I recently watched Michael Lofton interview Pedro Gabriel on Amoris Laetitia, and I made some provocative comments to see how he would respond. His responses confirmed my beliefs outlined in my previous post on the subject, and I think that Dr. Gabriel is shopping a very dangerous misstatement of Catholic moral theology. In fact, it is the same misstatement that Erick Ybarra has concluded Pope Francis is asserting in Amoris Laetitia (AL). What Erick has suggested is that Pope Francis's strategy is to admit the definitions of what mortal sin is, but then make the full knowledge and consent requirement so ridiculously high that it's practically impossible for someone to commit mortal sin. This seems to be the earthly equivalent of the "hard universalist" position -- there's no way anyone who knew what they were doing could ever say "no" to God in any lasting way. At root in both is a denial that a rational being can, except perhaps in extraordinary circumstances, permanently deform his own soul, contrary to nature and in opposition to God. Given that I incline to a similar "soft universalist" position as Dr. Chapp does, which is very open to divine mercy on sin generally, I find it interesting that we both see the same danger in Dr. Gabriel's position.
At around the 50:00 mark, Dr. Gabriel argues that the problem with proportionalism, the erroneous moral theology outlined in Veritatis Splendor (VS), is that it rules out in principle that any act can be intrinsically evil. But he argues that the renewal of moral theology in VS can still allow for subjective culpability and mitigating circumstances that reduce the person's moral responsibility, which he argues is a general principle that can be applied pastorally (similar to the idea of economy in Eastern Orthodox theology). He argues that there are true proportionalists out there, whom we should oppose. But, he maintains, going after people who are just engaged in this "renewal of moral theology" is distracting from the real enemy -- the genuine proportionalists who believe that there is nothing evil in principle but only according to circumstances. But as Dr. Chapp correctly pointed out, this interpretation of the subjective culpability would eradicate the moral theology of VS on which the denial of proportionalism is built. The reason is that the denial of proportionalism is built on the concept of the moral object, the act viewed in its personal dimension. That means full consent is a question specific to the moral object in question, which defines the species of the moral act. This idea of general subjective culpability (GSC) as opposed to specific subjective culpability (SSC) corrupts the teaching of VS, and it is that corruption that Dr. Chapp and I are eager to answer.
The analysis of moral theology in terms of the object is characteristic of Pope St. John Paul II's personalist philosophy, and it was raised in his apostolic exhortation Reconcilatio et Paenitentia (RP):
And Dr. Gabriel points out that this diminished culpability can even apply to the most serious issues, such as those pertaining to life. As St. John Paul II says in Evangelium Vitae (EV):
I agree that there is a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations in the context of adultery, and by and large, there aren't any. And the prohibition on sacramental participation wasn't about whether those in irregular situations are living in a state of mortal sin; the Church is rarely in a position to judge that, and it's been clear since FC that living as brother and sister is a licit option to avoid actually committing in in the union.
The reason this statement is completely misplaced is that the issue has never been whether the couple is mortally sinning but the public appearance to others based on objective conduct that they are disregarding Church teaching, the same concern involved with the failure to regularize what may otherwise be valid marriages. FC required a public profession that the person was conducting himself or herself in a matter permitted by Church teaching, while AL now says that this can be referred to the private forum like any other private sin without the Church seeming to repudiate its own teaching. I have no objection to this disciplinary change; it seems a bit bizarre that FC opened up the option of living as brother and sister but required that matter to be made public to avoid scandal. Moreover, as I will point out below, it's entirely possible that there could be legitimate subjective doubt about whether the person was, in fact, married previously. Scandal could be avoided by the charitable assumption that anyone seeking communion with the Church is taking the steps needed to be in a state of grace. So if AL only stood for the principle that we ought not treat anyone as a public and notorious sinner unless their sins themselves are of a public nature, then I think that few people would object.
But the unstated implication, one drawn explicitly by Dr. Gabriel, is that culpability for the sin of adultery can be less than mortal due to lack of appreciation of its inherent values. I have no idea how that can be the case, and given the nature of sin itself, I have no idea how mitigation of consent could be applied in a way that does not impair the level of free consent required to make the vows in the first place. Now there are certainly cases where one might not have full knowledge and consent of being adulterous. For example, if one believes sincerely that one's marriage would be annulled if all of the facts were known but has not (and perhaps cannot) obtain a declaration to this effect from the tribunal, then one might negligently be committing objective adultery if one is in fact married, but one cannot deliberately sin against a bond one does not believe to exist. Likewise, there is precedent for the fact that one's cooperation in the sins of a spouse is not necessarily attributable to both partners, as in the case of a spouse who objects to the use of contraception but accepts the remaining unitive good of the act, even at the minimal level necessary for the spouse not to look elsewhere.
Neither of these cases involve a lack of appreciation of the rule; instead, from the perspective of the acting person, there is a real difference concerning the moral object of the act. Lack of appreciation of the rule's inherent values has only been applied to sins against chastity, not the sin of adultery. In the case of adultery, by one's consent to marriage, one must have already accepted the value of the rule. This is the same reason that divorce is sinful in the first place and why there is a moral obligation not to remarry.
To the extent lack of appreciation of the rule is relevant then, it is relevant to whether the person was married in the first place. That is, have we reached the point where there is such massive social confusion on the purpose of marriage that it is difficult or impossible for many people to form the act of will to contract marriage? Is this statement in AL then simply "saying the quiet part out loud" that no one really believes in marriage, especially its necessary role in begetting children, anymore? Are most attempted marriages then simply null for lack of proper intent and that spending the time necessary to establish this in the tribunals would be impractical, so that the presumption of validity ought to be much weaker and (unless challenged by the surviving spouse) left to the private forum as a matter of first resort? I do not say that those questions are not worth asking, but it is certainly reckless to a fault to leave it to an assertion of GSC as opposed to SSC for the sin of adultery. But regardless, in terms of understanding subjective culpability, it should be focused not on what the sinner is now doing but what the person did when attempting marriage. The idea that one could have previously been of the correct mental state to marry and now can excuse culpability based on a deficient mental state certainly would be a theological novelty that is inconsistent with what the Church has previously taught.
That last criticism has been raised by Dr. Eduardo Ecchevaria, Dr. Larry Chapp, and Dr. David Schindler, and it apparently has not been understood. Given the teaching of VS on conscience and the acting person, it is not possible for the mental self-contradiction on the point of adultery to exist, and this is the "rupture" from previous teaching. This is exactly why Fr. Julio Martinez, who holds essentially the same position Dr. Gabriel does, calls VS a "hypertrophy of the Magisterium." The teaching of VS on the moral object would clearly exclude the notion of conscience that liberal proponents of AL are trying to use to install de facto proportionalism as the moral teaching of the Church. That Dr. Gabriel has not heeded the warning does not mean that AL should somehow be considered harmless.