Our conscience can be described as our knowledge of ourselves, our awareness of the moral principles we are committed to, and our motivation to act.
One of the most fundamental teachings in the Catholic tradition is the primacy of conscience. This doctrine states that Catholics must use their reason to discern ethically complex situations and that our individual consciences should be the final arbiter in all moral decision-making.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that we have the right to act in conscience and in freedom to make moral decisions and that no one should be forced to act contrary to their consciences.
As Catholics, we believe that we must use all of the resources available to us to form our consciences so that we can make the best possible decisions for ourselves, particularly in morally complex circumstances. We believe this is particularly essential when making choices regarding sexual and reproductive health.
Catholics for Choice fights for the rights of all individuals to make decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health based on their own consciences. But we are conscious of the fact that poverty, racism and other forms of powerlessness often limit the possibility of using one’s conscience. For this reason, we also strive to dismantle the structures of injustice that force people into situations in which they have few, if any, choices.
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Questions about Conscience
We've compiled these talking points to help inform Catholic conversations about conscience.
Our conscience is our capacity to judge right from wrong and good from evil. It is an internal moral compass that seeks truth and wisdom to guide own behavior and decisions. One’s conscience draws upon moral codes that come from religion and society, as well as one’s internal belief systems and personal values.
Many factors form one’s conscience. They include the wisdom of one’s religious tradition, of course. But a well-formed conscience also incorporates knowledge from other sources, such as science, medicine, ethical frameworks and our own experience.
One’s individual conscience should always be the ultimate authority in all moral decision-making. However, sinful structures of gender inequality, systemic racism, economic insecurity and immigration status can limit one’s ability to make choices. The ability to use one’s conscience and make choices is too often a luxury enjoyed by those who are wealthy, white and privileged. As Catholics committed to a rich tradition of social justice teachings, we must dismantle the injustices that prevent people from being able to exercise their consciences and make choices for themselves.