Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 22, 1960 when ground was broken for St. Philip Church, East Windsor.
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A key characteristic of any nation in quest of greatness in the contemporary world is a government’s respect for freedom of conscience with respect to every citizen. No nation can lay claim to its being a civilized society unless it safeguards freedom of conscience.

The problem lies, of course, in the definition of conscience. Is it simply a manifestation of “a mere sort of sense of propriety” – as Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote in his sermon notes – “appropriate,” as contemporary observers would say? Or, on the other hand, is conscience to be equated with “the echo of God’s voice”?

Cardinal Newman’s answer to these questions continues to be most meaningful because the same errors about conscience in his day (19th century) still plague us all:

“When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour without any thought of God at all … Conscience has rights because it has duties; but with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a license to take up no religion, but in this century it has been superceded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.” (Ital. added.)

Newman’s assessment was clearly prescient. Today, conscience is often reduced to “personal opinion,” or “subjective feeling,” or even “self-will.” For some, observes scholar Hermann Geissler, “it no longer implies the responsibility of the creature toward its Creator, but complete independence, total autonomy, overall subjectivity and arbitrariness.” Consequently, the sanctuary of conscience has experienced a process of desacralization. To put this bluntly, God “has been banned from conscience.” (L’Osservatore Romano, 5 Oct., 2011) Since God has been subtracted, man is viewed through a prism of individualism, a separate unit in an egocentric world.

Newman’s commitment to the Faith safeguarded his tenacity with respect to conscience’s reliance on Truth; i.e., to his belief that conscience must be formed according to an ultimate norm, God’s will. Through Revelation we know – as Newman knew – that God has entrusted the Church with the mission of safeguarding his Revelation. Consequently, conscience requires that the faithful form their consciences in accordance with divine Revelation as handed down by the Church.

Moreover, Cardinal Newman taught that it is impossible for conscience to contradict the doctrinal and moral authority of the Church. Conscience, he held, lacks authority on issues of revealed truth. Thus, whether one “accepts a revealed truth that has been defined by the Church, is not primarily a question of conscience, but of faith.” (H. Geissler, ibid.) Hence no one can justifiably reject a doctrinal truth “on grounds of conscience.”

Newman’s understanding of conscience and his depth of faith are summarized in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, when he said, rather famously, that if he were asked to decide whether to toast the Pope or conscience: “… I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please – still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.” What he meant was that above all, our obedience to the Pope “is not a blind obedience but rather one founded on a conscience enlightened by faith.” So that a conscience enlightened by faith comes first, then the Pope.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.