A matter of consience


If after a lot of soul searching, praying, reading the Catechism etc. can we decide against something the church teaches? Is what our consience tells us to do the final word on everything we do?


It’s OK to struggle with teachings, especially when one has a “well formed” conscience, as you describe.

I guess the question is, is the conscience in question well formed “enough” or is it a matter of our human nature rejecting a valid Church teaching?


No. As a convert, I too struggled with some of the Church’s teachings at first. But I do not now. God gave me a (very) small amount of humility, but just enough, to help me to learn about what He, through His Church, teaches and helped me to understand these teachings better and I conformed myself to them.

Let’s say that you disagreed with the Church’s teaching on, say, murder. You felt that it was okay to kill people who annoy you. More than that, you have a clear conscience in doing this because you feel it is correct. Does that make it correct?

The Church’s moral teachings have not changed. They have often been clarified with the march of technology and social issues, but they have never changed. God’s morality does not change to conform to us. Rather it is God who calls on us to change and conform to Him.


Ultimately, yes, your conscience is your final guide. See the Catechism on conscience at vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a6.htm


Something that I have to consider for myself when I think I’m right and the Church is wrong is that the Church’s teachings are not arbitrary. Great minds have considered the issues for 2000 years and have arrived at the teachings we have. Can I compare my thinking about the issue with all of that?

And if I think the Church is wrong on a particular issue, then why should I think she is right on other issues?

It’s not easy to submit one’s mind and one’s desires to the teachings of the Church. Humility is always hard.



Only if it is well-formed.

And a conscience that is well-formed is done so through the teachings of the Church, not in opposition to them.


I don’t have this in f if rount of me, but I believe St. Augustine said something to the effect that if he disagrees with the church then he assumes he’s not smart enough or too wicked…anyone knows what I’m talking about if you could post the quote (I’m at work right now, shouldn’t even be reading, but it passes the time when you are doing helpdesk work…)


Consider how the Saints “operate”, having spiritually matured past self-justifying lies. It’s quite easy to have the conceit to make oneself an exception to the rule of the obedience of faith based on one’s own opinion of oneself as having prayed, studied and thought rightly because of one’s sincerity. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus, to name only the most renowned, both explicitly said that if anything they taught contradicted their Holy Mother the Roman Catholic Church, one was to go with the Church and not with their teaching; the Gospel says that if one does not even listen to the Church, treat as a one as an unbeliever, and the late John Paul II pointed out the error of making one’s conscience as the ultimate norm in matters of morality.


If your conscience is properly formed, it cannot disagree with what The Holy Spirit reveals through The Church.


That sounds like a very circular argument…don’t get me wrong, I agree with you completely…but is there a less circular way to explain it?


Well, put it this way - if it were Jesus standing in front of you telling you that whatever Church teaching you disagree with is in fact correct teaching would you interrupt Him to say ‘sorry, Lord, I’ve thought about it, read about it and prayed about it and I really believe you’re wrong’ ??? Or would you just realise that your intellect, and your conscience, are imperfect and have led you to the wrong conclusion.

Jesus said to the Apostles ‘AS THE FATHER SENT ME, so am I sending you’. In other words with His own teaching authority. Moreover, he assured them that what they bound on earth would be bound in heaven. Not meaning that they would dictate to God, but that what they taught would always be in accord with His own teaching. Protected and guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth, as He promised. So much so that He said ‘who rejects you rejects Me’.

Knowing all of this, if and when you reject Church teaching you ARE rejecting Christ’s own teaching, no doubt about it.


Where the Church has a definitive teaching, one may not dissent from it. This is known as “heresy”. You cannot claim primacy of “conscience” in such a case.

Where the Church does not have a clear or defined teaching, one must form your conscience to the best of your ability using the doctrinal teachings and documents of the Church. Then you make your decision to the best of your ability after having formed your conscience, and must follow your conscience.

For example: Abortion is a grave sin and the Church clearly teaches there is **NO **situation in which abortion can be obtained or performed without it being a mortal sin. One cannot use “conscience” as an excuse to have an abortion.

In contrast, the Church teaches that it is a sin to miss Mass without a valid reason. The determination of *which *reasons are valid is left to the *individual *and how to apply the leeway the Church gives in this situation is where conscience formation and following one’s conscience comes in. So, I use the fact that the Church tells me I must have a good reason to miss mass, I look outside my window and see 2 feet of snow and blizzard conditions, I use my faculties of reason and my knowledge of church teaching to conclude I can miss mass in this situation without incuring sin. I can follow my conscience in this situation, even if someone else were to look at the same conditions and determine that they could make it to mass and go.


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