Restoring Catholic Moral Theology

News: Commentary
by Paul Brock  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 30, 2021   

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In the United States, the legalization of contraception, abortion and gay "marriage" have proven to be among the country's biggest moral failures. 

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The legalization of contraception, abortion and gay "marriage"

1965, 1973 and 2015 were the years that, specifically in the arena of sexual morality, scandalized Americans and also many Catholics. 

This sexual immorality, not just in America but around the world, is what caused Pope Emeritus Benedict to say in 2019: "Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society." 

Morality Vs. Ethics

Moral theology is a branch of theology. It's the study of human actions under the light of divine revelation. 

It's usually compared with ethics, which is the study of human actions under the light of reason. 

These two fields are usually compared because they have the same subject matter: human actions.

The difference is in using either a natural or supernatural lens; in morals, the subject is examined in light of God's divine revelation, and in ethics, it's just the light of human reason.

Defiance of Catholic Moral Teaching

From 1962–1965, Vatican II was held. After the over-three-year-long council was concluded, the bishops of the world released four constitutions, three declarations and nine decrees. One of those decrees was called Optatam Totius, a decree on priestly training. This decree called for "the perfecting of moral theology," but what came afterward was the exact opposite. 

It is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

Just three years after this call to perfect Catholic moral theology, Pope Paul VI published Humane Vitae. The focus of the encyclical was on the regulation of birth. As contraception became more accepted by the world, especially in the United States, Pope Paul simply reaffirmed what the Church has always held, saying: "It is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong." 

Not even a full week after the pope's condemnation of contraception, and 87 Catholic so-called theologians issued a dissent against it — these 87, made up mostly of clergy, said the pope's teaching "is not binding." (It was and still is.) 

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Two years later, the dissenting clergy kept coming out against the infallible teaching. This time it was 200 Italian theologians led by Bernard Häring. Father Häring was known for his stand in favor of artificial methods of birth control.

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(L to R) Fr. Bernard Häring, Karl Rahner and Hans Küng

Not even 50 years later, Pope Francis praises Häring: "I think Bernard Häring was the first to start looking for a new way to help moral theology to flourish again." 

Erroneous Moral Systems

Post-Vatican II thinkers questioned many Catholic truths. For instance, with Karl Rahner, human nature is impossible to define. With Hans Küng, no human statement could be absolutely true. 

These false ideas are intermingled with many erroneous moral systems.

Consequentialism is one such system, holding that certain actions cannot be judged as morally wrong simply by looking at the object.

The fundamental option is another, essentially holding that no single act can be a mortal sin except the final act of apostasy. Skipping Mass, fornication and even murder would not be damnable offenses for a subscriber to this school of thought. 

These false ideas are intermingled with many erroneous moral systems.

Consequentialism was condemned by Pope St. John Paul II in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor:

The opinion must be rejected as erroneous which maintains that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behavior or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned. 

The fundamental option was also condemned. The Holy See in 1975 issued a formal declaration titled Persona Humana saying: "There are those who go as far as to affirm that mortal sin, which causes separation from God, only exists in the formal refusal directly opposed to God's call, or in that selfishness which completely and deliberately closes itself to the love of neighbor."

Watch the full episode of Mic'd Up—Restoring Catholic Moral Theology.

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