By Peter J. Smith

  VATICAN CITY, February 20, 2007 ( – The Vatican has announced today in a press conference that an international congress will be held at the Vatican to discuss “Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life.”

  The international congress will be held under the auspices of the Pontifical Academy for Life on February 23 and 24.  According to Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the congress will discuss the urgent need to form Christian consciences “in the modern context, indicating the foundation, the specific nature and duties of a conscience illuminated by faith.”

  The congress will address one of the Vatican’s gravest concerns about Catholics and Christians, who oppose the “primacy of conscience” against the Church’s pro-life teachings. Since his elevation to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI has made addressing the dangers of the “dictatorship of relativism” a top priority of the Vatican.

“Talk of ‘the primacy of conscience’ is too often a cloak for raw will,” Bishop Anthony Fisher O.P. said at the Vatican’s press conference. The bishop, an auxiliary of Sydney, and professor of bioethics and moral theology at the John Paul II Institute in Sydney, Australia explained that conscience was neither an independent voice “like a satellite navigator” nor an “obedient slave to some external law giver” nor a “tax lawyer trying to get around the moral law.”

“Conscience,” the bishop explained, “is of the natural perception of basic moral principles, their application in particular circumstances, and the final judgment about what is to be or has been done.”

  Bishop Fisher emphasized a conscience needs to become “both well-informed and well-formed” and said the mission of the Magisterium – the Church’s teaching authority – was to inform conscience “giving it its shape and direction from within.”

  Bishop Fisher warned that without shared objective principles, “‘conscientious’ belief becomes window-dressing for the raw expression of preference or power,” a case evident in many contemporary anti-life human rights documents.

  The conference also addressed the current of “ideological tolerance”, an individualistic approach to conscience prevailing in western society that views moral, social, religious norms as “interesting guidelines” at best, but forbids them involving “the individual as a moral subject.”
  The Vatican’s press conference also addressed the importance of conscientious objection today in the medical and biological research fields.

“Man is a free being who establishes his behaviour and forges his will in a series of ethical and/or religious principles,” said Professor Monica Lopez Barahona of the University of Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid. “Loyalty to these principles brings the right and the need of conscientious objection.”

  Bishop Sgreccia said that conscientious objection ” accompanied by love for truth and for all people” is not an avoidance of responsibility but, on the contrary, a testimony of support and assistance.” He added that when certain situations arise, doctors and medical personnel are called to make that witness.