Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The well-formed conscience as the "certain" conscience

MoJ reader Robert King offers some thoughts on our conversation about the Catholic voter and conscience:

While in the process of investigating, the individual should give the benefit of the doubt to the Church; and only when every avenue of research has been exhausted can one claim to act contrary to Church teaching in following one's conscience. The Catechism says (1790) that our obligation is to obey the "certain judgment" of our conscience. While our conscience remains uncertain, our obligation is to seek correction of our ignorance.

The less well-formed one's conscience is, the less is one's responsibility for one's actions -- to the good or to the evil. But one action for which one will always be fully responsible is to seek ever-fuller formation of one's conscience.  In short, it is not so much that one "is only obligated to follow a well-formed conscience," but that only a well-formed (i.e., certain) conscience obliges one "against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority."

I'm not sure that equating "well-formed" with "certain" is consistent with Fr. Araujo's interpretation.  There are many instances where one can imagine a Catholic voter feeling certain about the moral truth of her conviction even when it conflicts with Church teaching.  At that point, it seems, we must either defer to conscience or to ecclesiastical authority.  For example, if a Catholic voter in the 18th century, after prayerful reflection and study of relevant teachings, became certain that religious liberty is a fundamental element of a just society, should she have advocated (and voted, if given the opportunity) for religious liberty, or should she have deferred to Church teaching (at the time) against religious liberty?  My understanding of Robert's position is that she should act pursuant to her conscience; my understanding of Fr. Araujo's position is that she should defer to Church teaching.


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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