What is an 'informed conscience'?


#1

I wish to join the CC and am taking steps to do so. The words ‘informed conscience’ are often used, but I do not know what people mean when they use them.

How do I know if I have an ‘informed conscience’? How do I know if I am getting an ‘informed conscience’?

I think this is important if we talk about Catholic teachings that are on one hand authoritative, but on the other hand do allow what some call ‘wiggle room’ - usually applied to protestant doctrine. In this case we can apply it to Catholic practice.

For example, in the area of moral theology, the Church’s rule is that Catholics are not to use artificial birth control methods. There are however exceptions to the law in certain cases.

Canon law describes two principles in such a case: the principle of double effect, and the principle of the lesser of two evils. The principle of double effect means that following the Church’s rule against artificial contraception has two outcomes: in this case (1) prevention of conception and (2) prevention of infection with, say HIV, which would lead almost inevitably to death in many instances.

This is where the lesser of two evils principle and the application of informed conscience comes into effect: the primary aim of the Church is to facilitate procreation, but prevention of infection and life-saving may be the choice of the ‘informed conscience’.

Morally, the ‘informed conscience’ cannot choose evil, but if contronted by two potential but antithetical outcomes, may at least choose one of the two (or more) options.

I would be grateful for advice.


#2

Hi Carol,

An informed conscience is one that has done its best to learn and reflect about the morality of certain acts.

I suggest you read the chapter of the *Catechism of the Catholic Church *on the subject of conscience.

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a6.htm#1783

Verbum


#3

The Catechism is an excellent source on this topic.

As to your specific examples, the Church allows no exception to its doctrine on contraception.

The Principle Of Double Effect does not allow contraception. It allows one to procure medically necessary operations, etc, that have the effect of rendering the person sterile. That’s NOT contraception.

You have misunderstood “lesser of two evils” as the Church in NO way allows one to use a condom to prevent HIV-- continence is the solution in such a situation.


#4

"How do I know what my conscience is telling me?"
That’s really quite a profound question. However we do have at least some sense of right and wrong.

However it is quite easy to know whether your conscience is informed or not. Do you or do you not understand the teachings of the Church to the best of your intellectual ability?

On contraception, the problem is that this teaching is proving too hard for many Catholics to follow. Exceptional situations in which conscience may dictate to use contraception - the woman who needs to work as prostitute to feed her child, for instance - are misrepresented as being for the average Catholic, and then used as a get-out clause to enable them to use contraceptives. Maybe it is better to fudge these issues and lose a single point or morals rather than drive people out of the Church and lose a thousand.


#5

Would you please post the Canon that you are using?

The double effect is not choosing the lesser of two evils. Double effect is that of intent. For instance, in tubal pregnancy, the intent is to remove a diseased tube rather than killing the baby which is an unintended side effect. One may never do evil in order to accomplish a good.

1789 Some rules apply in every case:

  • One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
  • the Golden Rule: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."56
  • charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: "Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ."57 Therefore "it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble."58

The principle of double effect means that following the Church’s rule against artificial contraception has two outcomes: in this case (1) prevention of conception and (2) prevention of infection with, say HIV, which would lead almost inevitably to death in many instances.

This has nothing to do with double effect. It has nothing to do with why the Church is against artificial contraception.


#6

It is not to hard for Catholics to follow. There are not exceptional situations. You may never do evil prostitution is an evil. There is no way that it could ever be justified. To “fudge” these issues is to cause eternal death. Better to die a horrible earthly death than to loose your soul for all eternity.


#7

Thank you. I am sorry but my canon lawyer says you are wrong: Catholics can make a choice based on informed conscience between two evils, and choose the lesser of the two. I have discussed this at length.

The Church has been advised to permit, within the aegis of its teaching on double principle, the use of condoms to prevent death, as it is clear that continence, abstinence, is not a choice for many people. This is a fact.


#8

This does not tell me when I *know *that it is informed, that it is correctly infused with acceptable perceptions of right and wrong. I may have done my best, but my best may not be good enough. And how do I know if it is good enough, when it is good enough?


#9

What official church teaching states this? This is not a “fact”.


#10

When you have applied all of the ability God has given you to know the truth, regardless of whether that is the intellect of a 2 year old or a MENSA member.


#11

We know that it takes a lifetime and more to achieve this. We also know that for the disadvantaged, the undereducated and the hungry, the impoverished, the AIDS orphans growing up unsocialised by parental, educational or faith-based control, this thesis cannot be applied.

On contraception, the problem is that this teaching is proving too hard for many Catholics to follow. Exceptional situations in which conscience may dictate to use contraception - the woman who needs to work as prostitute to feed her child, for instance - are misrepresented as being for the average Catholic, and then used as a get-out clause to enable them to use contraceptives. Maybe it is better to fudge these issues and lose a single point or morals rather than drive people out of the Church and lose a thousand.

I have mentioned canon law principles of double outcome and lesser of two evils. I think that your sense of the despair of many otherwise faithful Catholics makes it even more important to recognise that there are choices, not just about contraception, but about other issues that impact negatively on one’s faith within the community of the Church. I would agree fudging is better than driving out in limited circumstances: it is better to keep the sheep in the fold with the Master, than to drive them out one by one into darkness and to take the consequences of that decision - which for me seems antithetical to the intentions of either the Church or of Christ.


#12

For instance, in tubal pregnancy, the intent is to remove a diseased tube rather than killing the baby which is an unintended side effect

medically speaking that is total rhubarb
the pregnancy has to be destroyed in tubal pregnancy, and certainly the salpinx or Fallopian tube can be preserved via microsurgery
so that is very definitely wrong


#13

This is rather new and I haven’t kept up with it. You are not entirely correct.

reatment of an ectopic pregnancy varies, depending on its size and location and whether you want the ability to conceive again.

An early ectopic pregnancy can sometimes be treated with an injection of methotrexate, which dissolves the fertilized egg and allows your body to reabsorb it. This nonsurgical approach minimizes scarring of your pelvic organs.

If the pregnancy is further along, you’ll likely need surgery to remove the abnormal pregnancy. In the past, this was a major operation, requiring general anesthesia and a large incision across the pelvic area. This may still be necessary in cases of emergency or extensive internal injury.

However, the pregnancy may sometimes be removed using laparoscopy, a less invasive surgical procedure. The surgeon makes a small incision in the lower abdomen and then inserts a laparoscope. This long, hollow tube with a lighted end allows the doctor to view internal organs and insert other instruments as needed. Sometimes, a second small abdominal incision is made for the instruments. The ectopic pregnancy is then surgically removed and any damaged organs are repaired or removed. General or regional anesthesia may be used.

Whatever your treatment, the doctor will want to see you regularly afterward to make sure your hCG levels return to zero. This may take up to 12 weeks. An elevated hCG could mean that some ectopic tissue was missed. This tissue may have to be removed using methotrexate or additional surgery.

Quite frankly it does not undermine my initial comment which was intent of an act decides double effect. Perhaps another example would explain it better. A woman has a cancer. She must have it removed. Normally no problem. She is also pregnant. She does not wish an abortion but to remove the cancer might cause an abortion. That is double effect. What the OP described as double effect was inaccurate.


#14

St. Catherine of Siena explained it well. Your conscience is like a guard dog that barks and alerts you to evil, sin, temptation, etc. But, you have to feed the dog. If you don’t feed him, he becomes weaker and weaker until he no longer barks anymore. We have to feed our conscience with the word of God as proclaimed and taught by Holy Church :thumbsup:

An informed conscience is a well-fed conscience. A lot of people think conscience means they can do whatever they feel like even if it contradicts Holy Church–since they feel like doing it, they’re conscience must be telling them its ok. Folks like this usually have a starved conscience and its their passions and the evil one they are actually listening to. A well-fed conscience should never contradict Holy Church.


#15

This is rather new and I haven’t kept up with it. You are not entirely correct

in what respect am I incorrect? your cut and paste does not disagree with what I’ve said at all
I have shown what you have said is wrong
the primary effect of treatment in ectopic pregnancy is to destroy the pregnancy - that is not double effect at all
in any case, why not allow that same double effect principle to apply to condom use?


#16

Canon Law does not cover this subject. You miss understand double effect and there is not such thing as lesser of two evils. You may never choose evil.
If you have been told this by a canon lawyer, than you better get another one because he is not teaching you what the Church teaches. He will not be able to provide a canon law that backs him up.


#17

We can never use evil means to any end. What we can do is use good means to a good end, even if there is an unintended evil side-effect.


#18

Carol,

Conscience is the practical dictate of reason concerning the morality of some act about to be performed. It may command, forbid, or permit. In order to act with subjective moral rectitude, a man must obey his conscience when it is certain. Moral certitude is sufficient. Since conscience is, as it were, the herald of God, and is the only guide to right moral action that man possesses, God judges man on the basis of his obeying the dictates of conscience.

There are different kinds of consciences, namely, true, false, strict, lax, certain, doubtful, probable, scrupulous, perplexed.

The true conscience dictates what is, in fact, morally correct; the false conscience dictates what is, in fact, morally incorrect.

Thr strict conscience dictates according to the strictest interpretation of the law; it may be correct, but also it may err on the side of severity; the lax conscience minimizes or eliminates obligations without sufficient reasons.

The certain conscience is the conscience of one who is subjectively certain that the dictates of his conscience are correct. The doubtful conscience is that of one who doubts as to the correctness of his dictates. The certain conscience may be erroneous, for man is not infallible in his judgments, but he who acts with a certain conscience is not aware of any error and must obey the conscience which he has. On the contrary, one may not obey a doubtful conscience, for to act in doubt is to risk offending God.

A probable conscience is one that relies on probably valid reasons.

A scrupulous conscience is that of one who, without reason, is in trepidation as to the moral correctness of his action. It is always erroneous.

A perplexed conscience is the conscience of one who is confronted with alternatives each of which appears to be morally wrong.

Hope this helps! :tiphat:

Tomster


#19

Hi Carol,

This does not tell me when I *know *that it is informed, that it is correctly infused with acceptable perceptions of right and wrong. I may have done my best, but my best may not be good enough. And how do I know if it is good enough, when it is good enough?

Nobody can ask you more than your best. You know when you have done everything you could. You may be objectively wrong, but you are subjectively right. We are dealing here with a merciful God.

Verbum


#20

Carol,

An examination of conscience is sometimes quite necessary. For those Catholics who have not confessed for a long time this examination is may be seriously necessary. For those who confess frequently a brief examination is sufficient. For the scrupulous a very brief examination is sufficient; indeed, protracted examination in their case may be harmful.

The examination of conscience must normally be a diligent one, suitable, however, to the penitent. Those exposed to many temptations, if not scrupulous, should examine their conscience with great care. Carelessness in this matter leads to a blunting of conscience. The sick who are too depressed to examine the conscience should be assisted by the confessor. The careless Catholic who neglects and stays away from the Sacraments all year sorely needs the help of the confessor to discover his sins.

A written list of sins is sometimes useful but not for the scrupulous. The list of sins in prayer books will help the lax Catholic.

When a penitent’s examination of conscience has obviously been insufficient, or the confession perfunctory, the confessor should ask questions. In rare cases, a careless penitent should be dismissed in order to examine his conscience carefully, but the procedure is not usually prudent for the penitent may not return; he may have done his best, so that on occassion the confessor may make the examination of conscience for him by asking questions.

Hope this helps, :tiphat:

Tomster


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