Church Teaching on Conscience

The Magisterium teaches that conscience is the inviolable “most secret core” of the human person where God speaks to them. A person is bound to properly form one’s conscience through the Word of God, to make practical and concrete judgements according to one’s conscience, and to abide by those judgements in an acknowledgement that conscience, as God’s voice, is the ultimate authority.

The following are quotes from magisterial documents.

Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), no. 16

“Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey…Conscience is the most secret core and the sanctuary of the human person. There they are alone with God whose voice echoes in their depths.”

Vatican II, Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), no. 2

“All are bound to follow their conscience faithfully in every sphere of activity so that they may come to God, who is their last end. Therefore, the individual must not be forced to act against conscience nor be prevented from acting according to conscience, especially in religious matters.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1778

“Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that [they are] going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, [the human person] is obliged to follow faithfully what [they] knows to be just and right.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1783

“Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.”

Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family (Amoris Laetitia), no. 37

“We [pastors] also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”

Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family (Amoris Laetitia), no. 303

“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”