Monday, October 30, 2017

A response to the dubia of the four cardinals

This is post # 3 of a three part series.
Bearing in mind the Sarah case (i.e. post # 1, which is accessible by clicking here) and the case for absolution therein (detailed in post # 2, which can be accessed by clicking here), reproduced below are the dubia of the four cardinals, other relevant portions from their letter, and possible answers in red:

<<The portions in red are submitted for the judgment*① of Holy Mother Church>>

  1. It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. This depends on whether there is a deliberate choice by the person to live more uxorio, and to be more precise, whether there is a deliberate and free choice by the person to live as such without fulfilling the conditions provided for by those Church documents. In the Sarah case, when there was initially a deliberate choice by Sarah, she cannot be granted absolution. When the situation changed, and she no longer deliberately chooses to live more uxorio; however, for the sake of the children's welfare, wishes to live only as sister and brother with Mohammed, but is forced by him to submit to sex, the possibility for the grant of absolution is opened up.  Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio? Yes, when there is no deliberate choice to live more uxorio and engage in sexual relations, as described for instance in the Sarah case.

It would seem that admitting to Communion those of the faithful who are separated or divorced from their rightful spouse and who have entered a new union in which they live with someone else as if they were husband and wife would mean for the Church to teach by her practice one of the following affirmations about marriage, human sexuality and the nature of the sacraments:
  • A divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond, and the partners to the new union are not married. This is affirmed. However, people who are not married can under certain circumstances legitimately engage in acts of sexual intimacy. This is not affirmed. However, such framing does not quite capture or do justice to certain situations like that described in the Sarah case.
  • A divorce dissolves the marriage bond. People who are not married cannot legitimately engage in sexual acts. The divorced and remarried are legitimate spouses and their sexual acts are lawful marital acts. This is not affirmed.
  • A divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond, and the partners to the new union are not married. People who are not married cannot legitimately engage in sexual acts, so that the divorced and civilly remarried live in a situation of habitual, public, objective and grave sin. However, admitting persons to the Eucharist does not mean for the Church to approve their public state of life; the faithful can approach the Eucharistic table even with consciousness of grave sin, and receiving absolution in the sacrament of penance does not always require the purpose of amending one’s life. The sacraments, therefore, are detached from life: Christian rites and worship are on a completely different sphere than the Christian moral life. This is not affirmed.

  1. After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 79, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions? Yes. In the Sarah case, Sarah is not being permitted to commit adultery as an exception.

The second question regards the existence of so-called intrinsically evil acts. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 79, claims that one can “qualify as morally evil according to its species … the deliberate This is the key word here. Discernment should assess whether the choice is deliberate. In the Sarah case, after her conversion, Sarah no longer deliberately chooses to have sex with Mohammed. choice of certain kinds of behavior or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.” This applies only if there is a deliberate choice to engage in an adulterous act. When a person wishes to live as sister and brother but her partner forces himself on her, how can she be said to choose that act? If she doesn't resist him out of fear for the children's welfare and anxiety over losing their custody in a messy civil divorce, how can it be said that there is a free choice on her part to commit adultery?

Thus, the encyclical teaches that there are acts that are always evil, which are forbidden by moral norms that bind without exception (“moral absolutes”). These moral absolutes are always negative, that is, they tell us what we should not do. “Do not kill.” “Do not commit adultery.” In the Sarah case, when Sarah no longer deliberately chooses to have sex with Mohammed, but out of fear, anxiety and concern for the good of her children, she submits reluctantly and doesn't resist when he forces himself on her, is she choosing to commit adultery? Only negative norms can bind without exception.

According to Veritatis Splendor, with intrinsically evil acts no discernment of circumstances or intentions is necessary. Uniting oneself to a woman who is married to another is and remains an act of adultery, that as such is never to be done, even if by doing so an agent could possibly extract precious secrets from a villain’s wife so as to save the kingdom (what sounds like an example from a James Bond movie has already been contemplated by St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo, q. 15, a. 1). John Paul II argues that the intention (say, “saving the kingdom”) does not change the species of the act (here: “committing adultery”), and that it is enough to know the species of the act (“adultery”) to know that one must not do it. In the Sarah case, after her conversion, does Sarah deliberately choose to commit adultery when Mohammed forces himself on her?

  1. After Amoris Laetitia (301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, “Declaration,” June 24, 2000)? Yes, but in the Sarah case, the question is whether Sarah deliberately chooses to habitually live in contradiction to a commandment of God´s law.

In Paragraph 301, Amoris Laetitia recalls that: “The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations.” And it concludes that “hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”

In its “Declaration,” of June 24, 2000, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts seeks to clarify Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.” The Pontifical Council’s “Declaration” argues that this canon is applicable also to faithful who are divorced and civilly remarried. It spells out that “grave sin” has to be understood objectively, given that the minister of the Eucharist has no means of judging another person’s subjective imputability. Ordinarily yes, but if the minister of the Eucharist happens to be the one to whom a penitent revealed all in the confessional, the situation may change. As for the Pontifical Council’s Declaration, it also says in # 2 b) that obstinate persistence means ´the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.´

In Sarah´s case, she wishes to bring the situation to an end by living as sister and brother with Mohammed but is unable to do so on her own, considering that there is no co-operation for the same from Mohammed, - who forces himself on her every now and then. She could walk out of the union completely - but that would psychologically affect and harm the children. The exercise of her free will is compromised out of fear (of being divorced) and anxiety [that she and her four children would be abandoned*②; that there would be psychological scarring of her children, two of whom would lose out on the presence of a father*② in the home and the other two would lose out on the presence of a (foster) father figure.]
[*② Presuming that in the event of a civil divorce, custody of all the four children would be granted to Sarah, and that Mohammed would not fight to keep custody of his two children. In case the custody of Mohammed's children is given to him in the event of a divorce, any earlier decision by Sarah to walk out of the union entails her having to also risk two of her children growing up without their mother at home {⇒ lesser chances of those children benefiting from a Catholic upbringing.} Is a woman in such a situation forced by Church teaching to sacrifice or risk the children's welfare and take on the risk of losing their custody and possibly jeopardize their chances of a Catholic upbringing through her?]

Thus, for the “Declaration,” the question of the admission to the sacraments is about judging a person’s objective life situation and not about judging that this person is in a state of mortal sin. Indeed, subjectively he or she may not be fully imputable or not be imputable at all.
Simply ´judging a person´s objective life situation´ alone and, as AL 298 puts it,
´(pigeonholing) or (fitting) into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment´,
would not suffice.
To meet the demands of justice, that bit in the ¨Declaration¨ about ´obstinate persistence´, viz., ´and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end,´ also needs to enter the matrix of discernment. The question would need to be asked as to whether the will of the individual is really free and unfettered ´to bring to an end´ the objective situation of sin that endures in time (and with respect to the Sarah case, without simultaneously also risking her children's welfare and also risking loss of their custody in a messy civil divorce.) As noted above, if separation is not feasible due to the presence of children of the new union, the person is left only with the option, which the Church suggests, of ´living as sister and brother´. But to put this into effect, there needs to be co-operation from the other partner. And if such co-operation is not forthcoming, how can justice be served?

Along the same lines, in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 37, St. John Paul II recalls that “the judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience.” Hence, the distinction referred to by Amoris Laetitia between the subjective situation of mortal sin and the objective situation of grave sin is indeed well established in the Church’s teaching.

John Paul II, however, continues by insisting that “in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved.”
He then reiterates the teaching of Canon 915 mentioned above.

Question 3 of the Dubia, hence, would like to clarify whether, even after Amoris Laetitia, it is still possible to say that persons who habitually live in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, such as the commandment against adultery, theft, murder or perjury, live in objective situations of grave habitual sin, even if, for whatever reasons, it is not certain that they are subjectively imputable for their habitual transgressions.
Yes, but considering the facts of the Sarah case, just attributing to Sarah (after her conversion) an ¨outward conduct¨ which is ¨clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm¨ would not suffice once she reveals all in the confessional. It would be a travesty of justice to simply determine that she is living in an ´objective situation of grave habitual sin´ and NOT take into account*③ the subjective imputability for ´habitual transgressions´. (or to be precise, the question actually is whether *she* is 'habitually transgressing' when it is her partner who forces himself on her.) The possibility of grant of absolution is opened up.
In pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, Communion may thereafter be given (only) privately to Sarah or she may receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo.

*③ (Any such tortuous casuistry would be akin to Shylock´s fixation on the pound of flesh or countenancing from an innocent husband ONLY a ´yes´ or ´no´ answer to the question: ¨Have you stopped beating your wife yet?¨)

  1. After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 81, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “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”? Yes. But this does not cover or do justice to certain situations like that described in the Sarah case, where, after her conversion, there is no intrinsically evil act deliberately chosen / intended by Sarah as such.

In Paragraph 302, Amoris Laetitia stresses that on account of mitigating circumstances “a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.” The Dubia point to the Church’s teaching as expressed in John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, according to which circumstances or good intentions can never turn an intrinsically evil act into one that is excusable or even good. If, for the sake of the good of the children, Sarah were to deliberately choose to commit adultery, she cannot be given absolution and Communion. But, as noted earlier, that is not the case. Hence, it is not a question of ´turning an intrinsically evil act into one that is excusable or even good´ but of discerning if the intrinsically evil act is/has actually been deliberately and freely chosen by the penitent.

The question arises whether Amoris Laetitia, too, is agreed that any act that transgresses against God’s commandments, such as adultery, murder, theft or perjury, can never, on account of circumstances that mitigate personal responsibility, become excusable or even good. Yes, but this misses the point noted above since, in the Sarah case, after her conversion, Sarah does not deliberately choose / intend to commit adultery.

Do these acts, which the Church’s Tradition has called bad in themselves and grave sins, continue to be destructive and harmful for anyone committing them in whatever subjective state of moral responsibility he may be? Yes, but this misses the point noted above.

Or could these acts, depending on a person’s subjective state and depending on the circumstances and intentions, cease to be injurious and become commendable or at least excusable? No, but this misses the point noted above.

  1. After Amoris Laetitia (303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 56, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object? Yes, but this does not cover or do justice to certain situations like that described in the Sarah case.

Amoris Laetitia, 303, states that “conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God.” The Dubia ask for a clarification of these affirmations, given that they are susceptible to divergent interpretations.

For those proposing the creative idea of conscience, the precepts of God’s law and the norm of the individual conscience can be in tension or even in opposition, while the final word should always go to conscience that ultimately decides about good and evil. No, but this does not cover or do justice to certain situations like that described in the Sarah case.

According to Veritatis Splendor, 56, “on this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called ‘pastoral’ solutions contrary to the teaching of the magisterium, and to justify a ‘creative’ hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.”
In this perspective, it will never be enough for moral conscience to know “this is adultery,” or “this is murder,” in order to know that this is something one cannot and must not do.
Rather, one would also need to look at the circumstances or the intentions to know if this act could not, after all, be excusable or even obligatory (Question 4 of the Dubia). No, but this does not cover or do justice to certain situations like that described in the Sarah case.

For these theories, conscience could indeed rightfully decide that, in a given case, God’s will for me consists in an act by which I transgress one of his commandments. “Do not commit adultery” is seen as just a general norm. In the here and now, and given my good intentions, committing adultery is what God really requires of me.  Under these terms, cases of virtuous adultery, lawful murder and obligatory perjury are at least conceivable. No, but this does not cover or do justice to certain situations like that described in the Sarah case.

This would mean to conceive of conscience as a faculty for autonomously deciding about good and evil and of God’s law as a burden that is arbitrarily imposed and that could at times be opposed to our true happiness. No, but this does not cover or do justice to certain situations like that described in the Sarah case.

However, conscience does not decide about good and evil. The whole idea of a “decision of conscience” is misleading. The proper act of conscience is to judge and not to decide. It says, “This is good.” “This is bad.” This goodness or badness does not depend on it. It acknowledges and recognizes the goodness or badness of an action, and for doing so, that is, for judging, conscience needs criteria; it is inherently dependent on truth. Yes.

God’s commandments are a most welcome help for conscience to get to know the truth and hence to judge verily. God’s commandments are the expression of the truth about our good, about our very being, disclosing something crucial about how to live life well. Yes. Pope Francis, too, expresses himself in these terms, when, in Amoris Laetitia, 295: “The law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception.”

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* NB: Although Amoris Laetitia # 3 says:

´Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.´

as stated above, the portions in red are submitted for the final judgment of Holy Mother Church.