This objection, as stated in the second, fourth and fifth Dubia of the four Cardinals, is that it must be affirmed as valid that:
- Absolute moral norms exist that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and which are binding without exceptions (VS 79).
- 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 (VS 81).
- Conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object (VS 56).
2.1 Doctrinal Background of the Objection
The teaching of the Church on absolute moral norms and intrinsic evils is summarised by CCC 1753 to 1756:
“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 …
The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). 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 …
The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil …
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”.
“One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour 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 …
In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: “Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).
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”.
It is also in accordance with the rejection in VS 56 of any ability of conscience to discern exceptions to absolute moral norms:
“[S]ome authors have proposed a kind of double status of moral truth. Beyond the doctrinal and abstract level, one would have to acknowledge the priority of a certain more concrete existential consideration. The latter, by taking account of circumstances and the situation, could legitimately be the basis of certain exceptions to the general rule and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law. A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called “pastoral” solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a “creative” hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept”.
2.2 Rules and Discernment
AL 304 provides, with reference to St Thomas Aquinas, that:
“It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being … It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations”.
However, AL 305 provides that:
“For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives … Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end”.
Accordingly, it can be seen the reason AL provides general moral laws cannot be simply be applied to particular situations, is the existence of mitigating factors which reduce culpability for situations which remain objectively sinful.
“In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility … For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved”.
As outlined at 1.0 Mortal Sin, particularly at 1.3 Reduced Culpability and Mortal Sin, the principle that reduced subjective culpability can render objectively and intrinsically grave sins venial rather than mortal, is based on the traditional moral theology of the Church and was confirmed by Pope St John Paul II on a number of occasions.
Further, as confirmed by VS 81 and CCC 1754, affirming circumstances may reduce subjective culpability does not deny the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts without exceptions, as they cannot remove the evil or make good an intrinsically evil act.
2.3 Consequences as Mitigating Circumstances
“For example, someone may steal to feed the poor; his intention is right, but he is lacking the requisite good will. So no evil can be excused because it is done with a good intention (Rm 3:8): “Those who [say we] say ‘Let us do evil so that good may come’ are justly condemned””.
This is put most strongly and poetically by Cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman, in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865) at Chapter 5:
“The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse”.
That this principle applies to adultery is confirmed by St Thomas Aquinas in De Malo q. 15, a. 1:
“We are not permitted to do for any good end what is sinful by reason of its kind, as Rom. 3:8 says … But a just man, a virtuous man, commits adultery with the wife of a tyrant in order to kill the tyrant and liberate his country, as a commentator says … Therefore, even adultery as such is not a sin …
We should not agree with the commentator on this point, since one ought not commit adultery for any benefit”.
However, as noted by CCC 1754, “circumstances, including the consequences … can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death)”. Accordingly, while consequences “can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil”, they can reduce subjective culpability.
“Mitigating factors in pastoral discernment … The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations … More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule … A subject may know full well the rule … yet … be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin … Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well … in other words, although someone may possess all the infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult”.
A similar idea is also expressed in AL 298, which states:
“One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins”.
In this regard, it must be noted that some have interpreted the references to “further sin” and “new sins” in AL 298 and 301 not to refer to mitigating circumstances which reduce (but not eliminate) evil, but instead to mean that “extramarital sex could be a moral duty” as “not sleeping with one’s new partner would be worse than sleeping with them”.
However even if this interpretation could be maintained in good faith on a plain reading of AL 301, it has been clarified by Pope Francis that AL cannot be understood in this way, in his rejection of situational ethics which would preclude intrinsic evils (refer 2.6 below).
Further papal spokesman Fr. Antonio Spadaro, whose article gave rise to the suggestion that “extramarital sex could be a moral duty”, rejected the idea in the strongest terms:
That AL 301 is indeed intended to refer to mitigating circumstances can also be seen from an attentive reading of the paragraph itself, which places the idea of “further sin” firmly in the context of an example of mitigating factors.
For example AL 301 is headed “mitigating factors”, and the reference to “further sin” is bookended by references to subjective factors which limit the ability to make a decision. Similarly, in Fr. Antonio Spadaro’s article the same context is provided, “recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations which attenuate responsibility and guilt – particularly where a person believes they would fall into a worse error, and harm the children of the new union”.
Moreover, as outlined by the Dubia, these clarifications must be accepted as guiding the interpretation of AL. It would be radically inconsistent with a request for the “Holy Father, as supreme teacher of the faith, called by the Risen One to confirm his brothers in the faith, to resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity”, to then reject the clarity once it has been provided.
Accepting then, that AL 301 does relate to mitigating factors, in the words of St Thomas Aquinas in De Malo q. 2, a. 2 it can be seen such consequences can be a type of coercion, which diminish the voluntary character (i.e. complete consent) required for a sin to be mortal (refer 1.0 Mortal Sin):
“The necessity resulting from coercion is absolutely contrary to the voluntary, and such necessity altogether excludes moral fault. But there is a kind of necessity that is compatible with the voluntary, for example when a sailor is compelled to jettison cargo in order to keep the ship from sinking. And things done out of such necessity can have the nature of moral wrong insofar as they are partially voluntary”.
This coercion is not to be understood as an inordinate fear which overrides reason, which St Thomas Aquinas teaches can be a further sin rather than a mitigating circumstance (ST II-II, q. 125, a. 3):
“[F]ear is a sin through being inordinate, that is to say, through shunning what ought not to be shunned according to reason … But sometimes this inordinateness of fear reaches to the rational appetite which is called the will, which deliberately shuns something against the dictate of reason: and this inordinateness of fear is sometimes a mortal, sometimes a venial sin. For if a man through fear of the danger of death or of any other temporal evil is so disposed as to do what is forbidden, or to omit what is commanded by the Divine law, such fear is a mortal sin: otherwise it is a venial sin”.
Rather St Thomas Aquinas teaches what mitigates is the involuntariness which arises from the threat of evil consequences which can follow from good acts, which is not a passing passion, but a fear which can endure as long as the threat remains (ST II-II, q. 125, a. 4):
“Wherefore if one were to incur evils of the soul, namely sins, in order to avoid evils of the body, such as blows or death, or evils of external things, such as loss of money; or if one were to endure evils of the body in order to avoid loss of money, one would not be wholly excused from sin. Yet one’s sin would be extenuated somewhat, for what is done through fear is less voluntary, because when fear lays hold of a man he is under a certain necessity of doing a certain thing. Hence the Philosopher (Ethic. iii, 1) says that these things that are done through fear are not simply voluntary, but a mixture of voluntary and involuntary … Fear excuses, not in the point of its sinfulness, but in the point of its involuntariness”.
The Buenos Aires Directive at item 6 confirms one evil consequence which may “diminish responsibility and culpability” is where “a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union”.
This, as noted in AL 298, relates to the situation acknowledged by FC 84 “where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate”. In this situation, Footnote 329 to AL 298 further states:
“In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers””.
In other words, if one accepts the demand of the Gospel to live in complete continence, the union may break down resulting in grave harm to the children (for example from being financially or otherwise abandoned by the other partner).
These grave evils do not eliminate the moral duty for the D&R to live in complete continence, or even less create a mortal duty to commit adultery. This is because, as confirmed by St Augustine in his De Mendacio at 13 and 14, a person is not responsible for the sins of others:
“[W]hat if these terms were offered to a Martyr, that, upon his refusing to bear false witness of Christ and to sacrifice to demons, then, before his eyes, not some other man, but his own father should be put to death … Is it not manifest, that, upon his remaining steadfast in his purpose of most faithful testimony, they alone would be the murderers who should slay his father, and not he a parricide into the bargain? As therefore, in this case, the man would be no party to this so heinous deed, for choosing, rather than violate his faith by false testimony, that his own father should be put to death by others … so the like consent, in the former case, would not make him a party to that so foul disgrace, if he refused to do evil himself, let others do what they might in consequence of his not doing it …
But if the question be, which of these he ought in preference to avoid, not being able to avoid both but able to avoid one or other: I will answer, His own sin, rather than another’s; and rather a lighter sin being his own, than a heavier being another’s”.
Nor would these grave evils reduce culpability if, on the contrary, they were in fact to be committed by oneself rather than the other partner. This would not be an example of external coercion which limits complete consent, but rather a voluntary choice not constrained by third parties.
However, if the grave evils are threatened to be committed by the other partner, in accordance with the CCC and St Thomas Aquinas they are rightly considered to reduce culpability as long as their threat remains.
2.4 Ongoing Mitigation
One objection which is raised to treating consequences as mitigating factors, is that coercion or fear do not in fact mitigate while the threat remains, but only while they overwhelm a person’s capacity for deliberate reason.
In this regard, when considering the question of when mortal sin can become venial, St Thomas Aquinas provides an example of a sudden non-deliberate act (ST I-II, q. 88, a.6):
“Nevertheless a sin which is generically mortal, can become venial by reason of the imperfection of the act, because then it does not completely fulfil the conditions of a moral act, since it is not a deliberate, but a sudden act … This happens by a kind of subtraction, namely, of deliberate reason. And since a moral act takes its species from deliberate reason, the result is that by such a subtraction the species of the act is destroyed”.
Further St Thomas Aquinas confirms the involuntariness and mitigation provided by such sudden events ceases, once a person has time to deliberate and consent (ST I-II, q.74, a. 10):
“Now it is possible for one of the articles of faith to present itself to the reason suddenly under some other aspect, before the eternal law … can be consulted, on the matter; as, for instance, when a man suddenly apprehends the resurrection of the dead as impossible naturally, and rejects it, as soon as he had thus apprehended it, before he has had time to deliberate and consider that this is proposed to our belief in accordance with the Divine law. If, however, the movement of unbelief remains after this deliberation, it is a mortal sin … A sin which is against the eternal law, though it be mortal in its genus, may nevertheless be venial, on account of the incompleteness of a sudden action, as stated … in this way, that which in the sudden movement was not a mortal sin, becomes a mortal sin in virtue of the deliberation which brought it into the light of a higher consideration”.
However, such sudden events are not the only factors which St Thomas Aquinas accepts render an act at least partially involuntary, as complete consent is not given. These other factors include violence and fear (ST I-II, q.6, a. 5 and a. 6), in relation to which St Thomas Aquinas notes (ST Supplement, q. 47, a. 1):
“Compulsion or violence is twofold. One is the cause of absolute necessity, and violence of this kind the Philosopher calls … “violent simply,” as when by bodily strength one forces a person to move; the other causes conditional necessity, and the Philosopher calls this a “mixed violence,” as when a person throws his merchandise overboard in order to save himself. In the latter kind of violence, although the thing done is not voluntary in itself, yet taking into consideration the circumstances of place and time it is voluntary. And since actions are about particulars, it follows that it is voluntary simply, and involuntary in a certain respect … Wherefore this latter violence or compulsion is consistent with consent, but not the former. And since this compulsion results from one’s fear of a threatening danger, it follows that this violence coincides with fear which, in a manner, compels the will, whereas the former violence has to do with bodily actions. Moreover, since the law considers not merely internal actions, but rather external actions, consequently it takes violence to mean absolute compulsion, for which reason it draws a distinction between violence and fear. Here, however, it is a question of internal consent which cannot be influenced by compulsion or violence as distinct from fear. Therefore as to the question at issue compulsion and fear are the same. Now, according to lawyers fear is “the agitation of the mind occasioned by danger imminent or future””.
These factors do not mitigate due to an inability to deliberate, but rather because they compel consent. Indeed, the fact that deliberate reason is not overwhelmed by fear, is precisely the reason St Thomas Aquinas gives for why fear of evil consequences makes an act only partly involuntary (ST I-II, q. 6, a. 6):
“And that which is done through fear is voluntary, inasmuch as it is here and now, that is to say, in so far as, under the circumstances, it hinders a greater evil which was feared; thus the throwing of the cargo into the sea becomes voluntary during the storm, through fear of the danger: wherefore it is clear that it is voluntary simply. And hence it is that what is done out of fear is essentially voluntary, because its principle is within. But if we consider what is done through fear, as outside this particular case, and inasmuch as it is repugnant to the will, this is merely a consideration of the mind. And consequently what is done through fear is involuntary, considered in that respect, that is to say, outside the actual circumstances of the case”.
It can therefore be seen that the involuntariness and mitigation provided by fear of evil consequences does not cease when a person is able to deliberate, such that it can only reduce culpability while a person is overwhelmed in a moment. Rather it mitigates despite the fact a person makes a deliberate choice under the circumstances to avoid the evil consequences, as the evil consequences themselves are circumstances which compel consent.
Accordingly, such fear is able to reduce culpability for so long as the threat of the evil consequences remain, rather than only before a person is able go through a process of deliberation and discernment.
2.5 The Commandments and Impossibility
Another objection which is raised to treating consequences as mitigating factors, is that it treats the commandment of God against adultery as impossible to observe. For example, the Criteria for the Application of AL from the Bishops of Malta at Item 9, states “there are complex situations where the choice of living “as brothers and sisters” becomes humanly impossible and give rise to greater harm (see AL, note 329)”. Similarly in AL 273, in reference to the lack of freedom of drug addicts, Pope Francis speaks of it being “practically impossible for them not to choose that evil”.
In this regard, while Canon 23 of the 6th Session of the Council of Trent confirms:
“If anyone says that a man once justified … can during his whole life avoid all sins, even those that are venial, except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin, let him be anathema”.
Canon 18 of the 6th Session of the Council of Trent states:
“If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to observe, let him be anathema”.
Further Pope Ven. Pius XII applied this teaching of Trent to continence in his 1951 Allocution to Midwives:
“It will be objected that such an abstention [from conjugal union] is impossible, that such a heroism is asking too much. You will hear this objection raised; you will read it everywhere. Even those who should be in a position to judge very differently, either by reason of their duties or qualifications, are ever ready to bring forward the following argument: “No one is obliged to do what is impossible, and it may be presumed that no reasonable legislator can will his law to oblige to the point of impossibility. But for husbands and wives long periods of abstention are impossible. Therefore they are not obliged to abstain; divine law cannot have this meaning.” In such a manner, from partially true premises, one arrives at a false conclusion. To convince oneself of this it suffices to invert the terms of the argument: “God does not oblige anyone to do what is impossible. But God obliges husband and wife to abstinence if their union cannot be completed according to the laws of nature. Therefore in this case abstinence is possible.” To confirm this argument, there can be brought forward the doctrine of the Council of Trent, which, in the chapter on the observance necessary and possible of referring to a passage of St. Augustine, teaches: “God does not command the impossible but while He commands, He warns you to do what you can and to ask for the grace for what you cannot do and He helps you so that you may be able”…
It would be a wrong towards men and women of our age to judge them incapable of continuous heroism. Nowadays, for many a reason,—perhaps constrained by dire necessity or even at times oppressed by injustice—heroism is exercised to a degree and to an extent that in the past would have been thought impossible. Why, then, if circumstances truly demand it, should this heroism stop at the limits prescribed by the passions and the inclinations of nature? It is clear: he who does not want to master himself is not able to do so, and he who wishes to master himself relying only upon his own powers, without sincerely and perseveringly seeking divine help, will be miserably deceived”.
Similarly Pope St John Paul II, in his 1983 Responsible Parenthood Address, taught:
“To maintain that situations exist in which it is not, de facto, possible for the spouses to be faithful to all the requirements of the truth of conjugal love is equivalent to forgetting this event of grace which characterizes the New Covenant: the grace of the Holy Spirit makes possible that which is not possible to man, left solely to his own powers”.
However, that the moral commandments may be “humanly” or “practically” impossible, does not mean it impossible with Grace. As Christ himself taught in Matthew 19:26, “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.
In this regard, CCC 1615 notes in relation to the seeming impossibility of the indissolubility of marriage:
“This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ”.
Further, as noted by AL 295:
“For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being “advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life””.
And AL 297:
“As for the way of dealing with different “irregular” situations, the Synod Fathers reached a general consensus, which I support: “In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them”, something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit”.
Nor is actual impossibility implied by accepting external difficulties reduce culpability. This can be seen in Dante’s treatment of the first sphere of heaven, where those forced to break vows dwell, in the Paradiso 4.82-7:
“If their will had been unbroken, like that which kept Lawrence on the grid and made Mucius stern to his own hand, then, as soon as they were free, it would have driven them back on the path from which they had been dragged; but will so firm is rare indeed”.
Those like Dante’s Piccarda, a nun who was forced from her convent, did not mortally sin given the external coercion involved and are thus numbered with the blessed in heaven. And yet as shown by martyrs such as St Lawrence, it was possible for them to resist even unto death. Accordingly, there is still a venial sin able to be imputed to them, which restricts them to the lowest of Dante’s nine spheres of heaven.
2.6 Role of Conscience
AL 303 states that:
“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal”.
However this cannot be understood as affirming a type of situationalism, which would provide that conscience can authorized legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms, as confirmed by Pope Francis during a Dialogue with Jesuits on October 24 2016:
“In the field of morality we must advance without falling into situationalism: but, rather, it is necessary to bring forward again the great wealth contained in the dimension of discernment; this is characteristic of the great scholasticism.
We should note something: St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure affirm that the general principle holds for all but — they say it explicitly — as one moves to the particular, the question becomes diversified and many nuances arise without changing the principle. This scholastic method has its validity. It is the moral method used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And it is the method that was used in the last apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia … The morality used in Amoris laetitia is Thomistic, but that of the great St. Thomas himself”.
This rejection of situationalism, as compared to St Thomas Aquinas on prudence, strongly echoes Pope Ven. Pius XII in his series of addresses in 1952 on the errors of situational ethics (44 Acta Apostolicae Sedis 417 – 418 (1952)):
“[H]atred of God, blasphemy, idolatry, abandoning the true faith, denial of the faith, perjury, murder, bearing false witness, calumny, adultery and fornication, the abuse of marriage, the solitary sin, stealing and robbery, taking away the necessities of life, depriving workers of their just wages, monopolizing vital foodstuffs and unjustifiably increasing prices, fraudulent bankruptcy, unjust maneuvering in speculation – all these are gravely forbidden by the divine Lawmaker. No examination is necessary. No matter what the situation of the individual may be, there is no other course open to him but to obey …
St. Thomas’ treatment of the cardinal virtue of prudence … (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q.47-57). His treatise evidences a sense of personal activity and of actuality which contains whatever is true and positive in Situation Ethics, while avoiding its deviations from the truth and its confusion. It will suffice, therefore, if the modern moralist, desirous of penetrating the new problems, will follow along the same lines”.
2.7 Law of Gradualness
Nor can AL 303 be understood as affirming a “gradualness of the law”, condemned by FC 34, where it is assumed there are “different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations”.
“[N]ot a “gradualness of law” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law”.
Further, AL 300 confirms:
“Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church”.
“The pastoral “law of gradualness” … consists of requiring a decisive break with sin together with a progressive path towards total union with the will of God and with his loving demands”.
However, as noted in the 1997 Vademecum at 3.8, a decisive break does not require an immediate end to a sin where reduced culpability renders it difficult to do so straight away:
“In general, it is not necessary for the confessor to investigate concerning sins committed in invincible ignorance of their evil, or due to an inculpable error of judgment. Although these sins are not imputable, they do not cease, however, to be an evil and a disorder. This also holds for the objective evil of contraception, which introduces a pernicious habit into the conjugal life of the couple … The principle according to which it is preferable to let penitents remain in good faith in cases of error due to subjectively invincible ignorance, is certainly to be considered always valid, even in matters of conjugal chastity. And this applies whenever it is foreseen that the penitent, although oriented towards living within the bounds of a life of faith, would not be prepared to change his own conduct, but rather would begin formally to sin”.
Nor should references in AL to the Church’s teaching on marriage as an ideal, such as that to it as an “ideal to be more fully realized” (AL 303), be understood to be inconsistent with FC 34’s warning (reiterated by VS 103) that married people:
“[C]annot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy”.
This has been confirmed by Pope Francis in his 2017 Roman Rota Address, where he stated:
“The Church, thus, with a renewed sense of responsibility continues to propound marriage in its essential elements — offspring, the good of the spouses, unity, indissolubility and sacramentality — not as an ideal meant only for the few, notwithstanding modern models fixated on the ephemeral and the passing, but rather as a reality that in Christ’s grace can be lived out by all baptized faithful”.
Moreover this link between mitigating factors and progressive growth is echoed in AL 308:
“At the same time, from our awareness of the weight of mitigating circumstances – psychological, historical and even biological – it follows that “without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear”, making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best””.
Accordingly it can be seen the law of gradualness, not gradualness of the law or situationalism, is precisely the what AL 303 is referring to when it speaks of:
“[T]he most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal”.
This is confirmed by AL 303 itself, which consistent with the “step-by-step advance” (FC 34) and “progressive path” (1997 Vademecum at 3.9) called for by Pope St John Paul II, provides in relation to those who have not achieved the objective demand of the Gospel that:
“In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized”.
Therefore, in accordance with the logic of AL, any reception of Holy Communion by those whose culpability for objectively grave sins is reduced is not an end point, but rather a means of helping them break free from their limitations and sin.
In the words of AL Footnote 351:
“I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak””.
This is consistent with CCC 1393 to 1395, which provides:
“Holy Communion separates us from sin … For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins …
As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him …
By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin”.
That Holy Communion is not an end point can be particularly seen in this ability to free people from their limitations, including those which reduce culpability. This growth may see a sin which was venial become mortal if not ceased, as limitations to full knowledge and complete consent are overcome with the help of Grace.
In these circumstances, the logic of the teaching of AL would mean a person who may have been able to receive Holy Communion fruitfully due to reduced culpability for a time, will no longer be able to do so as the urgency of living up to the demands of the Gospel increase.