Most Catholics have rejected the Dogma of Intrinsic Evil

Reactions to the articles by deacon Russell and myself on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki vary. What surprises me is the total absence of any understanding of the magisterial teaching on intrinsic evil. The atomic bombings are condemned by the Church because these acts are intrinsically evil. They are a type of act which is wrong by its very nature. So the morality of the act does not depend on the principle of double effect — which never justifies intrinsically evil acts. Nor does it depend on just war doctrine, or proportionality, or other ways of evaluating the morality of an act. Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral.

Most Catholics are unaware, ignore, reject, or have radically reinterpreted the teaching of the Church that some human acts, some kinds of behavior in life, are wrong by the very nature of the act, regardless of intention or circumstances. Such acts are termed intrinsically evil. Nothing whatsoever can justify an intrinsically evil act. Nothing can transform an intrinsically evil act into some other type of act, which is justifiable or moral.

And this magisterial teaching on intrinsically evil acts is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. It is a dogma of the faith that some acts are always wrong to knowingly choose, no matter how dire the circumstance, no matter how good the intention. This teaching is at the heart of the Ten Commandments. This teaching is the foundation for the rejection of many grave sins, including: blasphemy, idolatry, immoral sexual acts of every kind, contraception, abortion, murder, mass murder, genocide, slavery, euthanasia, torture, child abuse and more. But as soon as this teaching is rejected or radically revised, all these sins become justifiable.

Now you may say, in response, that no one is using a different point of view on intrinsically evil acts to justify genocide. But you’d be wrong.

Abortion is genocide. Well over a billion prenatals have been killed by abortion. Abortifacient contraception is also genocide. The number of prenatals killed by abortifacient contraception is easily in the millions each year. Germain Grisez has publicly justified the use of direct abortion whenever the life of the mother is in danger, and he admits that this position is in direct contradiction to magisterial teaching. And in any Catholic online forum, you can find Catholics who offer their own rationalizations on why abortifacient contraception is acceptable, despite the deaths of innocents, despite the condemnation of the Church against the intrinsically evil acts of contraception and abortifacient contraception.

Now you may say that no one is using a different point of view on intrinsically evil acts to justify mass murder. And yet, when I pointed out that a Catholic deacon publicly justified the mass murder of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many Catholics took his side, despite clear teachings and pronouncements against this very grave and intrinsically evil act.

But is anyone really using a different point of view on intrinsically evil acts to justify adultery? Unfortunately. I recall an ethics professor, Lisa Sowle Cahill, proposing that “nothing is always wrong”, including adultery. She tells the story of a woman whose husband was in a concentration camp during World War 2. The wife had sexual relations with a guard in order to obtain his help in freeing her husband. He was freed, and they lived happily ever after. Cahill thought that this example showed that adultery is not always immoral.

Thou shalt not commit adultery, except if your purpose is noble? Thou shalt not commit adultery, except in a dire circumstance? No. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Period. End of discussion.

Conservative Catholics are some of the worst offenders in rejecting this teaching on intrinsic evil. The most common approach is to claim that an act is not intrinsically evil, and is not even the type of act condemned by the Church as intrinsically evil. They claim that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified by the principle of double effect or by just war theory, and therefore it can’t be mass murder or intrinsically evil. But that’s not how the teaching on intrinsic evil works. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by the principle of double effect, nor by any other ethical system or set of rules.

They might say that a particular use of abortifacient contraception, by a couple who are having sexual relations, is not really “contraception” because the intention or purpose of the act was not to contraception, but to treat a medical disorder. But then how do they explain the deaths of innocent children in the womb, resulting from this choice? Their deaths are termed an unintended side effect. Well, that’s not how the dogma of intrinsically evil acts works. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by the intention or purpose of the act. When the Church condemns an act as intrinsically evil, it is never justifiable by intention or circumstances. Direct abortion is not justified by the medical purpose to save the life of the mother. Euthanasia is not justified by the medical purpose to relieve severe suffering in a terminally ill person. So using abortifacient contraception while sexually active is not justified by the medical purpose to treat painful irregular periods or acne. No intrinsically evil act is justified by a medical purpose, or by any intention or purpose whatsoever.

Contraception does not transform into some other type of act by means of a dire circumstance or a good intention. And neither does abortion, or the mass murder of a city’s entire population, or a venial lie. Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral.

And yet, what currently prevails, over and against the clear infallible teaching of the holy Catholic faith against intrinsic evil, is a new system of ethics, devised and promoted by conservative Catholics, which allows any intrinsically evil act to be re-categorized as a different type of act, one that is no longer intrinsically evil. But this revisionist ethics is conveniently arbitrary. If you ask the proponents of revisionist ethics why they adhere to this theory, they will claim it is merely the correct understanding of Church teaching. If you ask the revisionists if contraception is ever justifiable, they will disingenuously say that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. But then they will add that contraception used outside of a valid marriage is not condemned by the Church, and that contraception for a non-contraceptive good intention is not really contraception, and they will find further ways to justify contraception — all while claiming that in these cases it is not really contraception, properly defined.

So that’s the scam. “This act” really is intrinsically evil, just as the Church teaches, except for any case where they think the act should be considered moral. Then they redefine the act so that any case they wish to justify is excluded. Lying only includes those deliberate assertions of falsehoods that seem wrong to them, and all other lies are not really lies at all! Mass murder doesn’t include dropping nuclear bombs on two cities, because it seems to them that this action should be acceptable. The definition of the act is altered, so that any act, no matter how wicked, can be said to be not really intrinsically evil and not really the same immoral type of act at all.

Consider the case of abortifacient contraception. They extend the justification of contraception to abortifacient contraception, despite the deaths of innocent prenatals, as long as there is a medical purpose. But did you know that long term use of the birth control pill (a type of abortifacient contraception) has the medical purpose of reducing the risk of cancer:

A peer-reviewed medical study published in The Lancet concluded: “Use of oral contraceptives confers long-term protection against ovarian cancer. These findings suggest that oral contraceptives have already prevented some 200 000 ovarian cancers and 100 000 deaths from the disease, and that over the next few decades the number of cancers prevented will rise to at least 30 000 per year.”

If it were true — and it most certainly is NOT — but if it were true that a medical purpose justifies abortifacient contraception, then all women could justify the use of abortifacient contraception due to the medical purpose of reducing the risk of cancer.

The radical revisionists are attempting to carve out a few exceptions to the exceptionless teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. But once you find a way to radically reinterpret, revise, or rewrite the fundamental principle that some acts are always wrong to knowingly choose, every intrinsically evil act becomes justifiable.

“The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behavior is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all.” (Veritatis Splendor 52)

The clueless deacon who tried to claim that the principle of double effect could justify acts which the Church has called the “mass destruction of innocent human life” also claimed that the general population of Japan were enemy combatants. And that implies that the destruction of the entire nation — an exceedingly wicked act of genocide — would also be justifiable under the same criteria that he expounds, so cheerfully, to justify the mass murders at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Yes, once you revise the magisterial teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, every intrinsically evil act becomes justifiable. And it doesn’t matter if the proponents of revisionist ethics adamantly claim that they would never justify genocide. Their own theories can be used to justify it. In fact, all these proponents of revisionist ethics claim that abortifacient contraception is justifiable on a wide scale, wide enough to qualify as genocide, just as surgical abortion is a type of genocide. They justify contraception outside of marriage and contraception for a medical purpose, including abortifacient contraception.

In my view, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a type of genocide. The term genocide, narrowly defined, pertains to killing or attempting to kill all the members of a race or ethnic group. But the killing does not need to be worldwide to be genocide. The Armenian genocide only killed Armenians in Turkey. And the group killed need not be defined only by ethnicity. The mass killing of all Jews, regardless of whether or not they are Hebrew, is genocide. The mass killing of prenatals via abortion is based on age or, we might say, state of life, rather than ethnicity. So I would say that the mass murder of the residents of an entire city, regardless of intention or circumstances, is genocide.

Of course, the response of the radical revisionists would be something like: “It’s not genocide or mass murder if it is justified by the principle of double effect.” Okay. But the principle of double effect never justifies intrinsically evil acts. So you can’t carve out exceptions to the condemnation of intrinsically evil acts by misusing that principle. You can’t rename the intrinsically evil act that you wish to justify, whether it is genocide or mass murder or abortion or contraception or lying, so as to make it seem as if you adhere to the teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. That’s just a blatant rationalization. “I’m not committing the intrinsically evil act of robbing a bank. I’m just making a withdrawal at a bank where I don’t have an account.” Or how about this one: “I’m not lying. I’m just signifying something that is false. Just like Jesus did.” Supposedly.

The fact is that most Catholics today, including conservatives who claim to believe what the Magisterium teaches, do not understand or make use of the magisterial teaching on intrinsic evil, or the three fonts of morality. They decide whether or not an act is moral, without any use of Church teaching. They use no ethical system at all. Then, after deciding, they look for a way to justify their decision by means of some teaching of the Church. Sometimes they find that the teaching on intrinsic evil is an obstacle to this justification, and so they devise a way around it. They use the idea of intrinsic evil as a mask to disguise their clever justifications of grave sin. But they have not truly accepted the teaching of Jesus Christ that some acts are always immoral.

by
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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10 Responses to Most Catholics have rejected the Dogma of Intrinsic Evil

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by the principle of double effect, nor by any other ethical system or set of rules.

    Of course non-Catholic ethical systems or sets of rules can justify intrinsically evil acts. Nazism justified Genocide. That doesn’t make it moral, of course.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Some ethical systems only seem or pretend to justify evil deeds. In truth, nothing can truly justify an act that is immoral by its very nature. Intrinsically evil acts are inherently immoral because the nature of an act is nothing other than its ordering toward a good or evil end (the moral object). When an act is ordered toward evil, that act is immoral, in and of itself, by its very nature.

  2. Jim says:

    Ron–If you are saying that a U.S. Invasion of Japan, that probably would have taken 1 million U.S. Casualties and 10 million Japanese both civilian and military as there would be house to house fighting in every city in Japan is morally ok under just war theory, but a quick end to the war–as exactly what happened—by bombing two cities rather than military targets is intrinsically evil that “dogma” is NUTS.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’m not saying that killing millions of civilians via invasion and house-to-house fighting is moral. If you can’t win a war, without committing grave sin, then you can’t win. The end does not justify the means. So it doesn’t matter if fewer lives are lost. If an act is intrinsically evil, it cannot be justified no matter how many lives are at stake. St. Catherine of Sienna said she would not commit the smallest sin, not even to redeem the whole world from Hell. I can’t tell if you are Catholic from your comment, but the Church teaches that intrinsically evil acts are never justified, regardless of the intention or circumstances. That is the teaching of Pope SAINT John Paul II in the encyclical The Splendor of Truth, and the teaching of the official Church Catechism, and it is also a clear teaching in the Bible.

      Your rejection of the infallible teaching of the Church on intrinsically evil acts is heresy, and therefore a grave sin. The canonical penalty for heresy is automatic excommunication.

  3. Marco says:

    @Ron (sorry for my not great English, I’m italian)

    ” But is anyone really using a different point of view on intrinsically evil acts to justify adultery? Unfortunately. I recall an ethics professor, Lisa Sowle Cahill, proposing that “nothing is always wrong”, including adultery. She tells the story of a woman whose husband was in a concentration camp during World War 2. The wife had sexual relations with a guard in order to obtain his help in freeing her husband. He was freed, and they lived happily ever after. Cahill thought that this example showed that adultery is not always immoral. Thou shalt not commit adultery, except if your purpose is noble? Thou shalt not commit adultery, except in a dire circumstance? No. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Period. End of discussion.”

    Ok, an intrinsic evil act is alway immoral, but culpability can be strongly diminished in such a situation. I can’t even fathom a good God that throws in hell a woman who only wanted to free her husband.

    “So that’s the scam. “This act” really is intrinsically evil, just as the Church teaches, except for any case where they think the act should be considered moral. Then they redefine the act so that any case they wish to justify is excluded. Lying only includes those deliberate assertions of falsehoods that seem wrong to them, and all other lies are not really lies at all!”

    Ok but again, I think that if someone lies for a good purpose, even if the act of lying is immoral in and of itself, his culpability can be strongly reduced.

    Otherwise I’d have to think that Oscar Schindler is in hell because he lied so many times to protect the jews and save their life and most likely he didn’t “repent” for not having told the truth to the nazis.

    See Ron, I accept the Church’s teaching on intrinsical evil acts, but I have to be honest: I find it unreasonable.

    I have a really, really, really hard time to believe that God hated the Oscar Schindler’s lies to the nazis and that he would have preferred that Schindler had told the truth in that situation.

    The same goes for the example of the adulterous woman above.

    I accept this teaching but it just seems unreasonable when confronted with reality.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Some intrinsically evil acts are only venial sins (Schindler’s lies), and no one goes to Hell for venial sins. The choice is not to lie or to help the Nazi’s by telling the truth. One can use mental reservation. One can fight the Nazis. And if you decide to lie, it is a small sin, forgiven immediately with the next act of love or the next sincere prayer.

      The woman who commits adultery to save her husband does sin gravely. Pope Saint JP2: “a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed.” Thou shalt not commit adultery. But perhaps her objective mortal sin was not also an actual mortal sin. So she would not then be sent to Hell. Or perhaps she later repented. But it is contrary to reason and faith to say that adultery is entirely justified, and not a sin at all, when the purpose was good. Would the genocide of the Japanese people be justified to win the war? No, it would not.

      It is a hard teaching to live. But God is merciful.

    • Marco says:

      Actually, Ron, I think that some Church’s teaching are more than “hard”. Let’s take the teachings on human sexuality:

      1) despite being in the full flood of reproductive hormones, young people are to refrain from sexual activity of any kind, for many years after puberty, sometimes well beyond the 30’s (in Italy many people marry when they are 40, for example);

      2) even within marriage, sexual activity is restricted. No sexual activity to ejaculation is allowed other than vaginal intercourse. Most folks don’t know that, but it is true and it is restrictive. I know for sure that this is unique to Catholics, all the other churches are way more lenient;

      3) no contraception, of course. Nearly universally ignored in Italy and in the Usa, and I suspect most everywhere else;

      4) if a Catholic has the misfortune of being divorced after contracting a valid marriage, he or she is condemned to a life of involuntary celibacy. It’s right out of the Gospel, but somehow (I have no idea how), every other sect and church of Christianity I know of allows remarriage. Does the difficulty make Catholic rules on sexual matters wrong or incorrect? No. But the are nearly impossible to live in today’s world and they are very hard to accept because they seem pointlessly harsh.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, it is difficult to live by the Church’s teachings. But if anyone falls into sin, God is very forgiving. And Catholics have many benefits, not only a stricter moral code. We have more abundant graces and more help from providence.

  4. Matt Z. says:

    Even up to this day, Deacon Jim continues to justify his position on the murder of the innocent and using atomic warfare. This is not just an isolated issue. This is a Church issue where 1 of 3 things is happening, or all 3 at once.

    1-People are so caught up in politics, that they are putting it above the Church and God. They fight tooth and nail to justify their own position whether it be Liberal or Conservative to even go against infallible and non infallible Church teaching.

    2-People are setting themselves up as God where instead of going to the Church for instruction on doctrine and dogma, they make it up themselves and fight tooth and nail to preserve it. They are self righteous. Whether its the Liberal who thinks same sex marriage should be allowed in the Catholic Church or the Conservative who justifies atomic warfare where innocents are killed, they both are making up their own dogma. It reminds me of the Enlightenment era, but in a Catholic sense, where people think their own opinion even on serious matters of faith is dogma. We see this alot with non Catholics or fallen away Catholics. We live in an age of information and knowledge so its no wonder the devil would give people so much information, or incorrect information to make them proud and tear them away from the Church.

    3-As you say, they do not believe the dogma of intrinsic evil.

  5. Tom Mazanec says:

    Abortion is genocide. Well over a billion prenatals have been killed by abortion.

    According to http://www.numberofabortions.com/ over 1, 465,059,000 abortions have been performed since 1980.

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