Tuesday, November 3, 2009
We've talked about conscience and the Catholic voter before on MoJ, but it's worth revisiting in the context of the Maine same-sex marriage vote. The notion that a person is only obligated to follow a well-formed conscience is in some tension with significant strands of the Catholic tradition, including the writings of St. Paul, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Abelard, and Albert the Great. In the estimation of these and other leading figures, the culpability lies in the poor formation, not in obeying the conscience that results from the poor formation. Besides running counter to much that has come before in our faith tradition, framing the Catholic voter's obligation as a duty to disregard her own conscience in the voting booth, rather than a duty to prayerfully and intentionally seek to form her conscience in the light of Church teaching, also raises tension with democratic notions of citizenship.
UPDATE: Greg Kalscheur brings to my attention this quote from Cardinal Ratzinger's Commentary on section 16 of Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:
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. [The conscience of the individual] confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal[,] which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church.