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Pre-eminence of Conscience (Wed Mar 1, 2006 9:33 am)

Wielding far more binding authority than Cardinal Pell, the CDF, or even the Pope, The Second Vatican Council formally proclaimed:

"Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and one's neighbor. Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arises both in the life of individuals and from social relationships." (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, Chapter I - "The Dignity of the Human Person," #16 -Dignity of Moral Conscience)


"Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical
authority there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. Conscience confronts [the individual] with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church." (Pope Benedict XVI [then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger], "Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II," ed. Vorgrimler, 1968, on Gaudium et spes, Part 1, Chapter 1.)

This clear and unambiguous expression of the pre-eminence of conscience over all other moral authority applies wherever and whenever moral decisions are made. While external consultation is also an essential aspect of the process in order to avoid a misinformed conscience, one's conscience judgments and decisions are the stuff of our final judgment.

We rely on Church rules to give good guidance, but they cannot define nor inhibit moral decisions. Thus, by way of examples, an annulment is not needed to justify a judgment made in good conscience, nor in itself does it justify a second marriage, nor can the damage to the Church's image ever justify the suppression of the voice of conscience against covering up clergy sexual abuse, secrecy, or the denial of accountability. We are called to be adult children of God and mature decision-makers. It is our right, supported by every authority we have. "All are bound to seek the truth in matters which concern God and Church; when they have found it, then by divine law they are bound, and have right, to embrace it and keep it." (Code of Canon Law, C. 748.1)

Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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