The Second Vatican Council affirmed that each person ought to be given the freedom to choose whatever religion they desire to follow, provided of course that it does not infringe the rights of others. Peter and John insist upon this right before the Sanhedrin and tell the leaders of the Jews that they will not, even cannot, keep silent about the Gospel. Freedom of conscience is a very powerful concept and its expression is often controversial.
The Church teaches that there is a fundamental dignity that must be given to a conscience judgement that has been made in good faith. Insofar as it has been made in good faith and there is a certain level of certainty achieved, then we are bound to follow it even if it may be wrong! There are many controversial aspects to this teaching that generally focus upon the nature of an ‘in good faith conscience’ and its relation to authoritative Church teaching. It becomes very difficult to set precise criteria as to what constitutes a conscience judgement made in good faith in relation to authoritative Church teaching as many people are still progressing on a journey of understanding in this regard. One way I like to look at it is to consider the following question: Can I truthfully say that given my certain circumstances that the following response is the response I believe God wants me to make. If I can stand before God and look Him in the face and say this is what I believe you want me to do, then I would tend to say the person is doing their best to form their conscience in good faith even if it may be at odds with one or other of the teachings of the Church. Of course if that teaching has to do with the divinity of Christ or something as fundamental as that then we should look at the issue further.
Freedom of belief and freedom of conscience are fundamental freedoms that all people should be able to exercise. This does not mean that we can excuse ourselves from applying our minds to the issues at hand. We must use all the tools God has provided in order to come up with the best decision possible.
How well do I form my own conscience when making critical moral decisions about my life?
Holy Spirit, help me to have an open mind on issues that affect my life so that I will be in the best position to listen to what it is that you want me to do.