In a striking departure from traditional Christian moral teaching, the Vatican-vetted journal, La Civilità Cattolica, claims that no general moral rule is valid in all cases.
In a post on Twitter, the Jesuit-run magazine stated: “Every case is singular. You cannot give a general rule that embraces all of them or build a casuistry of discernment.”
A flurry of Twitter activity from confused and indignant commenters noted the appropriateness of the accompanying meme from La Civiltà Cattolica, which carried the simple equation: “2 + 2 = 5.” The implication seems to be that two plus two under some circumstances may not equal four, and similarly that moral norms always admit of exceptions.
— La Civiltà Cattolica (@civcatt) October 6, 2017
Catholic teaching, on the other hand, has always affirmed that some actions are always morally wrong in themselves and can never be chosen, such as rape, adultery, killing the innocent, torture, idolatry and abortion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, states: “The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts—such as fornication—that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.”
“There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it,” the Catechism concludes.
According to La Civiltà Cattolica, however, every act is singular and thus no one universal moral principle can hold true for all cases, even those that prohibit intrinsically evil actions.
The Tweet included a specific hashtag reference to a 2016 teaching letter by Pope Francis called “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia). For months, Catholic clergy and laypeople have debated over certain passages of the text that seem to open up the possibility that divorced and civilly remarried couples could under some circumstances receive the Eucharist.
Catholics have always taken the words of Jesus at face value when he states that “anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” Living in a state of serious sin, such as adultery, has traditionally been considered an impediment to receiving Holy Communion.
Once again, the Catholic Catechism, citing Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, states that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” and therefore anyone who is conscious of a “grave sin” may not receive the Eucharist without first receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession).
As Saint John Paul II wrote in 1981, “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried” because “their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.” Moreover, he wrote, “if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”
The above Tweet redirects to a Civiltà Cattolica article by Juan Carlos Scannone, an Argentinian Jesuit priest, who offers his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, noting that Pope Francis urges concrete discernment in all cases “especially the most difficult ones.”
These most difficult moral cases, Scannone writes, “cannot be resolved by the mere syllogistic application of a norm, but refer to situations lived in the midst of limits, conditioning and historical contingencies – psychological, cultural, social and even biological – that require discernment.”
The Jesuit writes that in no way “is this a question of changing teaching regarding premarital chastity or the indissolubility of marriage, but rather or rethinking their consequences, especially concerning what has been called a “state of sin.”
“We must recognize that even when this state objectively exists, this doesn’t automatically mean that the one who is in it is always deprived from God’s grace,” he writes.
In other words—and here is where the article seems to tie to the Tweet—a person could objectively be committing adultery and intend to continue committing it without actually offending God in a serious way.
By logical extension, one must assume that a person who sexually molests small children and does not intend to stop may—at least hypothetically—have a serious justification for doing so, in which case he should be eligible to receive Holy Communion.
While the Catholic Church teaches that three conditions are necessary for the commission of a mortal sin—grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate consent—the intention to continue committing acts that are gravely evil is an obstacle to receiving Communion in good faith.
But if, as the Civiltà Cattolica article and its accompanying Tweet seem to assert, there is no moral norm that has universal value, a subjective personal “discernment” would be sufficient to justify virtually any action in the right circumstances, regardless of the objective moral norm.
Saint John Paul II warned against just such an erroneous position in his 1993 encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor, where he dealt with the application of so-called “pastoral solutions” to elude moral absolutes. His words read like a direct response to Father Scannone’s article:
In order to justify these positions, some authors have proposed a kind of double status of moral truth. Beyond the doctrinal and abstract level, one would have to acknowledge the priority of a certain more concrete existential consideration. The latter, by taking account of circumstances and the situation, could legitimately be the basis of certain exceptions to the general rule and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law.
A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called “pastoral” solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a “creative” hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.
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