What is the “true Thomism” of Amoris Laetitia and Pope Francis? It is a new natural law theology that rejects Divine Revelation as the foundation for understanding human nature and moral truth. What is the new foundation? Almighty “Science,” courtesy of Charles Curran.
Although Charles Curran is no longer allowed to teach Catholic theology, we are all about to become his students, thanks to the upcoming global synod. The condemned theology textbook Human Sexuality “credited” Curran for an innovative interpretation of natural law. And, as you will see in this article, voting members of the synod are in love with Curran’s innovations. For those of you unfamiliar with natural law, let me get you up to speed.
Natural Law 101—A Primer
Natural law says that our moral beliefs come from, among other things, the facts of human nature. Here’s a concrete example that illustrates the point. Christians hold certain beliefs about human nature. One of those beliefs is that we possess an immortal soul with an eternal destiny—Heaven or Hell, to be more precise. To get to Heaven, we must do God’s will. This makes Bible passages like the following very important, as Pope John Paul II reminded us in Veritatis Splendor:
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. RSV
Other translations more specifically condemn homosexuality. And other Bible passages are more direct, as well, like Romans 1 for example. This admittedly simplistic and rather crude example nevertheless illustrates what is meant by natural law: Moral beliefs can come from beliefs about human nature. (For a fuller, more edifying illustration of natural law, I highly recommend Dr. Jennifer Frey’s account of the cardinal virtues given in a lecture for the Thomistic Institute.)
So far, we’ve established at least one reason for believing that you should avoid sexual sin. It concerns the belief about human nature that you will go to Hell if you do such things. (I’m not claiming that this is the most persuasive natural law argument against sexual sin. I’m using this example for its simplicity and illustrative power.) Thus, we should be able to see that moral beliefs can come from beliefs about human nature.
The Unchanging, Eternal Word of God
But my crude example illustrates more. The belief in a human soul is what we would call an a priori belief. It does not depend on any investigation of human beings. The belief is a product of revelation and theology, not science. And because all humans possess a soul, this particular moral argument against sexual immorality applies universally to all people.
But there is more. The teaching against sexual immorality comes from the Bible which is God’s Word. And that Word is eternal, as the Bible itself tells us in many places:
- Ps. 119: 89
- Is. 40: 8
- Mal. 3: 6
- Mt. 24: 35
From this brief summary of natural law, we can draw some conclusions about at least some of our moral beliefs:
- Some moral beliefs come from an understanding of human nature that is found in the Bible. This divinely revealed account of human nature provides an a priori grounding for human nature and natural law moral theory.
- Because this a priori foundation of divine and natural law is based on the eternal Word of God, its moral conclusions are valid for all time.
- Because these moral beliefs proceed from universal traits of human nature that all people share, they apply equally to all people.
- Thus, from the divine and natural law, we can identify a species of moral belief that is valid for all time and binding universally on all humanity, regardless of situations and circumstances.
- There is a special name given to those actions that are forbidden, always and everywhere, according to God’s divine Word. They are called intrinsic evils. John Paul II defended this set of moral beliefs in Veritatis Splendor. They include sexual sin, as St. Paul taught in 1 Corinthians above.
My book, Confronting the Pope of Suspicion, describes the rise of psychology in the twentieth century and how major pioneers in the field like Freud and Jung launched a nuclear attack on natural law morality. Freud, in particular, called into question the a priori revelations of Romans 1, which asserted that homosexuality was disordered and unnatural. Freud followed Nietzsche in asserting that, on the contrary, what was unnatural was a Christian morality that forces us to deny our sexual impulses. In Civilization and Its Discontents, for example, Freud asserted that “only a weakling” would accept the Christian standard of lifelong, heterosexual monogamy.
Now “weakling” is hardly a scientific term, to say the least. Yet that is how Freud’s critique of Christian morality was received—as a scientific analysis of Christian doctrine.The twentieth century saw an explosion of “scientific” critiques of biblical morality. Cultural anthropologists pointed to the many different cultures outside of Christendom and noted the very different sexual practices of these cultures. Many anthropologists concluded that a preference for the Judeo-Christian ethic represented nothing more than cultural prejudice. More on that in a moment.
Enter King Charles Curran
The psychological critique of Christian sexual morality proved to be a juggernaut for cultural revolution—a sexual revolution, if you will. And Catholic theology did not escape its gunfire. Charles Curran was one of the first theologians to grasp the significance of the psychological critique of biblical morality. What it offered, in effect, was a new natural law: with a different set of facts about human nature, you could arrive at entirely different moral conclusions.
In 1974, Curran penned an article for the Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society of America. It was a watershed moment for Catholic theology. Curran argued that natural law should incorporate new “insights” from the social sciences about human nature. Sex researchers like Masters and Johnson were “discovering” that homosexuality was as natural and normal as heterosexuality. These “discoveries” directly contradicted the a priori revelations of Scripture, like Romans 1, that declared homosexuality to be disordered. Curran argued that natural law morality should be revised to include these new discoveries.
Human Sexuality by CTSA
So the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) got busy reconstructing natural law. Three years after the publication of Curran’s article, the society published an entire treatise, Human Sexuality (HS), that sought to revise natural law by giving it a social science foundation:
Catholic natural law ethics proceeded deductively. . . . The moral imperative was fundamentally a logical imperative flowing from an a priori premise (HS, p. 53).
This was their summary of Curran’s critique of natural law. And they accepted Curran’s analysis and recommendations: Natural law needed to be updated. When a priori premises from divine revelation contradicted “new discoveries” in the social sciences, it was divine revelation that should be discarded. What new moral insights did the CTSA text draw from “scientific discoveries” about human nature? The book cited Masters and Johnson to defend homosexuality as a morally acceptable behavior.
Pope John Paul’s response to this heresy was decisive. He condemned the book. He fired Charles Curran. And he wrote Veritatis Splendor to defend the perennial moral truths of the Bible. (See my book for details.)
The Sexology of Pope Francis and the “true Thomism” of Amoris Laetitia
An obedient Church would have listened to its wise and holy pope. But they ignored him instead. And then along came Pope Francis who wrote this about natural law in Amoris Laetitia (AL).
“Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that ‘natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject. . .'” (AL, par. 305).
Francis cited a 2009 article as the source, but this critique goes all the way back to Charles Curran’s 1974 article and the CTSA text Human Sexuality. Francis is agreeing with Curran and the CTSA that the a priori conception of human nature from the Bible needed to be replaced by science. Amoris Laetitia is very clear that science should be the basis for religious education on sex.
As I discussed in my book, Confronting the Pope of Suspicion (CPS), the influence of CTSA’s Human Sexuality on Amoris Laetitia is blatant:
Plagiarism in Amoris Laetitia?
Another major issue with the language of Amoris Laetitia concerns its remarkable similarity to previously published works. Consider the most famous line from Amoris Laetitia, par. 37:
“We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”
Compare that line to this one from Human Sexuality—the book condemned by Pope John Paul:
“[G]uidelines will serve to enlighten the judgment of conscience; they cannot replace it.”
Did Pope Francis, or his ghostwriters, borrow the line from Human Sexuality? No attribution is given for the snappiest line in AL. If in fact the line was plagiarized from Human Sexuality, it is understandable why the writer did not credit the source. After all, the book had been condemned, not once, but twice by the Vatican. The book explicitly rejects the concept of intrinsic evil. In fact, it is so zealous to deny this bedrock principle of Judeo-Christian morals that the book wouldn’t even categorically condemn bestiality or incest. — CPS, pp. 49–50
The Synod Is Ready to Crown Curran
If there is a common thread to so many of the voting members of next week’s synod, it is their agreement with Curran that (1), sexual morality needs a “scientific” foundation. And (2), Church teaching on homosexuality needs to change. Consider the following:
- When the German bishops announced their national synod, they declared that science should be the basis for sexual morality. They further claimed that Church teaching on homosexuality was wrong and that Amoris Laetitia justified their revision of the Church’s sexual morality.
- The Pontifical Biblical Commission published a book that echoed the same Curran-inspired talking points of the German bishops.
- Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich was hand-picked by Pope Francis to be a major leader of the global synod. He also agrees with the German bishops on the Curran talking points: Church teaching is wrong on homosexuality. And we need science to give us the right answers about sexuality.
- Fr. James Martin just recently praised a new article from a retired president of the CTSA which echoed the very same Charles Curran talking points about homosexuality and science.
- And then there is the Working Document for the synod itself, also known as the Instrumentum Laboris. It announces that one of the synod’s projects is to figure out how to apply the teaching of Amoris Laetitia to LGBT people. I’m sure Hollerich, Martin, and the German bishops have some very definite ideas.
I’ll wrap up this article by observing the obvious. If it’s heresy for Charles Curran to say a thing, then it’s heresy for anyone to say it. And if what Charles Curran said was so terrible that it got him banned, shouldn’t all these other characters get banned as well? And that goes for Pope Francis too. Especially Pope Francis.