afraid, John Wilkins and John Cornwell, not Fr Ian Ker, who are guilty of seeking to “tidy up and flatten out” Newman’s views on conscience (Letters, April 23 and April 30), by advancing a false liberal prospectus of those views.
For all his toasting of conscience ahead of the Pope, Newman refuses Mr Wilkins or Mr Cornwell or anyone else the right of conscientious dissent in respect of papal orders or instructions except in very closely defined circumstances, which he anticipated as occurring only very rarely. He sets the bar very, very high: “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” (Letter, p258).
He makes no allowance whatsoever for dissent from papal teaching. Rather than allowing for dissent from, for example, the teaching on marital love and responsible parenthood set out in Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (a constant feature of the attitude of the Tablet, both under Mr Wilkins’s editorship and now), Newman retorts: “I say there is only one Oracle of God, the Holy Catholic Church and the Pope as her head. To her teaching I have ever desired all my thought, all my words to be conformed” (Letter, p346).
Far from adopting the position Mr Cornwell and Mr Wilkins propose, Newman himself warns us that we run the constant risk of mistaking conscience for self-will (he calls it “that counterfeit”, and instead reminds us that “A Catholic sacrifices his opinion to the Word of God, declared through His Church” (Letter, p345).
Yours faithfully, STEPHEN MORGAN St Benet’s Hall, Oxford