Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Sterilization: Catholic Teaching and Catholic Practice

by Dr. William E. May


Dr. William E. May takes on some of the dissidents over the question of authentic Catholic teaching in the matter of direct sterilization.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review


9 - 42

Publisher & Date

Catholic Polls, Inc., New York, NY, August-September 1977

Today it is widely recognized that there can be morally compelling reasons to avoid pregnancies and to avoid conception. One way, of course, to avoid pregnancy is to practice contraception by using various forms of contraceptives. Each of these forms of contraception, however, has its "failure" rate and its share of unpleasant side-effects.1 In some instances, therefore, particularly when the mother's health may be seriously jeopardized by another pregnancy or when the child-to-be may be seriously crippled by a genetically or chromosomally induced disease, sterilization may seem to be the most efficient and medically sound way for exercising parental and familial responsibilities.

The authentic teaching of the Church, as is well known, holds that both contraception and "direct," that is, contraceptive, sterilization, are inherently wrong and that therefore no one may rightly practice contraception or undergo direct sterilization even to carry out parental and familial obligations.2

Many people today believe that the authentic teaching of the Church on both contraception and sterilization is not only in error but is positively inhumane.3 When the teaching of the Church was reaffirmed recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in response to queries forwarded to it by the United States Conference of Bishops,4 a leading Roman Catholic moral theologian, Richard A. McCormick, S.J., observed that it was by no means clear that sterilization for contraceptive purposes was, as stated by the Congregation, an intervention that harms the moral good of the person and, consequently, an intervention inherently or intrinsically evil. In addition, he pointed out that the Congregation too easily dismissed existing theological dissent on this issue.5 On the one hand, it simply asserted that sterilization for contraceptive purposes was contrary to the moral good of the person and hence intrinsically evil and did not in any way show why this is so. On the other hand, it simply dismissed a contrary theological position without critically assessing that position. Another prominent Roman Catholic moral theologian, Charles Curran, recently published an essay in which he undertook to examine, criticize and refute the traditional teaching of the Church on the question of sterilization.6 There is little wonder, then, that the issue of sterilization is one of the utmost urgency, particularly for those charged with the administration of Catholic hospitals. They are confronted, on the one hand, with the authoritative teaching of the Church, a teaching incorporated into the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities7 and on the other hand with the teaching of a significant and esteemed body of theologians.8 In addition, they are confronted with the problem of articulating a policy for the hospitals under their administration.

My purpose here is to offer some reflections on three interrelated issues: (1) the moral meaning of sterilization; (2) the value to be assigned to existing theological dissent; and (3) the policy to be adopted by those in charge of Catholic health facilities. I will conclude with some thoughts about the significance of this issue as a human and pastoral question.

1. The Moral Meaning of Sterilization

According to the teaching of the Church, sterilization is an intrinsically evil act insofar as it attacks the moral good of the person. Here I will endeavor to show why this is a true teaching. Before advancing my argument, however, it is quite necessary to point out that my efforts to do so will not be convincing to McCormick or to any person who agrees with the basic moral theory advocated by him and many moral theologians today. In a series of his "Notes on Moral Theology" and at more length in his Pere Marquette Theology Lecture for 1973, Ambiguity in Moral Choice,9 McCormick developed quite clearly a moral theory that he discerned, rightly in my judgment, in the writings of a great many contemporary moral theologians, including such figures as William Van der Marck, Cornelius Van der Poel, Josef Fuchs, Bruno Schuller and Louis Janssens.10 Although there are significant differences to be observed in all these authors, their thought converges to shape the "ethics of proportionate good" advocated by McCormick, an ethics to which another influential American Catholic moralist, Daniel Maguire,11 wholeheartedly subscribes.

Central to this ethics is the distinction between moral evil and what is variously termed "premoral," "nonmoral," and "ontic" evil. The only human acts, on this theory, that can truthfully be described as being intrinsically evil are those that of themselves involve moral evil, and the only human acts of this kind are those of causing directly and with direct intent the sin of another. Other human acts may involve "nonmoral" evil, such as the death of an innocent person, the rape of a child, or the sterilization of a human person, but such acts are (or better become) morally evil only when there is no proportionate good that can serve as a justifying cause, one that allows us not only to permit the evil by allowing it as an incidental and unavoidable concomitant of an act in which we intend directly only the good but also to intend the evil, to will it in itself but not for itself. And such acts are (or better become) morally good when there is such a proportionate good. It is, the advocates of this theory admit, almost inconceivable in some instances, for example, rape, that there is a good that could serve as a proportionate cause for intending an evil (nonmoral) of this kind. Thus this theory holds that some norms are "virtually exceptionless," but in principle even norms of this kind are open to exceptions and acts effecting such evils as rape and intending that these evils be could conceivably be made morally good.12 In other words, on this theory all human acts in which one intends and effects evil, other than those of wilfully causing the sin of another, are in themselves neither morally good nor morally evil but become morally good in the presence of a proportionate good and become evil in the absence of such a proportionate good.13

Here I am not interested in criticizing this moral theory, although it is pertinent to note that it has been seriously challenged by several contemporary writers, including Paul Quay, S.J., Paul Ramsey and Germain Grisez.14 If this theory is true, then obviously it could never be shown that an act of sterilization is intrinsically evil, just as it could never be shown that an act of suicide or of rape is intrinsically evil. All one can do is argue whether a reason assigned to justify such acts intentionally causative of "nonmoral" evil is in truth "proportionate," and reasonable men/women quite obviously will disagree over what constitutes a "proportionate" good, something evident in the disagreement between McCormick and Maguire over acts of "choosing death" for oneself or another. They agree on the principle of the proportionate good but disagree in the application of this principle in cases of suicide and mercy killing.15

I will proceed on the assumption that the moral theory accepted by McCormick and, according to his own appraisal, operative in the thought of many contemporary Roman Catholic moral theologians, is by no means true and that it is open to serious objections. Alternative moral theories exist.

Rooted in Aquinas

One alternative, and the one in terms of which I hope to give reasons showing why contraceptive sterilization is intrinsically evil, is reflected today in the writings of such philosophers and theologians as Germain Grisez,16 John Finnis,17 Albert Ple,18 Herbert McCabe,19 and is, in my judgment, rooted in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.20

On this theory there are, if you will, premoral or nonmoral or ontic goods of the human person which, taken together, go to make up the total human good. Among such goods are the goods of life and health, truth, justice, peace, friendship. As such these goods are nonmoral, for after all a person is not a morally wicked person because he/she lacks friends or is sick or treated unjustly. Still these goods are real goods of human persons: we have a need for these goods if we are to be fully ourselves and we have a right to such goods.

Moral goodness enters in when we relate these goods to the human will or, to speak biblically, to the human heart. The person whose heart is open to God is the one who is open to these human goods and to their realization in human persons, himself and others. None of these goods is the summum bonum or an "absolute" good in the sense of being the be-all and end-all of human existence — only God is the summum bonum. But a human person's moral or ethical good, his participation in the life of the summum bonum, is totally dependent upon his willingness to recognize these real goods of human persons for what they really are. And each of these goods is a real good of human persons and a created participation in the goodness of God himself. Viewed religiously, they are gifts of our loving Father. Because they really are good they ought to be considered as such by human persons; they ought to be viewed as blessings, not as curses. Since none of these goods is an absolute, the be-all and the end-all of our lives, none ought to be regarded as such and made to function as the key to solving all conflict situations, as the "proportionate good" for whose sake we have a moral right to intend directly the destruction of any other human good.21 Although we cannot be pursuing all of these goods all of the time, and although we may, in tragic instances, suffer the loss or destruction of these goods in ourselves and others when the struggle to preserve them or participate in them would of necessity cause us to reject other real goods of the human person, we ought to be unwilling to set our wills against any one of them or to say, in effect, that any one of them is here and now not a good but an evil. Each of these goods, in other words, is what classically would be termed a bonum honestum, something truly good and valuable in itself. They are not merely bona utilia, realities good only for the sake of something else, good only because of their functional utility and hence to be valued only when they serve goods that are really bona honesta.22

Our Animality is Different

Now the power to generate new human life is a human personal power. It is a power that we have precisely in virtue of our sexuality — a power, in a sense, that we share with other animals who reproduce their kind through sexual union. But because our animality is an animality that is radically different in kind from the animality of other animals insofar as it is an integrally human and personal animality,23 our power to generate new human life is by no means merely a biological function, something subpersonal or subhuman. Rather it is an integrally human personal power. As such, this power of the human person is a good of the human person, a reality participating in the goodness of the human person. It is a bonum honestum, not a bonun utile, and it is moreover a good human personal power ordered to a good of transcendent value, the communication of life and love to a new human person.24

In addition, this human personal power to generate new human life is inherently related to another human personal and sexual power, a power quite unique to the human person, namely, the power to enter into communion with another human person in sexual union. This is usually referred to as the unitive dimension or meaning of human sexuality. It is very important to note the uniqueness of this human power. It is distinct from, although related to and meant to be integrated with, the power of the human person to enter into relationships of friendship with others through acts of understanding and of love. But the kind of human friendship that is capable of being established through the exercise of this human personal and sexual power is a kind of human friendship that is unique. It differs from "brotherly" or "sisterly" love, the kind of love that is inclusive and reaches out to embrace all human persons. It differs from this kind of human friendship insofar as the friendship that can be and is meant to be established through the exercise of this human sexual power is exclusive in a nonpossessive way and gives rise to what the philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand calls "spousal" or "wedded" love25 and what the psychologist Erich Fromm terms "erotic" love,26 the kind of love meant to characterize the covenantal bond between husband and wife. It is not to my purpose here to discuss this further. My purpose, however, is to show that the human sexual power to procreate is inherently related to the human sexual power to establish this very unique kind of human friendship.

Humans Procreate

It is so inherently related because no human person can exercise his/her power to generate new human life without the collaboration of another human person of the opposite sex. These two human sexual powers, powers rooted in the human person and in the sexuality of the human person, are thus inherently interrelated, and are so for a purpose. For the generation of new human life is not an act of reproduction but one of procreation, one that brings into being a new human person and brings also into being bonds of covenantal fidelity between the persons collaborating to generate the life and between themselves and the child brought into being through their choice to exercise their sexual powers.

Both of these human sexual powers are integral to the human person and participate in the goodness of the human person. Each of these powers is a blessing given to the human person by God. It is possible for us to abuse these powers, and we can morally bring them into exercise only under certain conditions. But as such these powers are good and ought to elicit from us a response of love and acceptance because they are integral to our humanity, to our personhood.27

Deliberately to choose to act in a way that negates the human sexual power to enter into communion with another person through sexual union is, on the theory operative here, inherently or intrinsically evil, something that Pope Paul noted perceptively in Humanae Vitae.28 Most of the writers who accept contraception/sterilization would themselves oppose the deliberate choice to act against the unitive good of human sexuality and against the goodness of the human sexual power to enter into communion with another person. But there is no real reason, in principle, why one who accepts the moral theory common to McCormick and other contemporary Roman Catholic moral theologians should hold that to act in this way is inherently or intrinsically evil. To act in this way is morally evil only when no proportionate good can be achieved, and in principle to act in this way could become morally good if one can discover a proportionate good to justify it.

Similar thinking applies to the great good of procreation and to the goodness of the human sexual power to procreate, something that Pope Paul also made quite clear in Humanae Vitae.29 To act contraceptively or to intervene by surgical sterilization for contraceptive purposes is, in effect, to choose to reject the goodness of this human power. It is to say, in effect, that this power is here and now an evil, a curse, not a blessing, and it is a curse because here and now it interferes with my participation in another good of the human person.

This is what is at stake in contraceptive sterilization. This is a practice that can be morally justified only if one considers the human power to procreate as a merely utilitarian good, a bonum utile, a power that is not good in itself but good only because it is helping to serve other human goods. But to regard the human personal power of procreating in this way is to repudiate its inherent goodness; it is pragmatically to reduce it to a merely biological function, to a bonum utile whose goodness is totally determined by the consciously chosen ends toward which it can be directed. It is precisely in this way, indeed, that the dissenting theologians regard the human personal and sexual power to procreate.30

It Attacks the Person

To summarize: man's moral good is constituted by his willingness to recognize the inherent goodness of those real human goods which, together, go to make up the whole human good and to choose to act in ways that manifest his love for their goodness and for the Summum Bonum of whom they are created participations. He ought not to be willing to act in ways that repudiate these human goods and in effect declare them to be, here and now, positively evil. The human power to generate new human life is an inherently human and personal power, participating in the goodness of the human person. Sterilization is an act that is deliberately intended to reject the goodness of this human personal power and the inherent relationship that it has to the other great human sexual power to enter into a communion of conjugal friendship with another human person in an act expressive of their acceptance of each other completely. Sterilization is thus an act that of its very nature attacks the ethical or moral good of the human person and that is, consequently, intrinsically evil.

2. The Value of Theological Dissent

There is no doubt that reputable Roman Catholic moral theologians dissent from the authoritative teaching of the Church on both contraceptive intercourse and contraceptive or direct sterilization.31

It is not possible here to examine all of the arguments these theologians advance to support their position. Today, in fact, even the defenders of these practices no longer advance arguments but simply assume that the reasons given in the period before and after Humanae Vitae settled the question. As Curran notes, and in an article in which part of the title promises a "refutation" of the teaching of the Church on sterilization, there is no longer any need to offer a refutation. He sums up the views of dissenting theologians by asserting that, "those who accept artificial contraception understand human sexuality in terms of its relationship to the individual person, to his spouse or family and to all of society. In the light of these multiple relationships the individual has stewardship over his sexuality and his reproductive functions (and) the right to intervene in these functions in the light of the multiple relationships."32

In Curran's assertion we do find the heart of the argumentation that has been diversely employed. It is an argumentation that looks upon the human power to generate new human life (the procreative power) as a "reproductive function." It is an argumentation that understands human sexuality in terms of its relational character, i.e., its unitive dimension. It is, in brief, an argumentation that has in principle separated the unitive and the procreative powers of human sexuality, deeming the one (the procreative) as merely biological, i.e., subpersonal or subhuman, and considering only the other (the unitive) as personal and truly human.33

Little Reassessment Made

It is an argumentation, moreover, that either explicitly or implicitly relies on the ethics of the proportionate good. This is evident if one examines closely the line of reasoning taken by the authors of the so-called Majority Report of the Papal Commission for the Regulation of Births. As Norbert Rigali recently noted, "Underlying the Commission's argument . . . is the notion that physical evil or a certain violence against physical nature, done in pursuit of human ends [that is, in pursuit of a proportionate good], is in accord with natural law."34 Rigali also notes that this argument is by no means self evident.35

In appraising the worth of theological dissent here, it is pertinent to apply the criteria that McCormick himself suggested some years ago. In speaking of the response that Catholics ought to make to authentic but noninfallible magisterial teachings (and, for the sake of argument, I presume that the teaching on sterilization can be so classified36), McCormick said that the initial response might not be actual assent but "kind of connatural eagerness to accept and adhere to this teaching," and that this connatural eagerness would be concretized in various ways. One concretization would be "a readiness to reassess one's own positions in the light of this teaching, an attempt to see if this teaching can be supported on grounds other than those presented."37

A survey of the literature will show, I believe, little evidence that dissenting theologians have made strenuous efforts to reassess their own positions and to discover reasons other than those presented that might support the teaching. There is evidence, however, that some who have, e.g., Peter Riga, have concluded that their initial dissent was ill founded and that there are good reasons to support the teaching. It can surely be suggested that the criteria so luminously articulated by McCormick in 1968 for responsible dissent have not been adequately met.

In offering this assessment I am, of course, simply registering my own judgment, one in which responsible theologians such as Rigali concur. But in offering it I in no way intend to call into question the loyalty of dissenting theologians. It seems to me that they are motivated by a misplaced love for the Church and the people of God, insofar as they believe that the authentic teaching imposes intolerable burdens on the consciences of men and women (of this more later). Nonetheless, their dissenting views can in no way be judged as casting the authentic teaching of the Church into doubt. This teaching is, as it were, "in possession," and carries a binding force that can be set aside only if it can be conclusively shown to be erroneous. Since the arguments advanced by dissenting theologians have been seriously challenged by competent critics and since in addition there are good moral arguments (and I hope that the one advanced earlier can be included among them) supportive of the authentic teaching of the Church, one cannot make the claim that the position taken by dissenting theologians can be compared with the authentic teaching of the Church on this matter. The teaching of the Church remains as a norm for practice.

It serves as a norm for practice in a special way for institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, which represent the Church to the general public. It therefore ought to be manifested in their policies. This leads us to the third section of these observations.

3. A Policy for Catholic Hospitals on the Question of Sterilization

The practical problem facing administrators of Catholic hospitals is simply that the authentic teaching of the Church on contraceptive or direct sterilization is repudiated by a sizable segment of the population, including large numbers of Catholics, and of the doctors who serve on their staffs. Their personal right to act in accord with their own judgments of conscience must be respected, and in addition it must be acknowledged that in many instances Catholic hospitals are supported, at times to considerable extent, by public funds derived from taxpayers, many of whom regard the teaching of the Church on this subject as an absurdity. Thus there is, at times, considerable pressure on the administrators of Catholic hospitals to allow their facilities to be used in sterilizations.

In addition, although there is a strict moral obligation for Catholic hospitals to refuse formal cooperation in operations of this kind, every competent theologian and indeed the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith38 will admit that individual Catholics and Catholic institutions can, under very precise conditions, cooperate materially in acts that are intrinsically evil, such as sterilization.

I am not here going to review the general principles governing material cooperation, inasmuch as this has been done already quite thoroughly by other writers, most recently by Kevin O'Rourke, O.P.39 The difficulty, as O'Rourke notes, is to relate these general principles to existing conditions and to formulate more precise norms for their application. This is primarily the responsibility of particular hospitals, in collaboration with the local bishop, but it may be possible to present some pertinent reflections.

First of all, there do not seem to be present any of the redeeming or justifying features for material cooperation in localities where decent non-Catholic hospital facilities exist in which sterilization is common. The problem becomes critical in localities where the Catholic hospital is the only medical facility within reasonable distance of persons who for conscientious reasons believe that sterilization is the "right" thing to do. Here the grave cause allowing material cooperation would be a respect for the consciences of others and a desire to avoid even greater evils, such as public outrage and a climate in which the Catholic hospital could no longer bear witness to evangelical ideals in the care of the sick.

Scandal Must be Avoided

In such instance, one can argue that the conditions exist in which a Catholic hospital can materially cooperate by providing space, equipment and personnel for sterilization. But something more needs to be taken into account, namely, the obligation to avoid scandal and the obligation to bear witness. The material cooperation of a Catholic hospital to sterilization must in no way be interpreted simply as a ploy, a way of going along with the "party line" while in actual fact regarding it as trivial and meaningless. For the teaching of the Church on the intrinsic malice of sterilization does in fact have something to tell us about the meaning of our lives as sexual beings and as persons who are meant to communicate life and love to a new generation of human beings in acts that bring into exercise our sexual powers of procreation and of unification and that bring into being both a personal union of a very unique kind between man and woman and a living image of the loving God. I shall return to this point — to the witness that the Catholic hospital is called to give — in my concluding comments. Here I simply wish to stress that material cooperation, when justified, must be seen to be that.

Thus it seems to me that materiality of the cooperation must be made known quite clearly and symbolically, perhaps by limiting the times when such equipment and facilities can be made available and by segregating the area where the sterilization is to be done in order to convey the conviction of the Catholic hospital that the operation is truly immoral and is being merely tolerated.

In addition, it needs to be recognized that in today's world running a hospital is a business, and one that can be quite profitable even if the institution and such agencies as Blue Cross-Blue Shield are legally "non profit" organizations. Many are eager to enter this business. Thus a Catholic hospital in a locality where it is the only health care facility might seriously have to consider the reallocation of its resources to an area where its mission of witness can be effectively carried out. It may perhaps be necessary prophetically to "shake off the dust" of some cities or towns because it becomes evident that a Catholic witness there is no longer wanted.

In conclusion I want to offer some reflections about the apparent "harshness" of the Church's teaching on contraception/sterilization, for I believe that one of the principal reasons why this teaching is rejected is that many believe that it imposes intolerable burdens upon the consciences of men and women who are struggling as best they can to make their marriages a success, to care for the children they already have, and to avoid irresponsible acts of begetting children. I can appreciate the agony of the problem.

Ultimately, I believe, the issue centers on the place that marital intercourse is to play in the lives of human persons. There can be no question that marital intercourse is, in itself, a great human good for married persons, a wonderful way for them to share their lives, to renew their commitment to one another and indeed to their children. The authentic teaching of the Church recognizes this,40 as it does their obligations to foster love for one another.

Sex is Not the Highest Goal

The teaching of the Church on contraception/sterilization, of course, does not mean that married persons must never express their love in marital intercourse. It definitely does mean, however, that there will be times when they will have to forego participating in this good, precisely because they cannot do so rightfully, and perhaps this could be for prolonged periods of time for some.41

My point simply is that marital intercourse, while in itself a great good, is by no means the highest good or a good that can serve as a proportionate reason for rejecting other goods of the human person. It is a good that in married life must at times be sacrificed for a variety of reasons. In addition, marital intercourse is only one way in which married persons can express their love for one another — and there are other ways in which they can express their love for one another sexually.42 In fact, God help those married persons who can think of no other way of communicating and expressing their love for one another!

I believe that the teaching of the Church on the inherent malice of contraception/sterilization is intended to make us think seriously about our lives as persons who are sexual and who are, in addition, called upon to love even as we have been and are loved by God. As his living images we are asked to open our hearts to the full range of the human good, including the great good of the human personal power of procreation, a power whereby he enables us to join with him in the creation of new human life, and this good is attacked, and with direct intent, in contraceptive sterilization. The teaching of the Church is simply that we must learn to order our loves, to do the good well and to be unwilling to act against any real good of human persons, even if by doing so we are enabled to participate in other goods of the human person.

William E. May received his doctorate in philosophy from Marquette University. For many years an editor with the Bruce Publishing Company, Dr. May joined the faculty of the Department of Religion and Religious Education at Catholic University after working for Corpus Instrumentorum. The author of Christ in Contemporary Thought (Pflaum) and Human Existence, Medicine, and Ethics (Franciscan Herald Press), he is married and the father of seven children.


1 Among the unpleasant side-effects of the pill, one should note, can be counted cancer, blood-clotting, phlebitis, nausea, etc. I have personally known women who have died as a result of taking the pill, and this makes me wonder what kind of love a husband has for his wife if he allows her or pressures her into taking it in order to avoid a pregnancy when there is an obligation to avoid the pregnancy.

2 That direct sterilization means sterilization for contraceptive purposes is clearly indicated in the documents of the magisterium, for instance in the allocutions of Pius XII to the Catholic Union of Obstetricians and to the International Society of Hematology (AAS 43 (1951) 843-854; 50 (1958) 734-737) and in paragraph 14 of Humanae Vitae (AAS 60 (1968) 490-491). The point is clearly made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Documentum circa sterilization — in nosocomiis catholicis (Responsa ad quaesita Conferentiae episcopalis Americae septentrionalis) of March 13, 1975: "Any sterilization which of itself, that is, of its own nature and condition, has the sole immediate effect of rendering the generative faculty incapable of procreation, is to be considered direct sterilization." On this subject see Gerald A. Kelly, S.J., Medico-Moral Problems (St. Louis: Catholic Hospital Association, 1958), pp. 154-157 (on the teaching of Pius XII), and Charles E. Curran, New Perspectives in Moral Theology (South Bend: Fides, 1976), pp. 194-211.

3 Among the many who expressed this view is James Burtchaell, '"Human Life' and Human Love," Commonweal, November 13, 1968, 248-250.

4 The Congregation replied in a letter under the Latin title given in note 2. The text of the letter is printed in Origins 6.3 (June 10, 1976) 33 and 35.

5 Richard A. McCormick, S.J., "Sterilization and Theological Method," Theological Studies 37.3 (September, 1976) 471-477.

6 The title of Curran's essay in New Perspectives . . . (cf. note 2) is "Sterilization: Exposition, Critique, and Refutation of Past Teaching."

7 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities (St. Louis: Catholic Hospital Association, 1975), n. 18, p. 10.

8 Among the theologians who dissent on this matter are such figures as Bernard Haring, Charles E. Curran, John Dedek. Curran, speaking of contraception, notes that, "today it is safe to say that the majority of Catholic theologians who are currently involved in research and writing disagree with this hierarchical teaching," loc. Cit., p. 196, note 5.

9 Marquette University, 1974. In this work McCormick reviews the thought of William Van der Marck, Cornelius Van der Poel, and Peter Knauer in the rethinking of the principle of double effect. Although he disagrees with each of these authors and offers some substantive criticisms of their views (in particular, the rejection, by Van der Poel and Van der Marck, of the meaningfulness of the distinction between the "directly intended" and the "indirectly intended," McCormick approves of the thrust of their thought. He sees this thrust most accurately set forth by Bruno Schuller, and the position that he articulates is basically that of Schuller. In his "Notes on Moral Theology", Theological Studies 33.1 (March, 1972), 68-119, McCormick had reviewed recent writings of Josef Fuchs and Bruno Schuller and had argued that both converged to articulate the notion that one could rightfully intend evil in se sed non propter se.

10 In his "Notes on Moral Theology," Theological Studies 36.1 (March 1975), McCormick comments (pp. 89-91) on an important essay by Louis Janssens, "Ontic Evil and Moral Evil,' Louvain Studies 4 (1972) 115-156, and concludes that the position of Janssens is of the same kind as that set forth previously in Ambiguity in Moral Choice.

11 Daniel Maguire, Death by Choice (New York: Doubleday, 1974). See in particular Chapter Five, pp. 115-130, where Maguire relies heavily on the analysis given by McCormick in Ambiguity . . . to show that, in the final analysis, primacy must be accorded to the principle of proportionate good or reason, the "master category" in ethics.

12 McCormick himself nowhere, so far as I know, says rape could be a morally good act, but it follows logically from his premises that any act, other than wilfully causing the sin of another, can be morally good since no act other than this is inherently evil. Maguire, op. cit. p. 99, notes that it would appear to be so ghastly to rape a girl suffering from mental illness that a rule proscribing this act would seem to be absolute in the sense that there could be no possible exceptions to it. Still it remains in principle open to an exception if a proportionate reason can be found. In this he concurs with McCormick, who acknowledges only "virtually exceptionless" concrete norms.

13 McCormick insists (e.g., Ambiguity, pp. 53-58) that only acts in which one wilfully sets out to cause the sin of another are of themselves morally evil, or inherently evil. It follows then that no other acts intending and effecting evil are inherently evil.

14 See Paul Quay, S.J., "Morality by the Calculation of Values," Theology Digest 23.4 (Winter, 1975) 347-365 for an excellent critique of what he terms this "mercantile approach to Christian ethics." Paul Ramsey and Germain Grisez have both recently written lengthy essays critical of the McCormick-Schuller position. Their essays will be printed in a volume to be published shortly by Yale University Press. McCormick has also contributed an essay to this volume. I have also criticized this theory in Chapter Four of my Becoming Human: An Invitation to Christian Ethics (Dayton: Pflaum, 1975) and in an essay, "Ethics and Human Identity: The Challenge of the New Biology," in Horizons: Journal of the College Theology Society 3.1 (Spring, 1976) 17-38.

15 On this see McCormick, "Notes on Moral Theology," Theological Studies 34.1 (March, 1973) 73, where he entertains practical doubts about the conclusions reached by Maguire in his essay, "The Freedom to Die," Commonweal, August 11, 1972. Maguire subsequently noted, in his Death by Choice, p. 165, note 6, that there is this disagreement between himself and McCormick, a disagreement whether the goods assigned by Maguire for justifying the act of deliberately intending one's own or another's death are in fact proportionate. But as Maguire goes on to note, both he and McCormick are in agreement that the master category of ethics is that of proportionate good.

16 Germain Grisez has developed this theory in several places, including his Contraception and the Natural Law (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1964), chapter three; Abortion: The Myths: The Realities and the Arguments (New York: Corpus, 1970), chapter six; and in his essay, "Toward a Consistent Natural Law Ethics of Killing," American Journal of Jurisprudence 17 (1970).

17 John Finnis, "Natural Law and Unnatural Acts," Heythrop Journal 11 (1970) 365-387.

18 Albert Ple, Chastity and the Affective Life (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965). The first part of this beautiful work is an exposition of the meaning of our moral life, rooted in the thought of Aquinas, and it is an exposition that clearly maintains that there are indeed inherently evil acts that we must not be willing to choose to do if we are to choose life.

19 Herbert McCabe, What is Ethics All About? (New York: Corpus, 1969). In this work McCabe, working from a Thomist tradition, is at pains to show that our acts not only get things done, that is, have results, but get things said, that is, have something to tell us about ourselves. That is why we are interested in determining the meaning of our acts, and some simply cannot count as expressions of a loving heart. Such acts are "inherently evil," although McCabe does not use this terminology.

20 I believe that the principal texts in Aquinas pertinent here are Summa Theologiae 1-2, qq. 6-21, in which he treats of the conditions for an act to be human and the division of human acts into good and evil. In particular in q. 20, a. 2 he shows that the goodness of the external act (the physical performance) must be determined by its "fitting matter" and not simply be the intending will ordering it to some good. In addition, as Grisez has lucidly shown in his essay, "The First Principles of Practical Reason: A Commentary on Summa Theologiae, 1-2, 94, 2," Natural Law Forum (1965) reprinted in Anthony Kenny's Aquinas: Critical Essays (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1969), the moral theory set forth by Aquinas in his general understanding of the movement from ignorance to a conscious realization of the principles and norms of the moral life is inherently related to this topic. See also my own "The Nature and Meaning of Natural Law in Aquinas," American Journal of Jurisprudence (1977), in press.

Van der Marck, Van der Poel, and Janssens attempt to argue that Aquinas' thought can be so interpreted that the external act (means, in their language) may be physically or ontically evil so long as the internal end of the act (which combined with the means forms the whole human act) is good. Grisez, in his book on Abortion and article in the American Journal of Jurisprudence shows quite clearly that the exegesis of Thomistic texts offered by Van der Marck and Van der Poel is erroneous; since the Janssens argument is quite similar, the same strictures apply. In addition, it is useful to compare the analysis of the human act given by the noted Thomist scholar, Vernon Bourke in his Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1957) to the analyses given by Van der Marck, Van der Poel and Janssens.

Finally, it ought to be noted that Maguire and Curran frequently appeal to the Thomistic dictum that moral norms (secondary precepts of the natural law) "valet ut in pluribus" to justify their interpretation that this means that there can be meaningful exceptions to such norms as "thou shalt not commit adultery." The erroneousness of their interpretation of the pertinent Thomistic texts is apparent, I believe, if their analysis is compared to the analysis of the same Thomistic texts given by such scholars as Michael Crowe and R. A. Armstrong.

21 It can be shown, I believe, that the "proportionate good" ethic in fact erects certain kinds of human goods, in particular consciously experienced goods, into an exception-making criterion. On this see the discussion of this topic in Chapter Four of my Becoming Human.

22 Here I have simply attempted to summarize points more adequately developed by other writers such as Grisez, Robert and Mary Joyce, John Kippley.

23 On this point it is instructive to read McCabe, op. cit. and Mortimer Adler, The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes (New York: Meridican Books, 1968).

24 The thoughts developed here are luminously explored by Mary Rosera Joyce in her Love Responds to Life (Kenosha, Plow Publishers, 1969). They are also treated briefly but incisively by James O'Reilley in his booklet, The Moral Problem of Contraception (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1975) and are developed in a somewhat different way by Dietrich Von Hildebrand in his The Challenge of Humanae Vitae (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1969).

25 On this see Von Hildebrand, Man and Woman (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1965), pp. 11-18.

26 On this see Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 55.

27 Here it is quite worthwhile to consult the very beautiful discussion given by John Kippley in his Covenant, Christ, and Contraception (New York Alba House, 1969) where he relates the act of contraception to a holding back of oneself in an act that is intended to be a giving of oneself.

28 Humanae Vitae, par. 13.

29 Ibid.

30 On this see my, "Sex, Love, and Procreation," Homiletic and Pastoral Review 76.8 (May, 1976) 10-29; reprinted in booklet form by that title in the Synthesis Series of Franciscan Herald Press.

31 On this see the comment by Curran in note 8 above.

32 Curran, op. cit., p. 209.

33 For a fuller development of this criticism see "Sex, Love, and Procreation."

34 Norbert Rigali, S.J., "The Historical Meaning of the Humanae Vitae Controversy," Chicago Studies 15.2 (Summer, 1976) pp. 127-139, at 131.

35 Ibid.

36 Although most authorities do hold that the teaching of the Church on contraception/sterilization is noninfallible yet authentic, it should be noted that Gerald A Kelly and John Ford thought this teaching to be definable, considering that it was among those truths of the moral order infallibly taught by the ordinary exercise of the magisterium. Cf. their Contemporary Moral Theology, Vol. II, Marriage Questions (Westminster, Md.: The Newman Press, 1963), 236-278.

37 McCormick, "Notes on Moral Theology," Theological Studies 29.4 (September, 1968) 715-716.

38 Documentum circa sterilizationem . . ., cited in note 2.

39 Kevin O'Rourke, O.P., "An Analysis of the Church's Teaching on Sterilization," Hospital Progress (May, 1976) 68-74.

40 See paragraphs 48-52 of Guadium et Spes and paragraph 11 of Humanae Vitae.

41 It is necessary here to note that there is a real difference between contraceptive intercourse and contraceptive sterilization and the choice to avoid pregnancy by foregoing the good of intercourse at times when conception can take place. On this see my article, "Contraception, Periodic Abstinence, and Responsible Parenthood," Faith and Reason 3.1 (Spring, 1977).

42 On this see the very fine book by Robert and Mary Joyce, New Dynamics of Sexual Love (Collegeville, Minn.: St. John's University Press, 1974).

© Catholic Polls, Inc. 1977.

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