Catholic moral theology

THE GREAT GERMAIN GRISEZ WROTE A 31 PAGE LETTER TO POPE FRANCIS ABOUT PROBLEMS WITH AMORIS LAETITIA

“When a bishop acts in persona Christi, fulfilling his duty to teach on matters of faith and morals by identifying propositions to which he calls upon the faithful to assent, he presumably means to state truths that belong to one and the same body of truths: primarily, those entrusted by Jesus to his Church and, secondarily, those necessary to preserve the primary truths as inviolable and/or to expound them with fidelity.” (Germain Grisez and John Finnis)

Germain Grisez, a “towering figure” in the field of Catholic moral theology, passed away this past February. He was the author of a “famed work in moral theology, The Way of the Lord Jesus,” a work very well known to many of us.  He “also left a lasting legacy in the area of natural law, while his magnum opus, the three-volume The Way of the Lord Jesus, became one of the main texts in the study of moral theology, especially its eloquent explanation of Catholic teaching on such key topics as abortion, contraception and chastity” (see references below).

What I would like to bring to the reader’s attention – and to the attention of the whole Catholic world – are the heroic efforts this great moral theologian made near the end of his life to point out potentially deep problems with Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. It is hard to imagine someone more eminently qualified to analyze the moral implications of Amoris Laetitia – and errors therein – than Professor Germain Grisez. Professor Grisez took this responsibility with utmost seriousness, authoring a 31 page letter to Pope Francis, co-written by John Finnis. The full text of that letter is available at the following link:

An Open Letter to Pope Francis | John Finnis and … – First Things

In their 31 page letter, Grisez and Finnis ask Pope Francis “to condemn eight positions against the Catholic faith that are being supported, or likely will be, by the misuse of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. We ask all bishops to join in this request and to issue their own condemnations of the erroneous positions we identify, while reaffirming the Catholic teachings these positions contradict.”

These eight erroneous arguments are (as stated in the letter):

Position A: A priest administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation may sometimes absolve a penitent who lacks a purpose of amendment with respect to a sin in grave matter that either pertains to his or her ongoing form of life or is habitually repetitive.

Position B: Some of the faithful are too weak to keep God’s commandments; though resigned to committing ongoing and habitual sins in grave matter, they can live in grace.

Position C: No general moral rule is exceptionless. Even divine commandments forbidding specific kinds of actions are subject to exceptions in some situations.

Position D: While some of God’s commandments or precepts seem to require that one never choose an act of one of the kinds to which they refer, those commandments and precepts actually are rules that express ideals and identify goods that one should always serve and strive after as best one can, given one’s weaknesses and one’s complex, concrete situation, which may require one to choose an act at odds with the letter of the rule.

Position E: If one bears in mind one’s concrete situation and personal limitations, one’s conscience may at times discern that doing an act of a kind contrary even to a divine commandment will be doing one’s best to respond to God, which is all that he asks, and then one ought to choose to do that act but also be ready to conform fully to the divine commandment if and when one can do so.

Position F: Choosing to bring about one’s own, another’s, or others’ sexual arousal and/or satisfaction is morally acceptable provided only that (1) no adult has bodily contact with a child; (2) no participant’s body is contacted without his or her free and clear consent to both the mode and the extent of contact; (3) nothing done knowingly brings about or unduly risks significant physical harm, disease transmission, or unwanted pregnancy; and (4) no moral norm governing behavior in general is violated.

Position G: A consummated, sacramental marriage is indissoluble in the sense that spouses ought always to foster marital love and ought never to choose to dissolve their marriage. But by causes beyond the spouses’ control and/or by grave faults of at least one of them, their human relationship as a married couple sometimes deteriorates until it ceases to exist. When a couple’s marriage relationship no longer exists, their marriage has dissolved, and at least one of the parties may rightly obtain a divorce and remarry.

Position H: A Catholic need not believe that many human beings will end in hell.

 

COMMENTARY: I can only imagine that it must have been nearly heartbreaking for Mr. Grisez to read over Amoris Laetitia, especially in light of his profound knowledge of Catholic moral theology. It must have been particularly palpable to Grisez how Amoris Laetitia stood in stark opposition to Veritatis Spendor, the great moral theology encyclical of Pope John Paul II which repudiated in advance many of the arguments put forth in Amoris. To Professor Grisez’s credit, he framed his letter to Pope Francis in a polite and hypothetical manner, but in reality he must have known Amoris was going to have disastrous consequences for the Church if left unchecked. It should be noted, as well, that several pages of the letter written by Grisez and Finnis pertain to the doctrine of hell, and would seem to strongly suggest that Germain Grisez saw a clear causal link between some of the theories in Amoris Laetitia and a general weakening of the Catholic teaching that those who die in mortal sin go to hell. What Pope Francis actually believes about hell was the the subject of much controversy only a few weeks or so ago.

I have personally written about problems with Amoris laetitia in the following post:

WHY AMORIS LAETITIA IS MUCH WORSE THAN ORIGINALLY …

Please say a prayer for a great theologian and defender of the faith, Germain Grisez. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: See link below:

In Memoriam: Germain Grisez, Great Defender of Humanae Vitae …

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MEMO TO SELF: GRATITUDE FOR THE ROCK

  • “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it”  (Matthew 16:18)

    I said to myself the other day, “self, what is on your mind?” Self responded, “I’ve been thinking about how important the rock has been in my life.” “What rock is that,” said self-reflective self? “The rock of Peter,” said self in a sort of self-less way. And then self went on to explain what he meant to his self-reflective and thoughtful companion.

    “Remember that day when we were walking down the road and we bumped into Mr. Moral Relativism. That guy was slick. He told us he was sure that there were no universal moral truths, and he even introduced us to a few of his friends: Mr. Fornication, Mr. Contraception, Mr. Pornography, Mr. Abortion, and Mr. Anything Goes. We were really taken in by his arguments, and his friends assured us he was right – relatively speaking, they said.”

    Self continued, “We might have followed Mr. Moral Relativism and his friends down that wide path which said, ‘Untruth: Unknown and Dangerous,’ but then I noticed a much narrower path just a short distance away which said, ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’, so we walked over to that path and encountered a kind looking man wearing a white hat, a white robe and holding on to a large staff.”

    We asked the man who he was, and he said, “I am the Successor of Peter, and Peter was the rock upon whom Jesus built his church.” This man, whom we came to know as John Paul II, explained to us that there is an objective moral order in the world precisely because the world is an image and reflection of God – its Creator. He told us that he had written and promulgated an encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, in which he not only refuted the theory of moral relativism but reaffirmed with the authority of Christ’s Vicar the universality and objectivity of the moral law.

    This kindly man handed me a copy of his encyclical, and I saw that at paragraph 115 he had written the following:

    “Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts” (paragraph 115 of Veritatis Splendor).

    Wow,” said self (to himself), “we almost made a wrong turn. Thank goodness that Jesus established this office of Peter. I mean all of that untruth looked attractive. But I knew deep in my heart something wasn’t right, or rather that something was wrong. Jesus was very wise to set-up the Petrine ministry.” And then self said a prayer, as he walked down that narrow path, “thank you Lord Jesus for protecting me from untruth by building your church on the rock.”

    Tom Mulcahy  (see commentary below)

     

    Inspiration: For format: Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

    Link to encyclicalVeritatis splendor – Ioannes Paulus PP. II – Encyclical Letter 

    Commentary: It is hard to imagine that a Pope could now write a document touching profoundly upon Catholic morality without setting forth the principles in Veritatis Splendor. Nevertheless, I quote from Father De Souza:

    “The drafters of Amoris Laetitia knew that the teaching of Veritatis Splendor posed a serious challenge. That is why, astonishingly for one of the longest papal documents in history, including some 400 footnotes, there is not a single reference to Veritatis Splendor. It is the equivalent of writing an apostolic exhortation on Catholic social doctrine and never referring to Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, or on biblical studies and never referring to Divino Afflante Spiritu by Venerable Pius XII.” (Quote from Father Raymond J. De Souza’s article, “When the Splendor of Truth is Hidden.”)

    See my previous post:

    SAINT JOHN PAUL II WARNED THAT AN AMORIS LAETITIA-LIKE …

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THE JESUS METHOD OF AFFIRMATION COMPARED WITH “FRANCIS MERCY”

 

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God….” (John 1:12)

Jesus led an affirmed life. This is an important point: for to affirm others Jesus had to be affirmed himself. Thus we see that after Jesus’ baptism the Father in Heaven first calls Jesus “my beloved” and then adds my “son, in whom I am well pleased” (see Matt: 3:17). Jesus’ mission of affirming others came from the fact that he was first of all an affirmed person. Since Mary was a human being fully alive in the Holy Spirit it was impossible for Jesus not to be touched by her affirming presence.

We see throughout the Gospels the tremendous and extraordinary power Jesus possessed to affirm others! People in the presence of the most dire circumstances suddenly find their lives transformed by the dynamic, affirming presence of Jesus. Whether it be the woman at the well, Zacchaeus (the dishonest tax collector), the woman caught in adultery, the man who came to Jesus through an opening in the roof, or the immoral woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair, Jesus is authentically open to them, he makes time for them, he affirms and does not condemn them, and ultimately he liberates them from the tyranny of sin. Thus, as one example, he says to the woman caught in adultery: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11). And Zacchaeus comes away from his encounter with Jesus vowing to make restitution to all those he has defrauded (Luke 19:8).

We thus see that Jesus, who is the supreme exemplar of authentic Christian affirmation, had a remarkable way of being open to others and giving to them the gift of discovering their own inner goodness and of receiving themselves as children of God. Jesus’ method of affirming others involves a liberation from sin rather than an acceptance of sin. Jesus does not condone sin – rather he frees, he heals, he liberates. Authentic affirmation, therefore, does not, as Catholic psychiatrist C.W. Baars points out, consist in “lowering moral standards and precepts with a mistaken notion that this will help people to become happier….” Thus, to try to affirm someone by telling them that pornography is OK, or that illicit sexuality is OK, or that vulgar language is OK, contradicts the Jesus method of affirmation. Jesus never, ever compromises the moral law to affirm someone.  Thus, as mentioned,  Jesus authentically affirmed the woman caught in adultery by his forgiving presence, and by directing her to a “life of purity” (“go and sin no more,” John 8:11).

In contrast, many people have raised a red flag about the so called Pope Francis mercy. They note that “Francis mercy” has a different taste, so to speak, than the Divine Mercy spoken of in Saint Faustina’s Diary (where the consequences and gravity of sin are mentioned in a very serious manner) and brought prominently to our attention by Saint John Paul II. If this characterization of Francis mercy goes too far, it at least serves to demonstrate the profound concern many have about it.

If Pope Francis wants to bring to the Communion rail people who are in situations that profoundly contradict Catholic moral teaching, then it is incumbent upon faithful Catholics to point out that such a sentimental type of mercy is dramatically at odds with infallible Catholic doctrine that states that a person in mortal sin cannot receive Holy Communion (see CCC 1385). Anyone, including a Pope, who holds Catholic moral teaching to be an “ideal,” rather than the norm, has missed the mark regarding the true Catholic understanding of grace and justification infallibly promulgated at Trent and enshrined in the Catechism (see CCC 1987 thru 2005; see 1989, which reads, “The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. ‘Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man’ “).

God the Father in Heaven affirmed Jesus once again during Jesus’ Transfiguration, saying, “This is my son, My Chosen one, listen to him” (Luke 9:35).  Jesus is our model. He shows us the authentic Christian method of affirmation. Let us listen to him!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. I am relying almost exclusively on a beautiful little book entitled, Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation, by Dr. Conrad W. Baars. Everything in this note flows from Dr. Baars’ book, and I have merely presented some of his ideas in a condensed manner.

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THREE QUOTES FROM SAINT JOHN PAUL II THAT SHOULD HAVE PREVENTED THE AMORIS LAETITIA TRAIN WRECK

 Vom 15. bis 19. November 1980 besuchte Seine Heiligkeit Papst Johannes Paul II. die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Auf Einladung von Bundespräsident Karl Carstens hat der Papst seinen pastoralen Besuch mit einem offiziellen in Bonn verbunden. Am 15. November gab der Bundespräsident einen Empfang zu Ehren Seiner Heiligkeit auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl bei Bonn. Dort führte Papst Johannes Paul II. auch ein Gespräch mit Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt. Gleichzeitig traf Bundesaußenminister Hans-Dietrich Genscher mit Kardinal-Staatssekretär Casaroli zusammen. Im Anschluß an den offiziellen Teil begab sich der Papst auf den Bonner Münsterplatz, um dort eine Ansprache zu halten. Ferner bestand der pastorale Teil aus Besuchen in Köln, Osnabrück, Mainz, Fulda, Altötting und München. In allen diesen Städten hielt Papst Johannes Paul II. die Heilige Messe. Eigentlicher Anlaß seines Aufenthaltes in der Bundesrepublik war der 700. Todestag von Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), dessen Grab der Papst in Köln besuchte. Bundespräsident Karl Carstens und Papst Johannes Paul II. auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl.

“Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit….” (2 Timothy 1:14)

“The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 84)

Amoris Laetitia may be likened to a train that went off its tracks and therefore crashed. The Amoris Laetitia train wreck easily could have been avoided if Pope Francis had simply chosen to guard the truth handed down to him by the great Saint John Paul II, the very Pope who was canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014. Here are the three quotes from Pope John Paul II that should have prevented Pope Francis (most especially in the controversial Chapter 8) from trying to refashion Catholic moral theology in a profoundly subjective and presumptive manner (if you are not familiar with this controversy, please refer to my previous post at the following link: https://catholicstrength.com/2017/02/19/amoris-laetitia-st-thomas-aquinas-and-the-proper-reception-of-holy-communion/).

Quote # 1

In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio ( no. 84) Pope John Paul II wrote that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics positively could not receive Holy Communion, for two very profound reasons:

“However, the church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon sacred scripture, of not admitting to eucharistic communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that 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. Besides this there is another special pastoral reason: 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.”

Quote # 2

In the encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, Pope John Paul II warned about the inherent danger of making one’s own weakness the criterion of truth and the tremendous confusion this type of “mercy” would cause in the church:

“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. It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values.” (Veritatis Splendor, 104).

Quote # 3

Finally, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliation and Penance (a document highly relevant to the proper reception of Holy Communion), Pope John Paul II warned the Church against trying to create a theological category out of psychological considerations and mitigating circumstances, stating:

“But from a consideration of the psychological sphere one cannot proceed to the construction of a theological category, which is what the ‘fundamental option’ precisely is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin.

While every sincere and prudent attempt to clarify the psychological and theological mystery of sin is to be valued, the Church nevertheless has a duty to remind all scholars in this field of the need to be faithful to the word of God that teaches us also about sin. She likewise has to remind them of the risk of contributing to a further weakening of the sense of sin in the modern world (no.17).”

Conclusion: Pope Francis’ misstep was trusting too much in his own presumptive-leaning attitude towards God’s mercy (which casts doubt upon the clear and unchangeable teaching of the Church concerning mortal sin) rather than in the Sacred Tradition of the Church (based on Holy Scripture) which would have safeguarded the truth and avoided the scandal and confusion caused by Amoris Laetitia. There is still time to bring Amoris Laetitia (most especially the highly controversial Chapter 8) in line with the authentic teachings of the Church. Let us pray for a good ending to this difficult chapter in the Church’s history. Moreover, when a Pope goes off course it is clearly an obligation of faithful Catholics to respectfully and lovingly point it out for the greater good of the Church.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Photo Attribution: The photograph of Pope John Paul II by Lothar Schaack, Nov. 15, 1980, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F059404-0019 / Schaack, Lothar / CC-BY-SA (at Wikipedia).

P.S. We see, then, that the direction of Amoris Laetitia is fundamentally at odds with Saint Pope John Paul II’s great encyclical on moral theology, Veritatis Splendor, wherein he states: Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuials but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts” (n. 115). Amoris Laetitia and Veritatis Splendor are not in harmony with each other. It is going to be very difficult for Catholics to preach about sin if the Church creates a mitigating exception to every ongoing immoral situation; and this is the profound difficulty with Amoris Laetitia that Pope John Paul II warned about (which empties the Gospel of its saving power).

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