This past week Pope Francis re-affirmed the primacy of conscience amid criticism of his post synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.” There has been some confusion concerning certain passages that could be interpreted as contrary to Catholic teaching. Four cardinals asked for a clarification, in the form of five dubia, from the Holy Father concerning these possible misinterpretations, but no response has been given.
Pope Francis recently released a video message to a conference organized by Italian bishops stating that priests must inform Catholic consciences “but not replace them.” And he stressed the distinction between one’s conscience — where God reveals himself — and one’s ego that thinks it can do as it pleases. “The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of conscience, which must always be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of an individual with respect to his or her relations,” Pope Francis said. In the end, the Holy Father believes that priests and bishops, by forming the consciences of the faithful, help them to find God speaking to the inner most core of their being.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also affirms the autonomy of conscience when it comes to making moral decisions stating, “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has 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.” The Catechism goes on to state that conscience must be informed and moral judgement enlightened. St. John Paul II, in his encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” reaffirmed the necessary formation of conscience whereby there are absolute moral norms that may never be violated, i.e., one may never do evil so that a good may result from it. A poor formation of conscience will lead to making objectively bad moral decisions, such as receiving Holy Communion while living in a state of mortal sin.