This talk is about a virus, a particular kind of virus.


In 1892, the Russian biologist, Dimitry Ivanovsky (1864-1920) was puzzled by plants that remained infectious after he had filtrated crushed leaf extracts.  He did not know it at the time but the toxin he had discovered was produced by a virus.


Eight years later, a Dutch microbiologist, Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931) identified Ivanovsky’s toxin as a product of a virus.  The science of biology has not been the same since then.

The world-wide physical suffering and death that is due to viral infection cannot be measured and as medical science copes with one type of viral infection viruses mutate and medical science is challenged anew.  One of the worst examples of this phenomenon was the HIV virus that brought the AIDS plague in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Western Culture has been undergoing radical changes since the mid-Twentieth Century and one of the most insidious developments in this change has been the growth of the Culture of Death, not death brought on by biological viruses, by biological disease, but death promoted through the infection of societies by ideas, philosophical theories, systems of belief that can function in the social body as cultural viruses in a manner not unlike biological viruses.  Such a virus is the system of proportional morality about which this talk will be focused.


“Most social scientists today view culture as consisting primarily of the symbolic, ideational, and intangible aspects of human societies.  The essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools or other tangible cultural elements but how the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them.  It is the values, symbols, interpretations, and perspectives that distinguish one people from another in modernized societies; it is not material objects and other tangible aspects of human societies.  People within a culture usually interpret the meaning of symbols, artifacts, and behaviors in the same or in similar ways.” (1)

The core of a culture is its system of values.  Chief among such values are good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural, life-death, experiencing well-being or suffering.

Most values are not usually the subject of discussion, they are implicit in various forms of entertainment and recreation, they are not the subject of casual observation, especially by strangers.

It must be obvious to anyone who has lived in the Twentieth Century that human society is seriously affected by a values system and beliefs that have a virulent character.  I am thinking of the slogans, battle-cries, rallying cries of the Twentieth Century that revealed certain negative values that brought death and suffering to millions of people.  I am thinking of the purification of the German people that National Socialism sought to achieve through it program of genetics and extermination camps like Dachau and Auschwitz.  I am thinking of the current cry of jihad that is causing the death of hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Near East and Africa.

If we describe biological viruses as organisms that infiltrate living cells and produce toxins that are frequently deadly, it seems reasonable that we can speak of cultural viruses the infiltrate the social body and produce toxins that are deadly.


Racism, for example should be classified as a cultural virus that produces death, as its history in the South in the days of Jim Crow testifies.  Similarly we can legitimately describe anti-semitism or anti-Catholicism as cultural viruses that have produced death in the past and do so even in the present day.

In the middle of the Twentieth Century there began to develop in the social body of the United States a complexus of social values that can only be described as the result of infection by a cultural virus in view of the deadly effect it has had on our society.  All viruses, whether biological or cultural, need the right conditions, an ambiente, a milieu, in which to develop.  The mid-Twentieth Century provided the right conditions for the development of the cultural virus that is the subject of our concern today.

Throughout human history dramatic cultural changes, changes in social values, usually have occurred because of the disproportionate influence some individuals who have exerted on the moral thinking of a large portion of society.  That is what happened in the United States in the second half of the Twentieth Century.  Three men exerted tremendous influence.  They were:  Alfred Charles Kinsey, Father Theodore Hesburgh and Father Richard McCormick.  I will treat of each of these men in this talk.  First, Alfred Charles Kinsey.


In 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War, Alfred Charles Kinsey, a biologist at Indiana University began to work on human sexuality and through his subsequent publications can truly be considered the FATHER OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION in the United States.


Kinsey’s specialty was the study of bugs, yet he founded the Institute for Research in Sex , Gender and Reproduction, not the study of sex, gender and reproduction of bugs but of people,   human beings.  Anyone would surely be justified in questioning Kinsey’s qualifications to establish that Institute.  In the following year, 1948, Kinsey published his book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and he followed it up five years later with Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.  With the publication of those books Kinsey gave the Sexual Revolution its Manifesto.

The general impression left by Kinsey’s books, as reported in the media, was that Americans were sexually active in a wider variety of ways than anyone could have possibly suspected. That knowledge fostered a new public fascination with all kinds of sexual activity and emboldened  people to start experimenting with their own sexuality.   By revealing the extent of sexual activity, both normal and abnormal activity,  Kinsey had opened the flood gates on promiscuous sexual behavior in American society.

Promiscuous sexual behavior had many disastrous effects in the lives of Americans.  One of the effects was the sudden increase in genital disease which led to the AIDS epidemic.  But not the least effect was that sexual promiscuity soon produced a huge increase in unplanned and unwanted pregnancies both within and outside of marriage.  Those unwanted pregnancies increased the public pressure for contraception, sterilization and abortion-on-demand.

By this time the Culture of Death had reached the huge Catholic hospital system across the land.  First the doctors, then the hospital chaplains, then the hospital administration then the local bishops were involved in controversies over the sterilization procedures.  Finally, Rome became involved and by mandating the end of such procedures in Catholic hospitals accelerated the transformation of the Catholic hospital system to the predominately secular system that it is today.


What was occurring was the great increase in the need for people to feel free to chose, to be free to make choices between good and what up until then was considered evil.  Was it good to have unlimited pregnancies or was it bad to undergo sterilization; was it good to have a specific unwanted pregnancy or was it bad have an abortion.  Could homosexual relationships and activity be justified in terms of love or were they always bad.

Catholic moral theology had, over the centuries, provided answers to these types of questions and the magisterium of the Church had proclaimed what was permissible and what was not in many cases, but new situations were arising constantly and some people sought new answers that conflicted with the magisterial teaching of the Church.

Moral theology began to give way to Moral Philsophy to Bioethics.

People demanded new ways of thinking about these problems, new ways of thinking that would free them from “victorian” or “old-fashoned” ways of thinking.

After Alfred Kinsey had provided the need for a moral or ethical system that permitted individuals to choose what was formerly taboo other men contributed to a new way of thinking with regard to all these subjects.  One was Father Theodore Hesburgh of the Congregation of the Cross.


I believe that it is impossible to exaggerate the damage done to the Catholic Church, and to all of society by Father  Theodore Hesburgh. While Father Hesburgh did not focus on life and death issues as such, he fostered the intellectual climate that encouraged others to focus on those issues.


Theodore Hesburgh was born in 1917 and in 1952 he became President of Notre Dame University.  He remained President of Notre Dame for a long time, 35 years.  During his tenure at Notre Dame he served in many influential positions in public life.  He was a member and later President of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from 1957 until  1972.  He was appointed by President Eisenhower to a science commission.  He was a contributor to the 1958 analysis of the U.S. education system, commissioned by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

From our standpoint of tracing the flow of the Culture of Death, perhaps Father Theodore Hesburgh’s  most damaging action was organizing the 1957 Land of Lakes Conference at the Notre Dame facility in Wisconsin.

The Land of Lakes Conference brought together 26 men,  all priests and educators to study the role of a university in the 20th Century.  A statement was issued at the end of the conference, it was really more in the nature of a manifesto than a simple statement.  The Statement contained these remarkable words:  “To reform its teaching and research functions effectively, every Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatsoever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”



In the words of  Charles E. Rice, distinguished professor of law at

Notre Dame University,  Hesburgh reason for pushing that idea was this:

“…in order for Catholic institutions to achieve the identity of academic institutions with an emphasis on research rather than teaching, and to qualify for federal and state money, Catholic universities must cease to be Catholic.  And so it is today, with 90 percent of these universities being Catholic in name only.”


The significance of the changes wrought in Catholic universities by the Land of Lakes Statement is that it cut the universities loose from their moorings in the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, and so a climate conducive to dissent was fostered.  The effects were immediately seen in the writings of Catholic bishops, priests and laymen on the subject moral theology/bioethics.


One of the most significant of the bishops influenced by Father Hesburgh was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who developed his consistent ethic of life, or “seamless garment” doctrine of political action.  In one of the first speeches given on the topic at Fordham University, Bernardin said: “The spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare and the care of the terminally ill.”[4] Bernardin said that although each of the issues was distinct (euthanasia, for example, was not the same as abortion), nevertheless the issues were linked since the valuing and defending of (human) life (according to the Catholic definition) were, he believed, at the center of both issues. Cardinal Bernardin told an audience in Portland, Oregon: “When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.”[4]

The Seamless Garment Doctrine was developed by Cardinal Bernardin by applying the thinking of the new group of moral theologians and ethecists who had embraced the the new theory of proportionalism .   The Seamless Garment Doctrine, by accepting implicitly that there are no intrinsically evil actions as taught by proportional moralists made it possible for Catholics to vote with a clear conscience for pro-abortion political candidates.

(Gerhard Cardinal Mueller)

We are all familiar with the image of the “seamless garment” which is used to illustrate how Catholic moral teaching is a consistent whole – uniting ethical, religious, and political threads in a unified moral vision. Attributed to Cardinal Bernardin, the “seamless garment” image was used to great effect to root the Church’s response to various moral issues – from nuclear proliferation to poverty – within the overarching teaching on the sanctity of human life, from natural conception to natural death. Unfortunately, however, it is also true that the image of the “seamless garment” has been used by some theologians and Catholic politicians, in an intellectually dishonest manner, to allow or at least to justify turning a blind eye to instances of abortion, contraception, or public funding for embryonic stem cell research, as long as these were simultaneously accompanied by opposition to the death penalty or promotion of economic development for the poor – issues which are also part of the fabric of Catholic moral teaching.

Often this abuse of the “seamless garment” theory stems from a natural tendency on the part of some in the Church to look for “common ground” with the surrounding culture; that is to say, to emphasize in their teaching and preaching those elements of Catholic doctrine that are acceptable to the non-Catholic ambient culture; for example, social justice, human rights, and other similar issues. This is understandable and sometimes it is an appropriate pastoral strategy. But what also must be taken into account is the difference which exists between those elements of Catholic teaching that may be attractive to the surrounding culture and those elements which are profoundly counter-cultural and which Catholics themselves need to hear proclaimed by their pastors.

There is a beautiful coherence to the Church’s moral teaching, but that coherence can only be demonstrated, and its truth apprehended, when the moral teaching of the Church is taught in its entirety and lived out integrally. As the fundamental moral criteria articulated in Dignitas personae indicate, the separation of the sexual act from its proper context is at the very core of many of the bioethical problems which confront us today. The prophetic teaching of Humanae vitae both on human dignity and on the intrinsic meaning of the sexual act is so important that without it we cannot engage our faithful—to say nothing of the larger society—in a coherent discussion of the problems and moral evil presented by techniques of artificial fertilization, preimplantation diagnosis, cryogenic freezing of embryos and “embryo reduction”, human cloning and the therapeutic use of stem cells. Our teaching is based in an inspired vision of the meaning of love wherein the sexual act finds its proper place as an expression of nuptial intimacy and openness to the live- giving creativity of God. In marriage, sex is an expression of love with a particular and intrinsic meaning. Once the sexual act is removed from this defining context – the “seamless garment” begins to unravel.


At the same time, if Catholic theologians and medical professionals are to begin to combat the secular vision of life dominant in the world of contemporary heath care, they must acknowledge the normative role of Magisterial teaching.

Finally, the image of the “seamless garment” reminds us that faith, worship, and life are interwoven. We know that the Church’s moral teaching must be lived by fallen human beings prone to sin. But where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more! And so our teaching is supported by frequent reference to the sanctifying power of the sacraments of the Church. It is no small task to which we have been called, and it must be said that this hopeful vision of human life in God, a vision captured by Gaudium et spes and Dignitas personae, has found expression in the renewal and resurgence of ecclesial life in many parts of the world. I hope and pray that the Pontifical Academy of Life continues to play a vital role in this renewal and in the promotion of the Gospel of Life. Thank you.

– Gerhard Cardinal Mueller, Prefect CDF, Pontificia Academia Pro Vita, “Human Life in some Documents of the Magisterium” 22 February 13

While commerce in the remains of defenseless children is particularly repulsive, we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.                 – Archbishop Blaise Cupich


Another of the most influential men in creating the environment in which the Proportional Virus was to flourish was Father Richard McCormick, S.J.  Richard McCormick (born in 1922, died in 2000). He reshaped Catholic moral thought in the United States. He wrote many journal articles on Catholic social teachings and moral theory. He was an expert in Catholic medical ethics and for many years wrote the “Notes on Moral Theology” column in the journal, Theological Studies.  During his career, he served as a professor of Christian ethics at the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University.



Father Richard McCormick took the theory of Cost Benefit Analysis originally proposed by Jules Dupuit a French civil engineer and economist (born 1804, died 1866) who supervised the construction of the famous immense sewer system of the City of Paris.  Father McCormick’s contribution to the flow of the Culture of Death was to take Dupuit’s theory of cost benefit analysis and apply it to human life.  The treatment of patients at the end of their lives should be governed by the application of cost/benefit analysis he asserted.

Obviously if the analysis showed negative benefits, euthanasia was implied.  Father McCormick was not foolish enough to publish his ideas under the title of cost/benefit analysis which originated with sewer design and construction and other engineering projects, so he published them under the moral theory of Proportionalism.

It is important to distinguish between moral theology and moral philosophy or ethics.

“Moral theology is the scientific exposition of human conduct so far as it is directed by reason and faith to the attainment of a supernatural final end.  In contradistinction to moral theology is ethics or moral philosophy which is based on human reason alone and recognizes only a natural end (or purpose).”

“Catholic moral theology is a major category of doctrine in the Roman Catholic church, equivalent to a religious ethics. Moral theology encompasses Roman Catholic social teaching, Catholic medical ethics, sexual ethics, and various doctrines on individual moral virtue and moral theory. It can be distinguished as dealing with “how one is to act,” in contrast to dogmatic theology which proposes “what one is to believe.” Sources of Catholic moral theology include both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and philosophical ethics such as natural law that are seen as compatible with Catholic doctrine.


Moral theology was mostly undifferentiated from theology in general during the patristic era, and is found in the homilies, letters and commentaries on Scripture of the early Church fathers. During the Middle Ages, moral theology developed in precision and scope through scholasticism.”

“Contemporary Catholic moral theology is developed by acts of the Magisterium, by the Pope, other bishops, and by the works of lay Catholic moral theologians, which include magisterial teachings, as well as (in some matters) theological opinions.


Examples of Catholic moral theologians include St. Alphonsus Liguori, Germain Grisez (author of The Way of the Lord Jesus) and John Finnis (author of Natural Law and Natural Rights). Moral theology tends to be advanced most authoritatively through official statements of doctrine, such as papal encyclicals, which are based on the dogmatic pronouncements of Ecumenical Councils (e.g., Vatican II), Sacred Scriptures, and Sacred Tradition. In addition, moral theologians publish their own works and write in a variety of journals devoted in whole, or in part to moral theology. These scholarly journals are helpful in making the theology of the Church more clear and accessible to others, and serve as a forum in which scholarly discussion of understanding and application of issues occurs. However, these journals per se do not add or remove anything from Catholic teaching.”

Proportionalism as a moral theory, is a form of ethical reasoning developed from an earlier theory known as Consequentialism.


A moral theory is Proportionalist (or Consequentialist) to the extent that it appeals to a comparative evaluation of relative benefits (“goods” or “values”) to be gained by a contemplated course of action against the corresponding harms (“evils”) being threatened.  If good outweighs evil, the act is judged morally right despite the fact that evil may have been done.  Proportionalist moral theologians took the principle of double effect examined by Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinus and distorted it.

The moral theory of proportionalism advanced by Father McCormick was soon embraced by many other moral theologians, especially the Dominican priests belonging to the Dominican Province of Saint Albert the Great in Illinois.


One of those Dominican priests was Father Kevin O’Rourke, who was the ethicist for the Catholic Hospital Association for many years.


Another was Father Albert Moraczewski, O.P, who founded the National Catholic Center for Bioethics.



And another was Father Donald Goergen, O.P.   Father Goergen  published a book entitled, The Sexual Celibate,  that had a devastating effect on religious, seminarians and secular clergy in the United States.  Father Goergen argued that sensual, but non-genital activity, was not only possible but even  necessary for the full personal development of men and women religious.

The principal flaw in Father Goergen’s theory was that the human body, governed to such a large extent by hormonal activity responded to the sensual activity by causing sexual/genital activity.

Many women religious left their convents and began living by twos and threes in apartments.  The departure of many from relgious life had a disastrous effect on the Catholic parochial school system in the United States.  Father Goergen was elected Provincial of the Province of Saint Albert the Great and wielded great influence on several generations of Dominican priests of that Province.

Many seminarians and priests were also affected by Father Goergen’s book.  Many priests began to seek sensual friendship and many of those sensual friendships soon degenerated into homosexual activity and even pedophilia.


Another Proportionalist moral theology professor was Father Charles Curran at the Catholic University of America.  Many future priests and bishops studied moral theology under these PROPORTIONALISTS and were forever tainted with Proportionalist thinking about moral questions.


The ambiguity created by the opinion Pope Pius XII expressed on the subject of Dr. Rock’s contraceptive hormonal pill had by this time created a lot of confusion and so members of Pope Pius XII’s special Pontifical Commission studying the question of its use in controlling pregnancy began to leak out reports that the Commission was leaning in the direction of recommending approval of hormonal pills for controlling pregnancies.  Tensions were building in the Church fostered by the growing number of priests, bishops and theologians who were tainted by the virus of Proportionalism.

So now we finally need to take a closer look at Proportionalism  as a theory governing moral choices.


Is Proportionalism Reasonable?

In 2011, put the question to Christian Brugger, E. Christian Brugger is a Senior Fellow of Ethics and director of the Fellows Program at the Culture of Life Foundation; and the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

The question was:

“Prior to “Humanae Vitae,” was the idea of “proportional morality” ever discussed (e.g., in the work of the papal birth control commission)? By proportional morality, that is, the ranking of moral issues such that one issue trumps another. For example, if overpopulation threatens to destroy everything, would this trump the prohibition against birth control and abortion? “


Christian Brugger offered the following response:

The question concerns a moral theory known as Proportionalism, widely held by Catholic academic theologians in the U.S. and Europe. It is a form of ethical reasoning known as Consequentialism.

A moral theory is Proportionalist (or Consequentialist) to the extent that it appeals to a comparative evaluation of benefits and harms to determine the morality of acts. An act’s morality is assessed by weighing the relative benefits (“goods” or “values”) to be gained by a contemplated course of action against the corresponding harms (“evils”) being threatened. If good outweighs evil, the act is judged morally right despite the fact that evil may have been done.

In Catholic thinking, the turn toward Proportionalist reasoning post-dates the work of the Papal Birth Control Commission, but not by much. The commission finished its work in the summer of 1966. European theologians were flirting with Proportionalist reasoning at the time, but the idea had not yet come to prominence.

As late as 1971, U.S. theologians were still wary of Consequentialist morality. The late Rev. Richard A. McCormick S.J., father of U.S. Proportionalism and celebrated theologian at Notre Dame, seems to have assented to the Proportionalist premise around 1972. Before that time, he expressed concern that if the moral theory was applied right down the line, it would destroy the concept of intrinsece malum, that is, that some acts are “intrinsically evil” ex objecto (i.e., by virtue of the kind of acts they are, notwithstanding the benefits to be gained from performing them). (See his “Notes on Moral Theology” in Theological Studies from 1971.)

McCormick was prescient. The method did dispense with intrinsically evil acts and so with the Catholic tradition that defended their existence. He believed that the so-called preference principle was central to moral reasoning; it was self-evident, for it holds that one ought always to prefer the alternative of choice that promises the greater good or the lesser evil, and it would be absurd to choose an alternative promising lesser good or greater evil.


This method leads to the denial that there are any actions, described in non-morally evaluative terms, that are intrinsically evil and can never be rightly chosen. He admitted that some norms are “practical absolutes” insofar as it is unlikely that violating them would yield the “greater good” or “lesser evil” (e.g. rape). But the principle still holds and there might be very unusual situations when doing a deed of this kind might be the lesser evil.

Why isn’t McCormick’s “preference principle” sound? Why can’t a calculus of “greater good” and “lesser evil” be an adequate way to proceed? The problem lies in the idea that we can maximize good, that human good can be quantified in any rationally meaningful way. This is both erroneous and presupposes a superficial view of human good and the moral life.

The human goods at stake in moral choosing are simply not commensurable. How can one measure the value of human life compared to friendship or knowledge of the truth, or how can one measure the value of my life compared to yours? Human good is not simply “out there” waiting to be maximized. It resides in the heart of a person who has committed himself to authentic human goods prior to their external manifestation, and it endures even if one’s commitment to them fails to produce good results. For example, the commitment of a mother to the well-being of her child has a reality in her heart quite apart from the success of her endeavors to promote her child’s welfare. Her commitment to the good of her daughter does not merely hinge on the possibility of “well-being” which may be realized if all goes according to plan. Or the commitment of a husband to his irreversibly comatose wife. Leaving her for another might very well promise greater benefit. What then justifies remaining faithful to her, perhaps for many years? Certainly no quantitative measure of greater good and lesser evil. Rather, the reverence he has for their marital covenant — his love for his wife and for the reality of their enduring one-flesh relationship; and for the goodness of her life right now, disabled, unresponsive, supine, and yet really and objectively good.


A Proportionalist ethic is also superficial. Morality is not simply concerned with “doing good,” in the sense of maximizing beneficial states of affairs in the world, but about being good. And being good requires committing oneself to reverencing human good as it exists in the integral and full being of individuals and communities (instantiated in bodily life, friendship, marriage, harmony with God, knowledge of truth, etc.).

Thus the basic requirement of morality is that all elements of human good be respected in all our choices, even if acting contrary promises some measurable benefit. If we act in this way, we shape our wills and ourselves in a way that reverences the good. John Paul II writes: “human acts are moral acts because they express and determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them. They do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his profound spiritual traits” (“Veritatis Splendor,” no. 71).

A final fatal flaw of Proportionalism is its claim that we can make in advance a comparative evaluation of net good and bad promised by a particular course of action. But to do this one would need to be able to see into the future, to have access to the providential realm. Such an aspiration is no less illusory than the search for the fountain of youth. The apparently objective moral analysis of Proportionalism will necessarily favor certain projected consequences over others, especially those pressing most acutely on the emotions of the chooser, effectively reducing the outcome to subjective preference. Ironically, Father McCormick made this argument very early on, better than I can make it: “But who can confidently make such a judgment? An individual? Hardly. It seems to demand a clairvoyance not granted to many mortals and would paralyze decision in most cases. For example, what individual can say whether this present abortion will, in the long haul, undermine or promote the value of maternal and fetal life? This is especially true if the individual in question has a great stake in the abortion and presumably, therefore is more focused on the immediate impasse than on the long-term stakes” (Notes On Moral Theology 1965 Through 1980, Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981, p. 319; see also John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, no. 77).


If a type of action always destroys, damages or impedes some basic element of human good, then no ranking of proportional outcomes can make that action consistent with integral human flourishing. To deliberately choose that action makes us bad. This is why John Paul II taught in “Veritatis Splendor” that Proportionalism is both unsound and unfit for use in Catholic moral reasoning (nos. 76, 79).


Here let us leave Christian Brugger  and listen to the words of Saint John Paul II in his Encyclical Veritatis Splendor:

“78. The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the “object” rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas.126 In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person. The object of the act of willing is in fact a freely chosen kind of behaviour. To the extent that it is in conformity with the order of reason, it is the cause of the goodness of the will; it perfects us morally, and disposes us to recognize our ultimate end in the perfect good, primordial love. By the object of a given moral act, then, one cannot mean a process or an event of the merely physical order, to be assessed on the basis of its ability to bring about a given state of affairs in the outside world. Rather, that object is the proximate


end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person. Consequently, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil”.127 And Saint Thomas observes that “it often happens that man acts with a good intention, but without spiritual gain, because he lacks a good will. Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused. ‘There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just’ (Rom 3:8)”.128

The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who “alone is good”, and thus brings about the perfection of the person. An act is therefore good if its object is in conformity with the good of the person with respect for the goods morally relevant for him. Christian ethics, which pays particular attention to the moral object, does not refuse to consider the inner “teleology” of acting, inasmuch as it is directed to promoting the true good of the person; but it recognizes that it is really pursued only when the essential elements of human nature are respected. The human act, good according to its object, is also capable of being ordered to its ultimate end. That same act then attains its ultimate and decisive perfection when the will actually does order it to God through charity. As the Patron of moral theologians and confessors teaches: “It is not enough to do good works; they need to be done well. For our works to be good and perfect, they must be done for the sole purpose of pleasing God”.129


“Intrinsic evil”: it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) 

79. One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

The primary and decisive element for moral judgment is the object of the human act, which establishes whether it is capable of being ordered to the good and to the ultimate end, which is God. This capability is grasped by reason in the very being of man, considered in his integral truth, and therefore in his natural inclinations, his motivations and his finalities, which always have a spiritual dimension as well. It is precisely these which are the contents of the natural law and hence that ordered complex of “personal goods” which serve the “good of the person”: the good which is the person himself and his perfection. These are the goods safeguarded by the commandments, which, according to Saint Thomas, contain the whole natural law.130

80. Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object”.131 The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children;


degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”.132

With regard to intrinsically evil acts, and in reference to contraceptive practices whereby the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile, Pope Paul VI teaches: “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) — in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general”.133   Those were the words of Saint John Paul II, Pope.


The teaching of Saint John Paul II were echoed in the teaching of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.  In his address to the cardinals at the beginning of the conclave that would shortly elect him pope, Cardinal Ratzinger said of western society:

“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists of one’s own ego and desires.”

Those words can be understood as revealing the basic foundation of proportionalist morality in which the good that is chosen is usually the good that suits one’s own ego and desires.



And in a very real way, the words of Cardinal Ratzinger find a strange echo in the words written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion in the recent Obergefell same-sex marriage decision:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

“In spite of the fact that Saint John Paul II taught in  his Encylical, “Veritas Splendor”, that Proportionalism is both unsound and unfit for use in Catholiic Moral  reasoning, it is now ingrained in the thinking of many Americans, regardless of race, religion or creed;  and as we witnessed last month, in that majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the same-sex marriage case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

1965 The Supreme Court (in Griswold v. Connecticut) gave married couples the right to use birth control, ruling that it was protected in the Constitution as a right to privacy.

The rejection by Pope Pius VI of the reformed Papal Commissions report on Birth Control in his publication of his Encyclical “Humanae Vitae”, in 1968 produced a firestorm of dissent by all of those infected with the virus of Proportionalism who saw the ‘good’ of birth control as surpassing the ‘evil’ of unwanted pregnancies.


Fathers Richard McCormick, S.J., Kevin O’Rourke, O.P (bioethicist for the Catholic Hospital Association) and Father Charles Curran of The Catholic University were the inspiration for bishops, priests and laity who were unhappy with the magisterial teaching of Humanae Vitae and consequently either actively or passively dissented.

In just a few years the publishing of Humanae Vitae in 1968, in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court delivered it infamous flawed decision in the case Roe v Wade.  Propotionalist thinking was now pervasive throughout all of society.  Even the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court were examining social and moral problems, not within the context of the U.S. Constitution but within the broader context of proportionalist moral thinking.

Beginning with the Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v Casey making abortion at any stage of the child’s development legal, the Court has been motivated by proportional thinking constantly defining the greater good to be served as whatever it designated it to be, regardless of the U.S. Constitution.

Since the culture of death, of which palliative care is now such an important part relies on proportionalism morality or ethics for its justification I seems obvious that to fight palliative care and the other modalities of the culture of death flowing from infection by the virus of proportionalism is such a daunting task that we will require Divine intervention to assist us.

Proportionalism is more deadly than HIV, Ebola and all the other viruses combined.

I pray that we receive such assistance.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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