Intrinsically evil acts
An intrinsically evil act is a knowingly chosen act which is inherently ordered toward an evil moral object (a moral deprivation in the proximate end of the act). When the object is evil, the act is intrinsically evil and always immoral. This teaching is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. It is definitively taught in Veritatis Splendor, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other documents of the Church. But it is being denied or distorted by many different Catholics today.
On the left, there are still theologians who propose justifications for intrinsically evil acts. Michael G. Lawler, for example, proposed a justification for cohabitation for Catholic unmarried couples under the guise of a “betrothal”. Others on the left simply assert that nothing is always wrong, in direct contradiction to the dogma of intrinsically evil acts.
On the right, there are theologians who undermine and radically reinterpret the dogma of intrinsically evil acts, while pretending to adhere to it. Chief among these heretical teachers is Janet E. Smith. She alone has caused more harm to the correct interpretation of Humanae Vitae than any set of liberal commentators. She has radically reinterpreted Humanae Vitae so that its condemnation of contraception is limited to marital sexual acts. Dr. Ed Peters and Jimmy Akin have preached this false gospel based on her promptings. And now you can find this error in many different sources, including conservative Catholic publications and the teachings of a few Bishops.
The correct teaching is that contraception is intrinsically evil due to the deprivation of the procreative meaning in the object of the act. The use of contraception deprives sexual intercourse of its procreative finality — not only marital sexual acts, but any human sexual acts. The narrowing of this teaching to apply solely to valid marriages is a grave error that would exclude many, if not most, uses of contraception from the Church’s condemnation.
Smith has attacked other teachings of the Church on intrinsically evil acts. She has proposed that the classical definition of lying, a deliberate false assertion, be termed “false signification” — which would not be immoral. And then only a subset of false assertions would be termed lies. This permits her to falsely claim that lying is “intrinsically evil” and “always wrong”, while justifying many lies by calling them something else. She uses the same technique concerning contraception, going so far as to claim that the use of abortifacient contraception should not be termed “contraception” at all, in certain cases where it is supposedly justified.
Another widespread heresy is the approval of the use of abortifacient contraception by a Catholic married couple who remain sexually active. This act is gravely immoral under the second font (the moral object) and also under the third font (consequences). The medical purpose of relieving severe suffering does not justify the intrinsically evil act of euthanasia. The medical purpose of saving the life of the mother does not justify the intrinsically evil act of direct abortion. The medical purpose of treating a reproductive disorder does not justify remaining sexually active while using an abortifacient, resulting in the deaths of one’s own prenatal children. This heresy not only harms the soul, it kills the unborn. And yet it is widely promoted by moral theologians, apologists, and anonymous online commentators.
Janet Smith also justifies some uses of abortifacient contraception in marriage, essentially by treating the moral object as if it were determined by the purpose for which the act is chosen, rather than by the moral nature of the act itself. She has justified direct sterilization, on the excuse that the woman might be raped at some point in the future. And, finally, she has supported Christopher West and Gregory Popcak in their justification of unnatural sexual acts in marriage. She has openly proposed that marital sodomy is not intrinsically evil, as long as it is accompanied by a natural marital act and as long as it has a good intended end. All of these errors stem from the refusal to define intrinsically evil acts by their object, and the refusal to condemn intrinsically evil acts as always immoral.
On the subject of unnatural sexual acts in marriage, the approval of these acts by popular theology of the body teachers is an exceedingly grave heresy, which harms the Sacrament of holy Matrimony, approves of acts of grave depravity, and endangers the souls of Catholic spouses by approving of acts which have no purpose other than satisfying base lusts. Christopher West, Gregory Popcak, Janet E. Smith, and a few others are spreading this wicked heresy as if it were the heart of the Gospel.
Among conservative Catholics, it is as if there are two types of intrinsically evil acts: popular and unpopular. The unpopular ones are treated as always immoral. The popular ones are subject to all manner of ridiculous excuses and radical reinterpretation so as to approve of these acts in many cases: contraception, abortifacients, lying, sexual sins in marriage, etc. You would think that conservative Catholic publications would reject these grave errors. They do not. They assist in spreading them. Their editors apparently cannot distinguish between heresy and doctrine.
Diversity of Opinion
It is readily apparent from online discussions, that moral theology is of little interest to most Catholics. They do not show any interest in learning what the Church teaches. They evaluate the morality of acts based on a hodge-podge of different rhetorical devices and baseless opinions. When the teaching of the Church is presented, they ignore it or find ways to fend it off. There is a great deal of effort put into defending whatever acts they themselves are committing, rather than finding the will of God and changing their lives.
Anonymous online commentators are spreading various errors about ethics. If they themselves use unnatural sexual acts in their marriage, they vehemently defend these acts and go so far as to try to convince other couples to commit the same sins. If they are using abortifacient contraception in their marriage, for a medical purpose, they try to convince others to do the same. Much harm is being done by unqualified anonymous teachers who have badly misunderstood Church teaching and whose motivations for teaching ethics are corrupt.
Many Catholics do not seek moral truth. Instead, they seek someone who will justify the acts they wish to commit. And there is always a priest here or a theologian there who will tell them what they want to hear. So they do not learn and live the faith. They merely seek and find justifications for their favorite sins. And the false teachers who lead them astray go uncorrected.
The quality of teaching on Catholic blogs, by persons who usually use their real name, varies greatly. But there is no way to correct anyone who proposes grave error. Each person teaches whatever ideas they think are right. There are as many versions of Catholicism as there are blogs. This does great harm to the faith. “In essentials, unity.” Not today. Nothing is agreed upon by most Catholics, and the Bishops and recent Pontiffs have not done enough to address this problem.
The Three Fonts of Morality
The teaching of the Church on ethics is based on the three fonts of morality. This teaching is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of the Catechism, the USCCB Catechism, Veritatis Splendor, and other documents. Yet when Catholics write posts and articles on morality, the three fonts are rarely mentioned. And this is true whether the article is written by a priest, or theologian, or apologist, or blogger. The three fonts of morality as a teaching has been utterly rejected by liberal and conservatives alike, mostly by being ignored.
Principle of Double Effect
The principle of double effect never justifies intrinsically evil acts. The first rule of that principle is that the act in question, in order to possibly be justified, cannot be intrinsically evil; the act cannot have evil in its moral object.
But a common grave error is the use of the principle of double effect to claim that an act is not intrinsically evil. They ignore that first principle, evaluate the other conditions for an act to be moral under the principle of double effect, and then they proclaim that it can’t be intrinsically evil because it is so justified. That is backwards. You don’t determine if an act is intrinsically evil by looking at the criteria for the principle of double effect. Those criteria apply to the first font of intention and the third font of circumstances. The second font must also be evaluated. That is why the first principle is that the act cannot be intrinsically evil.
Essentially what many authors are doing is determining that an act is not intrinsically evil by looking only at intention and circumstances. They fail to understand what a moral object is and how to evaluate it.
Principles of Cooperation with Evil
This teaching of the Church governs which acts are moral or immoral when your act is a type of cooperation with the sin of another person. Again, the teaching is badly misunderstood. Most authors simply justify whichever acts seem right to them, and condemn those that seem wrong to them, without understanding this teaching.
The principles of cooperation with evil are merely an application of the three fonts of morality to acts which are related to the sin of another person. As always, if all three fonts are good, the act is moral. Any bad font makes the act a sin. Having rejected the three fonts of morality, there is little hope that this principle will be correctly applied.
Among prominent moral theologians, there is no one I could name whose teaching is reliable. All the theologians on the left have gone far astray. And the ones on the right have incorporated the various errors discussed above. Certainly, there are some reliable priests and some of the ordinary laity who have a correct understanding of Catholic ethics. But I don’t know of any prominent moral theologian whose teaching can be trusted. (I’m not prominent, and my work in moral theology is widely disregarded.)
The Church is in a very dire situation. How can we preach the Gospel when the teachings of most Catholic leaders on morality contains many grave errors? It is like a vendor of apples who can’t tell the difference between a ripe apple and a rotten one. Many souls will be turned away from the Church by this presentation of grave error. You might think that approving of grave sins would please sinners, thereby drawing them to the Church. But you would be wrong. Grace draws souls to the Church when they turn away from sin, and seek to live a moral life. We will not succeed in fishing for souls using rotten bait.
What is the solution to this problem? Perhaps the next Roman Pontiff will rebuke these false teachers. But they are only teaching what the laity wish to hear. A correction from the Pope will likely result in a great falling away from the faith. Maybe that is best. If you can’t accept what the Church teaches on grave sin, do not present yourself for the Sacraments. Go away. Come back when you are repentant.
The divorced and remarried receive Communion despite committing adultery. Many other Catholics receive Communion despite being unrepentant from contraception and various sexual sins, as well as many heresies. This situation cannot stand for long. The only solution, if most refuse to repent, is for them to leave the Church, so that the faithful who remain can increase in knowledge and holiness.
I have many times pointed out that prominent Catholic teachers are teaching heresy and promoting schism. The faithful do not seem to care. They want what they want, and they like what they like. They do not care if their favorite teachers distort, ignore, or reject Church teaching, since they themselves are doing the same.
A case in point is found in the writings of Jimmy Akin. He is very popular with conservative Catholics, and his teaching is regarded as reliable and accurate. In truth, he has taught a long series of very grave heresies and errors, heresies on transubstantiation, on confession, on baptism, on salvation, on intrinsically evil acts, on contraception, on abortifacients, and more. His teaching is thoroughly corrupt, entirely unreliable, and harmful to the souls of the faithful. Yet he remains widely approved and lauded by conservative Catholics. He has no degrees in theology or philosophy. He was in a Protestant seminary for a time, and then left. He has no formal training, and his writings show a profound incompetence in understanding even the most basic concepts in Catholic teaching. What is happening here? Why is it that conservative Catholic leaders do not recognize the grave errors frequently asserted by his man?
But there is no way to correct a false teacher in the Church today. The faithful will not rise up and speak out against these teachers of heresy. Instead, they defend them. I recently wrote a few posts on the errors of E. Christian Brugger. He has publicly committed formal schism. He has taught grave moral errors. And yet his articles are accepted and published by the National Catholic Register. None of the conservative Catholic publications seem able to distinguish truth from error. They are harming souls. They are not helping to spread the Gospel.
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