Conscience and Communion and Marital Issues

by Steve Ray on October 21, 2015

STEVE RAY HERE: After the excerpts from an interview with Archbishop Cupich there has been a lot of discussion raging around the issue of conscience and divorce and remarriage and gay marriage.

There’s a fear that everyone knows the laws of the Church cannot be changed but they can possibly change the way the laws are applied by making conscience override the word of God.

This article by Jimmy Akin addresses a lot of these issues and it was so excellent I thought I would post it here.

There is a good bit of conversation about how conscience may play a role in the question of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion.

For example, Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich discussed the subject at a press briefing in Rome during the synod of bishops.

What the archbishop said or was trying to say is not entirely clear to me from the quotations I’ve seen in the press, and I do not wish to speculate based on incomplete press accounts.

I have, however, received a number of queries about the role of conscience in this area, and a brief look at the question may be in order.

1) Acknowledging past abuses

Some people immediately become suspicious whenever the word “conscience” is brought up in connection with controversial moral subjects.

That’s understandable. The concept has been much abused.
After Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae there was a huge push to justify dissent from the Church’s teaching on contraception using conscience as a guise.

Dissidents were turning Jiminy Cricket’s slogan “Always let your conscience be your guide” into “Always let conscience be your guise.”

This is one of the reasons why the word “conscience” appears more than a hundred times in John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor and why the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a lengthy section specially devoted to conscience.

The concept has been profoundly abused.

And it’s no surprise that many become suspicious whenever conscience comes up in a moral controversy.

On the other hand, not every invocation of conscience is contrary to Church teaching. So what does the Church teach?

2) The primacy of conscience

It is often stressed that one must obey one’s conscience. This can be a tactical dodge to justify rejection of Church teaching, but it is not necessarily so.

The Church agrees that one must obey one’s conscience. The Catechism states:

A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself [CCC 1790].

In other words, it is a sin to defy a certain judgment of your conscience. If you are certain that you must not do something and you do it anyway, you are sinning by violating your conscience. You are similarly sinning if you are certain that you must do something and you refuse to do it.

Notice that this applies when you are certain. If you are uncertain, the situation can be different.

Even when you are certain, that doesn’t mean that the judgment of your conscience is right. The Catechism continues:

Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

What happens when a person’s conscience is wrong? Does that mean he’s off scot-free?


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tom Govern October 22, 2015 at 10:55 PM

Not sure what it means to have a “person’s conscience that is wrong”. I don’t think that conscience or truth is up for a vote. A person with a “wrong conscience” may not know it but if that persons thinking is intrinsically evil, it is the devils work. One might even call it a “possession”. I am not condemning the person but the devils position that resulted. Good example of hate the sin but love the sinner.

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