Rorate Caeli

De Mattei - Increasing confusion: Cardinal Müller and Professor Buttiglione

Roberto de Mattei
Corrispondenza Romana
November 2, 2017

Professor Rocco Buttiglione has been fighting for months against the critics of Amoris Laetitia in an attempt to justify the contents of Pope Francis’ Post-Synod Exhortation. Now he has gathered his articles in a book entitled: Friendly Answers to the Critics of Amoris laetitia, published by Ares, with a preface unexpectedly written by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller.  

Andrea Tornielli reports in Vaticaninsider a large extract of this introduction which adds to the present reigning confusion. The former Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith, unlike Prof. Buttiglione, has always manifested a certain sympathy for the four “dubia” cardinals, but retains that to “neutralize” Amoris laetitia it would be better to interpret it in continuity with the teaching of the Church, rather than criticize it openly.

To explain the apparent contradiction between Amoris laetitia and the definite dogma of the Church on the Sacraments of Matrimony, Penance and the Eucharist, the Cardinal makes Rocco Buttiglione’s thesis the basis of his own, which is summed up in these two lines: “That which is in question is an objective situation of sin, which, because of attenuating circumstances, is not imputed subjectively”.

The problem would not then be that of the objectivity of the moral law, but of the “imputability” of the sinner, or of the subjective responsibility of his acts. The point of departure with this reasoning is not moral truth, for which, the moral imputabilty of an act, the subject would need to have committed it knowing freely what he was doing, or with full awareness and deliberate consent. The point of arrival, which transforms the truth into sophism is that the circumstances might annul the responsibility of those who find themselves in a situation of grave sin. In fact, according to Buttiglione, we cannot consider “imputable”, or guilty, those divorced and remarried who would want to change their life condition, but cannot do it, because of a concrete situation which determines their acts, rendering their free and conscious choice impossible. If, for example, a divorced and remarried couple have children whom they have to take care of, the dissolution of their cohabitation might jeopardize the future of these children.

Neither can they be asked to live as brother and sister, since it might have disastrous psychological and moral consequences for the couple and their children. In a case like this, it would be necessary to exercise prudent “discernment” and “mercy” should go as far as allowing cohabiters to receive Communion, even if their irregular situation does not satisfy the moral law. 

The sophism derives from the fact that this reasoning has nothing whatever to do with Catholic doctrine on the imputability of acts and proceeds instead from “situation ethics” repeatedly condemned by Pius XII and John Paul II. “The distinctive mark of such ethics – explains Pius XII – is constituted by the fact that they are not based in any way on universal moral laws, such as the Ten Commandments, but on the actual, concrete conditions and circumstances, in which one must act, and according to which the individual conscience must judge and choose; this state of things is unique and valid once only for each human action. Thus the decision of the conscience, affirm those who sustain such ethics, cannot be ruled by ideas, principles and universal laws.” (Discourse to  the World Federation for Young Catholic Women April 18 1952 )

“Full awareness” according to Catholic morality, does not mean that with one’s act there is a clear and explicit awareness of offending God in grave matter.  If there was this awareness, it would add further malice to the sin.  To sin mortally it’s enough to consent to behavior in itself opposed to the divine law in grave matter. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Persona humana, December 29th 1975, no 10). Every man in fact has the duty to know what is necessary for his own salvation. Ignorance on fundamental ethical truths, does not justify sins, but is in itself sin. In fact, John Paul II asserts “the truth is not found if it is not loved; the truth is not known if there is no desire to know it.” (General Audience August 24th 1983 no. 2).

The Magisterium from time immemorial, has condemned the affirmation “everything done in ignorance is devoid of any blame” (Council of Sens, June 2, 1140). Errors of Pietro Abelardo , DS 337/730). Non-imputability, complete or partial, is reduced thus to rare cases such as:  drunkenness, dementia, psychic illness, hypnosis, dreams or half-sleep. In these cases the conditions of a free-act are missing, as the person’s control over the acts of his intellect or will is not possible. 

On the other hand, as regards deliberate consent, to give moral character to our acts, imperfect consent is sufficient. All of our acts suffer external conditioning of various kinds (education, environment, social structures) just as they depend also on our genetic character or life habits (virtues and vices).  Yet every act which does not occur through physical violence, and involves some knowledge, even partial, of the natural law, must be considered voluntary and imputable.  Moral violence (exercised for example by the mass-media or by the diffusion of models of immoral conduct)  does not do away with the voluntary nature of the act, since the consent of the will cannot be determined by any outside force to the will itself. For there to be full consent, it is sufficient that the will wants the act, independent of the conditions received.   The act of the will is in fact interior and the interior act of the will can never be forced. (Ramón García de Haro, The Christian Life. A Course of Fundamental Moral Theology, Ares, Milan, 1995, p. 253).

True moral discernment furthermore, presupposes an objective norm of evaluation. For this, as another famous moralist observes, in judging the morality of an act it is necessary to start from the object and not the subject (Maussbach, Moral Theology, tr. It., Paoline, Rome, 1957, vol.II, pp. 310-311).  For the goodness of an act it is necessary that it conform to the moral rule, according to three relations which constitute an inseparable unit: object, circumstance, end. For an act to be immoral, it is enough that one of these elements is evil, according to the principle bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu (Summa theologiae, I-IIae, q. 18, a. 4, ad 3). The historical or social  circumstances may aggravate or attenuate the morality of an evil act, but do not change its intrinsic malice, short of denying the very existence of intrinsically evil acts [themselves].

Vertitatis splendor, reiterates the existence of “absolute morals”, whereas Amoris laetitia, even if not denying them in principle, de facto neutralizes them, by entrusting the evaluation of human acts to a discernment which subordinates the moral law to the subject’s conscience, rendering every act and every situation in itself unique and unrepeatable. Yet, “When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. (Veritatis splendor, n. 96). The observance of the moral law can involve difficulties, fears, anguish and interior conflicts. In these cases, however, in the history of the Church the real Christians don’t run around the moral law, through the shortcut of “non-imputabilty”, but make recourse to the invincible help of Grace: a word that seems to be unheard of to the defenders of Amoris laetitia .

When St. Thomas More was asked to accept Henry VIII’s adultery, the pressures that he had from his family, friends and the King himself, could have forced him into invoking the non-imputabilty of his apostasy.  He chose, despite all, like the Christians of the first century, the road to martyrdom. A road the encyclical Vertitatis splendor traces with these words: “[…]the martyrs and, in general, all the Church's Saints, light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense. By witnessing fully to the good, they are a living reproof to those who transgress the law (cf. Wis 2:12), and they make the words of the Prophet echo ever afresh: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Is 5:20). (Veritatis splendor, nn. 91-93).

Translation:  Contributor Francesca Romana