It seems to this observer that one thing that Protestants do better than Catholics, and which we can learn from, is the matter of conscience and so I thought I would expound on some theories of same. What is conscience and obedience? Ok conscience in simple terms is that nagging voice in your head telling you such and such an act is 'wrong' somehow. It is the sense of right and wrong that is built into every human being. As a Catholic it is also hoped that you would have an 'informed conscience', meaning that your sense of right and wrong will have developed as you progress in your knowledge of Catholic theology. In any case I am sure most readers understand what it is and why its important to obey those feelings, usually at any rate. Then we have obedience which is the necessity to respond positively to legitimate Church authority. The theory here is that when Our Lord left us in biblical times he left us His Church which acts in His name since, and Catholics are bound to obey its rulings even when they are wrong. So for example when Padre Pio was saddled by Vatican punishments, which were entirely unwarranted, he exactly submitted to the orders given and was unsympathetic to those who criticized the Church at that time on his behalf. So the concept is clear enough, again there is no point is retelling the obvious here. When they conflict? The question we are getting at here is do they sometimes conflict, and if so what do you do? For example sometimes traditional minded priests and religious have been scandalized by some acts and instructions of the Church post Vat II, which conflict with their conscience but seem necessary to abide by from a sense of obedience? The answer I am going to put forward here is that these two concepts are subtly different in the way they should act within a person. Conscience, it seems to me, should always be the primary engine of a person's actions, its what motivates you. So you are happily going through life abiding by your conscience only - and of course keeping it informed by Catholic reading and properly in tune by prayer and the sacraments etc - and not by obedience, the latter isn't a motivation of yours as such. If obedience was your motivation then on all issues what you would do is hang around waiting for some instruction from the Church and then doing x or y only to the limits, as you see it, of that obedience. That approach, of having obedience motivate you, is completely wrong in my opinion. Because firstly the Church could never have such a perfectly complex set of instructions for every situation you face - because they need universal rules for everybody which is difficult because many situations are unique - and because you personally will face your maker when you die, you cannot hide behind the Church's position. In otherwords you cannot just say, like the German soldiers, that you were only following orders, you needed to have abided by your own conscience in the first instance. As a human being you act independently on earth, you are judged at the end by your use of your free will, not somebody else's, even the Church's, and remember God is also speaking to you through your conscience, as well as through the Church. Obedience is a different phenomenon, it simply means that if you hit a crunch and you have in front of you a very specific instruction from a legitimate Church authority: you abide by it, but only in that negative - its usually forbidding you doing something - and narrow sense - you abide by the exact prohibition narrowly interpreted, for anything else you revert back to your conscience. The simple analogy I would submit is that of a coach with six horses say. The horses are champing at the bit, they are moving around a little on their own, rearing up and swishing their heads and this independent action is their personal motivation, their conscience, but at the same time they all go ultimately in the same direction via the reins which we will say is the golden cord of Church authority, and which keeps them all going in roughly the one direction. I am sure thats as clear as mud to most people but in any case I will argue here about some mistakes that some Catholics are making in this conflict between conscience and Church authority, in my opinion: Marian Apparitions Take Marian apparitions for example. You seem to get some people who fold their arms and demand that the Church tells them what to think about this or that apparition. They seem to forget that God gave them personally human reason and learning to make up their own minds on most issues, including that one, and not to hang around for anybody to tell them what to do. Least of all the Church which faces an incredibly difficult task on those issues and which anyway it partly solves by seeing how the Catholic faithful view the apparitions, the sensus fidei. So if the Catholic faithful in turn don't have a mind of their own and are only waiting for the Church to rule on the matter then we end up literally with the blind following the blind! On the otherhand I would say if the Church gives a very specific instruction here, say the bishop orders that no sacraments are to be offered at the apparition site, then people should definitely abide by that to the letter, but even then it doesn't follow that they should abandon said site or assume from that that the seer is false etc. You just obey but continue to think for yourself, be guided by your informed conscience. Protestant v. Catholic countries I would go further and say that this conflict can be seen in the differences between Catholic and Protestant countries. Speaking for myself I have spent half a lifetime going around libraries and archives doing research and one thing that is noticeable is the differences between the staff in Ireland, a traditional Catholic country, and the UK, traditionally Protestant. I am sure as people they are about the same but as regards getting staff to think outside the box even a little bit, in a way that would not be harmful to their work but would be very helpful to the researcher, you have no hope at all in the Irish institution but oftentimes the UK one would stretch a point to help your research. The Irish are only interested in obeying what can often be completely silly rules while the UK people can more easily see the common sense behind it and will give your request a fair hearing. I think a lot of people can see that in action in many ways in Catholic as opposed to Protestant countries and I would submit that this is a mistake that Catholics are making? They are human beings with free will etc, its a mistake to make yourself some kind of unthinking but obeying robot? You have to answer for your own actions, not hide behind any other parties 'rules' or even laws? So thats what I think we can learn from Protestants, the primacy of conscience. We have to inform and feed that conscience, by learning from good sources and by prayer and the sacraments, but then we need to let it rip and live life to the full under its guidance. I am sure many will disagree with this reasoning and so hopefully will argue back below!