Skip to main content


What Vatican II did, and didn't, teach about conscience

4/29/2004 - 5:00 AM PST

Advertisment

by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Denver

Elections and voting booths are never `faith-free' zones

Vatican II must be the most widely praised and rarely followed council in Catholic history at least when it comes to candidates and voters.

Catholics who appeal to the "spirit of Vatican II" and claim to be following their consciences when they ignore Catholic teaching on issues of vital public importance would be wise to revisit what the council actually said.

What did Vatican II teach about conscience?

The council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) defines conscience "as 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" (16).

The council added that, "Through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems that arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience (emphasis added) prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct" (16).

In its Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), the council went on to say that, "It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity, so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters" (3). So far, so good. We're always obligated to follow our consciences. But, if we're serious in our Catholic faith, we also need to acknowledge that conscience does not "invent" truth. Rather, conscience must seek truth out, and conform itself to the truth once discovered no matter how inconvenient. Conscience is never just a matter of personal opinion or private preference. It never exists in a vacuum of individual sovereignty. It is not a pious alibi for doing what we want, or what might get us elected.

Here's the key to understanding conscience:

Just as John the Baptist demanded conversion, repentance, humility and honesty from ancient Israel, so a right conscience speaks to the individual heart. And always, as Vatican II noted in its Declaration on Religious Liberty, ". . . (I)n forming their consciences, the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority (emphasis added) the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature" (14).

Vatican II can never be invoked as an alibi for Catholics ignoring grave public evil or failing to act on their faith in the political sphere. That's a distortion of the council's message. It also misreads the U.S. Constitution. America's Founding Fathers did not say, and never intended, that religious faith should be excluded from civic debate. They intended one thing only: to prevent the establishment of an official state church. A purely secular interpretation of the "separation of church and state" would actually result in the "separation of state and morality." And that would be a catastrophe for real pluralism and the democratic process.

If we're sincere about our faith, "conscience" can never be used as an excuse for dismissing what the Church teaches by pointing to her theological critics, voter surveys or public opinion polls, and then doing what we find more convenient. That's dishonest. And God made us for something better than that.

Contact

Archdiocese of Denver
http://www.archden.org  CO, US
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap. - Archbishop of Denver, 303 722-4687

Email

info@yourcatholicvoice.org

Keywords

Chaput, Election, Vote, Catholic

Rate This Article

Very Helpful Somewhat Helpful Not Helpful at All

Yes, I am Interested No, I am not Interested

Rate Article

0 Comments

Leave a Comment

Comments submitted must be civil, remain on-topic and not violate any laws including copyright. We reserve the right to delete any comments which are abusive, inappropriate or not constructive to the discussion.

Though we invite robust discussion, we reserve the right to not publish any comment which denigrates the human person, undermines marriage and the family, or advocates for positions which openly oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is a supervised forum and the Editors of Catholic Online retain the right to direct it.

We also reserve the right to block any commenter for repeated violations. Your email address is required to post, but it will not be published on the site.

We ask that you NOT post your comment more than once. Catholic Online is growing and our ability to review all comments sometimes results in a delay in their publication.

Send me important information from Catholic Online and it's partners. See Sample

Post Comment


Newsletter Sign Up

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 26:1-9
At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:6, 8-10, 14
Those who hope in you must not be made fools of, Yahweh ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 13:54-58
and, coming to his home town, he taught the people in their ... Read More

Saint of the Day

August 1 Saint of the Day

St. Alphonsus Marie Liguori
August 1: Bishop, Doctor of the Church, and the founder of the ... Read More