Contemporary Moral Theology Volume 1 – Questions in Fundamental Moral Theology – By John C. Ford and Gerald Kelly
Fr. John Cuthbert Ford, SJ (1902-1989) was one of the leading American Catholic moralists of the 20th century. Writing in the year of Father Ford’s death, Richard McCormick, S.J., could still vividly recall a time when Father Ford enjoyed such a “towering” reputation that his verdict on a disputed case almost automatically qualified as “solidly probable opinion”—that is, as counsel well-founded enough to resolve a doubtful conscience.
Fr. Ford is best known today for being a member of the Papal Commission on Population, Family, and Birth Rate during the 1960s, who helped write the paper that became known as the “minority position” against artificial contraception, which was taken up by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, and later argued for the infallibility of that encyclical.
Fr. Ford therefore has unimpeachable credentials as an orthodox, conservative, pro-papal theologian active before the Second Vatican Council.
It is therefore interesting that Fr. Ford released, in 1958 just before Vatican II, a book of moral theology in the manualist tradition called “Contemporary Moral Theology”, which may be considered one of the last pre-Vatican II English language moral manuals.
Further despite the age of this book, it in fact deals directly with two the questions which have been contested in light of the release of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis, the authority of papal teaching and the application of reduced culpability to otherwise mortal sins.
The discussion of reduced culpability is of particular interest, as while it is in the context of interior constraints which were beginning to be discovered based on the then relatively new science of psychology, rather than the specific factors focused on by Amoris Laetitia such as harm to children or subjective certainty of nullity, it does cover the following disputed points in a manner which supports the orthodoxy of Pope Francis:
- Heretical situation ethics vs orthodox reduced culpability;
- How voluntary a partially voluntary act must be in order for subjective mortal sin to arise;
- The level of consent required for subjective mortal sin as compared to a valid marriage;
- The discernment of culpability in the confessional; and
- If Holy Communion can be received where culpability is doubtful.
Unfortunately, in light of its relevance, it does not appear that the full text of this moral manual is freely available online at this time. Accordingly in this article, I will seek to provide the relevant extracts from Fr. Ford’s book, to help further inform the debate around Amoris Laetitia.
I trust these extracts will help interested observers see both that the teaching of Amoris Laetitia in relation to reduced culpability falls well within Catholic orthodoxy as it has been understood since before Vatican II, as well as that this orthodoxy is not required to be supported with overly extensive claims of inerrancy in every utterance made in public by a Pope in matters of faith and morals.
Please note, these extracts have been directly transcribed from the book as originally published, with any omissions or added emphasis being explicitly noted. In relation to the discussion of reduced culpability, the omissions made mostly relate to discussions of psychological matters, which are not directly relevant to Amoris Laetitia.