CCC 1782 - We can make our own moral decisions?


I was discussing ‘conscience’ with a Catholic friend of mine (very unorthodox in many of his beliefs) who brought up this paragraph in the catechism:

1782: Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. *“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.”

*I have always been taught that we need to act according to our conscience, but that our conscience needs to be first well-formed in the teachings of the church. My friend told me this paragraph proves that isn’t true- it doesn’t say our conscience must be formed in this way, just that we need to decide for ourselves how we are to act.

I’m not quite sure how to respond to his point given the CCC passage above? Can anyone help me?


Your friend stopped reading at a convenient spot. Read on:II. The Formation of Conscience****1783 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 teachings.1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path;54 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.551790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man "takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin."59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he


Yes, very convenient.


This is my concise understanding of conscience and following it (underlined sentences):

  1. Conscience is the desire put in our hearts by God to "do good and avoid evil.

  2. It is God who determines what is good and what is evil. (If we try to do it ourselves, we are usurping God’s roll; like Adam and Eve in the garden. Note the name of the tree they ate from.)

  3. We need to learn what God has determined is good and what He has determined as evil in order to follow our conscience. He has revealed this information to mankind through Scripture and continues to reveal it through His Church.

  4. Having learned what is good and evil, we apply it to concrete situations. Here is where we carry out the act of “following our conscience”.

(Eg. Teachings we learned:

  1. Taking innocent human life is evil.
  2. Human life begins at the moment of conception.

Conscience working, applying it in a concrete situation: I’m pregnant and am being pressured to have an abortion. The fetus in me is a living, innocent person and it is wrong to kill innocent life. Therefore, if I choose to have an abortion I am choosing to commit an evil act.



In Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II makes the point that conscience is the faculty that takes general moral principles and applies them to particular situations. This is important to understand because many people think that the conscience can determine moral principles when, in reality, it cannot determine them but only apply them.

Veritatis Splendor is all about this topic.


I would like to start off by saying that this may deserve to be an entirely new thread, but here goes…

I am currently having a little debate with a deacon of ours on this subject. In the RCIA class that he leads, he gave as an example of obeying one’s conscience over the Church the same example used in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism.

Catholicism for Dummies to help.]

Anyway, the example cited is one where a couple has three children when they did not want to have three children. One is given the impression that they did not want any at all. They were using the Rhythm Method, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who uses NFP instead. They decide that three is enough and start using birth control, even though they know it is against Church teaching.

My deacon thinks that there’s nothing wrong with this, while I think that there’s plenty wrong with it. This is the important part, folks: I need to focus on the use of this as a (very) bad example. It’s quite easy to delve into WHY it is a bad example, but after discussing it with the deacon in question, and asking several other Catholics in and out of the RCIA program, and writing the deacon and letter, and having a follow up discussion with the deacon, and more discussions with others in the RCIA program, I do not believe I am going to change his mind.

His defense? He said it had to be a well-formed conscience (which he did and which it must). The idea that a well-formed conscience would lead one to an abortifacient birth control pill is completely loonie, aside from the moral problems realting to other forms of birth control. He has not said outright that birth control is OK, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. The inquirers of the RCIA class, I believe, may have received a different notion.

What I aim to do for the benefit of the class is give to the Deacon a better example of how one’s conscience might outweigh what the Church teaches, or more precisely, what one hear’s a Church authority figure saying that the Church teaches.

If I am not satisfied after this, I have no problem chasing this issue to the pastor, bishop and the Vatican if I must.

So, that’s what I’m looking for – a good example. Some of Joan of Arc’s decisions certainly come to mind. Any others? Concrete historical examples may be best, since there’s no wiggle room, but I’ll take a theoretical one also.



I’m glad you’ve come to that conclusion. You’re absolutely right. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Catholicism–at least the first and second editions–contains very serious errors regarding the Church’s teaching and practice.

For a few examples of the many errors in this book, read my review of this book.


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