Vatican wants to move beyond a “black and white” morality

"black and white" morality

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life is promoting the change of the Church’s “black and white” morality approach.

Instead, it would like to see an approach where conscience and discernment go hand-in-hand with the moral norms laid down by the Church.

The Academy’s reflections are influenced by infinitesimal changes to moral theology.

As an example, the Academy added its views to Italy’s debate over ending life. Resorting to assisted suicide could be a lesser evil than actual euthanasia, the Academy said.

On Friday it released a 500-page volume called Theological Ethics of Life. It appears to continue along a less “black and white” morality in favour of moral reasoning.

In the new text, the Academy (which is responsible for bioethical issues) outlines significant formerly unimaginable changes.

Incorporating the proceedings of a seminar held last autumn, theologians and experts discuss updating “Evangelium vitae“, John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical and major text on family and life.

The role of individual conscience

Theological Ethics of Life looks at bioethics, from procreation to artificial intelligence. Some believe it puts the traditional moral theology of the Church in second place behind other considerations.

The Academy says conscience is the “place of moral responsibility”. It is not simply something whose task is to apply the rules as best as possible.

It is an important paradigm shift that follows directly from the pope’s conception of morality.

“The law needs the conscience of Christians.

“Norms for action in a particular area of existence do not fall from the sky, but originate in reflection upon the experience of those who have gone before us,” Theological says.

Norms as a point of reference

Moral reflection is like a constant choice between two goods. It is a result of a conflict of values, rather than the application of moral norms enacted by a higher authority.

Consequently, the moral norm appears only as one of the elements guiding the individual in exercising a choice. The person’s experience and cultural context are also part of it.

“The norm is a point of reference, but it is not enough to make a moral judgment,” says Jesuit Dr Carlo Casalone M.D. from the Pontifical Academy.

He denies this in any way weakens the Church’s moral edifice.

“It may seem reassuring to think that everything is written and that it is enough to apply ready-made norms, but this is a false security. Reality is never like this,” he says.

This is a “change of perspective” in our way of thinking about morality, he notes.

Rejecting rigorism

Theological opens a methodological revolution in the Vatican. Discussions, especially on moral theology, usually take place behind closed doors.

The author, Father Jorge José Ferrer, promotes the paradigm shift developed in Theology.

“These principles are not new, but the pre-eminence given to them by the magisterium of Pope Francis contributes to a decidedly renewed configuration of the theological ethics of life, far from the rigorism that still fuels some ecclesial discourse and contributes to a caricatured vision of Catholic morality that is frequently found in the media, social networks and popular perception,” he writes.

The Academy says “the pope is perfectly aware” of the changes underway.


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