It is not, I think, adequate to simply say that everyone should follow his own conscience and thus reject the encyclical if his conscience so directs. If one takes seriously all the good reasons in favor of a use of contraceptives—if one, say, follows the thinking of the majority of the papal commission—then it is not merely a neutral matter. On the contrary, there is an obligation on the part of those Catholics who perceive the morality of contraception to positively foster and propagate their convictions. This means doing everything in their power to educate people in the valid use of contraceptives. It means making money available to the poor for the purchase of contraceptives. It means convincing governments that they should listen to the voice of the Catholic people and not to the voice of the Pope on this issue. It means doing everything possible to negate and repudiate the encyclical, putting in its place a very different teaching.
People should of course be free to follow their conscience. But there is much sense in the traditional corollary that they should have an informed conscience; a lot of mischief is done in the name of conscience. In this instance those opposed to the encyclical would seem to have the positive duty of trying to inform the consciences of those who might feel an obligation to follow it: to inform them that they should know all the good theological arguments in favor of contraception; to inform them that they cannot cast off the obligation of making up their own minds on the shoulders of popes and bishops; to inform them that it is possible that good morality might require that they use contraceptives.
Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.