What Does the Church Say About…
All of us have at least a minimal moral sense of right and wrong, but the complex choices that
face us require that we train or form this moral sense. We call this “formation of conscience,” a lifelong task that requires the ability to see the reality before us clearly and to make sound decisions based on reason, Scripture, Church teaching, advice from others, and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Catholics frequently ask about the relationship between conscience and Church teaching as though we have to choose one or the other. I have heard people say, “Either I follow Church teaching or I follow my conscience.” In fact there is a delicate balance between the Church’s moral teaching, which is rooted in Scripture and sifted through centuries of human experience, and the autonomy of conscience. The two are not in opposition. Conscience is an ability or skill that uses Church teaching in order to arrive at a concrete moral decision, here and now. Conscience is the only way in which we can see the moral world before us. Like a lens, it may be cloudy or cracked, but it is still essential to moral discernment.
The Catechism tells us we “must always obey the certain judgment of…conscience” (CCC 1790), but it is important to note that for a conscientious decision to be both correct and certain, it must flow from a conscience that is well-formed and sincere in its search for the right answer. A sincere search means we really want to know what is right, what is really fulfilling, even if it is difficult to carry out in practice. Moral carelessness or deliberate failure to inform ourselves to the fullest extent possible makes us liable to sin. In an effort to ensure we are not opening ourselves up to “moral carelessness” let’s make sure we are informed to the “fullest extent possible” by exploring what the Church has to say about some controversial subjects, many of which are at the forefront of the media we consume and the conversations we engage in regularly.
—Fr. Charles E. Bouchard, OP, STD
The Church and the Death Penalty
In August 2018, Pope Francis made headlines around the world as he changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty (CCC 2267):
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.