“In this context, appropriate allowance is made both for God’s mercy towards the sinner who converts and for the understanding of human weakness. Such understanding never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances.” (Pope John Paul II, VS 104)
Amoris Laetitia, no. 303, contains a very controversial statement made by Pope Francis. It reads, in pertinent part:
“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”
In his great encyclical on Catholic morality, Veritatis Splendor, Saint Pope John Paul II specifically foresaw and rejected the type of argument put forth in Amoris Laetia (303) quoted above. He stated very clearly that
“It would be a very serious error … to conclude that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man.” (VS 103)
Still further, Saint John Paul II stated:
“circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.” (VS 81)
Pope John Paul II explained in Veritatis Splendor the clear Catholic teaching that an intrinsically evil act cannot be creatively transformed into something willed by God under concrete circumstances (the suggestion put forth in AL 303 and 301).
“The negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever.” (Veritatis Splendor 67)
“The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception.” (VS 52)
By trying to claim that an intrinsically evil act like adultery, fornication or other “irregular union” may be the most generous response a person can give to God at a certain moment in his life, Pope Francis has strayed far from the firm and authentic foundations of Catholic morality. Pope John Paul II had already warned that such an argument is clearly erroneous.
CONCLUSION: In light of the above discussion, Amoris Laetitia is on very shaky ground. To repeat Saint John Paul II’s own words: “It would be a very serious error … to conclude that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man.” (VS 103).
Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A., J.D.
References: I am relying largely on the following three internet articles which are available on-line. 1. Amoris Laetitia and John Paul II by John Kusch (containing some of the important VS quotations I have used); 2. Is Amoris Laetitia really Thomistic and against “decadent scholasticism”? Let’s hear what the Angelic Doctor says! by Luisella Scrosati; and 3. Is ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Really Thomistic? by Edward Pentin.
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