10/10/12 | 2 comments |
Conscience and faithful citizenship
“Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1778).
My role in this and other columns is to teach; to proclaim, as your bishop, the teachings of the Church so that the Truth becomes a lens through which we can evaluate the issues before us in this election, regardless of ideologies or political parties. Previously, I have discussed the responsibility of Catholics to engage the culture, be active participants in the public square, and make our informed, responsible voices heard in the political process.
To that end, we must be true to our conscience. Indeed that is our right, our duty, as children of God. However, so often, when we hear someone talk of “following my conscience” it would seem that means “doing whatever I think is right” without any sense of fundamental moral criteria, let alone proper formation. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to properly form our consciences, and I, as your Bishop, have the sacred responsibility to assist you in the process of formation. I cannot allow the hyper-partisanship of our civic culture and the disapproval of some in government, the news media, and even some of our fellow Catholics to dissuade me from discussing the moral dimension of the issues we face, and how some issues command greater emphasis than other.
So, then, what does “following one’s conscience” or “being true to our conscience” really mean? It means following one’s conscience properly formed by the Church’s official teaching. As then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger stated in 1991 in his address “Conscience and Truth,” conscience is “understood as a ‘co-knowing’ with the truth.”
“Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teaching of the Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1783).
“In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord's Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1785).
In terms of voting on issues as we “follow our conscience,” I echo what we U.S. Bishops have stated:
“Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. Our faith does not ask us to be one issue voters. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-informed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods.” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2007).
Catholics must always oppose positions or issues that approve of, endorse or continue intrinsic evil. Intrinsically evil acts are a matter of grave sin, and if we as Catholics support candidates who espouse polices that enable or promote such acts, we risk moral complicity to the point of mortal sin. Logically, intrinsic evils that endanger human life itself must be first among the issues of concern. As the popes and the bishops have consistently taught, abortion, which destroys the innocent life in the womb, is foremost among them. After all, if we do not protect life at its most vulnerable, defenseless and totally innocent state, then there will be no life later on to develop, to enrich and to protect. Other concerns must fall aside when the threat to the very beginning of life is at stake.
To be sure, many issues matter to Catholics, not only among policies bearing on intrinsic evils, such as abortion or genocide, but those that advance the common good and improve the lives of our fellow citizens. Though at times difficult, and even contrary to the partisan allegiances we may retain, Catholics can educate themselves in the teachings of the Church and prayerfully discern issues in light well-informed consciences.
Our Virginia Catholic Conference has prepared two new resources that aim to educate and inform Catholics about key issues in this campaign. “Know the Positions of the Presidential Candidates” is a side-by-side look at the two major party presidential candidates on 10 issues important to Catholics. The Conference compiled the information from the candidates’ policies, public statements and official and campaign websites to help Catholics inform their consciences before voting. “The 2012 U.S. Senate Candidates Survey Response Chart” was compiled after the Conference polled both candidates for Virginia’s open U.S. Senate seat. These and other resources can be found at http://www.vacatholic.org/, and I urge you to read them.
In my next column, I will talk more specifically about the issues that are at stake in this election and what our faith teaches us about the choices facing us. It is said at every election that “this will be the most important vote you ever cast,” but I believe it can be said that this year Catholics face very serious choices bearing directly on human life and our very freedom to live as full citizens. That is not to say that, ultimately, the deepening crises in society can be solved by politics, or that one party presents itself as a clear and total ally, but we must make the best choices we can, rooted in the truth, concerning the weighty issues before us.