In his book, ‘The Way of the Lord Jesus’, Roman Catholic moral theologian Germain Grisez openly rejects magisterial teaching against direct abortion to save the life of the mother. And he approves of partial birth abortions. Grisez claims that it is moral for a physician, when a child’s head is too large to allow for birth, to perform “an operation in which instruments are used to empty and crush the head of the child so that it can be removed from the birth canal….” [section 3. d.]
In his justification of direct abortion to save the life of the mother, including direct partial birth abortions, Grisez ignores the teaching of Veritatis Splendor on the three fonts of morality and intrinsically evil acts. He then devices a rather ridiculous theological rationalization to approve of these direct abortions:
“The proposal can be simply to alter the child’s physical dimensions and remove him or her, because, as a physical object, this body cannot remain where it is without ending in both the baby’s and the mother’s deaths. To understand this proposal, it helps to notice that the baby’s death contributes nothing to the objective sought; indeed, the procedure is exactly the same if the baby has already died. In adopting this proposal, the baby’s death need only be accepted as a side effect.”
In this proposed act, the physician takes an instrument and physically crushes the skull of the prenatal child, just prior to birth, killing the infant. What causes the death of this child? The act of crushing its skull. In faithful Roman Catholic moral theology, nothing could be more clearly a direct killing.
Grisez justifies this act of direct killing by saying that, if the child were already dead, the physician would perform the same act. Let’s apply this rationale to another medical procedure, and see if the reasoning holds up. After all, no moral theology is sound if it is comprised of special rules crafted for each situation. The eternal moral law is based on basic principles, not a capricious judgment that varies with each case.
Suppose that a man has died, and, as an organ donor, his heart is used to save the life of another person. The act is moral, as the man died of natural causes, not from the act of removing his heart. Now suppose that a man is terminally ill, but not dead, and the same medical procedure, the removal of his heart, is used to save a life. As Grisez said, “the procedure is exactly the same if the baby [or person] has already died”. But clearly the second case is immoral. It is absurd to say that whether the person is alive or dead has no bearing on what acts can be morally done to the body.
Grisez also justifies partial birth abortion by treating the living child, moments away from birth, as a mere physical object, such that the bodily dimension of the act (crushing the skull of a living infant) supposedly has no bearing on the morality of that act. Such an approach is clearly condemned by Pope Saint John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor:
“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….” [Veritatis Splendor 49]
But Grisez is unconcerned with the clear contradiction between his approval of direct partial birth abortion and the teaching of the Magisterium. He openly admits that this and other types of actions to save the life of the mother are considered direct abortion and are condemned by the Magisterium: “Thus, not only classical moralists but the magisterium regarded it as ‘direct’ killing: a bad means to a good end.83” But he approves of these abortions nonetheless.
The Principle of Double Effect
No, the principle of double effect does not justify these types of abortion. Firstly, the principle of double effect only justifies acts that meet a set of conditions, and the first condition is that the act can’t be intrinsically evil. So it is not possible to say that an act can’t be intrinsically evil because the principle of double effect justifies it. That is backwards. First, you determine if the act is intrinsically evil. If it is not, then perhaps the principle of double effect justifies the act.
Grisez does not justify these abortions based on the principle of double effect. He references that principle in one footnote only. The argument he presents is not based on the principle of double effect, nor on the three fonts of morality, but on his own assessment of what ought to be moral. And when that methodology leads him to approve of abortion in many cases, in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Magisterium, he doesn’t care at all. He cites magisterial sources that contradict his conclusions, and still insists that he is right. How filled with pride does a Catholic need to be to take upon himself the judgment of which unborn children ought to be put to death, in contraction to the teaching of the Catholic Church?
His Selective Use of Veritatis Splendor
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the encyclical of Pope Saint John Paul II Veritatis Splendor, and many other magisterial sources teach that the morality of every human act is to be judged based on the three fonts of morality, and also that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. Grisez, in his book The Way of the Lord Jesus, does not apply these basic principles of ethics in the vast majority of moral cases, but only occasionally. And this is the main reason that he goes so far astray on the topic of partial birth abortion and life of the mother abortions. His evaluation of the morality of these acts is based on his own approach to ethics, with an occasional nod to Veritatis Splendor. He even goes so far as to misrepresent the use of the three fonts in ethics, as if it were merely the opinion of “classical moralists”, despite the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Veritatis Splendor.
In place of the three fonts of morality, Grisez substitutes his own four conditions, which he thinks can justify an abortion called “direct abortion”, not only by classical moralists (meaning teachers of ethics faithful to the Magisterium) but also by the Magisterium. And he gives the citations (his footnote 83) from magisterial documents, condemning this type of abortion. And then he blithely justifies direct abortion to save the life of the mother, even partial birth abortion in which the skull of the child is crushed.
“Sometimes four conditions are simultaneously fulfilled: (i) some pathology threatens the lives of both a pregnant woman and her child, (ii) it is not safe to wait or waiting surely will result in the death of both, (iii) there is no way to save the child, and (iv) an operation that can save the mother’s life will result in the child’s death.”
Under the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Veritatis Splendor, even when all four of Grisez’ conditions are fulfilled, the act is nevertheless an intrinsically evil act of direct abortion if that operation directly kills the prenatal. And nothing could be more direct, in terms of abortion, than, in Grisez’ own words: “an operation in which instruments are used to empty and crush the head of the child so that it can be removed from the birth canal”. That is the type of abortion he justifies, along with many other (perhaps all other) life of the mother abortions, even when the act is direct and therefore intrinsically evil.
The Moral Object
The root of the problem is that Grisez badly misunderstands the font called the object or moral object of the act. As a result, he justifies abortion when a pregnancy will simply increase risk to the life of the mother, due to preexisting medical conditions. And he justifies abortion in cases of rape:
“For example, suppose a woman suffering from kidney disease becomes pregnant and wants to avoid the health problems that will result from carrying the child; or a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape and wants to be freed of her ongoing suffering. In either case, and perhaps in a few others, in seeking abortion the precise object of the pregnant woman’s choice might be, not the baby’s death, but the termination of pregnancy as the necessary means to the end in view: a benefit expected to flow from the baby’s removal rather than from the baby’s death or any consequence of it. On this assumption, the proposal adopted is, not to kill the unborn baby, but to have him or her removed from the womb, with death as a foreseen and accepted side effect. An abortion carrying out such a choice would not be an intentional killing.” [Living a Christian Life, 3. b.]
He claims that a woman can morally obtain an abortion, when the pregnancy merely increases “health problems”, or when the pregnancy represents a psychological burden to her, due to rape. There is no doubt that his position on abortion is wholly contrary to the infallible condemnation of abortion by the ordinary and universal Magisterium and by Evangelium Vitae:
“Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops — who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine — I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” [Evangelium Vitae 62]
Why does he make such a severe error? He misunderstands the moral object. Every act with an evil moral object is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. This fact is mostly ignored throughout his ironically titled work of distorted morality: The Way of the Lord Jesus. Instead, Grisez declares that an act of abortion is only intrinsically evil if they “intend the baby’s death”. But that is not how a moral object is determined.
The intention is the end chosen by the person who acts (finis agentis). The object is the end, in terms of morality, toward which the knowingly chosen act is ordered by its very nature; it is the end of the act (finis actus). The intended end resides in the person who acts (agentis), while the moral object resides in the act itself (actus).
Grisez confuses the intended end with the end inherent to the concrete act (the act in the particular case). Therefore, when an act is ordered toward directly killing the child in the womb, or even the child during birth, he approves of that killing because the woman or her doctor only intends (intended end) to save the life of the mother. And this misunderstanding is so severe that he also approves of abortion when the mother’s life is not in danger, as when a pregnancy will only increase her “health problems”, or when carrying the child, conceived as a result of rape, would be psychological burden on her. The Magisterium has never approved of such abortions, and has always condemned them as intrinsically evil and gravely immoral.
The correct understanding of the moral object is this. The human person intentionally (deliberately, knowingly, voluntarily) chooses a concrete act — the act in any particular case. But in so choosing, he necessarily also chooses, at least implicitly, the moral nature of that act and its moral object. Even when the person has in mind only the saving of the mother’s life, or reducing the physical or psychological burden on her, the act is still inherently ordered toward the end of killing the innocent prenatal. And the act is directly ordered toward that end, by its very nature. So in choosing the concrete act, even a physical act, the human person necessarily also chooses the inherent moral meaning of that act before the eyes of God. And no appeal to a good intended end can justify the choice of direct abortion.
Pope Saint John Paul II infallibly condemns all direct abortion: “abortion willed as an end or as a means”. So even if the person wills the abortion as a means to a good end, the intentional (willful, deliberate) choice of that act is intrinsically evil. The font called intention is the end chosen freely by the human person. The font called object is the end inherent to the intentionally chosen act. And in choosing that act intentionally (deliberately, willfully), the person also chooses its moral nature and its moral object, at least implicitly. One cannot choose an intrinsically evil act of any kind, and justify it by reference to a good intended end.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1759 ” ‘An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention’ (cf St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.”
No One Notices
My God, what is happening to the Church today?! Grisez is just one of many examples of prominent Catholic teachers who openly reject or radically reinterpret magisterial teaching on intrinsically evil acts, so as to approve of grave sins. They are openly teaching heresy and no one seems to notice or care. No Bishops speaks out against any of these teachers. They hold or have held teaching positions in Catholic universities. Some even teach seminarians. The wolves have taken the place of the shepherds, and their disguise is not very convincing. And yet most of the sheep do not notice.
Intrinsic evil is one subject that clearly divides faithful teachers from unfaithful teachers. The unfaithful teachers invent clever theological rationalizations to approve of certain intrinsically evil acts, ones that the weak in faith wish to justify: abortion to save the life of the mother, contraception, abortifacient contraception, direct sterilization, unnatural sexual acts, lying, and whatever else sinful Catholics wish were moral.
But these false teachers use a double standard. For the popular intrinsically evil acts, they have all manner of foolish excuses to justify the grave sin. But for unpopular intrinsically evil acts, they suddenly switch to the correct teaching: that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances. They justify abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose, despite the deaths of innocent prenatals. But they condemn (as they should) euthanasia, which always has a medical purpose, to relieve great suffering. So for the popular intrinsically evil act, contraception, a medical purpose (which is the font called intention) is said to justify the act, and transform it into an act that is supposedly no longer intrinsically evil. But for the unpopular intrinsically evil act, euthanasia, no medical purpose can justify the act, because it is intrinsically evil. They should have condemned all intrinsically evil acts, without exception, regardless of intention or circumstances.
“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 62]
“A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.” [CCC 1753]
“Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.” [CCC 1754]
“It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” [CCC 1756]
“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 81]
But the most popular position, among Catholic moral theologians and other Catholic teachers, is a radical reinterpretation of magisterial teaching on intrinsically evil acts, such that various intrinsically evil acts are supposedly no longer intrinsically evil and no longer the same type of act, due to a change of intention or circumstances.
We have reached a point in the perversion of Catholic teaching on intrinsically evil acts, such that teachers of heresy on intrinsic evil are in the majority, and hold most of the prominent teaching positions, outside of the Magisterium. And then, too, there are many anonymous commentators online who are helping to spread this grave distortion of moral theology, so that intrinsically evil acts seem to become justified in many different ways. Even abortifacient contraception and abortion are being justified by many different Catholic teachers and online commentators. The heretical view is in the majority.
God help us poor sinners, who cling to the true teachings of Christ, in the midst of such great error.
“By what authority do you do these things? And who has given this authority to you?”
Every faithful disciple of Christ, but especially baptized and confirmed Catholics who possess the competence to teach and argue sound Catholic theology, are called to oppose those wolves in sheep’s clothing who harm souls by teaching grave error, and who kill the innocent by approving of direct abortion.
Every Catholic theologian who publicly approves of intrinsically evil and gravely immoral acts, in open contradiction to clear and definitive teachings of the Magisterium, is guilty of formal cooperation with those acts. And every Catholic theologian who publicly approves of direct abortion is guilty of formal cooperation with murder. This is not a small matter. This is not a mere academic disagreement about terminology or categorization. Many times I have read discussions in Catholic forums in which a Catholic asks for help with a difficult moral question, and his fellow Catholics tell him (or her) that one can use abortifacient contraception while sexually active, and the deaths of their own prenatal children caused by that decision are somehow justifiable. These false teachings are causing actual deaths of innocents, by direct surgical abortion as well as by abortifacients. And here is an example of a surgical abortion approved by multiple Catholic moral theologians.
What do you think will happen when these theologians, who cause the deaths of innocents by their incompetent and arrogant teachings, are judged by God? The Almighty is not impressed by the number of letters after their name, or by their teaching position or awards, or by the number of persons who praise them. They will be held accountable by the All-seeing Judge for every innocent life lost as a result of their false teaching.
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