A Guilty Conscience And
Adolescent Spiritual Direction

A guilty conscience in a teenage boy worried him. And so he went to see his parish priest for spiritual guidance and direction.

For a person who acts not knowing whether he is offending God or not, and yet consenting to do what he thinks to be morally wrong, thereby offends his Creator. In cases of serious doubt regarding the lawfulness of his action, the penitent must ask the advice of his director.

The Catholic Encyclopedia

The boy was a professional actor...and that created the problem.

There is a movie titled L.I.E. about adolescents who are struggling to form core values from all the parental, peer pressure, and sexual 'noise' around them.

One of the boys in the group, with an absence of conscience, is having his first sexual experiences with his sister...and this gets discussed among the boys and what could result from it (the consensus was "a two-headed baby").

However, the young actor who was playing the incestuous brother is...in real life...a devout catholic according to the special features section of the DVD.

According to the director's commentary...

The young man's guilty conscience was bothering him about playing the part of a sexually amoral teenager.

He knew that sexual relations between brother and sister were wrong...and yet he couldn't put his troubled conscience to rest. And so he visited his priest.

And the priest heard the boy's concerns about a catholic playing such a part...and that the boy had spiritual doubts that he should take the part.

And with no apparent justification...the priest resolved the issue for the boy by saying "It's just a movie."

And the boy's guilty conscience was soothed and he took the part.

And though the boy's troubled conscience was lulled in this scenario...

there's a sense that something isn't quite right.

And so we ask the obvious question...

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Was the priest doing ministry?

There was a conflict between the character the boy would play and the boy's core values. This led to a guilty conscience and the boy sought help in resolving the contradiction between his core values and his conscience.

This situation called for spiritual direction which is a ministry activity because...

Ministry is...

Religious Activity...

that brings both minister and people

closer to God

And we can ask whether there was any ministry done, any spiritual direction done, in this case?

Well...it started off as ministry...but it got off the track with the "spiritual direction" that resulted.

When the priest said..."It's just a movie"...

he told the boy to ignore his guilty conscience

and to take the part even though it offended

his moral sensibility.

And the boy...influenced by an important adult in his life...followed the "spiritual direction" and took the part.

You would have to conclude that the minister was not doing ministry. It was not the religious activity of spiritual counseling and by redirecting a troubled conscience the minister was not bringing himself and the boy closer to God.

Spiritual abuse offered as spiritual direction

The guilty conscience of the boy in this example...illustrates spiritual abuse, not spiritual direction. Here's why...

Spiritual abuse occurs when some moral authority makes an intervention that helps undo the conscience of another...so that the conscience cannot act as the moral and spiritual guide that it is.

The priest...

  • should have undertaken the formation of conscience not the annihilation of conscience... and helped the boy to examine...specifically...what the contradictions were in the boy's troubled conscience.
  • He should have helped the boy reestablish his core moral values and bring them to bear on the boy's decision about whether or not to take the part.
  • In short, he should have helped the boy to act according to his conscience... and not against it.

And instead, the priest ignored the conscience issue entirely and thereby taught the boy not to pay attention to his conscience...to his moral code...by simply dismissing it.

And here is the Lord's suggested penalty...

Whoever causes one of these little ones

who believe in me to sin...

it would be better for him

to have a great millstone hung around his neck...

and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Matthew 18:6

He taught the boy that when doubtful about whether an action is right for him or not...to minimize...rather than affirm...his conscience...his moral values...his core values...and not be guided by them.

And the priest should have known that it was not "just a movie". Because movies have a great deal of influence in forming cultural values...especially among the young.

And given the definition of ministry above...it is clear that this "spiritual direction" cannot be called ministry.

Encouraging a boy with a moral conflict to ignore his guilty conscience does not bring both minister and people closer to God and is not ministry. It is spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse under the guise of spiritual direction is false ministry and denounced by Jesus as evildoing (Mt.7:21)

For another example of this type of "spiritual direction"...you can go from this guilty conscience page to the formation of conscience page.


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