Is a new ruling from the Magisterium needed on abortion?

Lack of Unanimity among Catholics

There is a grave problem within the field of Catholic moral theology today on the matter of abortion. Many theologians have proposed new approaches to ethics such that some direct abortions are said to be indirect, or are said to be justified without regard for the moral object. These heretical views have become instantly popular among many unfaithful Catholics, who have long rejected the definitive teaching of the Magisterium that direct abortion is always gravely immoral, even for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, and even in circumstances when the life of the prenatal cannot be saved.

Pope Pius XI: “Venerable Brethren, however much we may pity the mother whose health and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent? This is precisely what we are dealing with here. Whether inflicted upon the mother or upon the child, it is against the precept of God and the law of nature: ‘Thou shalt not kill:’ The life of each is equally sacred, and no one has the power, not even the public authority, to destroy it. It is of no use to appeal to the right of taking away life for here it is a question of the innocent, whereas that right has regard only to the guilty; nor is there here question of defense by bloodshed against an unjust aggressor (for who would call an innocent child an unjust aggressor?); again there is not question here of what is called the ‘law of extreme necessity’ which could even extend to the direct killing of the innocent. Upright and skillful doctors strive most praiseworthily to guard and preserve the lives of both mother and child; on the contrary, those show themselves most unworthy of the noble medical profession who encompass the death of one or the other, through a pretense at practicing medicine or through motives of misguided pity.” (Casti Connubii, n. 64).

The reason for this teaching is the three fonts of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. The first font is the intended end (the purpose for which the act is knowingly chosen). The second font is the knowingly chosen act, with its essential moral nature, as determined by the moral object (the end in terms of morality toward which the act is intrinsically ordered). The third font is the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences of the knowingly chosen act.

Direct abortion has a gravely disordered moral object because the knowingly chosen act is, by its very nature, ordered toward the killing of an innocent human person — in other words, it is a type of murder. No intention or purpose (first font), however good, and no circumstance(third font), however dire, can change the moral object (second font) from evil to good.

Pope John Paul II, speaking about direct abortion, taught: “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62).

Some theologians claim that abortion is no longer direct, and therefore it no longer has an evil moral object, in any circumstance in which the prenatal’s life cannot be saved, but the mother’s life can be saved, only by killing the prenatal. However, this idea is essentially a claim that intention and/or circumstances can change or determine the moral object. Such a claim has already been rejected by the Magisterium.

Pope John Paul II: “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person…. Consequently, 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.” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81).

Such a claim by some theologians in effect justifies abortion when it is a means to the good end of saving the life of the mother. But the Magisterium has already condemned the idea that abortion can be moral as a means:

Pope John Paul II: “Pius XII excluded all direct abortion, i.e., every act tending directly to destroy human life in the womb ‘whether such destruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an end’.” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62).

And the Magisterium has always taught that the end does not justify the means.

{3:8} And should we not do evil, so that good may result? For so we have been slandered, and so some have claimed we said; their condemnation is just.

Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “It is never permitted to do something which is intrinsically illicit, not even in view of a good result: the end does not justify the means.” (Dignitas Personae, n. 21).

Pope Paul VI: “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.” (Humanae Vitae, n. 14).

Pope John Paul II: “…the end never justifies the means.” (Message of his Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2004, n. 8.)

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The end does not justify the means.” (CCC, n. 1753).

And despite the clear and definitive teaching of the Magisterium on the absolute immorality of all direct abortion, various theologians continue to invent creative new approaches that will justify direct abortion in some cases. The result is a lack of unanimity among not only theologians, but the laity in general. For the laity, not having been well-taught in moral theology, are easily influenced by such unfaithful theologians to believe any doctrine that has been distorted or newly-invented, if it also accords with the widespread false teachings of sinful secular society. For modern society has immense influence, through many varied modern means of communication and entertainment, on the members of the Church.

The Pharisaical Approach

Some other Catholics — and this is more common among online commentators than among theologians — take a Pharisaical approach to this and any other controversy on faith or morals. They speak that we cannot know what it true in any matter of controversy among theologians without a decision from the Magisterium. So whenever various theologians create such a controversy, by re-interpreting past magisterial teachings, by inventing a new basis for morality (other than the three fonts), or by changing the meaning of each of the three fonts of morality, they would like the Magisterium to issue a new decision on the matter.

These Pharisaical commentators treat the teaching of the Church as if it were limited to the teaching of the Magisterium. The teachings of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are not treated by them as authoritative. Worse still, they ignore the teachings of the Magisterium on the basic principles of ethics. They want a specific decision from the Magisterium on each and every question, even on each situation, in matters of grave morality. In effect, they are treating the teachings of the Magisterium as mere rulings. The truths of morality are seen by them as being unknowable to human reason alone, and unknowable to human reason aided by Tradition and Scripture, and even unknowable to human reason aided by Tradition and Scripture and past teachings of the Magisterium.

To the contrary, the teaching of the Magisterium on direct abortion and on the three fonts of morality is already clear and definitive. The controversies being created by many theologians are based on deliberate disregard for past teachings and a rejection of the basic principles of ethics taught in Veritatis Splendor and other magisterial sources. But even without any specific teaching of the Magisterium, the true sons and daughters of the Church have always rejected murder, in all of its forms, including the forms called abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. For the true children of the Church know the truths of the eternal moral law from the light of reason (under natural law) and from Tradition and Scripture, as well as from many past magisterial teachings.

No new ruling of the Magisterium is needed on direct abortion. The only ruling that is needed is a ‘ferendae sententiae’ declaration of the Holy See against all who claim that direct abortion is ever justifiable, and against all who claim that abortion is not direct if the intention is good or the circumstance is dire.

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