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Arkansas Catholic
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January 13, 1991     Arkansas Catholic
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January 13, 1991

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ARKANSAS CATHOLIC JANUARY-13, 1991 PAGE 7 e. Informed conscience ~ut =t a thorny issue ici- lay che . at By John Thavis Vatican CAty (CNS) - Pope John Paul II unfurled the banner of freedom of con- Lsti- science in his recent World Day of Peace LS. message - in the process raising a host of thorny questions about individual Catho- lics and Church authority. are The pope's.18-page message, released "ep"Dec. 18, was a dear and forceful plea for st areli~ous liberty in societies worldwide. But ach the subtext on conscience read like a walk brethrough a doctrinal minefield. On one hand, the pope strongly de- fended individual conscience as "inviolable" Life and said that no religious truth can be on imposed. , to On the other, he argued that Catholics _~ak- should feel obligated to form their con- rots Sciences according to the truth as taught by the Church. They must not confuse the the Voice of conscience with "one's limited personal opinion," he said. Those are two sides of a very subtle COncept, and the officials who helped draft the peace message knew they were ven- turing onto delicate theological terrain. '"From the beginning, we were careful In preparing this document to make clear Ihat freedom of conscience does not mean tndividuals are free to do as they like," said ishop Jorge Mejia, vice president of the Irn~ Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. ops Thus, the peace message stressed that the , . [d at e duty to correctly form one s consoence goes hand in hand with the duty to obey it. For the pope, that is of p ",,ri~aary impor- to- lance today~ especially since freedom of fight COnscience has come to be viewed as ssed loophole of dissent for Catholics who dis- ayer. agree with specific Church teachings. ?~ose Birth control and abortion are two areas enCy Where the role of the conscience has fre- qUently been invoked in recent years. On birth control, a common argument is that lari invididual who cannot accept the Church s teaching against contraception may follow his or her conscience. That argument is made less often with abortion, ~aich the Church considers to he the taking of innocent human life. To Underline this, aborton is one of the few acts punished with automatic excommuni- cation under canon law. ~, But some people argue that when the ' nUrch works toget civil authorities to ou.tlaw abortion, it is in effect asking states i Unpose Catholic religious convictions, not Shared by people of all faiths, on everyone. all, as the pope said, "No human has the right to interfere with a ::::::::::::::::::::::::: ::::: :5: :.,:.,... Peace i$ 60rni: 0:i justi. person's conscience." "Perhaps these persons are not commit- A Vatican official, reflecting on these ring personal sin," the Vatican official said. issues, said the pope's message should not '~But they are committing an act that is be understood as giving comfort to dissent- objectively disordered, and by rejecting the ers. Thatwould be a"misreading ofwhathe teaching authority of the Church they are intended," said the official, who asked not cutting themselves off in a way from the to be identified. Church community." 'a/es, the conscience is supreme, but not The Church sees abortion as a graver as a source of truth. And yes, a person has issue, because it constitutes an intended, to follow his conscience, but a person does direct attack on human life. not manufacture truth. A person must learn But even here it is possible for a person from revelation and other sources," he said. to have what the Church considers a Natural law and Scripture, he said, con- "rnisformed" conscience and genuinely be- sfitute "the call, or rather the command, to lieve abortion is not wrong. Even if ex- love God and observe his law." communication is invoked - and a person But what if a Catholic cannot in con- must have prior awareness of the penalty in science accept Church teaching on birth order for it to take effect - a judgment on control, and uses contraceptives? personal sin is "another matter," said the Vatican official. But there is a public side to the abortion issue. When the Church calls on states to prohibit abortion, it does so because it considers abortion not just a question of personal morality or relgious belief but of protecting human life, an essential part of the civil authority's responsibility for human rights and the common good. "Abortion is not a question of faith, but of the sacredness of human life. That's something all societies have had to respect as a ~alue," the offical said. Working to make abortion illegal, for ex- ample, is much different from trying to impose belief in /he Trinity, which would certainly be a violation of freedom of con- science, he said. like Conchita ($15 month) CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION For CHILDREN & AGING YOUR $15 MONTHLY PROVIDES A NEEDY CHILD WITH: NOURISHING FOOD, MEDICAL CARE, the chance to GO TO SCHOOL and HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. YOUR CHILD WILL GROW IN THE DAILY KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S LOVE AND YOUR LOVE. You will receive a photo of your child, description of your child's country, family history, translated letters, & quarterlynewsletters! Little Conchita lives in a small village in the moun- tains of Guatemala. Her house is made of cornstalks, with a tin roof and dirt floor. Her father struggles to support the family as a day laborer. 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