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Remembrance of Popes past

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 06, 2018

Today—August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration—is the anniversary of the publication (in 1993) of Veritatis Splendor, in which St. John Paul II reaffirmed a basic principle of moral reasoning: that “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.” Notice the word “choice” at the end of that sentence: the word so favored by proponents of legal abortion. An intrinsically evil action, Veritatis Splendor reminded us, can never be the legitimate object of a moral choice.

In changing the language of the Catechism regarding capital punishment, Pope Francis did not say that the death penalty is intrinsically evil. As Archbishop Gomez remarked on Twitter, “The Catechism [as revised] is not equating capital punishment with the evils of abortion and euthanasia.” Abortion and euthanasia, as Pope John Paul II explained in Evangelium Vitae, are always wrong, in any circumstances, because they involve the deliberate taking of innocent human life. As Archbishop Gomez continues, “By definition, the lives of almost all those on death row are not ‘innocent.’“

Unfortunately the idea of intrinsic evil—of something that can never be justified—has virtually disappeared from contemporary public discourse. A fresh reading of Veritatis Splendor would be enormously helpful, as a means of inoculating ourselves against the popular errors of consequentialism and moral relativism.

And after reading that encyclical,...

Today is also the anniversary of the promulgation (in 1964) of Ecclesiam Suam, the first encyclical of Pope Paul VI. To celebrate that anniversary, Father Robert Imbelli has a fine piece in First Things, drawing attention to the Christ-centered message of that document. Blessed Paul VI insists that “the Church must be gripped with an intense and unfailing desire to learn the ways of the Lord.” That message recalls a repeated theme of the Psalms: that it is a blessing to know the laws of the Lord. “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!” reads the conclusion of Psalm 147. The faithful rejoice in knowing God’s law, in knowing moral right from wrong, because they know that the right path has been marked out by God for them. In that context isn’t it downright silly to suggest that we should be open to considering the “choice” for some other path? Wasn’t that option adequately explored by a couple we encountered in Genesis?

In Ecclesiam Suam, Paul VI wrote about the difficulties of engaging in moral dialogue with the secular world, at a time when moral reasoning has gone so wildly astray. He warned that “difficulties to dialogue are enormously increased by obstacles of the moral order: by the absence of sufficient freedom of thought and action, and by the calculated misuse of words in debate, so that they serve not the investigation and formulation of objective truth, but are employed to obtain predetermined outcomes.” He wrote those lines, remember, in 1964; it is uncanny how well they apply to what passes for moral discourse today.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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