to the Duke of Norfolk: “Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the Presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it.”

    So, Robert Flello MP says to himself, as in the Presence of God, that for the sake of his eternal salvation he must not, and dare not, affirm that marriage exists only between a man and a woman, and he must condemn the destruction of Sodom as a crime against humanity.

    Is that so, O Flello?

  • ms Catholic state

    Good news from France. Not all police are happy with Hollande’s style of ‘policing’ anti-gay ‘marriage’ protestors….and they are saying so.

  • John Fannon

    I have signed the petition.


    Sounds as though this chap has come to his conclusion, by whatever means and for whatever motive I know not, and then sought proof texts that he thinks support it.

    What did we do to deserve men of this calibre in parliament?

  • Karla

    Signed petition.

  • Richard

    The former Pope Benedict, writing in 1968, said, “For Newman conscience represents the inner complement and limit of the Church principle. Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official Church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism. Genuine ecclesiastical obedience is distinguished from any totalitarian claim which cannot accept any ultimate obligation of this kind beyond the reach of its dominating will.”

    This well expresses the traditional orthodox Catholic view. By contrast there is now a desire by some to reinvent Catholicism as a dictatorial totalitarian system which allows no disagreement with ecclesiastical authority over anything and uses tortuous reasoning to demonstrate that any disagreement must be a faulty following of conscience. This sinister movement must be resisted. Catholics have clearly lost the argument with society at large over same-sex marriage, which I deplore, but reducing the Church to a fearful tightly-knit rigidly uniform cadre anathematising anyone who thinks differently is not the way to go. It is in fact the best way of ensuring the rapid extinction of the Church. Turn back to God, trust in him and hear his words, “Do not be afraid.”

    • Richard23

      As a Catholic, one recognizes the teaching authority of the Church and therefore one is bound in conscience to follow it.

    • Richard23

      Conscience is a faculty for determining what to do in the light of the truth (which is taught by the Church), i.e. how to apply it in a specific situation, not a faculty for determining the truth per se. Therefore, it does not give licence for dissent from the teaching of the Church but only to non-compliance with a specific instruction, e.g. if the Pope were to tell you to kill someone.

  • peter

    Everyones conscience can err, but when it is properly informed in prayer and readings of the church/scripture and one comes a to a different conclusion to that of the church your conscience must be followed.
    However anyone who rejects church teaching on the basis of conscience needs to continually pray for clarity and continually keep their conscience informed. Only God knows what is in our conscience and how we form it. I don’t see conscience as a warm fuzzy feeling, nor as giving thoughtful consideration to a question, it is much much more and demands discernment.

    The German Bishops gave this to us in the 1960′s
    (1) One must have striven seriously to attach positive value to the teaching in question and to appropriate it personally.
    (2) One must seriously ponder whether one has the theological expertise to disagree responsibly with ecclesiastical authority.
    (3) One must examine one’s conscience for possible conceit, presumptuousness, or selfishness.

    For a theological understanding of conscience by a conservative theologian see Cardinal Avery Dulles thoughts on conscience. I don’t agree with it all but it is very thoughtful.

    • Sonja

      Peter – thanks for sharing the link and the insight.
      Also signed the petition – although it lumps together so many sins — it has piqued my conscience. Is a short period of co-habitation before marriage really a sin in God’d eyes? Literally it is — but I am sure people who do — do it with good conscience.

      • peter

        Vincent Twomey, a former student of Pope Benedict has wrote a good piece on conscience in the thought of Ratzinger. I think you may enjoy reading it. The essay considers conscience in terms of its primal and secondary nature. Twomey believes that Ratzinger recovers the ontological level of conscience that was lost in scholastic theology. Twomey also reflects on the place of repentance when a conscience errs. Twomey’s essay is not the final word but could be useful to someone thinking of rejecting a church teaching – it asks some hard questions.

  • BJC

    If Robert Flello has actually read CCC 1790 & 1800 one has to wonder how he managed to miss out the paragraphs in-between. Its just plain cynical on his part as far as I’m concerned and he just lies to himself. He also blatantly attempts to attach a meaning to the words of St. Bonaventure which aren’t there when in fact he’s actually saying the exact opposite of what Flello tries to imply. Its pretty twisted stuff.

    Patricia McKeever’s reply to Robert Flello here:

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