In my post earlier this week about the current state of belief among UK Catholics, I reflected on the implications for conscience and the Sensus Fidelium. A reader, David Ludescher, has responded in a comment with some important questions arising from my observations.
Because these questions are good ones in their own right, and for ease of reference when reading my response, I reproduce here David’s questions, instead of simply leaving them to languish in a comments thread. David writes:
So, how does a Catholic, wishing to be a faithful Catholic, Christian, and human, go about determining a methodology for discerning how to infom one’s conscience?
As I understand Catholic teaching, a person should rely upon the Holy Scripture first and foremost. The teachings of the Magisterium in interpreting the Holy Scripture provides additional guidance for the person. Ultimately the final arbiter of decision-making is the individual person.
In that sense, the people do not have a “whole church” or official teaching because individual consciences may vary. Thus, while sensus fidelium may be useful to assist the Magisterium by offering data for our lived experience, it is not particularly useful for my individual conscience; in fact, unless I am careful it could be misleading.
For example, 30% of Brits believe that abortion should be permitted in all cases. That does not give me any usefulinformation to inform my conscience. It may mean that 30% of Brits actually believe, (sincerely, deeply, and validly) that abortion is morally permissible or it may mean that 30% don’t want anyone to tell them what to do, or it could mean that they simply don’t care about morality.
Here’s another example. 77% of the American Congress and about 80% of the American people thought the U.S.A. was justified in invading Iraq. (Now the numbers are substantially less.) The sensus fidelium of the people reflected the fear, ignorance, and vengence of the people. It wasn’t a thoughtful reflection of the principles of just war. (I think we all know where the Vatican stood on the matter.)
I would be interested to hear if you have any particular thoughts about how to resolve the first question posed above.