Countering the "my conscience" argument


What prompted me to write this was a series given by a parish priest entitled something like “Dissent in the Catholic Church” with topics such as:

1.) Criteria for Dissent
2.) Divorce and Remarriage
3.) Contraception

With the recommended reading: Why You Can Disagree & Remain a Faithful Catholic
I did not attend so I can’t comment on what was actually said.

There is a wealth of information out there about “primacy of conscience.” It’s what I would call a typical Catholic disagreement- one that falls down the very familiar lines of conservative and liberal. Maybe better terms would be orthodox and heterodox… Whenever this argument is used, it almost always is used to justify not submitting to ecclesiastical authority on moral issues such as abortion (not usually), homosexuality (frequently), divorce (even more frequently), and contraception (routinely). Unlike many other arguments out there, “primacy of conscience” has *some *evidence. To me it is obvious that is this a widely misused and misunderstood teaching i.e. no one’s informed conscience can disagree with these teachings.

My questions are as follows:

1.) What is the authoritative teaching on primacy? If you are able, please direct me on where you are getting this (esp. from Vatican II).

2.) How can one persuasively argue that “primacy of conscience” cannot be used to object to moral teachings such as the ones described above?

3.) What is a good guideline to give people so that the “primacy of conscience” principle is not negated, but at the same time does not allow people to contradict the continuous moral teachings of the Church?



Conscience, in order to be followed, must be properly formed and informed. I get the feeling that many Catholics (and non-Catholics as well) reject Church teachings without fully understanding them, for reasons of conscience.


Here’s the summary points of what the catechism says. Basically it says we must follow our conscience but we must also form our conscience according to God’s law. The assertion that Catholics can site their conscience to go against controversial Church teachings is false. You can view the full section on conscience here:


1795 “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS 16).

1796 Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.

1797 For the man who has committed evil, the verdict of his conscience remains a pledge of conversion and of hope.

1798 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. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.

1799 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.

1801 Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.

1802 The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit