Benedict XVI’s recent essay is a subtle correction of Amoris laetitia ch. 8

At Crisis find analysis by Richard A. Spinello of Benedict XVI’s recent explanation for The Present Crisis. The writer says that Benedict has, between the lines, criticized Amoris laetitia. I also, a couple says back, saw a piece arguing that Benedict’s essay answered the infamous unanswered dubia.

Benedict XVI seems to contradict Amoris chapter 8 – which undermines the Church’s teaching that there are intrinsically evil acts – when he writes about “absolute good” and about “fundamentally evil” actions.   Benedict writes, essentially, against the errors of proportionalism and a “fundamental option”, which also seem to resonate in chapter 8.  The basic idea is that a person can commit mortal sins but, in effect, his basic orientation towards God remains intact and he does not lose the state of grace.

There are great paragraphs, but I want you to read the whole thing.  Here, however, is a sample:


The apparent denial of these exceptionless moral norms in Amoris Laetitia is an unfortunate setback for moral theology. These precepts are few in number, but they guide us toward human flourishing. According to Aquinas, the negative precepts “fix the boundary that man must not exceed in his moral actions” (Summa Theologiae, q. 79, a.2). They protect fundamental goods, including the sacramental reality of marriage, which is defined in terms of exclusivity and permanence. A flexible moral framework that allows for exceptions to negative prohibitions based on concrete circumstances threatens the integrity of those goods and makes the Church vulnerable to new forms of moral catastrophe. Pope Emeritus Benedict’s perceptive essay reaffirms the urgent need to preserve these specific negative norms, grounded in faith and reason, for a coherent moral theology. Without them, we end up with the relativity and vulnerability that allowed for the Church’s tragic surrender to the Sexual Revolution. Sexual activity outside an indissoluble heterosexual marriage is always wrong according to Sacred Scripture and natural law, but this precept cannot be found in Amoris Laetitia, no matter how long one tarries in the sinuousness of Pope Francis’s monologue.




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  1. Ms. M-S says:

    We can devoutly hope that this “unfortunate setback for moral theology” is mercifully short, as things rise and fall more rapidly in the Info Age than in previous eras. I hope to live to see those who make pathological attempts to revise the natural order and those who make mendacious attempts to revise the established moral order ride out of town on the Noble Senator Incitatus while a kid in the crowd observes that they have no clothes.

  2. Fallibilissimo says:

    According traditional Catholic doctrine, can a person having committed a sin involving grave matter, be in a state of grace?

  3. Fallibilissimo:

    A person can perform an action that is gravely wrong (i.e., grave matter), yet lack either sufficient knowledge or freedom necessary to be culpable of a mortal sin; ergo, that person would not cease to be in a state of grace because of that sin. I don’t know how old this understanding of mortal sin is, but I do not think it is a recent invention.

  4. Fallibilissimo says:

    Thank you Father! The follow up and last question would be: does the Church possess the authority to change the discipline of the sacraments in some specific and rare cases (which involve a process of discernment), so that one is not barred from Holy Communion though there is awareness of having committed sin involving grave matter, but not the other constitutive and necessary conditions for mortal sin?

    To be as clear as possible, in such instances the moral law remains unchanged, only the discipline of the sacraments is altered. I believe this could be an application of epikeia. Also, I’m not speaking to the wisdom of such decisions on the part of the Church if they are possible.

  5. Fallibilissimo:

    I wouldn’t speak of it as “changing” anything. The Church teaches that one must not receive the Eucharist (among other sacraments) in a state of mortal sin; to do so is a sacrilege and is unfruitful, and itself a grave sin (with usual conditions as discussed). A person who is not in a state of mortal sin can, and should, approach the sacraments. I am not familiar with the history of the customary formulations of moral theology, but everything I said in this post and the prior one are, I think, long in place.

    All this points out that while we commonly speak of such-and-such being a mortal sin, the more correct way to speak is that such-and-such is “grave matter.” It can certainly be a mortal sin, with sufficient freedom and knowledge, but the latter are sometimes not present. This may seem academic, until you hear confessions and counsel people.

    I think you are really asking me to comment on the relevant passages of Amoris Laetitia. I would rather stick to my wheelhouse and state and re-state what is in the Catechism, and has been for some time. Namely: sometimes people do indeed commit acts that are gravely wrong, yet they lack, for various reasons, sufficient knowledge or freedom for their actions to be mortal sins. There are all manner of situations where this really happens, even if someone reading these words finds it hard to understand in light of his or her own experience.

    The only other thing I can say is that I would find it extremely difficult to turn this into any sort of blanket guidance. This is hard enough to make clear in a homily (because in any congregation, there are people who are prone to scrupulosity, and hear this one way, others who are lax, and hear it another, and among all, there are a good number who are only half-listening anyway). This sort of thing is best explained in individual situations.

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