In their most recent pronouncement on how Catholic Christians are to participate in the political process entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.
This well written document can be found at http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/. There, one can also find helpful aides to assist both understanding its implications and helping others to apply its teaching
In their instruction they wrote, they wrote:
This statement highlights the role of the Church in the formation of conscience, and the corresponding moral responsibility of each Catholic to hear, receive, and act upon the Churchs teaching in the lifelong task of forming his or her own conscience. With this foundation, Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates promises and actions in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world....We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.
The Bishops were restating the integral teaching of the Catechism and the teaching trajectory of the Tradition on the necessity of properly forming our consciences. The Catechism of the Catholic Church treats this important aspect of living an integrated Christian life in Article 6 entitled Moral Conscience, Sections 1776 - 1802
When St. Paul instructed the Christians in Rome on the implications of living their faith, they were surrounded by a culture which was being corrupted by many of the problems we currently face in the West.
He told them ...I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12: 1-2)
So it must be with each one of us.
We are called into a continual process of conversion which involves a re-formation of our way of thinking. We are also called to change the culture when its practices do not conform to what is good and not be improperly changed by anything within it which is contrary to the truth. Part of this renewal of our minds includes re-thinking how we view our citizenship and the obligations which it entails.
The Catechism summarizes the duties of both civil authorities and of good citizens in its Section entitled Life in Christ at Sections 2234-2246. It is no accident that this section follows the discussion of the duties owed within the family. After all, the family is the first society.
The problem is that many Catholics do not understand that we must educate our consciences in order to ensure that they conform to the truth as revealed in the Natural Law and expounded upon in Revelation.
There has been some poor teaching in the arena of moral theology which has left the faithful confused on this and many other subjects of profound importance to living as Christians. It has led to people speaking as though our conscience somehow equates with our feelings or is an aspect of our own opinion.
Not only do our consciences need to be formed, they can also become deformed and regularly need to be re-formed. That is all too evident when we simply look at the way in which some Catholics currently approach political participation.
Lets be honest.
Sadly, there are too many politicians who are professed Catholics and yet stand publicly for political and policy positions which are directly at odds with the teaching of the Church and the Natural Law on the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, on marriage and on other vital issues.
It is a symptom of a much bigger malady.
It is also a scandal.
To be a faithful citizen, for a Christian, means to be filled with an understanding of what is taught by our faith and to live out a commitment to that faith in every area of our lives. We are to view our lives as an integrated unity and not compartmentalize.
All too often, we can approach our lives in a manner that fails to understand the implications of the Incarnation.
For example, this occurs when we assign the teaching of the Scriptures and Magisterium of our Church to only the perceived religious or spiritual part of our lives. Faith is meant to be a light which presides over the entirety of our life.
Catholic Social teaching offers us principles for action. It is meant to be received with a mature faith, one which embraces the call to form our consciences. It is then meant to actually inform our conscience and reform our way of life, including our political participation.
This article is adapted from material from Deacon Fournier's timely booklet "Catholics, Voting and the Common Good" available now through Catholic Online.
The term “a formed conscience” is new to me. It instantly resonated. I understand the application in a religious setting, but my first thought was the necessity of a secular citizen’s need for a formed conscience.
The founding fathers had faith in a representative democracy if it was supported by a foundation of moral values, principles, and ethics. For generations the religious institutions provided the “formed conscience.” Since religious institutions have come under attack from the ACLU types and their kindred many in the last couple of generations had grown up without a formed conscience.
The battleground has shifted so far as to make a coherent teaching of religious values on which to bolster our form of government on that I suggest the need for a curriculum of basic values, gleaned from all prospering democracies, devoid of the direct religious references be taught in the form of citizenship. This inculcation should begin at the earliest ages; because what is lacking today is the notion of a collective “formed conscience.”