“The encyclical on moral problems ‘Veritatis Splendor’ took many years to ripen and remains of unchanged relevance.” (Pope Benedict XVI in 2018)
“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.” (Father Raymond de Souza)
About a year ago, the Vatican released a letter written by Pope Benedict in which it had intentionally deleted Benedict’s specific reference to the great encyclical on Catholic morality (written by Pope John Paul II), Veritatis Splendor. When the redaction was discovered, the whole matter was very embarrassing to the Vatican (and, as it turned out, in light of the full letter, one could see that Pope Benedict XVI vigorously defended the magisterial authority and importance of Veritatis Splendor).
Just this past week, Pope Benedict XVI released a new letter in which he once again brings to the Church’s attention the critical importance of VERITATIS SPLENDOR, and this in the specific context of the horrible sexual morality crisis confronting the Catholic priesthood and the Church.
In his letter, Pope Benedict recounts the Catholic morality and Catholic moral theology “crisis” that entered the Church in the 1960s, and reached “dramatic proportions in the late ’80s and ’90s.”
This crisis of morality, says Pope Benedict in the letter, “was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed…. Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; [there could be] only relative value judgments. There no longer was the [absolute] good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances.”
It is at this point that Pope Benedict makes reference to Pope John Paul II and Veritatis Splendor, stating:
“Pope John Paul II, who knew very well the situation of moral theology and followed it closely, commissioned work on an encyclical that would set these things right again. It was published under the title “Veritatis splendor” on August 6, 1993, and it triggered vehement backlashes on the part of moral theologians. Before it, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” already had persuasively presented, in a systematic fashion, morality as proclaimed by the Church….
The pope was fully aware of the importance of this decision at that moment and for this part of his text, he had once again consulted leading specialists who did not take part in the editing of the encyclical. He knew that he must leave no doubt about the fact that the moral calculus involved in balancing goods must respect a final limit. There are goods that are never subject to trade-offs.”
Pope Benedict then tells us that Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on Catholic moral theology, Veritatis Splendor, “was published on August 6, 1993 and did indeed include the determination that there were actions that can never become good,” which “were always and under all circumstances to be classified as evil” (my emphasis).
Referencing Veritatis Splendor, the Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine (Our Sunday Visitor), published in 1997, specifically states that the Church’s teachings therein about mortal sin “are decisive,” having “been taught insistently by the Church” with the “degree of universality and firmness associated with infallible teaching of the ordinary Magisterium.” Pope John Paul II seemed to say as much in Veritatis Splendor when he said:
“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” (No. 115).
Now we come to the heart of the problem, namely, the clear and unmistakable attempt to modify or nullify the teachings of Veritatis Splendor through the Papacy of Pope Francis. Unless you have your head buried in the sand, the whole momentum of the Pope Francis Papacy has been the publication of Amoris Laetitia, following a careful build-up to the Apostolic Exhortation by way of a “Year of Mercy” and the “Synod on the Family.” Amoris Laetitia – most especially in nos. 301 through 303 – incorporated the very moral theology arguments rejected as erroneous in Veritatis Splendor. The broad principle articulated in Amoris is that, under particular or “given circumstances,” God sometimes approves of acts that are otherwise known to be mortally sinful. For an overview of this stunning development, which shocked the Catholic world, see my post: https://catholicstrength.com/2017/11/02/why-amoris-laetitia-is-much-worse-than-originally-thought/
Again I repeat, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has now authored two letters to the Church during the Papacy of Pope Francis. In both letters he has specifically highlighted the importance of Veritatis Splendor to the Church. Do you get what he’s trying to say? The Vatican (or at least the responsible agents therein) was so disturbed by Pope Benedict’s reference to Veritatis Splendor in Benedict’s first letter that they redacted it. Now, in a second letter, Pope Benedict is once more calling our attention to Veritatis Splendor, and this in special reference to the immorality crisis in the Church.
Following the publication of Amoris Laetitia, the Church’s greatest living Professor of moral theology, Germain Grisez, sent a lengthy letter to Pope Francis in which he said:
“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. Since truths like these cannot supersede or annul one another, papal or other episcopal statements made while teaching in persona Christi must be presumed to be consistent with one another when carefully interpreted. Thus it is a misuse of such a teaching statement to claim its support without having first sought so to interpret it.
Furthermore, if an apparent inconsistency emerges after careful interpretation, a teaching statement that is not definitive is misused unless it is understood with qualifications and delimitations sufficient to make it consistent with Scripture and teachings that definitively pertain to Tradition, each interpreted in the other’s light.”
In light thereof, Pope Francis was under every obligation to follow the clearly authoritative Veritatis Splendor for the reasons stated above. Moreover, the point would seem abundantly clear, and it is abundantly important to the future of the Church – where Amoris Laetitia contradicts Veritatis Splendor, especially where Amoris attempts to call good actions which can never be called good (as in nos. 301-303), such an interpretation of the moral law is, ipso facto, invalid as violative of the clear prohibitions in Veritatis Splendor.
Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A., J.D.
Image Attribution: Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a solemn mass on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius X. By: Mangouste 35. October 9, 2008. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license (per Wikipedia).
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