Historical and Existential Perspectives
Conscience has long been a subject of fascination for me. In the course of my pastoral work I have encountered many people who have struggled with moral dilemmas or who felt weighed down by guilt owing to the gap between their practice and their knowledge of what they were called to do. I have also met individuals who seemed to be unaware that, despite the gravity of the action, what they were doing was in any way wrong. Whether mentioned or left implicit, the conscience of each of these indi- viduals played a vital role in the decision to choose one course of action over another, in judging a completed action to have been right or wrong, or even in exhibiting a state of perplexed uncertainty as to what should be done next. Thinking over these dif ferent problems led me to explore the question of erroneous conscience. Could an action that was considered to be wrong by others (particularly by the Magisterium of the Church) be good, virtuous or meritorious if the individual believed it to be so? Do we live in parallel moral universes, where the person ultimately defines what is moral solely by belief or conviction, or do we have access to a ground of universal truth, rooted in our created nature, as gifted by God? Should pastors leave individuals in blissful ignorance, or, while conscious of their own weakness and their need of God’s mercy, should they try to deepen moral understanding and help develop the...
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