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 religious matters.
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 their faith.
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, 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 have faced 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 have felt 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 Vitae, #74)
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.
IV. 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 defending laws that 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)
Across the country there has been much debate over laws mandating that all employers providing prescription coverage to their employees must include coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. These laws clearly force Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities and Catholic Hospitals to act in a way that is contrary to our moral teaching.
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.
We are very fortunate that in 2012 Arizona passed a new law in this regard creating much better protections than previously existed for religious employers not wanting to provide abortifacients and contraceptives in their health plans.
Challenges to conscience are likely to continue and expand into other areas as well. In recent years, 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.
V. 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.
We 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 life.
2. EDUCATING OURSELVES ABOUT THE ISSUES. In understanding the importance of conscience issues, it is important to remember that just because something is legal 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 (www.ncbcenter.org) and the Arizona Catholic Conference (azcatholicconference.dev) to stay current on new developments nationally and locally.
3. BECOMING INVOLVED POLITICALLY IN MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE PROTECTION. The threats to conscience protection in Arizona law remain a major concern, especially in matters pertaining to the provision of contraceptives and abortifacients. 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 involved.
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 congregations.
Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix
Most Rev. Eduardo A. Nevares
Auxiliary Bishop of Phoenix
Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas
Bishop of Tucson
Most Rev. James S. Wall
Bishop of Gallup
Most Rev. Gerald Dino
Bishop of Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix
Prepared by the Arizona Catholic Conference and The Catholic Sun.
The Arizona Catholic Conference is the public policy agency for the Diocese of Gallup, the Diocese of Phoenix, the Diocese of Tucson and Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix.
Arizona Catholic Conference
Diocesan Pastoral Center
400 E. Monroe Street
Phoenix AZ 85004-2336