The paper, which was given in Rome at a Convention on the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II decree Ad Gentes organised by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, has a strangely detached, almost observational tone to it. “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Then, almost as a footnote in the last paragraphs, George launches onto the hot topic of conscience:
“There is also a crisis about the whole concept of conscience, and its proper relationship to important teachings on faith and morals. False views of conscience, particularly the view that the individual’s conscience has “primacy” over the teachings of the Church, not only cause havoc in the moral life. They have also have an enormous impact on the practice of the faith. Oceania is not alone in the world in seeing a dramatic decline in recourse to the sacrament of penance. If people believe in a conscience against Church teaching, then their consciousness of sin will almost certainly decrease. Awareness of sin exists so that we can be aware of the possibility of forgiveness. The collapse in conscience has not helped to increase in Catholic believers the sense of peace and pardon.
…The primacy of conscience doctrine has also had some even deeper effects on Catholic identity. Any religion develops a sense of belonging among its , adherents. Believers know where they are situated within time and space; their lives have meaning because of their beliefs about their origin and their destiny. This is particularly so for Christians. Christianity is historical both in terms of longevity and because we believe God himself entered into history in the Incarnation. Christianity is also perhaps the only truly public religion: it embraces every part of the earth and is compatible with every true culture. Furthermore its philosophy and theology of the beginning, end, and ethics of human life is universally acknowledged as an astonishing achievement. Elevating conscience to moral primacy, however, shatters this sense of belonging. If people believe they should live by their own impulses and tastes declared “true” by conscience, the sense of being part of a sacred society that is world-wide, ancient, and guaranteed by Christ to teach the truth, is greatly weakened.”