DeCosse on Models of Conscience
David DeCosse in NCR offers this deft analysis of the reasoning underlying recent episcopal (and other) cries about infringements on religious liberty.
At present, the model of conscience used by most bishops is problematic in two ways. First, it emphasizes obedience, law, and hierarchical authority and thus departs from the Catholic tradition’s close linkage of conscience, practical reason, and freedom. Second, on account of this departure, these bishops needlessly lapse into using a sectarian model of the Catholic conscience ill-suited to the Church’s mission in a democratic pluralist society like the United States.
[T]he bishops have raised a hue and cry because they are defending the rights of conscience. But, for them, the conscience should be free to adhere to the truth of the universal moral law articulated by the hierarchical teaching office of the Church….But what about the freedom of conscience to adhere to a truth not identical with the moral law defined by the hierarchical authority of the Church? And what about the freedom to allow one’s practical reason to consult empirical data and a wide range of values in determining what conscience should do in a complex matter? Especially if that determination differs from one put forward by the bishops? The model of conscience favored by the bishops in the current disputes has little room for such obvious and significant scenarios.
And there’s lots more about a Thomistic understanding of conscience and the role of prudential reasoning. Too often these days Catholics are urged by Church leadership to ignore the breadth of our own tradition in favor of a narrower view. David reminds us otherwise.