Intrinsic Evil, Heresy, and Excommunication

Many conservative Catholics today are just as much “cafeteria Catholics” as the liberals they criticize. They have their own belief system, which (for many, but not all of them) is substantially different from Catholic Christianity as taught by the Church. They don’t believe what the Magisterium teaches, unless the conservative Catholic subculture also teaches the same. They readily believe whatever that subculture teaches, in contradiction to Church teaching. And they consider themselves to be above criticism or reproach, because they are conservatives who believe what other conservatives believe.

Veritatis Splendor, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and many other Church documents teach that some acts are always wrong to knowingly choose. This teaching is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. And yet it is commonly and openly rejected by many conservative Catholics.

This rejection, expressed in various ways and justified on various bases, is the grave sin of heresy. Any Catholic who rejects this teaching on intrinsic evil — specifically, that some acts are intrinsically evil, and therefore are always wrong to knowingly choose and are never justified, in any case, neither by intention, nor circumstances, nor anything else — is guilty of the sin of heresy. The canonical penalty, and also the penalty imposed by the eternal moral law, is automatic excommunication. Heresy, by its very nature, separates the believer from the Church.

Many of these heretics not only reject this teaching in their own hearts and minds, but also teach this heresy, causing harm to many souls. Some teach this grave error in articles and blog posts, under their real name; others teach it in comments and discussion group posts, under cover of a pseudonym. Some of these heretics — who are widely considered to be faithful teachers of conservative Catholicism — claim to believe the magisterial teaching on intrinsic evil. But they have radically reinterpreted the teaching on this topic. They redefine any intrinsically evil act they wish to justify, giving it a different name and protesting that it can’t be intrinsically evil, in a particular case, for various reasons. But they are no less guilty of heresy.

Veritatis Splendor: teaches the following:

“The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him.”

“The faithful are obliged to acknowledge and respect the specific moral precepts declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord.”

“Love of God and of one’s neighbour cannot be separated from the observance of the commandments of the Covenant renewed in the blood of Jesus Christ and in the gift of the Spirit. It is an honour characteristic of Christians to obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29) and accept even martyrdom as a consequence, like the holy men and women of the Old and New Testaments, who are considered such because they gave their lives rather than perform this or that particular act contrary to faith or virtue.”

“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.”

“there are kinds of behavior which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person.”

“The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behavior prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments. As we have seen, Jesus himself reaffirms that these prohibitions allow no exceptions: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments… You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness” (Mt 19:17-18).”

“Consequently, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “there are certain specific kinds of behavior that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil”.”

“Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused.”

“The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who “alone is good”, and thus brings about the perfection of the person. An act is therefore good if its object is in conformity with the good of the person with respect for the goods morally relevant for him.”

“In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture.”

“The doctrine of the object as a source of morality represents an authentic explicitation of the Biblical morality of the Covenant and of the commandments, of charity and of the virtues.”

“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. “As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”. 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.”

“Consequently, respect for norms which prohibit such acts and oblige semper et pro semper, that is, without any exception, not only does not inhibit a good intention, but actually represents its basic expression.”

Veritatis Splendor REJECTS the following:

the claim “that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behavior which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values.”

the claim that “deliberate consent to certain kinds of behavior declared illicit by traditional moral theology would not imply an objective moral evil.”

the claim that “it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate 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.”

the claim that “it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behavior or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.”

Both consequentialism and proportionalism are rejected: “The former claims to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter, by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the “greater good” or “lesser evil” actually possible in a particular situation.”

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

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2 Responses to Intrinsic Evil, Heresy, and Excommunication

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    “Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused.”

    I thought a starving man stealing food was not a sin? have you ever heard this?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Here we have the distinction between direct and indirect. Some life of the mother abortions are indirect and moral. But direct abortion is not justified even to save the life of the mother. So an abortion is not automatically indirect, just because the mother’s life is at issue. Similarly, the fact that a person is poor does not automatically make taking food indirect and moral. Also, robbery is different from theft; it involves violence or the threat of violence against the innocent, which would not be justified by the doctrine of expropriation (to which you referred).

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