Tuesday, March 7, 2006

A Question of Conscience

By Judith

A news report this morning informed us that some Congressional Democrats issued a statement saying that they were tired of being labeled Good Catholics and Bad Catholics. Most all of them agreed on issues such as helping the poor, social policy, being good stewards of the environment, etc. The labels were applied because of - of course - abortion. And even if some of them were pro-life and others were pro-choice, they were all pulling together because, after all, they were all proceeding in "good conscience."

"Good conscience" is one of those phrases that is often bandied about (rather like "in the spirit of Vatican II") as though it were automatically a good thing. You can't take someone to task for his opinion or action if he is doing something in "good conscience."

But just what is "good conscience?" Is it personal opinion? Is it a deep feeling? Is it a state one arrives at after much thought and scientific study?

Let's see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the matter:

Article 6 Moral Conscience

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed.

1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice.

1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

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.

1794 ...The more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by objective standards of moral conduct.

As with so many other things, conscience can either be used for good or for ill. But to use the word glibly, from a stance of moral superiority, - "I oppose abortion in my private life, but in good conscience I must support it in public life" - is always wrong. A Catholic person - in public or private life - must have his conscience formed according to the "true good," and this means that the will of God, not the will of the individual, must take precedence. Any Catholic knows what the position of the Church is on abortion. How can he, therefore, decide that it is acceptable to declare himself in opposition to the teaching of the Church and claim to be doing it in "good conscience?"

Perhaps if a pro-choice politician is labeled a Bad Catholic his accuser is just doing it in "good conscience."

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