what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good

WHY PARAGRAPH 301 OF AMORIS LAETITIA IS SO PROFOUNDLY TROUBLING

“When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the “poorest of the poor” on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal.” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, no. 96)

Here is the very troubling passage from Amoris Laetitia (no. 301) which clearly suggests that a person can be in a “concrete situation” where he has no choice but to live in mortal sin (and is thus not guilty of  any sin):

301.  For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain “irregular” situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised.  The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.  More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule.  A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.  

Saint Pope John Paul II specifically rejected the above argument proposed in AL 301, stating the following in no. 76 of his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor:

“Such theories however are not faithful to the Church’s teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behavior contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition…. The faithful are obliged to acknowledge and respect the specific moral precepts declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord. When the Apostle Paul sums up the fulfillment of the law in the precept of love of neighbor as oneself (cf. Rom 13:8-10), he is not weakening the commandments but reinforcing them, since he is revealing their requirements and their gravity. Love of God and of one’s neighbor cannot be separated from the observance of the commandments of the Covenant renewed in the blood of Jesus Christ and in the gift of the Spirit.”

We are faced then with at least a hypothetical or conceptual heresy from Pope Francis, to wit: that a person may be justified in intentionally committing mortal sin. If this be the case, then the foundation of Catholic morality has been fractured, and who is to say what is right or wrong? Pope John Paul II warned of this very situation, saying:

“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).

Pope Francis, in AL 301,  has attempted to alter the understanding of justification pronounced at the Council of Trent, where it was infallibly said:

“If anyone says that the commandments of God are impossible to observe even for a man who is justified and established in grace, let him be anathema” (Session 6, canon 18)

I conclude with this final quote from Pope John Paul II, which should have served as an impenetrable road block against theories of moral relativism such as AL 301:

“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” (no. 115, Veritatis Splendor)

What motivated Pope Francis to go against the entire Tradition of the Church, and thus to compromise the moral law, is a very perplexing consideration? May the Holy Spirit guide the Church back to the fullness of truth.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A., J.D.

Image: Saint Peter by Peter Paul Rubens, between 1610 and 1612 (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

P.S. Significantly, one of the Church’s most prominent theologians has recently addressed errors in Amoris Laetitia. See link that follows:

Leading theologian: change canon law to correct papal errors …

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THE GOSPEL CANNOT BE PREACHED AS IF MORAL TRANSFORMATION IS OPTIONAL

 

“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)  

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification….” (1 Thes. 4:3)

The moral imperative of the Gospel is not optional; it is fundamental. In the preaching of Jesus conversion leads to a break with sin – as in Zacchaeus’ professed act of repentance and promised restitution, as in Jesus instructing the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, as in Jesus directly confronting the woman at the well about her immoral relationship. I have been reading Scripture for a long time now: who would dare to deny its urgent message to break with sin! Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). We are not allowed to invent a play Gospel where we become comfortable with sin. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church.” Jesus preached about sin as a very serious matter, and so have all the Catholic Saints.

Morality is not a consolation prize in the Catholic Church…a sort of additional benefit you get if you want to apply for it. No, Catholic morality is the very heart and soul of the Gospel, indeed, it is the very joy of the Gospel. The Gospel is a profound call to repent, to break with sin, to accept new life in Christ.

In the preaching of Jesus the critical importance of morality is emphasized from the beginning of his ministry. Jesus may very well have met people “where they are,” in some sense of that phrase, but only to point them in the direction of living profoundly by the moral Gospel. Thus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), preached at the commencement of his ministry, Jesus lays out a “manifesto” which is “a compendium of the moral code of Christianity” (Catholic Bible Dictionary, page 828). “He teaches on anger, adultery, marriage and divorce, oaths, retaliation, love for enemies, and alms-giving” (Id at 828). The fundamental importance of the moral life is firmly established – sometimes very dramatically –  in the preaching of Jesus. The beatitudes themselves represent the very highest moral perfection attainable in this life.

The Gospel is a call to holiness which will ultimately result in your complete and utter sanctification in Heaven. Therefore, there is no Gospel without the moral Gospel. To preach the Gospel is to preach holiness of life in imitation of Jesus and the Saints. To peach the Gospel is to preach a break with sin and a new life of grace in Christ. To preach the Gospel is to lead sinners to repentance. When we first hear someone preaching the Gospel, what do we hear: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1: 2-4).

The modern tendency to preach the Gospel without reference to its moral demands will only lead to an “obscuring of the moral sense” (Saint Pope John Paul II,Veritatis Splendor, 106). Saint John Paul II teaches us that the “New Evangelization” must include the presentation of the moral Gospel. The Pope stated:

“Evangelization — and therefore the “new evangelization” — also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality. Jesus himself, even as he preached the Kingdom of God and its saving love, called people to faith and conversion (cf. Mk1:15). And when Peter, with the other Apostles, proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, he held out a new life to be lived, a “way” to be followed, for those who would be disciples of the Risen One (cf. Acts 2:37-41; 3:17-20). Just as it does in proclaiming the truths of faith, and even more so in presenting the foundations and content of Christian morality, the new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived. In particular,the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations. For this reason, the Church, as a wise teacher of morality, has always invited believers to seek and to find in the Saints, and above all in the Virgin Mother of God “full of grace” and “all-holy”, the model, the strength and the joy needed to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments and the Beatitudes of the Gospel.” (Veritatis Splendor, 107)

 Saint John Paul II also reminded us that God’s Mercy is given to us to forgive, not justify, sin.

“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).

Our children deserve to hear the full Gospel – that is to say they deserve to hear the Gospel preached without neutering its moral imperative. There is no Gospel without the moral Gospel because Jesus came to save us from sin.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners….” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Note: The panoply of virtues and gifts given to us in baptism, which flow from sanctifying grace, are supernatural strengths with which to lead a moral life.

Reference: I had a Professor who once said: “There is no Gospel without the moral Gospel.”

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