CASUISTRY HAS NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD
Two books have come out recently, both of them by prominent authors and both in response to the “dubia” submitted to Pope Francis one year ago by four cardinals, concerning the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”
The first of these books, published in Italy by Ares, has already prompted a lot of discussion. It is by Rocco Buttiglione, a well-known scholar of philosophy and an authoritative interpreter of the philosophical thought of John Paul II, today a staunch defender of the “openness” introduced by Francis regarding communion for the divorced and remarried, and an equally resolute proponent of the perfect continuity between the magisterium of the current pope on the subject of morality and the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” by pope Karol Wojtyla.
But even more than by what Buttiglione has written, which was already known, the discussion has been ignited by the preface for the same book, signed by Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, the former prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
In effect, this preface has appeared contradictory to many.
On the one hand, Müller writes that he completely agrees with Buttiglione’s ideas and warmly recommends them to the reader.
On the other hand, however, the cardinal himself envisions – explicitly – only one case of possible access to communion for a Catholic who has gone on to a new union while the first spouse is still alive. And it is the case in which the first marriage, although it was celebrated in church, is to be considered invalid because of the absence of faith or of other requisite essentials at the moment of celebration, but such invalidity “cannot be proven canonically.”
In which case, Müller writes,
“It is possible that the tension seen here between the public-objective status of the ‘second’ marriage and the subjective fault could open, under the conditions described, the way to the sacrament of penance and to holy communion, passing through a pastoral discernment in the internal forum.”
Now, no one has pointed out that the case hypothesized here by Müller is the same one that Joseph Ratzinger had envisioned and discussed, both as theologian and as pope, he too admitting the possibility of access to the sacraments, always and in any case with a decision made “in the internal forum” with a confessor and with caution not to generate public scandal:
According to what he writes in the preface, this is therefore the threshold – entirely traditional – at which Cardinal Müller draws the line, concerning access to communion for the divorced and remarried.
Buttiglione, however, pushes much further, with the hardly understandable seal of approval from the former prefect of doctrine. One “doubt” more, this, instead of one less.
Then there is the second book in response to the “dubia” of the four cardinals. And its authors are two renowned French theologians: the Jesuit Alain Thomasset and the Dominican Jean-Miguel Garrigues.
This book too is in defense of the continuity and “complementarity” between the exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” of Pope Francis and the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” of John Paul II.
And this too is inspiring a discussion, as can be seen in this critique by the philosopher Thibaud Collin, expressly written for Settimo Cielo.
Collin is a professor of moral philosophy and politics at the Collège Stanislas in Paris, and is one of the six lay scholars who gathered in Rome last April 22 for the study seminar on “Amoris Laetitia” with the significant title “To bring clarity,” remembered by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra in his last – and unheeded – letter to Pope Francis.
CASUISTRY HAS NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD
by Thibaud Collin
In these times of confusion, anything that seems to move in the direction of clarity is welcome. So it is with great hope that one opens the little book “A flexible morality, but not without a compass” by Frs. Alain Thomasset and Jean-Miguel Garrigues, the former a Jesuit and the latter a Dominican. Under the banner of Cardinal Schönborn, whose signature is on the preface, our two theologians intend to respond to the five “dubia” presented by the cardinals concerning the manner of understanding certain passages of the exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”
Closing the book again, one inevitably finds that those ‘dubia” have not gone away. It could be said, on the contrary, that they unfortunately come out strengthened, so much do the arguments used to dispel them produce the opposite effect. This is certainly not a cause for rejoicing, because doubt is a painful uncertainty of the spirit. And the matter at stake there, the moral and sacramental life of the faithful, is serious enough to maintain that charity should urge one to dissolve them with the greatest urgency. As is well known, the Holy Father has not yet thought it good to consent to carry out such an action.
While waiting for the pope to make a decision, the debate continues and the division grows. And the more time goes by, the clearer it becomes that the reception of “Amoris Laetitia” is about to intersect the 50th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae” and the 25th anniversary of “Veritatis Splendor.” Now, the encyclical of John Paul II was responding to the objections aimed at the encyclical of Paul VI, tracing them back to their deepest roots. And today when we read the many texts dedicated to “Amoris Laetitia,” one gets the impression that history is repeating itself. One feels a strange sensation in the face of this regression. The four cardinals, with the cardinal of Bologna in the lead for evident historical reasons, have rightly taken aim at that in chapter 8 of “Amoris Laetitia” which seems to have been written… as if “Veritatis Splendor” never existed.
The two authors agree on the central thesis of the book: there is a complementarity between “Amoris Laetitia” (AL) and “Veritatis Splendor” (VS), and the “dubia” therefore have no reason to exist. Only those who make an intransigent interpretation of the encyclical of John Paul II maintain that the integration of the two texts poses problems. Fr. Alain Thomasset first of all presents the broad outlines of VS, situating it in its historical context again: the challenge of relativism that brings back into question “the indispensable points of reference for the conscience in the moment of decision” (p. 30); hence the benefit of having reaffirmed the existence of intrinsically evil actions. Two observations: 1) is not this contextualization itself too allusive? Fr. Thomasset in effect does not present any of the doctrines that VS confutes, and he has reason for this, because he is an heir of those who developed them. 2) Is today’s context so different from that of yesterday? The rest of the text goes on to confirm our fears. One may judge on the basis of these passages:
“Is it sufficient, in order to define and evaluate in moral terms a conjugal act that has recourse to the pill, to say that it is seeking to avoid procreation altogether, when instead it could be in certain cases the sole effective means of birth control in view of responsible parenthood? […] In the same way, how to take into consideration the difference between an act of adultery by a married person and a sexual relationship in the heart of a stable couple of remarried persons, where the circumstances and intentions are different? Definitions of intrinsically evil actions are not enough on their own for this moral evaluation, remaining too abstract and generic. They cannot take into consideration the whole complexity of the situations experienced and the entirety of the context, which has become more important than in the past for judging the application of the norms. An overhasty interpretation would block the participation of reason and conscience in the definition of the act in question and its moral evaluation” (pp. 77-78).
Here it can be seen that Fr. Thomasset, after adhering to the doctrine of VS in affirming the existence of intrinsically evil acts, denies it! He does not notice the contradiction because for him the notion of “intrinsically evil” develops to such a stratospheric altitude and to such a level of genericity that it cannot as such be decisive in practice. It is therefore up to the conscience to qualify the object of the action, meaning to give it a meaning by reflecting on it in its context and on the basis of its intentions. Everything ends up depending on a question of vocabulary. Moral evaluation rests on definition, meaning on the determination of the meaning for the conscience situated within the context. The notion of “intrinsically evil action” is no more than an empty shell, at the most a point of reference, a formal value of decision orientation. It therefore no longer means what it did in VS: an act that can never be chosen no matter what the circumstances and intention of the subject, because in making it the person would deny his real good, would separate himself from God and from his own happiness. Fr. Thomasset’s presupposition is that the moral law is a norm that stands against freedom, and the conscience must determine itself by arbitrating in their possible conflict. Fr. Thomasset therefore projects onto VS a legalistic “forma mentis,” hence the contradiction into which he falls. Now according to Saint Thomas, as quoted by VS, the moral law is a light that illuminates reason on the true good of the person and allows it to order action toward his happiness. The action is therefore called good or evil according to whether it is or is not in keeping with reason in relation to the objectives of the person. Conscience is this light of truth on the individual action to be performed. Like many today, the Jesuit theologian appeals to Saint Thomas to contest the universal scope of the natural law, incapable of embracing the contingency and complexity of practical life. But the virtue of prudence has never consisted in authorizing exceptions or in arbitrating conflicts of duty. This is that with which the subject determines “hic et nunc” the path for the realization of his true good. The judgment of prudence is practical and does not replace the judgment of conscience. Only those who conceive of the natural law according to the model of political law can employ the teaching of Saint Thomas to validate the putative exceptions to negative precepts. Adultery will never be an action that is good for the person who has gotten into this situation, even if he gives it a new name. This tactic is as old as the world: everyone tends to present the situation in the most advantageous aspects to his conscience, so that it may stop bothering him. Casuistry, so reviled today, has never had it so good. And it is a sure bet that even the beatification of Pascal will change nothing in this regard!
Fr. Jean-Miguel Garrigues recognizes that the “dubia” are waiting for a response, but he accuses Cardinal Gerhard Müller, “on account of his unyielding position,” of not having “made possible a fruitful collaboration between the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and the pope (p. 114). It could be objected to him that the cardinal prefect did what he could to preserve the continuity and consistency of the Church’s position in this regard. No later than 1999 Cardinal Ratzinger, in the introduction to a book explicitly backed by Saint John Paul II, affirmed that the position of “Familiaris Consortio” no. 84 “is founded on Sacred Scripture” and that with this pedigree it “is not a purely disciplinary rule, which could be changed by the Church. It stems from an objective situation that in and of itself makes access to holy communion impossible.” Cardinal Ratzinger’s successor was therefore more than justified in maintaining that if the pope had wanted to change such an ancient and well-established practice, he would not have done so with a footnote, a note whose meaning is not clear because it does not specify the type of faithful involved.
Fr. Jean-Miguel Garrigues maintains that the current difficulties are provoked by “a theological school” that contributed to the composition of “Veritatis Splendor” but ended up absolutizing it without perceiving the limits of its field of application. The encyclical of John Paul II mainly addresses the moral question on the level of the objective specification of the action on the basis of reason, while “Amoris Laetitia” addresses it on the level of exercise on the basis of appetite, and therefore of influences. The two approaches are complementary, because reason and will are both at the root of human action. In brief, the objectivity of the action and the imputability of the acting subject must not be confused; this is therefore a matter of distinguishing in order to unite. Fr. Garrigues instead accuses this “theological school” of refusing to take the subject into account in moral reflection. The “dubia” would therefore be due to mental rigidity and to pastoral narrow-mindedness, which became manifest on the occasion of the publication of “Amoris Laetitia.” A non-rigid interpretation of VS like the one proposed by Fr. Garrigues would make it possible not only to respond to the “dubia” by emphasizing the complementarity of the two texts, but also to formally denounce this resurgence of “tutiorism” in the thick of modernity. In any case, the tactic that consists in separating the good wheat of VS from the weeds of this “theological school” does not stand up to analysis.
And in effect, Fr. Garrigues never names this school; and he never discusses this or that text from it. That would have taken too much time, and above all would have led him to realize the emptiness of such an accusation. One can certainly disagree with Cardinal Carlo Caffarra or with Monsignor Livio Melina (because evidently they are the main accused, never called by name), but it seems intellectually dishonest to reduce their reflection and their pastoral commitment (if they are even recognized as having any) to a “tutiorism” or a disloyalty to John Paul II due to an excess of zeal! One must really have never read a line of their writings to accuse them of ignoring the moral subject and the order of exercise of the action. I have in front of me, for example, the text of a conference that Cardinal Caffarra gave in Ars at the beginning of the 1990’s. It is about Christian subjectivity. And rightly the problem was (already!) that of moral legalism, of which proportionalism is nothing but a variation. Now, only a careful analysis of the dynamics of human action grasped in the voluntary intention that becomes a choice allows one to get out of an approach in which law and conscience are seen as two concurrent poles. Let’s listen to the one whom Saint John Paul II had chosen as his close collaborator on one of the pastoral subjects closest to his heart, sexual ethics, marriage and family:
“In man, intention cannot be realized except through and within the choice. In human existence, what is most decisive is not the judgment of conscience, but the judgment of choice. One does not become Christian by thinking about becoming so, just as one does not exist by thinking about existing. I do not become even more Christian by thinking more deeply about Christianity: man’s thought does not create existence. There exists only one means to become Christian: to choose, to decide to become Christian. But the judgment of conscience is practical only potentially, while the judgment of choice is really practical: it is the exercise of reason in the very act of choosing (Ia IIae, Q. 58, a. 2 c). The understanding produced by the judgment of conscience is insufficient, because it can be overlooked by the person in the moment of choosing; it can be an understanding that does not consider the person as such is this individual here, with his desires and who must act in this given situation. If such an understanding does not express that which the individual really desires, it remains inoperative.”
Carlo Caffarra was thoroughly acquainted with Newman and Kierkegaard. He had also assimilated very well the Wojtylian personalism based on the comprehensive experience of the person in his action. To claim that this “theological school” ignores the order of practical exercise is just as absurd as isolating the central chapter of VS from its first chapter, which reflects on the calling of the rich young man, and from its third chapter, with urges martyrdom in fidelity to the salvific will of God.
Fr. Garrigues responds “yes” to the five “dubia.” The discernment of influences that limit the conscience and will of the subject allow one to opt in certain cases for the weak imputability of the subject situated in a state of life in contradiction with the Gospel. But as many have already emphasized, that is not enough to legitimize the reception of the sacraments. Not without breaking with the form in which the Church has conceived until today of the connection between faith, the moral life, and the sacramental order. Saying this does not deny subjectivity to the advantage of a deadly objectivity. It is on the contrary to render possible a subjectivization that may be adequate to the comprehensive truth of the human being. This is the role of every pastor. This was the deepest concern of that magnificent pastor who was Karol Wojtyla. Without a doubt, a certain interpretation of “Amoris Laetitia” can make it possible to specify and explore the modalities of this subjectivization. Only the Holy Father can determine the manner of receiving the exhortation correctly. Then the text will no longer be an occasion of division and confusion, but of maturation and communion.
Read the full article at Sandro Magister Blog