Conscience Or Bigotry – The Vatican Can’t Tell The Difference

Catholic theologians are meeting at the Vatican this weekend to discuss how Catholics should be advised to “follow their conscience” and, if necessary, make a stand on issues such as abortion, stem cell research, contraception and gay rights.

Msgr. Elio Sgreccia, who heads the pontifical academy, told a Vatican news conference that the conference’s conclusions would be made public in the hope they could serve as a reference point for those seeking guidance. “We are convinced that not only is there legitimate space for the Christian conscience in a pluralistic society, but there is a usefulness for whole society when the Christian conscience can express itself and offer a contribution,” Sgreccia said. “Obviously, individual faithful are required to be certain of the validity of their judgments of their conscience, above all in relation to the truth,” Sgreccia said. “We need true, sure, correct consciences among the faithful, conditions that are not at all taken for granted.” Bishop Sgreccia said the conference would look at the right and obligation of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and researchers to declare themselves conscientious objectors when faced with procedures such as abortion, euthanasia or the destruction of human embryos.

Sgreccia was asked about a recent decision in Britain, backed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, compelling faith-based agencies to consider gay couples in adoption cases. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, had asked Blair for an exemption.

The Vatican official said Catholics should be allowed to be conscientious objectors in those cases. “I’d marvel if in a nation like Britain, they would refuse to recognise conscientious objectors.” He said Catholics might have to pursue the issue in European human rights courts.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, commented: “Conscience or bigotry – the Catholic Church is rapidly losing the distinction. If a Catholic doesn’t know which is which, the Church will reassure them that there is really no difference as far as homosexuals are concerned, and if you don’t want to dispense the morning after pill – well, that’s OK with the Pope. After all, forcing other people to believe what you believe and compelling them to behave in the way that you want them to has been the Catholic approach since the beginning.”