In today’s politically-charged and turbulent times, we are faced with a myriad of issues about which we must make choices; abortion, vaccinations, and the like. These are major issues and it can get confusing. Overlooked in this whirlwind of issues is the role of conscience. Modern government and businesses tend to trivialize conscience and its protection under the law. In some spheres, particularly health care, conscience has been ignored, even attacked. This has been happening for over a decade, regardless of governmental claims that deny it. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the USCCB's Committee for Religious Liberty, reacted with deep disappointment to the news that a very modest but critical piece of legislation—the Conscience Protection Act—was not included in the 2018 appropriations bill just released by Congress. His full statement follows:
"The failure of Congress to include the Conscience Protection Act in the 2018 omnibus appropriations bill is deeply disappointing. The CPA is an extraordinarily modest bill that proposes almost no change to existing conscience protection laws on abortion—laws that receive wide public and bi-partisan support. The CPA simply proposes to provide victims of discrimination with the ability to defend their rights in court to help ensure that no one is forced to participate in abortion. Those inside and outside of Congress who worked to defeat the CPA have placed themselves squarely into the category of extremists who insist that all Americans must be forced to participate in the violent act of abortion. We call on Congress not to give up until this critical legislation is enacted."
This has prompted Rep. Andy Harris, recently, to issue a new bill for conscience protection, with the following statement;
“Defending the conscience rights of healthcare providers should be of great interest to all Americans, and is of grave importance to me as a physician, especially in light of recent failures to do so by the Biden Administration. Secretary Becerra had committed to House Appropriators that he would ensure the protection of the legal rights of conscience for providers – but sadly this has not occurred. Therefore, this bill is necessary to dissuade employers from threatening or taking retaliation for actions by healthcare providers that should be, but aren’t being protected by this administration.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defends the role of conscience:
1776 Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.
1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:
“Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty of a threat and a promise… [Conscience] is a messenger of him who both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ”. (John Henry Cardinal Newman)
1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates 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.
The Catechism continues by teaching us the basis for the formation and education of conscience. It states;
The conscience is properly formed by attuning it to the truth. In faith we seek the will of God; by reason we apply our faith to every given situation. We must learn not only the moral law taught by the Church but also its guiding principles. We are enlightened by the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, particularly the Gospels, the Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Beatitudes. We also align our consciences to the will of God through humble prayer, contemplation of the Passion of the Christ, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and through frequent and thorough examinations of conscience. We must always look to the authoritative teachings of the Church for guidance in making moral decisions.
With a well-formed and certain conscience, we experience freedom as we rise above the ambiguities surrounding many of today’s moral questions, allowing us to see them as God perceives them rather than as the world perceives them. We also experience peace within our hearts, knowing that what our faith teaches us is the right path so that we can eschew all other options, which only lead to confusion and sin. (CCC 1783-1785)
Overall, the word literally means, “with (con) knowledge (scire)”. Therefore, it is up to all of us to educate ourselves as fully as fully as possible and to take this knowledge to our decisions regarding the polarizing issues of our day.