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Title: Insights for a Moral Theological Reflection on Conscience
Subtitle: Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia
Author(s): DELL'ORO, Roberto
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 26    Issue: 2   Date: 2020   
Pages: 208-231
DOI: 10.2143/INT.26.2.3289251

Abstract :
The article explores the question of conscience in the context of sexual abuse. Several aspects are treated, using Amoris laetitia as its point of departure, like poor conscience formation and a lack of a sense of responsibility for consequences. It introduces the topic, sets out the tradition’s treatment, and concludes by offering a praxis of conscientious decision making. The first section sets out an understanding of the moral conscience. It shows that, for AL, a sense of morality arises out of the contemplation of humanity open to God. This leads to the need for a moral conscience to navigate between extremes and find the moral path. The papal document shows that a mature conscience is crucial both for pastors as well as for lay people who are living in complex situations. The Church’s teaching office is meant to form consciences. Next, the tradition of moral theology on conscience is presented. Conscience has been presented as a judgment, but this falls short of the central role conscience plays in a person’s acts, acts which define who they are. Moral theology up until the Second Vatican Council has tended to reduce moral reasoning to a logical deduction from premises. This act-centered approach has also reduced conscience to a purely subjective adherence to rules. The historical character of the action and its place in a person’s life are not considered. Instead, the article argues, conscience should be seen as the place where values are perceived and interpreted, an act of interpretation rather than mere application of pre-interpreted directions. In regard to sexuality, such a focus narrowed the scope of the Church’s teaching to merely the concern for tying sex acts to procreation; any deviation was put on the same level. The article then moves to a proposal for a broader definition of conscience. Conscience should be seen, it argues, as concerned primarily not with the act in itself but in the way in which the person as a whole is implicated in the moral event. It is more an experience than a judgment. The role of experience in building a moral sense is presented, followed by a demonstration that conscience is developed through dialogue with an other, with God and other humans. Then the context of freedom is explored. Moral decisions are truly a matter of conscience only if a formative decision is required, one that requires the enactment of a person’s being. In such actions, people define themselves. In the final part of the article, the author applies the previous reflections to the Church’s approach to marriage and family ethics.

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