"Rather than being our own innate moral compass, always pointing us instinctively, infallibly on the right path, our conscience is our innate sonar, a "homing" device, that calls us humbly to seek God's will for us, and to desire to listen to it, and to discern through reason -- sometimes failing, often times correcting -- the right path to take for His glory on our life's journey."
Father Byrnes espouses what appears to be a distorted, stunted, out-of-context personal interpretation of a catechetical doctrine, stated in part as such in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1782): "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions."
Father Byrnes interpreted that passage for us, among others in Scripture, saints' and popular writings, and he cited (a bit incorrectly, and blatantly out of context) Pope Paul VI's Vatican II Council "Declaration on Religious Freedom" document, to teach that personal conscience overrides moral law as equally as it does civil law.
Sadly, Father Byrnes is sorely mistaken. The Catechism teaches, and the Catholic Church has always taught, that conscience is a gift from God, a divine desire for truth imprinted in our souls, that urges us and helps us to reason and discern right from wrong -- in accordance with moral law, not in objection to it.
To obey one's conscience is to be prudent in considering the fullness and complexities of a situation and to be courageous in deciding to do what is morally right, in accord with God's and nature's laws as we understand them, especially in the face of opposition or corruption that would persuade or coerce us to do wrong. Many of the saints' biographies tell heroic stories of choices made in defense of morality, often to their own peril. The saints are our role models throughout time for exercising conscienable objection to societal pressures that would distort or corrupt our relationships with God and others.
Conscience is not an individual source for moral law, as Father Byrnes espouses. Moral law originates wtih God and emanates form Him. God writes the desire to follow moral law in our hearts: At Baptism, we receive His invitation to the wedding feast; and we spend our lives seeking to know Him, to be ready to recognize Him and to respond when He calls us.
Rather than being our own innate moral compass, always pointing us instinctively, infallibly on the right path, our conscience is our innate sonar, a "homing" device, that calls us humbly to seek God's will for us, and to desire to listen to it, and to discern through reason -- sometimes failing, often times correcting -- the right path to take for His glory on our life's journey.
Following is an email that I sent today to Deacon Loren Mooney at St. Patrick Catholic Church, the host site for the "Why Catholic" program.
I appreciate and enjoy the Why Catholic presentations at St. Patrick, but I truly was surprised at Father Byrnes' (apparently, thankfully/hopefully, now quite outdated and never officially adopted) post-Vatican II popular concept of "The Conscience Principle" today.
I've done some research and found the following that I want to share with you. I hope you'll enjoy seeing them.
AD2000 is a JPII-influenced group of Christians in Australia who aim to revive and promote an understanding there of authentic Christian teachings.
Dr. Frank Mobbs is recognized in the Catholic Weekly, the official Catholic newspaper out of Sydney, as a defender of the faith.
The late Fr. William Most is consdiered to be a distinguished Scripture scholar and apologist.