Forming a Christian Conscience

Welcome to the Respect Life Ministry’s Guide to the Formation of a Christian Conscience.

The Respect Life Committee of Saint Joseph Catholic Church would like to help our parishioners and friends review Catholic Social Teaching on several topics of great concern. Each of us has a responsibility to develop a well-formed conscience, which allows us to recognize and seek the good and avoid evil.

We have summarized several sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on these topics. The Guide was compiled for the Saint Joseph Catholic Church weekly bulletins prior to the 2014 elections; what the Catechism teaches on these issues is important not just politically, but in how we live our lives each day, so we are reprinting it here for your continuing reference, guidance, and inspiration. Also, one of the best resources on the Web for living as a faithful Catholic in public life is the Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship page by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

You can read documents and watch videos, in English and en español, that help us to understand these difficult and challenging issues in ways that make sense and help us to live moral lives, in seven key areas of Catholic Social Teaching.

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Most of the teachings of the Catechism in the Respect Life Ministry’s Guide are adapted from Part Three: Life in Christ; Section Two: The Ten Commandments. Why is this important? “The Ten Commandments belong to God’s revelation. At the same time they teach us the true humanity of man. They bring to light the essential duties, and therefore, indirectly, the fundamental rights inherent in the nature of the human person.” (2070)

Each entry in the Catechism is supported by Scripture, papal and apostolic documents, or interpretation by great Catholic philosophers. You can be confident that these teachings are faithful to two-thousand years of sustained reflection on the humane, just, and merciful revelation of God. After you read these teachings, it is important that we talk with our clergy, our fellow parishioners, our family and friends, and experts in these social issues, as we develop a fuller understanding of what it means to live our lives to great fulfillment with a well-formed Christian conscience.

Thank you for sharing the Respect Life Ministry’s Guide to the Formation of a Christian Conscience.



Abortion is one of the most important topics to consider – Catholic teaching originates in the very definition of life and the value of life throughout our time on Earth. These arguments address the “slippery slope” that may open the door to the devaluing of life at other stages.

2258: “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, under any circumstance, claim for himself the right to directly destroy an innocent human being.
2268: The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murder and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance….Concern for eugenics or public heath cannot justify any murder, even if commanded by public authority.
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.
2273: The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard, every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.
The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined….As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.

Marriage and Family: The Marital Act · Contraception

1652: By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring, and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory. Children are the supreme gift of marriage….
2274: Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Note that the package inserts for Continuous Oral Contraceptives (COCs) state that “COCs lower the risk of becoming pregnant primarily by suppressing ovulation. Other possible mechanisms may include cervical mucus changes that inhibit sperm penetration and the endometrial changes that reduce the likelihood of implantation.” Implantation occurs about 7-10 days after conception has occurred.
2361: Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts that are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized… only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.
2366: Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love tends to be fruitful….the Church, which “is on the side of life” teaches that “each and every marriage act must remain ordered per se to the procreation of life.” “This particular doctrine…is based on the inseparable connection, established by God…between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.
2369: “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love….”
2370: Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses….In contrast, “every action which…proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil: 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.

Law and Justice: Right to Self-Defense · Death Penalty

2261: Scripture specified the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.” The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid; it obliges each and every one, always and everywhere.
2263: The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor… the one is intended, the other is not.”
Please note that the Principle of Double Effect allows for the evaluation of the permissibility of an act when, in addition to a positive effect, that act may also cause a negative effect, and it has a set of criteria that must be met:
The nature of the act is itself good (or at least morally neutral).
The intent is the good effect and not the bad effect.
The good effect must stem directly from the act and not as a result from the bad effect.
The good effect must outweigh the bad effect in order to justify causing the bad effect, and due diligence must be made to minimize the harm of the bad effect.
2264: Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore, it is legitimate to insist on respect of one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.
2266: The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.
2267: Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means….Today…the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”


2276: Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.
2277: Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering, constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.
2278: Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted….
2324: Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.

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A Catholic Community in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia

151 West Washington Street · Petersburg, Virginia 23803
Postal Address: Post Office Box 2006 · Petersburg, Virginia 23804

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