Friday, February 08, 2008

Primacy of Conscience

The story of Abp Raymond Burke's comments about the St. Louis football coach's pro-abortion comments has been in the news, but oddly, even the Catholic media seems to not have had room for this important teaching, so first, the link to the actual interview in the Diocesan Online journal, the St. Louis Review:

Archbishop Burke addresses Catholic identity

and here's the quote:

Catholics who seem to hold beliefs that go against the Church’s teachings often say that they are "doing the right thing," or "following their conscience." Does this come down to an issue of free speech?

Sometimes the primacy of the conscience is misunderstood. If you mean that the conscience has primacy — in the sense that whatever I feel or think becomes then the right thing to do — that’s false. The primacy of the conscience is related essentially to the primacy of the truth. In other words, your conscience has primacy in as much as it is conformed to the truth, and as much as it is properly informed.

For example, let’s say there is someone who espouses a position on procured abortion — that isn’t right. He can’t say that it is right simply because he holds it in his conscience. He has a duty to inform his conscience about the fact that here we are speaking about a human life. And, therefore, the only response we can make to that human life is to safeguard it and protect it. The primacy of the conscience is strictly correlated to the primacy of the truth.


  1. There is also the reality that once the truth has been settled by lawful authority the conscience has no further role. e.g. if I claim my conscience is comfortable driving on the 'other' side of the road I need to understand the conscience is out of its territory. The right side of the road has been 'decided'. My conscience about the matter is irrelevant. Similarly, if I (as a catholic) say my conscience allows an abortion I need to understand 'it has been decided' .. my conscience does not apply here.

  2. What seems to be missing in so much catechesis is that the victims emerge believing that their opinions ARE their conscience with authority above the truth. not so. As Bishop Sheen said, there is not a man alive who does not know that the commandment says "Thou shalt not commit adultry" the appeal to "conscience" is spurious because it is the conscience which asserts with binding force the prohibition, the rationalization of opinion contrary to the truth is not conscience, just self-delusion.

    It would be better to be able to say that in a few simple words; but those few words escape me.

  3. I believe that Abp. Burke's rebuke was to St. Louis U's basketball coach, Rick Majerus, who formerly coached the UofU team.