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The Meaning of Intrinsic Evil

Deacon Greg Kandra, of the Deacon's Bench, seems like a very good man. I think, however, his take on the term intrinsic evil is quite misleading.Here's an article I did in America on the topic.Incidentally, I think he's quoting Catholic Anwers's voting guide==not the Bishops'. The term "non-negotiable" seems to be new with Catholic Answers. It seems, as far as I can tell, to have roots in the 1960's anti-war protest movements. Not in the long tradition of Catholic moral theology. If anyone could point me to a manual of moral theology which uses that term, I'd be very surprised.For an interesting critique of Catholic Answers's voting guide, see this article by Amy Uelmen. My own analysis, too, oversimplifies what is an enormously complex scholarly discussion. The way in which we identify the object of the action has been controverted, including the degree to which circumstances can enter into the object ==the core meaning of the act. St. Thomas has a notion of the object, but the degree to which the contemporary understanding of intrinsic evil can be traced to him, or is a later development of scholastic theology is disputed. What counts as an "abortion" (the later tradition distinguishes between direct and indirect abortions) has been disputed.The moral analysis of "mutilation"--traditionally understood as an intrinsically evil act, has evolved in interesting ways. In the 194o's, Jesuit moralists were examining the question whether castration to stop prostate cancer was morally permitted. That, eventually, could be justified on the principle of "totality" (the well=being of the whole person). Harder to justify was mutilation to donate an organ. It was so justified. It is no longer clear why, or to what degree, mutilation is an intrinsically evil act--if it can be justified by some consequences, such as saving a life.These are not easy categories to define or work with. Caveant blogger magisterque.

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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Your are right. In origin the category "nonnegotiable" applied to a demand, usually made by people actively protesting or demonstrating that some party agree to do something or stop doing something. To say that an action is intrinsically evil and than to add that one's position on the question is nonnegotiable is what Gilbert Ryle would call a category mistake.

Cathy, do you think there is anything at all that can fit into the category of 'intrinsic evil'? An act the object of which cannot be ordered to God regardless of the circumstances? How about...oh, I don't know...torture? :)

Hi, Cathleen. Thanks for your thoughts. My main point -- which I obviously did not make very well -- is that people can't really equate honoring Bush with honoring Obama, by suggesting that supporting capital punishment is just as wrong as supporting abortion rights. One of those two acts, in the eyes of the Church, is always evil. Blessings,Deacon Greg

Thank you for this. I am a big fan of and regular reader of Deacon Greg's great blog where I comment under my parish blog name and often represent a different viewpoint. I always feel welcome there by the Deacon.I think he was on the right road but was short with his answer; your own link provided some depth and nuance.What I said over at his blog applies here as well - I often find myself caught between those who declare abortion the only evil and those who would have all things become equal. As you say, this is an enormously complex scholarly discussion. It worries me that it is not that at all, but rather a flashpoint that divides right and left, two terms I come to loathe more and more each day.

Charles,I recommend you read Cathy Kaveny's article in America. She is by no means saying there is no such thing as an intrinsically evil act. And torture is definitely identified by the Church as intrinsically evil. Of course, masturbation is also classified as intrinsically evil, as are all lies, including "little white lies." Just because something may be classified as an intrinsically evil act does not mean that laws must be passed to prohibit anyone from doing it.

Oh, one other thing. I found this link, in which Benedict himself used the term "non-negotiable" to describe life issues. Dcn. G.

My main point which I obviously did not make very well is that people cant really equate honoring Bush with honoring Obama, by suggesting that supporting capital punishment is just as wrong as supporting abortion rights.Deacon Kandra,As I pointed out elsewhere, in 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote that the death penalty was to be used only in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady immprovement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.Can it really be argued that George Bush, who had signed 152 death warrants in Texas, as in accord with Catholic teachings? Do you really suppose that when the necessity of something is practically nonexistent, one man can do it 152 times and arguably be right every time? And to get into the technical language, which hopefully Cathy Kaveny can help us with, isn't signing a death warrant formal cooperation in a very specific act? We can name 152 people whose deaths George Bush was directly involved in. How many abortions can you attribute directly to Obama?

Hi, David. You raise a good point, and certainly the Church's teaching on the death penalty has evolved to the point where this act is seen by some to be just as evil as abortion. (I would argue that part of the evil of capital punishment is that encourages a way of thinking that considers some life to be dispensable and kill-able -- which helps to foster an environment that can then more easily support abortion.) But, unless I'm mistaken, it's the consistent teaching of the Church that abortion is always wrong, in all circumstances, without exception. It's not that way with capital punishment. As Ratzinger wrote: "While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."Dcn. G.

David, there is nothing in the America article (which appears to have been written to disabuse people of some notions surrounding the concept of intrinsic evil and the election) which answers my question.For the record, do you think that that torture is intrinsically evil...or are there circumstances which could justify its use?

But, unless Im mistaken, its the consistent teaching of the Church that abortion is always wrong, in all circumstances, without exception. Its not that way with capital punishment.Deacon Kandra,I see this argument a lot on Catholic blogs, and I really don't get it. It seems to imply that you can't oppose evil if somebody, somewhere, can make a case that it's not evil. Because there is just-war theory, we must assume that John Paul II and Benedict are only offering personal opinions against the war in Iraq. Because capital punishment may sometimes be necessary, we must assume that someone who made "prudential decisions" 152 times to have people executed could have been right every time. Apparently the only things that we can judge to be wrong are those that are always wrong. I would point out that what the Church teaches is that the act of abortion in intrinsically evil. As I understand it, political positions about how best to deal with abortion are prudential decisions. The argument the Church has with Obama is not that he is committing intrinsically evil acts. There is a political disagreement with him, although certainly with a moral element, on how the law ought to deal with abortion. According to Catholic thought, abortion is always wrong. But masturbation is always wrong, and artificial birth control is always wrong, and lying is always wrong. Yet I don't think Obama would be considered persona non grata in Catholic circles if he declined to criminalize any of those things. It clearly is not a matter of whether something is always wrong that is the issue here. The real issue is how Catholics in a pluralistic democracy are to interact with a non-Catholic president who disagrees with them on some fundamental issues. The teachings of the Church on procuring abortions are one thing, and they are ancient and well grounded. The teachings of the Church on how people in a pluralistic democracy ought to vote, or whom they ought to give honorary degrees to are nowhere near as sure and certain as its teachings on procuring abortion. It seems to me a fundamental mistake in moral and logical reasoning to say (1) abortion is intrinsically evil, and therefore (2) Obama should not make a commencement address at Notre Dame. If one could really get from (1) to (2), it seems to me there would be many, many steps in between. In my opinion, no convincing argument with all those steps in it has been made. Maybe one of those steps is pointing out that abortion is an intrinsic evil, but there has to be a lot more to make a plausible argument.

For the record, do you think that that torture is intrinsically evilor are there circumstances which could justify its use?Charles, It is clear to me that according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, torture is intrinsically evil and may never be justified. Now, Gabriel Austin has given us a quote from Cardinal Newman, which goes as follows:blockquoteShe [the Catholic Church] holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so 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, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse.Now, lying is intrinsically evil. But if you asked me if I would tell one wilful untruth that harmed no one to prevent millions from dying of starvation, I would say, "You bet I would!"

Coding problems! The second-last paragraph above is the quote from Cardinal Newman. The last paragraph is me talking! I am sure Cardinal Newman would never have told a small wilful untruth to save millions of lives!

Mr. N, when you ask "How many abortions can you attribute directly to Obama?" are you defining "directly" meaning that Obama is the practitioner?

Let us not forget that George Bush has long supported abortion in cases of rape and incest.That makes him a supporter of something intrinsically evil.This was public knowledge well before Bush was invited to Notre Dame.But not a wimper from the Catholic bishops then.The political bias here is very blatant and obvious.God Bless

Hi, David.The problem, as I understand it, is that a Catholic institution is honoring a public figure who aggressively supports an act which the Catholic Church has taught from its earliest days is intrinsically evil. (Indeed, he has publicly vowed to make it even more widely available, and to remove any remaining restrictions on it.) Some people have a problem with that. It just seems a mistake for people to try and equate honoring Obama with honoring Bush. One was a President who supported something that is wrong but sometimes justified (and which the Church does not condemn under all circumstances), and the other is President who supports something the Church teaches is always wrong and -- by its very nature -- always evil. I don't want to sound like an apologist for either man (I'm not), but I can understand why people are upset about the Obama honor. I can't understand why people are using the Bush example to counter it, or defend it. Dcn. G.

I have to say that the whole, "What about George Bush's UND invitation?" reminds me of what happens when a verbally abused wife attempts to challenge her abusive husband with his cruelty. Inevitably, when she tries to get him to take her seriously, he attempts to turn the tables, accusing his wife of some ancient, overinflated offense which was never mentioned before but suddenly has become pressing and urgent in light of his wife's complaint.I always instruct my clients to avoid these rhetorical manipulations by stating, firmly, "I am willing to discuss whatever you like after we have dealt with the problem I have raised. Until then, if your concern wasn't an issue before now, it can wait until we're done solving the problem I have raised." The same really applies here. Whether Bush should or should not have been invited to UND all those years ago is an interesting question and is worthy of discussion--after this immediate concern of the appropriateness of the present invitation is addressed. In the meantime, if this wasn't an issue before, it can wait a bit longer. The same goes for any other attempt to shift the focus of the discussion with other similarly worthy topics raised with dubious timing.Pro-life Catholics should not fall for this rhetorical abuse heaped upon them by those who are eager to avoid serious discussion about life issues, which, incidently, are certainly not the only issues (another attempt at rhetorical abuse by the left "is this the ONLY issue?!?"), but certainly are the foundational issues which must be addressed before other serious, but dependent, issues can be dealt with.When Commonweal Catholics cannot silence sincerely pro-life Catholics by wrongly and baselessly suggesting or directly asserting that they are ignorant right-wing zealots who can't deal with real complexity even when they are tripping over and through it, they will resort to the same techniques all abusers know and love. My advice is to recognize their behavior for the manipulation that it is, refuse to play the game, and insist that all sincere Catholics address themselves seriously to the issues at hand. All others should lead, follow, or get out of the way. Once the primary concerns are settled, then we can deal with those serious but secondary issues which progressives are really never interested in discussing until those uppity pro-lifers start demanding real action on the defense the right to life.Greg

I think one of the points professor Kaveny tried to make in her America article is that it is not sufficient for us to simply look at whether or not a particular act is intrinsically evil. We must also look at its gravity. According to the long tradition of magisterial teaching, waging war is not an intrinsic evil- there are some limited circumstances where it is justified. According to that same tradition, masturbation is intrinsically evil- there are no circumstances in which it is ever held to be justified. But is there really anyone out there who would argue that waging an unjust war is a less serious violation of church teaching than masturbating? Apart from an assessment of the gravity of a particular act, identifying it is an intrinsic evil is not actually all that useful. One of the main problems with the Catholic Answers voting guide is that it automatically treats acts that are intrinsically evil as more grave (and therefore more worthy of consideration by voters) than acts that are evil by virtue of their circumstances or intention. Such an approach to leads to the conclusion that a candidate's stance on gay marriage must be given more weight than a candidate's stance on war, the environment and other issues that have the potential to cost millions of people their lives.

Professor Kaveny (or anyone who is knowledgeable about these things),In teaching the three parts of a moral act to students, I have always struggled to nail down exactly where the lines between object, intention, and circumstances lie. Take for instance the issue of nuclear weapons. Since the Second Vatican Council, the church has specifically condemned the use of weapons that target whole populations indiscriminately. Nuclear weapons fall into this category. However I can see at least two different ways to analyze the act of using a nuclear weapon in war:1)object: using a weapon designed to target whole populations (evil)intention: to destroy a deep subterranean biological weapons lab (good)circumstances: in a war that meets the jus ad bellum requirements of the just war theory (good or neutral)bottom line: the act is intrinsically evil2)object: using a weapon (neutral)intention: to destroy a deep subterranean biological weapons lab (good)circumstances: the specific weapon chosen is so powerful that it will destroy the whole city under which the lab is buried (evil)bottom line: the act is evil, but not intrinsically so. Were the bunker buried in the middle of the desert with few people around and where few people would likely settle in the future, the use of such a weapon could perhaps be considered proportional.I've been asked this question with other examples too, particularly regarding sexual ethics:1)object: using a condom during sexual intercourse (evil)intention: to prevent HIV transmission (good)circumstances: the husband has HIV, the wife does not. The wife has previously had a hysterectomy and is no longer capable of bearing children. (neutral)bottom line: the act is not permissible because it is intrinsically evil2)object: sexual intercourse (good/neutral)intention: to express marital love (good)circumstances: the husband is HIV positive and is wearing a condom; the wife has had a hysterectomy and is no longer capable of bearing children (neutral)bottom line: the use of the condom is permissible since it is intended to prevent disease, not children, and because it doesn't render the couple any less fertile than they were.I guess my real problem is that I'm having difficulty defining the object of an act apart from the intention and the circumstances. It seems very easy to set these things up to get the answer we want. Are there rules for defining the object of an act?(BTW: I am totally aware that this whole approach to moral analysis risks reducing Christian ethics to a kind of closed calculus that does not require real moral agency or sensitivity to conscience. I'm leary of this risk, but also don't want to dismiss the centuries of wisdom that have produced this kind of analysis as a tool. )

Hi Cathy said, this stuff is really, really complex...but I share your view that we shouldn't dismiss the centuries of wisdom (and dare I say that Holy Spirit?) which produced these categories. The interesting thing is that with Thomas Aquinas and others it isn't clear that we can take the object out of the act without considering intention and circumstances. We can't just take 'killing' in the abstract, for instance...we need to consider intention (to defend one's country against an aggressor in a just war?) and circumstances (am I a judge who is rightfully executing a criminal? is the individual an innocent person? etc.).The same thing could be said of the two issues you bring up above. There is nothing 'intrinsically evil' with using a nuclear weapon in the need to consider intention and circumstances. For instance, exploding a nuclear weapon in a safe area to make sure terrorists didn't use it would be praiseworthy. In (1) above the act is evil because the intention to use any weapon to kill an innocent person is wrong (our nuclear bombings in WWII would have fallen into this category)...but you need to add intention here. In (2) above you aren't intending to kill an innocent person...but question is now one of proportionality. Is the good achieved proportional with the harm done?Notice in the two sexual scenarios 'wearing a condom' was in the object one time and in the circumstances the next...shows how tricky it is! I think the object of the act has to be 'contraceptive intercourse' which looks like an intrinsic evil according to teaching right now. But I don't see how this is any different from 'killing' above...without reference to circumstances. Why can't a women have sex while on the pill if her intention is to have regular cycles and avoid health problems? Isn't that a proportionate reason for doing so? What I find interesting is many times the people who are most against the very notion of the object of an act being intrinsically evil without reference to the circumstances or the intention are the same people who, especially today, say things like, "We should never ever ever ever ever ever EVER torture!" Really? I think I'm with you...but doesn't this presume we can know the morality of an action without considering intention and circumstances?

Mr. N, when you ask How many abortions can you attribute directly to Obama? are you defining directly meaning that Obama is the practitioner?Adeodatus,Yes. My point is that President Obama is being judged as if he were an abortionist, when in actuality he is a politician with a political position on abortion. I am going to quote Fr. Komonchak again, noting that while his statement is about grounds for excluding people from receiving Holy Communion, I think his point is quite relevant to Obama's political position on abortion and whether he should be "punished" for it:

That abortion is an evil is one proposition. That it should be prohibited by civil law is another. That it should be prohibited in all cases and under all situations is another. That it should be prohibited under the present circumstances of U.S. society and culture is still another. How a Catholic should judge and act with regard to these last questions, whether as a private citizen or as a public office-holder, are prudential judgments, and I do not myself think that judgments involved in this degree of contingency should be considered grounds for excluding people from Holy Communion. Most U.S. bishops would seem to agree.

Charlie, if you're asking whether I'm a proportionalist--no. I believe, along with Veritatis Splendor, that there are some human acts which are always and everywhere wrong. Intentionally killing the innocent is a prime example.But you are quite right to note that the object of an act is not self-determining. It is the proximate good sought by the acting agent. So you can't simply read it off the physical description. A cut made by a serial killer and a cut made by a surgeon may look the same. But they are very different in their moral objects, not only in their intentions (motives).Even on killing we need to decide what counts as intentional killing and what counts as praeter intentionem. So on nuclear weapons, as I'm sure you know, the debate was about COUNTER-POPULATION nuclear weapons, which were incapable of being applied with any discrimination. Read Grisez on crainiotomy.We need to decide what counts as "innocent"--and here I think the tradition is incredibly important--it's a material non-aggressor, not a saint. Although, the catechism seems to be moving toward the notion that all intentional killing is wrong--trying to fit the killing in war under praeter intentionem acoording to Aquinas.The sex stuff is interesting. . . . here you get an added wrinkle. You can run a double effect argument with the pill (the famous Belgian nuns in the congo case). You can run a double effect argument with condoms. But. ... there is separate argument that anything other than unprotected sex is a physical distortion of the act --an "Unnatural act"-literally speaking.

I think the debate about ND and honoring is separate from the meaning of the term intrinsic evil. The debate on ND and honoring is moving on well by itselff. Right now, I am concerned with the meaning of intrinsic evil. I think it is extremely important to preserve the integrity of the long tradition of moral theology. We REASON with that tradition. It is complicated and nuanced. It, by and large, makes sense. It's not simply a tool.

1. In a nutshell, ALWAYS evil does not mean GRAVELY evil (lying).2. ALWAYS evil does not mean MUST BE LEGALLY PROHIBITED. (masturbation)3. ALWAYS and GRAVELY EVIL does not mean MUST BE LEGALLY PROHIBITED (blasphemy .. . . and by the way masturbation is objectively considered a grave evil too).Legal prohibition requires first and foremost a violation of justice. THAT's where the argument on abortion ought to focus, NOT on the term "intrinsic evil."Legal prohibition also requires a number of other factors, which have been identified by Aquinas.

AND. . . if you want to know the tradition, you NEED TO LEARN LATIN! You can't read Zalba in English.

Having had three kids in the last four and a half years, learning is Latin probably isn't in the cards for me in the near future, but I greatly appreciate the discussion here.It seems that whether something is considered a constituitive part of the object of the act depends on the specificity with which one defines the act.

Cathleen, regarding Justice, what is your argument on abortion?

David, wow. . . you could read them Ovid to put them to sleep! I'm not saying everyone has to. . . but it's my job. And I really really envy people like Joe K., who learned it by living it at the Greg.Nancy, I believe I've cited to my own views abortion more than once. I have a big article in the Thomist that states my view.

Two things. One, I can't believe people are still taking the highly discredited Catholic Answers guidelines seriously. It was this partisan document that prompted the USCCB to issue its Faithful Citizenship document in 2004, a document that gor far deeper into the moral theology than never before. And yes, torture is an intrinsically evil act and is a non-negotiable in the current political context. It was an eye-opener when Jimmy Akin tried to argue a few years ago that waterboarding could be OK if it saved lives. He clearly never heard of Elizabeth Anscombe. Second, I also can't believe that people are basing their moral theology on a private letter from Ratzinger to McCarrick, a letter quoted out of context (the context was worthiness to receive communion) and based on an assumed deeper understanding of the issues that many who quote it appear to lack. Over the years, I've learned to discount the arguments of anybody who merely quotes this letter and seems oblivious to the deeper thought.

Deacon Kandra wrote: "My main point which I obviously did not make very well is that people cant really equate honoring Bush with honoring Obama, by suggesting that supporting capital punishment is just as wrong as supporting abortion rights."But the issue is rather "doing" capital punishment versus "supporting" abortion. It is also about actually torturing people, rather than supporting abortion. It is about setting in motion the circumstances that led to a million Iraqi deaths and a quarter of the population displaced-- versus "supporting" abortion.

Cathleen, in your view of abortion, do you begin with the unalienable Right to Life or do you begin with establishing a Woman's reproductive right which includes the right to an abortion?

Deacon KandraIt is true that Benedict speaks of "nonnegotiable values", or at least his translator does, but there are quotation marks around "nonnegotiable" which I suppose to mean that Benedict either recognizes the oddity of the usage or is is consciously using someone else's terminology. If a group of bishops were to occupy the oval office and demand that President Obama appoint an antiabortion justice to the Supreme Court, they could then say that their demand was nonnegotiable, meaning that they would not leave until he did what they demanded.

I noted today a picture in the WSJ of Benedict warmly greeting Bill Richardson in Rome. Apparently Richardson found favor because he signed a law abolishing capital punishment. Richardson remains "prochoice". If Obama will undertake a campaign against capital punishment, will the BIshops countenance his appearing at UND despite his "prochoice" stance. If they would not, why not?

Nancy, if you really want to have a conversation with me, you need to read what I've written first:Frankly, you seem to be more interested in inept cross-examination.

Whether Bush should or should not have been invited to UND all those years ago is an interesting question and is worthy of discussionafter this immediate concern of the appropriateness of the present invitation is addressed. Gregory,I half agree with you. But it does seem to be a legitimate question to ask what the general rule or principle is that is violated by inviting Obama to speak and by giving him an honorary degree. I think Chris Sullivan raises an interesting point. With extremely rare exceptions, American "pro-life" politicians support abortion in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother. This is in direct conflict with Catholic teachings. Now, it certainly is the case that they are closer to Catholic teachings than those who are "pro-choice," but nevertheless they are not in accord with "fundamental moral principles" articulated by the Catholic Church. So the question in many of our minds is this: Do the following words have the force of law in the United States, and if so, can clear guidelines be given on how to interpret them:

The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

To me, the honorary degree for Obama is no more an endorsement of his position on abortion that the award to George Bush was an endorsement of his signing of 152 death warrants. As I have said many times, that the objection to giving Obama an honorary degree is not that it would be seen as support for his pro-choice stand. The objection is that many people are hostile to Obama for a number of reasons (abortion certainly one of them), and they do not want to see him honored for anything. They want him demonized, and even if it can be made crystal clear by Notre Dame that they disagree with his position on abortion (if that isn't clear already), some still want to treat him as a pariah.

Prof. Kaveny - if I can get this back on track in terms of "what is intrinsic evil?"A number of thoughts:a) linking this to your earlier post about the "virtue of obedience"; I posited a way of looking at obedience as "responsibility" that matures over a lifetime - the focus is on the "moral person." This also places an emphasis on the history of catholic moral theology that looks at a number of decisions, actions, intentions by an individual person before naming something evil;b) intrinsic evil seems to shift the focus from the moral person to a specific action; it recaptures the manualist theory of defining evil, sin, etc. without necessarily including the person; (this leaves us open to the danger of one issue morality; I also include the principle of double effect/proportionality as an extension of the manualist approach)c) historically, folks such as Haring, McCormick, Alasdair MacIntyre, Curran, Maguire have used philosophical ethics and moral theology to outline two models of the moral life: deontological and teleological. Deontological sees moral life in terms of laws, rules, obligations; teleological sees moral life in terms of seeking goals or ends. d) would suggest that since Vatican II (and moral theology was not emphasized in this council with the exception of Optatam Totius 16 which called the church to renovate its moral theology) there has been much theological investigation into a third way of doing moral theology - relationality-responsibility model whose roots come from the preaching of Niebuhr & the wartime experience of Bernard Haring. This model sees the person in multiple relationships - family, church/God, community, society, government, world. Examples of this can be found by contrasting the church's approach to social ethics with its approach to sexual ethics; or how the church is now doing the sacrament of reconciliation with its focus on "right relationships.";e) given this call to renovate, some of these innovators (realize that current hierarchy does not accept this approach) outlined an approach that rejected the manualist approach (G. Grisez, Wm. May); rejected moral absolutes (non-negotiables) and intrinsic evils rather than assume them; does not view "consciences" as tortured, confused, untrustworthy, etc. (works of Sydney Callahan); another example is the majority commission report and decision that Humanae Vitae rejected whose context was the married couple as responsible persons who make a prudential judgment rather than a deontological conclusion that contraception is evil;So, you ask the question - intrinsic evil.....would suggest that you can not divorce the action/decision from the person. This obviously is a significant paradigm shift and has implications for how you define"natural law" but it is also a way to respect our church moral theology history and realize that moral theology; even intrinsic evils, change and modify given the history context.On the other hand, folks such as Wm. May's 2005 CUA address critiquing Curran highlighted:1) The purpose of this criticism is to show that Thomas Aquinas did not think that secondary precepts of natural law, for instance, the precepts of the Decalogue, were absolute moral norms universally prohibiting intrinsically evil acts They are rather generalizations valid for the most part but allowing exceptions. John Paul II, on the other hand, strongly affirmed that some moral norms are absolute, with no exceptions whatsoever, and that among such norms are those prohibiting always and everywhere acts such as the intentional killing of the innocent, adultery, fornication, contraception. Therefore John Paul II departs from the teaching of the Churchs Common Doctor.2) Scriptural background on JPII's Veritatis Splendor - Curran states that John Paul II misuses Scripture in rejecting proportionalism and consequentialism and in speaking of some human acts as intrinsically evil, etc. According to Curran these philosophical concepts were unknown to Scripture and by appealing to Scripture to support the hierachical magisteriums affirmation of absolute norms prohibiting intrinsically evil acts John Paul II is misusing Holy Writ.c) John Paul II firmly rejected the claim made by many today (including Curran) that because of human historicity specific moral norms are not immutable but change with differing historical situations. He rejected this claim as a moral relativity incompatible with Christ's affirmation, in his teaching against divorce, of the permanent validity of God's plan from "the beginning" and also with the unity of human nature which all human beings share with Christ who "is the same yesterday and today and forever" (no. 53). It is true that the terms intrinsically evil and absolute moral norms do not appear in Scripture. But there can be no doubt that Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, clearly identify certain kinds of actions as utterly incompatible with (a) the life of Gods chosen people in the Old Testament and (b) his holy people who are one body with Christ. 4) the full paper is:

Cathleen, I did begin to read what you wrote. You are an intelligent and gifted Scholar. I respect you for that. I am asking you how you ordered the unalienable Right to Life and the established Woman's reproductive right which includes the right to abortion. How could Roe exist, unless the Court determined, in an ordered relationship of Rights, the right to an abortion, (based on the right to privacy?) should be placed before the Right to Life? Without the Right to Life to begin with, there can be no other Rights.I still believe that you are capable of making an excellent argument for the Right to Life, which is, from the beginning, the fundamental Right for all Human Beings.

"I am sure Cardinal Newman would never have told a small wilful untruth to save millions of lives!"David, I'm disappointed to see that was a coding problem - I was momentarily charmed by the prospect of Cardinal Newman writing, "You bet I would!" :-)

"The political bias here is very blatant and obvious."This charge is frequently made on DotCommonweal. Before I started hanging out here, I'd never particularly wondered - or cared - what political party a bishop belongs to. I still don't. Who cares if a bishop is a Republican? Who cares if a bishop is a Democrat? Does that somehow filter the way we look at whatever he says? Has any bishop ever said that he belongs to a certain political party?

The criticism of abortion as an intrinsic evil seems to be an attempt to justify horrible evils for the Catholic. I would like to make several observations here.First, there are always exceptions to a rule, but one does not make rules out of the exceptions. When a mother's life is in danger because of a pregnancy, the idea that abortion is an intrinsic evil is not compromised. Abortion is evil in all cases, albeit what seems to be a necessary one. One normally tries to chose the lesser evil. Fortunateley this dilemma rarely if ever occurs today.Second, there is a fundamental difference between capital punishment and abortion. In the former there is a punishment being given to one that is guilty of a serious crime so as to bring forth some sense of justice; in the other, the victim is completely innocent. The question is whether the punishment fits the crime, not whether the punishment is the crime.Third, trying to reduce the issue to partisan politics is very cold-hearted. It is always difficult for a real Catholic institution to decide who is to speak there when the speaker does not fully represent the Catholic world view, even if the person is the President of the United States. I do not think it is wrong to invite, say, a heretic to speak if there will be fruitful discussions to convince the heretic he is wrong. There may be other valid reasons too. What is wrong is to honour that heretic with a prize from a Catholic institution. When Mr Bush spoke as President at NDU, he was not awarded anything, and rightly so considering some of his views are inimical to Catholicism. But Mr Obama will be awarded a prestigious prize. That is not the action of a true Catholic institution knowing full well what Mr Obama thinks about human life. It is an example of what Amerio has called Secondary Christianity, that is, putting the prevailing secular world view ahead of the Christian world view. Fourth: The whole idea of abortion as normally concieved in the political sphere additionally creates a basic injustice in society by trying to make a special class of citizens to be endowed with special rights that others do not have, based on their sex. The usual argument is that the woman should have the right to decide over her body. Unfortunately for that argument the premisses are false. That human life in the woman is not her body, but a unique human life having its own unique DNA which only temporarily inhabits the womb ironically as a place of safety. It takes two to tangle to make that unique human life. For the Christian that human life belongs neither to the man nor the woman invloved because being alive and growing according to its own principles (eg. DNA) it has a soul and all souls belong to God only. By giving the woman the "right" to kill that human life, but not giving such a "right" to the man there is grave injustice being carried out in our society. I am not advocating that men receive a compensatory "right" of being allowed to kill any unconscious human life such as whoever is asleep or in a coma as consciousness seems to be the important criteria for determining personhood these days. Rather, the argument has been that the human-life-in-the-womb is not a real human life whatever that means; but it is a real human life in the eyes of God and His Church, and even modern science cannot deny that. But I wonder if in the interests of justice that kind of "right" will eventually be demanded by men when more and more women and society in general recognise the human nature of that life-in-the-womb but neverteless in Darwinian fashion allow it to be killed only because it cannot defend itself, as at least one radical feminist is already advocating today. We are constructing a wonderful civilisation n'est pas? If you ask me, it sounds more like a deconstruction and de-evolution.

Mornings Minnion raises an excellent point.I am much more concerned about the direct killings done by US presidents THEMSELVES than their votes on laws about the legal penalties that ought to apply to OTHERS who kill eg by procuring abortions.It seems to me that its much more significant that Bush ordered the killing of some 157 prisoners on death row when he was governor and that he ordered the invasion of Iraq which destroyed so many lives than that he supported intrinsically evil laws allowing OTHER PEOPLE to do abortions in cases of rape or incest.And its more significant to me that Obama HIMSELF ordered the killing of innocents in missile attacks on Pakistan than that he voted a certain way on abortion laws allowing OTHERS to do abortions.God Bless

Ted wrote>>There is a fundamental difference between capital punishment and abortion. In the former there is a punishment being given to one that is guilty of a serious crime so as to bring forth some sense of justice; in the other, the victim is completely innocent.I think that distinction falls down when one considers all those who have been executed who turned out to be innocent.The simple fact is that we do not know who is innocent.Our Lord specifically commanded us not to judge, least we be judged.Only God is in the position to judge innocence.God Bless

"I think that distinction falls down when one considers all those who have been executed who turned out to be innocent."While I agree that the number of innocent people executed is a scandal (how could I not - I live in Illinois), it also implies that Ted's (important) distinction stands when the one executed is guilty.The church itself admits that the death penalty is at least theoretically permissible.FWIW, I oppose the death penalty, for the same reason Pope John Paul II did: it is an unfortunate instance of the culture of death.

Ted wrote>>There is a fundamental difference between capital punishment and abortion. In the former there is a punishment being given to one that is guilty of a serious crime so as to bring forth some sense of justice; in the other, the victim is completely innocent.Innocence is being used with 2 different meanings here, which make the analogy fall flat. The unborn are innocent in the same way that rocks are innocent; they do not have the moral capacity to make a free choice. It is only after they reach the age of reason (~7) that they are capable of becoming guilty, and so of being not guilty in the sense the term is applied to a murderer.The worth of an unborn child is actually an argument against the death penalty. If a person's worth is dependent on the moral choices she makes, then capital punishment might be justified. But if a person's worth is based on a value prior to the formation of rationality and moral decision making, then capital punishment is no different from abortion. If the unborn are worthy of life, so are criminals, and for the same reasons.

"The worth of an unborn child is actually an argument against the death penalty. If a persons worth is dependent on the moral choices she makes, then capital punishment might be justified. But if a persons worth is based on a value prior to the formation of rationality and moral decision making, then capital punishment is no different from abortion. If the unborn are worthy of life, so are criminals, and for the same reasons."The church's opposition to the death penalty is not based on the intrinsic worth of the human being. If it were, then the church could never have supported capital punishment under any circumstances, and clearly, that is not the case.The reason the church has traditionally supported the death penalty is rooted in the reason that it supports criminal sentences more generally: committing crimes creates disorder in human society, and it is necessary to redress the disorder. Some crimes are so heinous that only the death penalty can sufficiently redress the disorder caused by the crime.This is why I believe that Ted's analogy does not fall flat.If our contemporary culture were radically more respectful of human rights and life in general, then perhaps John Paul II would not have been so outspoken against the death penalty during his time, which he characterized as a "culture of death". Having lived through Naziism, Communism and the age of widespread legalized abortion, we can assume he knew whereof he spoke.

Just wanted to correct Ted Krasnicki on this:

What is wrong is to honour that heretic with a prize from a Catholic institution. When Mr Bush spoke as President at NDU, he was not awarded anything, and rightly so considering some of his views are inimical to Catholicism.

Actually, Notre Dame gave him an "honorary doctor of laws degree." At least, that's what their website reports. It's pretty standard, I think, as a commencement-speaker door prize.

Bush wasn't even an attorney, was he? Wasn't he an MBA? The first and only MBA president? I wonder if my fellow Beta Gamma Sigma-ites are bragging about that one.

FWIW - it appears that in 2000, Kofi Annan, hardly a paragon of advocacy for the sanctity of life, was the commencement speaker at Notre Dame.

Evangelium Vitae 56 addresses the issue of capital punishment:"The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence". Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated. It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society."A criminal's life is more valuable than the harm caused by his crimes, and capital punishment cannot achieve the aims of society's penal systems. Capital punishment is to prevent future crimes, something that can be done as effectively by other means. That does no support your reading of capital punishment as a possible redress, imo.But I have no desire to get into a discussion of capital punishment, though I do think our differences illuminate the topic of "intrinsic evil".

Hi, Jim McK, I don't think we're far apart on this. The passage from EV that you quoted covers the same ground that I tried to, albeit not nearly so well.What raises a red flag with me is when the claim is made, incorrectly in my view, that the church opposes the death penalty because our human dignity and worth are such that nobody can ever be executed, for any reason. (And I'm not certain that yoy're making exactly this claim). Such a formulation would be incorrect, or at least misleading, for a couple of reasons:* It fails to take into account the necessity of redressing the disorder caused by terrible crimes. This goes to Ted's point, and is also the basis for the fact that the church has supported the death penalty in other times in history.* It doesn't put John Paul's statements in the context of the culture of death in which we live. Of course, EV is his magnum opus on the culture of death, so the passage you quoted is in precisely that context. His opposition to the death penalty would seem to be contingent on the continued pervasive presence of that culture.

Hello Jim (and All),"What raises a red flag with me is when the claim is made, incorrectly in my view, that the church opposes the death penalty because our human dignity and worth are such that nobody can ever be executed, for any reason."I think your analysis here is exactly right, and I'm speaking as one who wishes the quoted claim were in fact the basis for Church teaching on capital punishment. What I am not sure about is whether or not Catholics may believe in the quoted claim. Clearly we who are Catholic are not obliged to believe the claim because it is not the basis for Church teavhing onb capital punishment. But are we permitted to believe the claim?Also, while you rightly point out that the Church has been more supportive in the past of capital punishment here's a question I'd be interested in seeing answered: Has the Church ever explicitly stated what sorts of crimes may be punishable by death? I don't think so but I'd be glad to be corrected on this.

"I think your analysis here is exactly right, and Im speaking as one who wishes the quoted claim were in fact the basis for Church teaching on capital punishment. What I am not sure about is whether or not Catholics may believe in the quoted claim. Clearly we who are Catholic are not obliged to believe the claim because it is not the basis for Church teavhing onb capital punishment. But are we permitted to believe the claim?"Hi, Peter,I am one with you - my heart also leans toward the human-dignity-and-worth claim.IMHO, I don't think it's a problem for Catholics to accept that claim as a practical basis for pursuing just policies. After all, we continue to be surrounded by the same cultural factors that led JP II to speak out so ringingly and consistently against the death penalty. We can pursue anti-death-penalty policies with a clear conscience, and make common cause with other death penalty opponents who oppose it for other reasons.I find that people with anti-death-penalty predilections may tend to discount (or perhaps not be aware of) the aspect that punishment redresses societal disorder. It's an important aspect, and I think we need to acknowledge that many people of good will can't in good conscience oppose the death penalty in all cases for this reason. So, in a sense, abolishing or curtailing the death penalty and substituting life imprisonment may not be an unmixed good - it may represent a balancing of competing goods, or a sort of negotiated settlement.

Hello Jim (and All),Again your analysis strikes me as spot-on. I'd like to add that I think at least in American society we have become accustomed to conflating punishment with vengeance. If that is right then one could easily see why one could think capital punishment is an irrational response to even the worst offenses. This I think is also one reason why many think the Catholic doctrines of hell and purgatory make no sense, becaused they think that if God really is a loving God then He would never take revenge against His children for their misdeeds by sending some of them to Hell or torturing them in purgatory.In fact punishment properly understood can serve several purposes, including (hopefully) improving those on the receiving end of the punishment. This strikes me as another point against capital punishment - for obvious reasons the punishment does not improve the one who receives it (unless one thinks that capital punishment will lead to the victim's improvement in the afetrlife, and I have never heard of anyone claiming this).

Not sure that this helps but if you read any of Helen Prejean's works and articles on the death penalty, she takes great pains to lay out arguments and statistics that show that the death penalty does not prevent serious crime; that it does not work as an example to others to not create serious social disorder, murder, rape, etc. In fact, her conclusion is that the death penalty fails as a deterrent.She also focuses on the impact of the death penalty on victims, families of offenders and victims - repeating what Peter has said - she broadens the understanding of "punishment" to include the need for reparation, repentance, restitution, forgiveness. She shows that capital punishment does not bring any of the above or even the "over used" phrase - closure.

Dear Jim P,I have to say, I disagree with your reading of JP2. I think the passage I quoted is meant as a refutation of the idea that capital punishment can redress any harm done by the commission of a capital crime. His argument against capital punishment is indeed based on the fact that "human life is sacred and inviolable", as stated in the subheading for this section of EV.FWIW, I take that subheading to be the context for the discussion, so that his argument applies wherever and whenever "human life is sacred and inviolable". The culture of death has nothing to do with it.

Hi, Jim McK,despite the connotation of absolute prohibition conveyed by the section title, the previous paragraph (55) in this section discusses situations in which it may be legitimate to kill another person while maintaining a respect for life (self-defense; the duty of legitimate authority to protect those under its care). The transition sentence at the beginning of paragraph 56 then states, "this is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty". In other words, the context of the death penalty is one in which our regard for life is not without exception. We need to balance competing goods: our respect for life; our right to defend ourselves; and the duty for those of us with responsibility for the lives of others to defend them.The section would seem to be aimed at any number of violations of these principles in the contemporary world. Certainly, regimes that execute citizens for political crimes would be a clear example of something not permitted.The very first sentence of the next paragraph, 57, begins, "If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment "You shall not kill" has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person. " Note that, by implication, the respect due the lives of criminals and unjuust aggressors, while reverent, is not absolute.This line of reasoning doesn't leave us far from exonerating someone like then-Governor Bush, and I won't go there. Still, it seems that the teaching regarding the death penalty is a complex one.

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