Freedom of Conscience: A Pastoral Statement from the Bishops of the
Arizona Catholic Conference
The New Vision of the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Tuscon
Reproduced with permission
Today in our state and elsewhere in our nation,
healthcare professionals and institutions find
themselves struggling to preserve their rights of
conscience, especially in matters that would involve
the taking of human life.
The right to follow one's religious beliefs and
moral convictions is being compromised, undermined,
and increasingly disregarded today by those who
insist that actions be taken that violate the moral
convictions a person holds dear or that underlie the
very mission of an institution.
We believe our state and nation need to consider
the implications of legislation that imposes
requirements contrary to a person's religious
beliefs and moral convictions.
In this statement, we seek to address these
important matters and to encourage a deeper respect
of the right of conscience.
II. IMPORTANCE OF CONSCIENCE
Conscience is the place deep within each person
where "man discovers a law which he has not laid
upon himself but which he must obey." (Guadium et
Spes, #16) It is here that one "also judges
particular choices, approving those that are good
and denouncing those that are evil." (Catechism of
the Catholic Church, #1777)
Conscience is at the
heart of human dignity and freedom. The free will of
all people requires that individuals not be forced
to act contrary to their conscience. The Catholic
Church affirms and asserts this, especially in
When people are free to live by their conscience,
there is also a collective benefit to society.
Behavior that results from a well formed conscience
promotes morality and leads to the pursuit of the
common good. Conversely, society is injured when
conscience is ill informed or suppressed and
individuals are less free to truly pursue what is
good and to avoid evil.
III. EXEMPLARS OF COURAGE
A. Heroes of the Past
Throughout history, the Catholic Church and our
nation in particular have held in very high regard
those facing struggles in matters of conscience. The
history of the Church is replete with saints and
martyrs who suffered greatly because they would not
be coerced to act in a manner inconsistent with
One of the best known saints to
struggle with matters of conscience was St. Thomas
More. Living in a time of great challenge, St.
Thomas More was an outstanding lawyer and public
servant who did not strive to become a martyr.
Because of his solid faith and convictions, however,
he could not recognize King Henry VIII as the
supreme head of the Church in England and was
consequently put to death. Many scholars consider
St. Thomas More to be the most important historical
figure in England because of his courage and faith.
In October of 2007, two priests who had served in
the Diocese of Tucson during the early 1900s were
beatified on their road to sainthood. Father Lucas
Tristany and Father Eduardo Farré are Discalced
Carmelite priests who were martyred because of their
faith during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. These
priests were selfless individuals who now serve as
local exemplars of people living and acting in full
accord with their conscience.
B. Present Heroes
Much progress has been made in protecting civil
rights for many individuals and groups throughout
our country in recent decades. However, there is a
growing disregard especially for health-care workers
striving to exercise their God-given freedom to
follow their conscience.
Pressure to violate one's conscience is an
increasing reality for today's doctors, nurses, and
pharmacists. We are aware here in Arizona of doctors
who face ridicule and difficult ramifications if
they are unwilling to participate in or sanction
abortions in the course of their work. We are also
aware of a nurse in Arizona who was fired from a
hospital for refusing to participate in abortions,
only to be later hired back because of a nursing
shortage. Likewise, pharmacists in our communities
feel compelled and are being forced to violate their
conscience, especially in the distribution of
medication that may act as an abortifacient.
The opportunity to refuse to take part in the
consultation, preparation, and execution of these
acts against life should be guaranteed to
physicians, health care personnel, and directors of
hospitals, clinics and convalescent facilities.
Those who have recourse to conscientious objection
must be protected not only from legal penalties but
also from any negative effects on the legal,
disciplinary, and financial plane." (Evangelium
The virtue exhibited by these modern day heroes
reminds us of the faith and courage shown by saints
of the past. We only hope their heroism will be
acknowledged by the present and future generations
who appreciate more fully the importance of the free
exercise of conscience.
III. CONSCIENCE ISSUES IN PUBLIC POLICY
Here in Arizona, we recently have seen several
legislative attempts to force health-care
professionals and hospitals to prescribe, refer, or
provide "morning after pills" (i.e. emergency
contraception) that can act as an abortifacient.
While these legislative attempts have thus far been
successfully defeated, the pressure to deny "rights
of conscience" continues to mount.
In response to
these challenges, we remain committed to supporting
legislation to protect the "rights of conscience"
for all health-care providers, including
pharmacists, especially in matters of contraceptives
and abortifacients. We are committed as well to
oppose any measures that take away those rights.
In the moral domain, your Federation is invited
to address the issue of conscientious objection,
which is a right your profession must recognize,
permitting you not to collaborate either directly or
indirectly by supplying products for the purpose of
decisions that are clearly immoral such as, for
example, abortion or euthanasia. (Address of Pope
Benedict XVI to Members of the International
Congress of Catholic Pharmacists, October 29, 2007)
Arizona, like many other states, mandates that
all employers providing prescription coverage to
their employees must include coverage for
contraceptives. This law clearly forces Catholic
organizations like Catholic Charities and Catholic
Hospitals to act in a way that is contrary to our
Ironically, supporters of "mandatory
contraception" legislation often advocate for a
"separation of church and state," but do not see the
inconsistency involved in the state forcing church
organizations to violate critically important tenets
of their faith.
Challenges to conscience are likely to continue
and expand into other areas as well. In 2007, for
example, new legislation, ultimately not successful,
was introduced to require mandatory coverage for
in-vitro fertilization in the health insurance plans
offered by employers.
We encourage all elected officials, regulatory
agencies, and professional associations to consider
the effect of such measures on the moral convictions
of those responsible to implement such laws.
IV. WHAT WE CAN DO
We are all called to holiness and to properly form
our consciences so that we can act with integrity
and fidelity in keeping with our moral convictions.,
However, the freedom to act upon our moral
convictions is being increasingly challenged today
with serious ramifications for our society.
applaud those in our communities who, like St.
Thomas More, speak up for what they believe and who
stand by their convictions.
As the Catholic Bishops of Arizona, we commit
ourselves and urge our people to join with us in:
1. ENGAGING IN PRAYER FOR ALL THOSE WHO
STRUGGLE FOR THE ABILITY TO FREELY EXERCISE THEIR
RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE. Let us pray for all those
who are denied the freedom to live according to
their conscience, especially health-care providers
striving to act in accord with sincerely held
beliefs in matters that involve the taking of human
2. EDUCATING OURSELVES ABOUT THE ISSUES.
In understanding the importance of conscience
issues, it is important to remember that just
because something is legal, as historically is the
case with slavery, does not by virtue of its
legality mean that it is something morally good. Let
us resolve to become more aware of the increasing
threats to individuals and institutions who are
struggling with issues relating to the protection of
conscience. We invite Catholics to draw upon the
resources of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the
Arizona Catholic Conference
to stay current on
new developments nationally and locally.
3. BECOMING INVOLVED POLITICALLY IN MATTERS OF
CONSCIENCE PROTECTION. The lack of adequate
conscience protection in Arizona law remains a major
concern, especially in matters pertaining to the
provision of contraceptives and abortifacients. The
adverse effects of legislation that restricts the
free exercise of conscience is already being felt
throughout Arizona by many people and institutions,
including church organizations. Let us support and
encourage those elected officials who are committed
to protecting religious liberty and the free
exercise of conscience to remain steadfast in their
support of these core principles.
4. SUPPORTING HEALTH-CARE PROVIDERS IN MATTERS
OF CONSCIENCE. As people of faith, we are called
to provide support and encouragement for those
striving to live according to their beliefs. In this
regard, we can help mitigate some of the unfavorable
conditions facing these health-care providers by
supporting the individuals and businesses that are
respectful of conscience rights, especially in
matters where the taking of human life might be
5. JOINING WITH PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS AND
THOSE OF GOODWILL TO FIND SOLUTIONS. As
Catholics, we seek to work together with people of
other faith traditions and all those of good will to
find policy solutions to matters of conscience
protection and to better inform ourselves and our
Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix
Apostolic Administrator of Gallup
Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas
Bishopo of Tucson