In a recent letter to this magazine, Wilfred Jones, a younger, and clearly devout Catholic, describes his and his friends’ doubts about Pope Francis’s approach to Catholic teachings on human sexuality.

Yes, it is messy. Many years ago I suggested that we would be helped by a computer program which, written correctly, would solve any moral choice and even estimate the proper penance for defiance. It may still be valuable for some, but I doubt if Pope Francis would use it. In trying to deduce his direction of travel, I can only speculate.

Several decades ago I had 10 years of Jesuit education, for which I am grateful. The moral teaching which I received was comprehensive and firm. I knew exactly where I stood. It conformed to Fr Henry Davis SJ’s Moral and Pastoral Theology: “[The Church] says to the child you must be good in the way I teach you to be good, so that afterwards you may know how to be good.”

Such an explicit view is, of course, most comforting to those who find their security through certainty, but there is a price to be paid. As one educator, commenting in the 1960s on a survey of schoolgirls, wrote “… the autonomy of conscience, fundamental to Christianity, has practically disappeared from our teaching”. A secondary price is that, according to temperament, it can lead to intolerance or scrupulous fear.

“If you love me, keep my commandments” would seem to settle the matter. But we need to remember that it is not the law which saves; only love can do that. The law is there to formulate the principles which guide us into loving action.

As Bernard Häring wrote: “One who is exclusively concerned with the normative formula, without being taken up with the value which is its foundation, will inevitably descend to moribund legality.”

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