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Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican conference to explore authority of conscience February 20, 2007

An Australian bishop tackled the problem of “those who oppose conscience to magisterium” during a February 20 press conference at the Vatican.

Bishop Anthony Fisher, a Sydney auxiliary, was one of several speakers at a press briefing about a seminar on “Christian conscience in support of the right to life,” which will be held in Rome on February 24-25, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Bishop Fisher explained that the conference would discuss “what conscience is and is not, and what authority conscience has.” While recognizing the duty to respect the individual conscience, the bishop added that “conscience must be both well informed and well formed.”

Responding to the argument that conscience can require opposition to Church teachings, the Australian bishop emphasized that “the magisterium is not some external source of moral thinking with which private conscience must grapple: it informs conscience much like a soul informs a body, giving it its shape and direction from within."

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the president of the Pontifical Council for Life, told reporters that the topic of conscience was selected for this year’s conference because of the widespread confusion on the authority of conscience. The conference, he said, would include an in-depth discussion of conscientious objection, and the circumstances under which health-care personnel might be required to take a stand in opposition to unethical forms of research and treatment.

Msgr. Jean Laffitte, the vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, observed that another issue to be discussed is tolerance. When it is invoked as an ideological concept, he observed, tolerance “is always linked to an individualistic conception of moral conscience.”