The Most Common Error on Intrinsically Evil Acts

There are three fonts of morality, three things that can possibly make a human act moral or immoral: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. Any one bad font makes the act objectively wrong to choose.

1. The font called “intention” is the intended end; it is the purpose for which the act is chosen by the subject (the person who acts). The intended end resides in the subject. You have control over your own intentions. If the only thing making a proposed act immoral is a bad intention, change your intention, or refrain from acting and pray.

2. The font called “moral object” is also an end; it is the end toward which the knowingly chosen act is intrinsically ordered. Whenever anyone acts, they exercise the gifts of intellect and free will by knowing deliberate choice. The chosen act is intentionally chosen, that is to say, it is deliberately chosen, voluntarily chosen, knowingly chosen.

This font consists of a knowing intentional choice of an act. But every act has a moral nature, a moral meaning before the eyes of God. And that moral nature resides in the act, not in the person who acts. Each act is inherently ordered toward one or more moral objects (ends in terms of morality). This ordering is itself the nature of the act. So when an act is intrinsically ordered toward an evil end (an evil moral object), the act is intrinsically evil and always wrong to knowingly and intentionally choose.

The role of intention in the second font is different than in the first font. In the first font, intention is the end chosen by the person. In the second font, the person intentionally chooses an act, and in so choosing, the person necessarily also chooses the nature of the act and its moral object. One cannot choose an intrinsically evil act, and somehow make that act moral (or transform it into a different type of act) by choosing a good moral object to go with the intrinsically disordered act. The intentional choice of any act is a choice of the act, its nature, and its object.

Do not let anyone deceive you by saying that bodily or physical actions are themselves devoid of morality. Every such action has a moral nature because it is the knowing deliberate choice of a human person, made in the image of God, who has a conscience and whom God will judge.

Veritatis Splendor, n. 49: ‘A doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. Such a doctrine revives, in new forms, certain ancient errors which have always been opposed by the Church, inasmuch as they reduce the human person to a “spiritual” and purely formal freedom. This reduction misunderstands the moral meaning of the body and of kinds of behavior involving it (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). Saint Paul declares that “the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” are excluded from the Kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:9). This condemnation — repeated by the Council of Trent” — lists as “mortal sins” or “immoral practices” certain specific kinds of behavior the willful acceptance of which prevents believers from sharing in the inheritance promised to them. In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together.’

3. The font called circumstances is the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned. The act is chosen with an understanding that acts have consequences. If the reasonably anticipated bad consequences morally outweigh the reasonably anticipated good consequences, then the third font is bad and the act is immoral.


The claim is made that a sexually-active woman can use abortifacient contraception, as long as she has a medical intention or purpose, and not a contraceptive intention. That claim confuses the first and second fonts. The intended end, to treat a medical problem, does not change the moral object. The use of abortifacient contraception by a sexually-active woman is intrinsically evil because the act is intrinsically ordered toward contraceptive and abortive ends. A change in intention does not change the inherent meaning of the behavior.

And this truth is made all the more clear by the fact that the woman could obtain the benefit, without the contraceptive or abortive ends in the second font, by refraining from sexual acts while taking that pill. Therefore, the deaths of her own prenatal children is not an unintended side effect. It is the end toward which the chosen act are ordered. Abortifacient contraception is no less abortive when the intended end or purpose is medical. The act remains intrinsically evil.

Consider the medical purpose of another intrinsically evil act, euthanasia. The intended end or purpose is to take away severe suffering. That is one of the highest medical purposes. And it is always the purpose of euthanasia, properly defined. Yet the Magisterium has condemned euthanasia as intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

Consider the medical purpose of another intrinsically evil act, abortion to save the life of the mother. The intended end or purpose is to save life. That is perhaps the highest purpose in medicine. And yet the Magisterium has condemned direct abortion even when the purpose is to save the mother’s life. So again we see that a good purpose, even a medical purpose, never justifies intrinsically evil acts.

And yet many theologians have publicly declared that the use of abortifacient contraception by a woman who is sexually active is moral for a medical purpose. This grave error on morality is not merely theoretical. Many prenatals are losing their lives because married Catholic women use abortifacient contraception while remaining sexually active. This grave sin is promoted by many online commentators in Catholic blogs and discussion groups, and is apparently approved by many misguided priests.

Abortion is genocide. Over a billion prenatal lives have been lost to surgical abortion, and very many more lives have been lost to abortifacient contraception. Yet many Catholics today are spreading grave errors on abortion and contraception:
* the error of claiming that direct abortion to save the life of the mother is moral
* the error of claiming that abortifacient contraception is moral for a medical purpose
* the error of claiming that contraception (and apparently also abortifacient contraception) are morally neutral outside of marriage
* the error of claiming that contraception is only immoral with a contraceptive intention

Teachers will have the stricter judgment (James 3:1). Catholics who publicly approve and encourage the use of abortifacient contraception are guilty of formal cooperation with the grave sin of abortion. They are not worthy to teach the Faith. They are not worthy to receive Communion. They are not worthy to be ordained ministers in the Church.

See my booklet: Roman Catholic Teaching on Intrinsic Evil

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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1 Response to The Most Common Error on Intrinsically Evil Acts

  1. Matt Z. says:

    Thanks for all your posts!

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