I have been participating in a Catholic RCIA class for the past few months (round two, after a previous attempt several years ago). In the class, it has been brought up by the instructors and assistants that Catholics are obliged to follow their informed consciences, even if their conscience urges them to violate Church teaching. I have been doing some studying on this issue, as I do not believe that is an accurate representation of Church teaching.
What are the references to this teaching?
If one has done one's best to inform the conscience, then one is morally obligated to follow the conscience, even if the conscience is objectively in error.
"Moral theology has attempted to convey the traditional doctrine
regarding the primacy of conscience by referring to it as the proximate norm, the ultimate and supreme subjective measure of the goodness or evil of what we do
. The force of this is that a correct conscience always obliges us to follow it. But it also means that, even if, because of unavoidable lack of knowledge, our conscience is erroneous, it still remains the immediate norm or measure of the morality of our action and must be followed, or at least not acted against.
St. Thomas Aquinas supports what he says on this point by a couple of rather startling illustrations. Not to have extramarital sex, he says, can be mistakenly seen as a bad thing. In this case one does wrong in refraining because one would then be prepared to choose what is seen as evil. For the same reason it would be wrong for someone, he says, to believe in Jesus Christ when this is erroneously apprehended as a bad thing. In doing so in either case, according to St, Thomas and the tradition of the Church, one would commit sin."