Reconciling a Code of Ethics with your Moral Conscience

Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, listener Thomas called in to ask about the morals behind a Catholic counselor’s duty to obey her conscience versus obeying her vocational code of ethics.

“My sister-in-law is becoming a counselor and she just became Catholic this past Easter Vigil. She had a question for me regarding giving advice to her patients [about] things that are morally sinful. So, if someone comes to her wanting a divorce or an abortion or something, her ethical code actually prevents her from saying, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ She just has to let them come to their own conclusion, helpfully. And she was wondering if that’s sinful for her to do. How does she navigate that?”

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In other words, her faith compels her to educate her clients on the immorality of the act they are proposing because they are coming to her for help, but her ethical code prohibits her from making decisive moral judgments that might influence her client.

Patrick, recognizing this predicament, suggested the Socratic method of guidance toward a conclusion. The Socratic method involves leading someone down a path of sequentially logical steps through simple questions until they, of their own volition, arrive at the conclusion you were pointing to from the beginning.

Patrick imagined Thomas’s sister-in-law was in a counseling session and suggested that a good first question might be, “Do you have a belief system?” And her client will respond either yes or no. And pretending that the patient responded yes and that they are a Christian, her next question for her client could be, “Do you believe in the teachings of Jesus?” Assuming the person responded yes, she could continue, “Given that Jesus taught that doing ______ is wrong, if you follow Jesus, you could or probably should ask yourself if you would be acting against the teachings of Jesus by doing _______.”

By following this formula of asking questions that lead somebody to the moral conclusion that “x” is wrong, Thomas’s sister-in-law will not only be acting within the confines of her ethical code, but she will be following her conscience and faith. Of course, this formula isn’t perfect. If somebody doesn’t have a belief system that’s founded in the natural good, then it would be very difficult to guide them to the truth, especially within the restrictions of a counseling session.

But Thomas accepted Patrick’s suggestion and said he told her something similar but wanted to confirm that he gave her sound advice. He said she was very concerned that if somebody who came to her had already made up their mind, she might be morally culpable – in some capacity – if she didn’t actively discourage them from committing a serious sin.

“If she were to sinfully fail to do something that she should’ve done, that would be a sin obviously. But in this case, I would argue that if she uses this method of just asking questions – and of course it brings the truth up front and center – then no, I don’t think she’d have any reason to worry about herself being implicated in somebody’s sin. I don’t think she would.”

Tune in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays 8am – 11am CT

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.