Tag Archives: Gospel of Life

Matters of Conscience

4 Oct

When it comes to controversial moral teachings like contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, why can’t I just follow my conscience? In fact, I was taught that we were always supposed to follow our conscience.

I’m sure many of us have heard this sort of objection to the Church’s moral teachings on hot button issues. People either disagree with the Church on these issues and/or have chosen a lifestyle incompatible with this teaching and are looking for a little wiggle room. But how does the Church herself understand such objection to established moral norms?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies the “assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience” as a source of error of judgment in moral conduct (no. 1792). It is true that one should not be forced to act against one’s conscience. But it’s quite another to assert that a Catholic with a well-formed conscience may put the Church’s teachings in the areas of faith and morals through his or her own “approval process.”

Some Catholic commentators assert that a well-formed conscience and official Catholic teaching may come to opposite conclusions in moral matters. This opinion directly contradicts paragraph 2039 of the Catechism: “Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.”

A Catholic simply cannot claim to have a well-formed and well-informed conscience if he is ignorant of, misunderstands, or rejects outright God’s law and thus commits acts that the Church considers gravely disordered. Continue reading

The Church and Capital Punishment

8 May

When it comes to the controversial topic of capital punishment, Catholics are often divided along political lines: Political conservatives tend to favor capital punishment, while political liberals tend to oppose it.

But are the Church’s teachings on the death penalty so bland and/or confusing that our political affiliation should, by default, form our perspectives on the issue?

It seems that much of the disagreement on this subject stems from the fact that we have not allowed ourselves to be formed by the Church’s teachings in their fullness and that, at times, we have received a distorted presentation of such teachings. While immersing ourselves in the Church’s teachings will not eliminate all disagreement, it will at least allow us to understand the parameters of authentic plurality and perhaps come to a deeper appreciation of God’s plan for all humanity.

Now, the Church has never taught that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. Moreover, the Church has always recognized that the state has the authority, in certain circumstances, to impose the death penalty on one who has committed a “capital offense.” This point immediately distinguishes capital punishment from acts such as abortion and euthanasia, which are intrinsically evil and thus ought never to be chosen (Bl. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae [“EV”], nos. 62, 65 [1995]), and certainly can never be legitimized by the state (EV 73).

So abortion and capital punishment are not morally equivalent, even though it should be self-evident that fundamental principles concerning the right to life should inform our thought on both topics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, despite its well-publicized opposition to the use of capital punishment, does not categorically condemn the practice. Rather, it affirms that in appropriate cases “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty” (Catechism, no. 2267).

This “traditional teaching” is found in the Roman Catechism produced following the Council of Trent (1545-63) and in the writings of many noteworthy saints, such as St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Paul himself taught that civil government bears the sword as the agent of God’s vengeance and therefore is “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4).

Recognizing that the Church has always admitted that the death penalty can be a justifiable exercise of the state’s authority, we now examine why the Church opposes capital punishment today. Continue reading