At my parish, I assist the leader several times per year with a “Catholics Returning Home” course, consisting of about 15 hours of class time over several weeks. The leader is an excellent teacher and 98% of what he says is clearly in line with the Magisterium. However, he teaches a view of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about conscience which I fear may be leading people astray, so I would appreciate some comments from the forum members.
In explaining the role of the well-formed conscience, he concludes that conscience is the voice of the Holy Spirit within our hearts, and thus conscience “can override the teachings of the Church.” I do not read the CCC to say that at all; rather, it makes clear that, while we are bound to follow our well-formed conscience, it is still quite possible to make erroneous judgments and end up committing sin. The CCC also explicitly states that it is never acceptable to do evil so that good may result.
The leader never mentions this aspect of the CCC discussion. He uses as an example a case in which a married couple, after serious and long discernment which included consultation with the pastor, with other priests in the Diocese, and studying the CCC, decided their conscience dictated the husband could proceed with a vasectomy because having additional children had been deemed a possibly fatal risk to his wife by her OB-GYN. While the leader never comes out and says this was the right moral decision, he holds it up as an example of someone acting on a well-formed conscience.
I think his presentation of this issue is incorrect. In my view, if a person decides as a “matter of conscience” to do something the Church clearly teaches is sinful, even after having in good faith engaged in serious discernment, with full knowledge of what the Church teaches and why, they have still committed a sin, although their level of moral culpability may be reduced. In other words, conscience cannot override Church teaching.
Thank you in advance for your comments.