This week I continue with excerpts from the American bishop’s pastoral letter on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. One of the questions the bishops respond to in this document is, “How does the Church help the Catholic faithful to speak about political and social concerns?” They begin to answer the question by trying to help us develop a well-formed conscience.
Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempt to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith.
Aided by the virtue of prudence in the exercise of well-formed consciences, Catholics are called to make practical judgments regarding good and evil choices in the political arena.
There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor…A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia.
Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.
The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights – to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors – basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education and
meaningful work – is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs.
The bishops see two temptations that can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity. The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong must always be opposed.
The second temptation is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, war crimes, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.
If you are interested in reading the document you can access it through the bishops’ web site: http://www.usccb.org.