The authority of conscience


Sir, – A letter writer (May 30th) rejects Bishop Kevin Doran’s pastoral advice about confession, on the basis that “Catholics whose conscientious decision was to vote Yes have nothing to confess”. I suggest that your readers would do better to follow the moral advice of the learned bishop on this matter, as your correspondent appears to have an incomplete grasp of the principle of the authority of conscience. The difficulty to which he alludes was examined in some depth by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a lecture on “Conscience and Truth” in 1991. He shows that the moral theory espoused by Mr Burke and others would lead us to expect to meet Hitler and his accomplices in Heaven, given their undoubted sincerity and conviction of conscience. Since that conclusion is evidently perverse, he concludes that we must re-examine the theory which led to it. His solution is as follows: “It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at – in fact, one must do so. But it can very well be wrong to have come to such askew convictions in the first place . . . The guilt lies then in a different place, much deeper – not in the present act, not in the present judgment of conscience, but in the neglect of my being that made me deaf to the internal promptings of truth.” – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.