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Vatican publishes reflection on discerning essentials of faith

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When a significant portion of the Catholic faithful ignore or reject a church teaching, it is often -- but not always -- a sign that social and cultural pressures are weakening their faith or that church leaders simply have not found a way to explain the teaching, said members of the International Theological Commission.

The commission published the document "'Sensus Fidei' in the Life of the Church" on the Vatican website in late June with the approval of Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The theologians, who were appointed to the commission by Pope Benedict XVI, had been asked to explain the meaning, purpose and limits of "sensus fidei" and "sensus fidelium" -- the capacity of individual believers and of the church as a whole to discern the truth of faith.

"The sensus fidei fidelis," they said, "is a sort of spiritual instinct that enables the believer to judge spontaneously whether a particular teaching or practice is or is not in conformity with the Gospel and with apostolic faith. It is intrinsically linked to the virtue of faith itself; it flows from, and is a property of, faith."

While the validity and importance of different church teachings cannot be the subject of a popular vote, the degree to which they are or are not accepted by most Catholics is important, the commission members wrote.

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