A Little Lesson in Moral Theology

I am no moral theologian, but I understand some basics, and if more people understood the basics of Catholic moral theology they would understand (even if they did not agree with) the Catholic teaching on certain moral actions much debated in our society.

The basic principle is this: every action is always either objectively right or wrong. Unless the action is involuntary (like sneezing) it has a moral dimension. Some actions are always right. Other actions are always–objectively wrong. There are absolutes.

However, while the morality of the action is immutable, the culpability of the person (how guilty they are) can be lessened or increased because of the circumstances and the intention.

So, for example, abortion is always wrong. Let’s say, however, that a fifteen year old girl who has been abused by her step father is brought to the abortion clinic. She doesn’t know what’s going on except she “has a problem” the doctor is going to fix. The abortionist completes the abortion and the step father pays for it. The girl did an objectively sinful action, but her ignorance, the circumstances and intention lessen her culpability to such an extent that we can safely say she is not guilty. The step father and abortionist, on the other hand, know what they are doing and have chosen, with full knowledge to do the sinful action.

Their guilt is huge.

This same reasoning is applied to all sorts of moral decisions, and without doubt many are very complex and right judgements are hard, but there is a method and a rationale and if more people (Catholics included) understood the principles there would be a wider ability to make right judgements rather than relying on sentimentality, subjectivism and wallowing in complete moral relativity.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://petersbarque.blogspot.com/ TheOrdinaryCatholic

    Getting people to leave sentimentality and emotion behind in regards to moral or immoral acts is very difficult today. Many of the younger generation have grown up in an era where moral relativity and “what’s good for me” has been pounded into their skulls. Not that it’s impossible to battle, but a battle it is. I suppose the first step would be to acknowledge that there ARE absolutes when it comes to right and wrong actions and consequences that result from these actions. I’m not quite sure how to begin to roll back the current trend that all actions are subjective to whether one believes it is wrong or right for them. I suppose prayer would be a good place to start…