Conscience Conflict

The Catholic Church is finding itself in a deep difficulty in the United States. It is being asked to go against its conscience. Many Catholic institutions and dioceses around the country are so concerned that they recently filed suit against the government. Let’s take a brief look at what is going on and see what our faith has to say about this situation.


In January of this year the Health and Human Services department of the government issued a series of rules which ordered Catholic institutions to pay for drugs that cause abortions or contraception and to pay for sterilizations. All employees of Catholic institutions would have to receive free coverage for these drugs or operations. The coverage would be paid for by the Catholic institutions themselves. There was a limited exception to the rules, but the exception was so tiny that it was almost impossible to observe.


Health and Human Services director, Kathleen Sebelius, with President Obama


The Catholic Church believes with great conviction that abortion, artificial contraception, and sterilization are deeply unethical. It has studied these issues for years (thousands of years) and has always reached this conclusion.


The Church cannot physically force other people to obey its rules.


But in cannot in conscience pay for something that it considers deeply immoral. That would be directly contributing to something it considers very evil.


Religious institutions in this country were always given freedom to follow the most important moral rules of their religion, unless these rules put the lives of others in danger. This freedom is part of freedom of religion.


In fact, freedom of religion was one of the main reasons this country was founded. The first waves of immigrants to this country were fleeing governments that did not allow them to fully practice their faith and follow the rules of their faith. Freedom of religion is a fundamental part of the Constitution of the United States.


Yet, over the last sixty years there has been a tendency to reinterpret this principle. This recent ruling is part of that tendency.


The Catholic bishops and many Catholic institutions are deeply alarmed. They cannot in conscience follow these new rules. They also believe that the new rules are illegal, that they go against the basic legal principles of our country. That is why they have filed these suits.


Many people disagree with the bishops. They say that people have a right to contraception, abortions drugs (like Plan B or the “morning after” pill), and sterilization. They think it is fine to force Catholic institutions to pay for these things.


Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) is among many bishops who are continually speaking out against this ruling. Here is one thing that he has to say:


“As pastors and shepherds, each of us would prefer to spend our energy engaged in and promoting the works of mercy to which the Church is dedicated: healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor. Yet, precisely because we are pastors and shepherds, we recognize that each of the ministries entrusted to us by Jesus is now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church.”


Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and archbishop of New York City


American Catholic author and theologian George Wiegel recently had this to say about the tendency to ban the Catholic Church from applying its basic rules in its work:


“Religious freedom in full also means that communities of religious conviction and conscience must be free to conduct the works of charity in ways that reflect their conscientious convictions.”



We will write more on this later, but meanwhile, here are a few principles from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to contemplate.

Feel free to send us your comments on this subject.


Catechism Quotes 

about freedom of conscience

2106 Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits. This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order.

2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.

11903 … If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.

1907 In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . .  rightful freedom also in matters of religion.


Catechism Quotes about abortion

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1, 5. See also: Job 10: 8-12,  Psalm 22: 10-11)

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

“You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” (Quote from several early Church documents)

“God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 51, 3)

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. …

Catechism Quotes about contraception

2366 … So the Church, which is on the side of life  teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open ‘per se’ to the transmission of life. This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

(Editors Note: “Unitive significance” means the bonding (emotional, spiritual, and physical) that happens in sexual intimacy. “Procreative significance” means the power of the sexual act to create babies. So when you see the Church referring to the “unitive and procreative” aspects of the sexual act, think “bonding and babies”. The Church here is trying to explain that both aspects are meant to be kept together.)

2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children.

(Editor’s Note: So the Church is not against family planning. It’s just against accomplishing family planning in the wrong way. The “how” family planning is accomplished is very important. This goes with the principle, “The ends don’t justify the means.”)

2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.

(Editor’s note: The Catechism here is talking about NFP: natural family planning)

2370 In contrast, every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil

(Editor’s Note: Complicated phrase, but it means that artificial contraception and intentional sterilization are intrinsically evil.)

2370 Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid (destroyed), through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other.

2370 This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality….

2370 …the difference … between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle  . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality

About the Author:

Father Ernest Daly was ordained a priest by Pope John Paul II in 1991. He has an MA in Philosophy from the Gregorian University in Rome, and an MA in Theology from the Regina Apostolorum in Rome. Fr. Ernest has spent the last 30 years of his life working in schools and with young people, and has been publishing Our Faith In Action® since its founding in 2003. He loves skiing, movies, and hanging out with his nieces and nephews (he has a ton!).

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