Negative feedback on necessary distinctions, papal intentions, and moral complexity

Quick Hits: Negative feedback on necessary distinctions, papal intentions, and moral complexity

[Dr. Jeff is “digging himself into a deeper hole”; he concedes that some are calling him a fool or a knave; I do not, because I prefer to argue “ad rem” rather than “ad hominem”; in this case I call(ed) his argument(s) “dubious at best and absurd at worst”]

By Dr. Jeff Mirus | Sep 15, 2016

Necessary Distinctions: Recently I have written both to defend the Pope from the charge of heresy and also to insist that his own private interpretation of Amoris Laetitia does not tell us anything about what that act of the Magisterium requires us to believe. Given the distinctions necessary to such discussions, I suspect I have baited many people into denouncing me as either a knave or a fool.

Some think that to exonerate the Pope from the charge of heresy is to praise his policies, which does not follow at all. Others laugh at me for believing that a gravely evil action can be only venially sinful. But the Church has always taught that awareness of the gravity of the evil and full consent of the will are both always required for a person to be guilty of a mortal sin. This is part of Catholicism 101.

Papal Intentions: Still others have mocked me publicly for explaining that Pope Francis’ private comments on Amoris Laetitia are definitely not a legitimate guide to whatever Magisterial teaching that document might contain. But that ought to be self-evident. The Pope may privately explain what he intended or what he meant; but the Holy Spirit might well have prevented him from fully capturing his intention in the Magisterial document in question.

Indeed, in some cases, that is how the Holy Spirit must work to preserve the Church from error. He may well simply prevent the Pope from accurately stating some point which he had personally intended to make in the exercise of his Magisterium. In fact, Pope Francis’ very odd behavior on this whole issue (“bizarre” was the appropriate word used by another Catholic commentator, Robert Royal) looks suspiciously like the work of a man whom the Holy Spirit simply won’t allow to come right out and Magisterially teach something that is false.

I have said before that sometimes the guaranteed protection of the Holy Spirit is most obvious in the failure of a pope to formally teach what, by all the signs, he seems to want to teach.

Spiritual Complexity: In relation to all these distinctions, I am indebted to one of our readers in New Zealand, Peter Howard, for emailing me a fascinating quotation from Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on Christian Marriage (Casti Connubii, 1930). This encyclical addresses, among other problems, the deliberate frustration of the procreative end of the marital act (this was before “the pill”, which raised new questions leading to Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae in 1968). In number 54 of Casti Connubii, Pius XI clearly teaches: “Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”

But, as Howard noted, the Pope then made the following stipulation:

Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin. [59]

I confess that I missed this distinction for a long time, and have even counseled some people incorrectly. What the Pope teaches authoritatively here is that when one spouse insists on frustrating the procreative end of marriage despite the objections of the other, then the other does not sin in using the marital act for its unitive ends, as long as he or she continues to try to persuade the erring spouse to recognize the evil of contraception and cease to insist on it.

Takeaway: Do I think this translates directly to the sins we have been discussing in invalid marriages? No. But it shows how careful we must be, including me. We dare not settle moral questions without study, still less by the assumption that our own perceptions of reality are free from error, and should be “obvious” to all.

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4 comments on “Negative feedback on necessary distinctions, papal intentions, and moral complexity

  1. Küng Fu: Modernism the Legend Continues:

    Kwai Chang: The Holy Father’s progressive modernist opinions on divorce and Communion pertain only to discipline and not to doctrine in the dialectic of moral complexity, do they not, Master?

    Master Po: A camel may sometimes pass through the eye of a needle, Grasshopper.
    Relieved are the modernist neo-Catholics that he is free from the charge of heresy.

    Kwai Chang: It is not a problem then, Master?

    Master Po: The gravity of sins vary, as the wheel of karma turns. Vehicular manslaughter is not as serious as first-degree murder, Grasshopper.

    Bob Dylan: But a train wreck can be worse if the tanker cars are carrying fuel, man. Or if they crash into someone’s house or a crowded supermarket.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Oh, Bergoglio’s train wreck isn’t carrying fuel. That would pose dangers for climate change and global warming.

    Hans Küng: I would like to address that…

  2. Wow. Jeff concurs with the New Zealander in a false interpretation of Pope Pius XI. Maybe this is proof that Jeff, like Francis, is not able to make definitive statements about papal documents.

    It’s very simple, Jeff. Your example has nothing to do with the sin you want to excuse. The only reason you think it does is because the context is marriage. However, you want to excuse adultery, not a sin involving the husband and wife. Drawing your parallel further, though, we need to find the “grave cause” for adultery. You follow Francis’ lead in identifying the children as the cause. However, and this is the point, leaving the adulterous union does not, cannot, result in a grave situation.

    A counterexample is readily evident. Back to Bill and Jane, Jane leaves, Bill shacks up with Sue, “marries” her, has kids. Bill gets contrite. Now suppose Jane gets contrite, and Bill and Jane reconcile and reunite. Is it possible that leaving Sue constitutes “grave” matter? Of course not. Admitting this, however, we see that there could be no grave reason to stay in Sue’s bed. It would always be adultery.

    The bastard children yet present an obligation for Bill, but the obligation is not served by staying in Sue’s bed. This is the disconnect in your abuse of Pius XI’s encyclical.

  3. Jeff, had you searched a little in the encyclical, you’d have seen:

    50. How grievously all these err and how shamelessly they leave the ways of honesty is already evident from what we have set forth here regarding the origin and nature of wedlock, its purposes and the good inherent in it. The evil of this teaching [i.e., matrimony is an invention of man: see 49] is plainly seen from the consequences which its advocates deduce from it, namely, that the laws, institutions and customs by which wedlock is governed, since they take their origin solely from the will of man, are subject entirely to him, hence can and must be founded, changed and abrogated according to human caprice and the shifting circumstances of human affairs; that the generative power which is grounded in nature itself is more sacred and has wider range than matrimony – hence it may be exercised both outside as well as within the confines of wedlock, and though the purpose of matrimony be set aside, as though to suggest that the license of a base fornicating woman should enjoy the same rights as the chaste motherhood of a lawfully wedded wife.

    51. Armed with these principles, some men go so far as to concoct new species of unions, suited, as they say, to the present temper of men and the times, which various new forms of matrimony they presume to label “temporary,” “experimental,” and “companionate.” These offer all the indulgence of matrimony and its rights without, however, the indissoluble bond, and without offspring, unless later the parties alter their cohabitation into a matrimony in the full sense of the law.

    52. Indeed there are some who desire and insist that these practices be legitimatized by the law or, at least, excused by their general acceptance among the people. They do not seem even to suspect that these proposals partake of nothing of the modern “culture” in which they glory so much, but are simply hateful abominations which beyond all question reduce our truly cultured nations to the barbarous standards of savage peoples.

    What you and Francis are suggesting seems to fit the description in bold above, namely, “to suggest that the license of a base fornicating woman should enjoy the same rights as the chaste motherhood of a lawfully wedded wife.” I.e., the second “wife” counts as highly as a real wife, and thereby obligates the man to remain in adultery.

    Am I making a stretch? Nothing like yours, Jeff.

  4. Oh, and one more item. Jeff, you’re OK with using NFP to limit family size, as “responsible” parents do, right? How does that conform with the following?

    Pope Pius XI:

    56. Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.

    Hmmm. “[T]he Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals … raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew”… The pope is speaking for God, binding the Church in a matter of morals. Does ex cathedra come to mind? Does limiting family size by permanently frustrating the natural fecundity of marriage entirely escape this Divine condemnation?

    I just had to go there.

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