The Catholic Conscience, the Argentine Bishops, and "Amoris Laetitia" | E. Christian Brugger | Catholic World Report
Chapter 8 of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation is characterized by a false dichotomy between the objective and subjective realms of morality, contrary to Vatican II and St. John Paul II.
A group of Argentine bishops (ABs) recently published pastoral guidelines for implementing Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia (AL). The ABs tell their clergy that under certain circumstances divorced Catholics in sexually active second unions may receive the Holy Eucharist, even without receiving an annulment.
The ABs sent their guidelines to Pope Francis to ask whether their pastoral approach was consistent with the meaning of AL. Pope Francis replied in a letter on papal stationary saying that their “document is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia”; he then stated, “There are no other interpretations.” The authenticity of the pope’s letter was verified on Sept. 12 by the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano and reprinted later by Vatican Radio. There no longer seems to be any doubt about where Pope Francis stands on the disputed “Kasper Proposal”.
Other authors have commented and reported on the papal reply, so I will not do so here. The purpose of this article rather is to critique the account of moral conscience implicit in the reasoning of the AB’s and AL as defended in a recent article in National Catholic Reporter by Michael Lawler and Todd Salzman entitled: “In Amoris Laetitia, Francis’ model of conscience empowers Catholic”. The Salzman-Lawler (SL) duet made fame in 2008 for its publication of the book, “The Sexual Person”, which set forth a fulsome defense of same-sex genital acts from Scripture, tradition, and natural reason, and which was censured by the Committee on Doctrine of the USCCB in 2010.
In the NCR article, the authors consider what they refer to as two “diametrically opposed” understandings of conscience, one which they say overly emphasizes the “objective realm” of moral truth, and the other which, in their opinion, rightfully emphasizes the “subjective realm” of freedom and individuality. Let’s call these the “objectivist” and “subjectivist” models.
SL say that St. John Paul II,1 Archbishop Charles Chaput (“Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia”) and Germain Grisez2 represent the objectivist model; and Pope Francis (in Evangelii Gaudium 231-232 and Amoris Laetitia Ch. 8), the German Jesuit theologian Josef Fuchs, and German Redemptorist theologian Bernard Häring represent the subjectivist school.
In what follows I will show that SL have set up a false dichotomy between the objective and subjective realms of morality; then demonstrate how that false dichotomy characterizes the account of conscience found in the ABs and Ch. 8 of AL; and finally offer a fair explanation of the John Paul II-Chaput-Grisez (and Vatican II) account of conscience. I end with some remarks on the question of whether Catholics are obliged in conscience to accept the papal prescriptions taught in AL, Ch. 8.
Proportionalism: “no intrinsically wrongful actions”
Before summarizing SL’s account, it’s important to understand a presupposition of their theory. They follow the reasoning of Fuchs and Häring, who in the years after Vatican II became Europe’s foremost defenders of the moral theory known as “Proportionalism”.3 Although it comes in different flavors, common to all proportionalists is the insistence that intending evil as an end or means (what defenders refer to variously as “premoral evil”, “ontic evil”, “disvalue”, etc.) does not by that fact make an action morally wrong. If there are “morally relevant circumstances” justifying the commission of the evil—what they call “proportionate reasons” (not to be confused with proportionate reason as used in the classical Principle of Double Effect)—then it can rightly be chosen.
Why do I say this is important to understand?