Send in the Clowns (Sophists)
by Christopher A. Ferrara
May 9, 2017
Vatican Insider has published a report concerning the postscript to a volume on Amoris Laetitia entitled “Amoris Laetitia: a turning point in moral theology?” The title is a dead giveaway to the book’s thesis: that the current occupant of the Chair of Peter, by the mere publication of an apostolic exhortation, has altered the Church’s constant moral teaching in some dramatic way — as if any Pope had such authority.
The postscript on which the article reports demonstrates how this imaginary “turning point” is to be defended: sophistry that borders on the clownish, to which a reasonable response would be: “Is this a joke?”
The authors of the postcript, two Italian academics, take the four cardinals to task for posing as one of their dubia concerning AL the following:
“After Amoris Laetitia (303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, no. 56, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?”
That dubium addresses AL 303, which contains the simply outrageous proposition that even one who knows that Our Lord teaches that his “second marriage” objectively constitutes adultery — which is always and everywhere wrong — 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.”
This principle would make normative the private judgment of habitual sinners concerning the morality of their own behavior in the sight of God. It would mean, in practice, the demolition of the entire moral edifice of the Church in favor of a form of situation ethics based on “the concrete complexity of one’s limits.”
But the authors of the postscript maintain that the intrinsically evil act of adultery, which Our Lord ascribes to “whoever” — without exception — “divorces his wife and marries another” is not always adultery. They wonder aloud whether someone, “following a catastrophic marriage from the human point of view, deprived of love and whose character as the image of God has been crushed, cannot find in a new relationship that human and spiritual fullness, lived also in the expressive forms of his corporeal existence.”
Translation: It would not be adultery for someone who has had a very bad experience with his valid, sacramental marriage to take up with another partner and engage in sexual relations outside of marriage in order to regain his/her “human and spiritual fullness.” The “argument” — stripped of the pious word salad — reduces to the claim that sexual relations outside of marriage are not adultery if one has a really good excuse for engaging in them.
For this laughable proposition the authors offer the equally laughable explanation that as not every act of killing is murder, nor every act of taking the property of another stealing, it makes no sense to say that every act called adultery is adultery.
Come now. Murder is the deliberate killing of an innocent, and stealing is the deliberate taking of the property of another to which one has no rightful claim. Neither killing nor taking as such is an intrinsic evil, but only murder and theft. Adultery, on the other hand, is by definition a sexual act outside of marriage and thus can never be licit under any circumstances. The authors are playing word games by conflating killing with murder and the taking of property with stealing. A thoughtful ten-year-old could see through this “argument” in defense of the novelties of AL. But such nonsense is the only argument that can be mustered.
And what of the teaching of John Paul II in Veritatis splendor and Familiaris consortio on the absolute impermissibility of intrinsically evil acts, including adultery, which is in line with the entire tradition of the Church? According to the authors, this teaching is merely the result of “the influence of neoscholastic thought” which has led to “blocks of thought and action in the Catholic Church,” but “with Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis aims to offer a cue for continuing research, even in this field.”
Research? No “research” will ever turn up a justification for what Our Lord condemned as adultery without exception. By “research” the authors really mean what they themselves put on display: laughable sophistry in defense of an indefensible document that represents a blatant departure from the constant teaching of the Church on the intrinsic evil of adultery. Of such developments is the Third Secret of Fatima a warning to the Church.