Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Father William Most Collection

Review of Robert M. Friday, Adults Making Responsible Moral Decisions.

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

[National Conference of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education, 3021 Fourth ST NE, Washington, D. C. 10017; © 1979, 1986, 1992.]

RF does a very skillful job of presenting and selling the latest deviations in moral theology. He imagines a case: Sarah has just had her marriage broken up. She speaks with Fr. Paul, who at first suggests trying for an annulment, later says there is no hope of that.

The conclusion: Sarah is making a mature and responsible moral decision if she decides to marry Steve. She does not consider herself as in sin if she does so. And it seems Fr. Paul does not either. He agrees she must drop her teaching in CCD, but that seems to be until the people in that can be educated to the new thinking. As to receiving Holy Communion, since Sarah does not think she is in sin, Fr. Paul at least implies that it is all right, she should just avoid giving scandal to people who don't know enough to understand.

The conclusion is reached by telling us to be mature, not just sheep who follow. 1)There is nothing obligatory in Church teaching besides definitions. 2) we cannot call anything sin without knowing three things: object, intention, circumstances. COMMENT: We can say a thing is objectively sin even without knowing the intention of a doer or his circumstances. RF's argument continues: For example, killing is objectively wrong, yet we kill mosquitoes and even turkeys for thanksgiving dinner. (Now, marginal numbers are for pages in the text).

2: Vatican II taught us that Catholics should not be just followers, non-distinctive sheep obeying commands. The post-Vatican II Catholic is being offered a model of a highly motivated, maturely responsible activist. Vatican II tells us to participate actively rather than conform passively. COMMENT: We compare this to Dei verbum §10: "The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God , whether written or handed on [Scripture or Tradition] has been entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium of the Church whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."

3: But today there is need of an unlearning process of what they once believed. Experience shows that a high price is already being paid for keeping "chronologically adult Catholics at a child's level of moral decision making performance."

7: Present official Catholic teaching now shows a fuller knowledge of reproductive biology and genetics not had by the Fathers or St. Thomas.

10: The demands of the Gospels call for a change of heart on the part of a weakened sinful people. "The sensus fidelium may sometimes be the promptings of the flesh and not of the Spirit." COMMENT: We compare Lumen gentium §12: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief."

11: Not every papal teaching is intended to be infallible, "e.g., teachings found in encyclical letters." COMMENT: Not everything in Encyclicals is infallible. But Pius XII in Humani generis, 1950, wrote: "Nor must it be thought that things contained in encyclical letters do not of themselves require assent of the mind on the plea that in them the pontiffs do not exercise the supreme power of their magisterium. These things are taught with the ordinary magisterium, about which it is also true to say, 'He who hears you, hears me.'" Now something protected by the promise of Christ is of course infallible, for His promise cannot fail. Not everything in encyclicals is such. Pius XII continued: "If the supreme pontiffs in their acta expressly pass judgment on a matter debated until then, it is obvious to all that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same pontiff, cannot any longer be considered a matter open for discussion among theologians."- Now something removed from discussion is definitive. And anything definitive is infallible . Cf. Lumen gentium §25: "Although individual bishops do not have the prerogative of infallibility, they can yet teach Christ's doctrine infallibly. This is true even when they are scattered around the world, provided that, while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with the successor of Peter, they concur in a teaching as the one which must be definitively held". The key word again is definitive - a teaching that is presented as flatly the teaching of the Church, not as an opinion or speculation. This covers an immense territory. RF seems to think only solemn definitions are binding. - Now in regard to contraception, Pius XI surely intended to give a definitive teaching in his Encyclical on marriage. Paul VI after 5, 1/2 years of agonizing also intended to make it definitive. Further, the people had long believed this teaching - and so LG§12 applies to it.

13: RF speaks of the actions against Hans Küng, Boff, and Curran and says in each case the possibility of dissenting from non-infallible teaching was the core. RF then goes on to say Canon 752 did not do much to resolve the issue. Canon 752 said: "When the pope or the episcopal college in the exercise of their authentic teaching office affirm a doctrine concerning faith or morals without intending to proclaim it by a definitive act, no assent of faith but religious respect (obsequium) of mind and will is due." The translation RF gives is weak. A literal version would say: "Not indeed an assent of faith, but yet a religious submission of mind and will must be given to the teaching which either the supreme pontiff or the college of bishops pronounces on faith and morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by a definitive act." We must notice the important words "religious submission of mind and will" Respect is too weak, it does not include submission of mind and will, but only a polite exterior. But Vatican II itself in LG § 25 said the same: "Religious submission of mind and of will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman pontiff even when he is not defining, in such a way, namely, that the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifested mind and will, which is clear either from the nature of the documents, or from the repeated presentation of the same doctrine, or from the manner of speaking." Curran who fought in print against the teaching of this sort was surely far from interior assent.

17: Stresses a covenant relationship, and says God and humans promise to be someone for the other, not simply to do something. But it does include to do. Ex. 19:5: "If you really harken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." They were to get favor on condition of obedience, which means what one must do.

18: "if premarital sex is wrong, it is so because it is in some way unloving toward the neighbor, self and therefore God." Quite true, but it is for the Church, not RF to decide if premarital sex is unloving. The Church has done that over and over, and the faithful - cf. again LG §12 - have believed that for centuries.

20: There are two major sources of content, Scripture and human reason. This is true in a way, but human reason must never contradict Scripture, as interpreted by the Church. Cf. again DV §10 cited above.

22: Here RF objects to citing the Onan case as a proof against contraception. Cites Kosnick, Human Sexuality, p. 15 which says really Onan was trying to steal his dead brother's inheritance. That is why God killed Onan. COMMENT: But the penalty in the OT for not fulfilling the levirate laws is only public humiliation (Dt. 25:7-10) - if it were for attempted stealing, it should be higher. So the Levirate law would not be enough to call for the death penalty. But contraception did call for it.

25: RF says that the sciences are still trying to find out fully what it means to be human. And charges that much moral theology has been marked by "physicalism and biologism," to use the penis for other than procreation has been said to be contrary to natural law. But then p. 26 asserts that masturbation to get a semen sample for fertility testing is not wrong.

In general, thinking of this sort includes the claim that since we have improved nature so much, why not improve it by contraceptives? They miss a distinction between changing nature in a way contrary to the way the Creator designed it to work , and changing nature in a way that improves its function. Contraceptives always go contrary to the design of the Creator. But p. 26 objects to saying contraception is wrong when contemplated by a couple with children who want to express their love at a time "when another pregnancy could well be irresponsible." RF does not even mention the possibility of Natural Family Planning, or trust in Divine Providence.

28: RF says there is risk and discomfort in working the way he proposes: it is that of living with ambiguity and limited certainty on moral norms. -- But there is no need for this discomfort; just ask the Church.

31: RF begins to confuse, at some length, the three moral determinants of an action: 1) the object (the nature of the act just in itself, regardless of who does it); 2) the end (the intention of the doer); and 3) circumstances. Pg. 35 said that "One needs to consider the more subjective and circumstantial elements of a human action before a judgment of sin is possible." - This is great confusion. It is true that we cannot say that this concrete person is guilty of sin without viewing all three elements. But we can say that a certain action, e.g., adultery, is wrong without asking who does it and with what interior dispositions. This is a key means used by RF to generate confusion. Then he will be able to finally to say Sarah is justified in a second marriage and is not in sin, and can, if it be done without scandal, receive Holy Communion.

32: Gives another angle on this picture: It says it is far better that sin be understood in terms of the person's total basic disposition or attitude toward God than as actions which break laws. COMMENT: This is the fundamental option theory, condemned by the Doctrinal Congregation in Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, Dec 29, 1975. Suppose I would say to a friend: I do not intend to break with you - I just want to do some things you hate, but please continue to consider me your friend, even if I do a lot of this, as long as I do not explicitly break with you.

36: RF argues we cannot say a given action is sinful in itself. What of killing a turkey or mosquitoes? COMMENT: To kill a human is sinful precisely because it violates the rights of God, the Lord of life. But if He authorizes killing as in capital punishment - cf. Romans 13:4 - that is all right. And to kill animals is all right, as long as done reasonably, since God has made us the masters of Creation. That is what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, according to most Scripture scholars today. When RF says on p. 36: "such killing [of animals and bugs] is nonetheless still evil, in the objective order, ." he adds to the confusion by saying the killing of the turkey for a dinner is all right because the evil is smaller than the good of a Thanksgiving dinner. Here we have proportionalism: the nature of the action can be disregarded if the intention and net result is more good than evil. But then RF on p. 37 speaks of premoral or physical evils, instead of moral evil. Further confusion on p. 38,"in this sin-scarred world, one can never do all the good and no evil, objectively speaking": so again: proportionalism, and there is no intrinsic moral evil.

39: "Subjectivity has to do with my personal investment of self in the action I do." So, fundamental option again.

44: "Our conscience inspired decisions... serve as windows into that deep personal inner self." It means: they show what our fundamental option is.

45: Begins to speak often of moral dilemmas. But they are manufactured. A real moral dilemma would be true when only two options would be open to me, and both involved mortal sin. If such a thing happened, I could merely take my pick. But it never does happen. RF merely means we must pick between two things, and the objective moral rating of an object is not of much significance.

51: Cites Cardinal Wright: "In the final analysis, conscience is inviolable and no [person] is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his [or her] conscience." True yes, but it doesn't mention the obligation to align conscience with the teaching of the Church. A false conscience cannot make right what the Church forbids. And the Cardinal's statement spoke of acting contrary to conscience, not of doing things conscience merely seems to permit. Instead, on p. 52: "These teachings [of Magisterium] do not have an overriding authority such that personal conscience is to be ignored or violated." So if Sarah thinks living in an invalid marriage is right, she will not be sinning, will be the conclusion. So, on p. 51: "A conscience honestly and responsibly formed may be followed without sin, even when the judgment of the church or other reasonable persons indicates a contrary opinion."

53: RF says: "human moral decisions always involve values in conflict." COMMENT: The dangerous word is values, which should be shunned like the plague. It is subjective: I value this, you value that. Instead we should speak of moral rules.

57: Sarah thinks she can appreciate the Church's position. But thinks it is "too idealistic." Fr. Paul does not like the word ideal: "I prefer to see these as the norms, that is, the goals toward which our efforts are to strive. They are attainable for most people... ."

58: Fr. Paul asserts that "The teaching against divorce is meant to preserve a significant value, but that value is not the greatest, supreme value." Also, "Ultimately the decision must be yours. Neither I nor the church should be your superego!"

60: Sarah: "There is more to loving God than keeping one rule at the expense of many others... there are greater values to be upheld... I do believe it's responsible, and not sinful." Fr. Paul, But, Sarah, it [the Church] does not call it sin, nor does it call you a sinner."

61: After saying, "Neither I nor the Church is in a position to judge" Fr. Paul adds: "Again, pastorally, I remind you that it is sin that keeps us from the sacraments. Prudent sensitivity to the question of scandal should direct how you act upon this." COMMENT: So, it seems to implies it is OK to receive Holy Communion, just avoid scandalizing people - which seems to mean, she should receive somewhere where she is not known. Then continues Fr. Paul: "I am grateful to you for your willingness to discontinue as a CCD teacher, at least until we can better educate people in regard to sin and the role and authority of personal conscience." - COMMENT: So in time all should admit Sarah is right.

64: "The Church must gradually relinquish its parenting role even while retaining its prophetic and teaching roles... . without attempting to be a person's conscience."



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