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Taking a page from the Proportionalist Playbook?

October 19, 2016

Apropos of nothing in particular—but I suppose of several things in general, like the continuing turmoil over Amoris laetitia, the Buenos Aires directives, the Roman diocesan protocol, and a torrent of commentary (including some by orthodox writers), that, in my view, just doesn’t get it yet—may I offer the following take?

You know how—long story made short—the “proportionalist school” of moral theologians took the Fourth Criterion from the traditional “Principle of Double Effect”* (the criterion that calls for weighing the good to be accomplished by a given choice against the concomitant harm to be caused by the choice) and basically presented said ‘proportionality’ as if it were the sole criterion for upright moral decision-making? Pernicious stuff in that proportionalism, using terms admittedly found in orthodox decision-making schemes and seemingly simple to apply in concrete cases, justifies choices being made that are directly opposed to the good.

Well, I think a similar ploy, that of pulling one consideration from a rule book and presenting it as if it were the only consideration relevant to a certain choice, is being used to justify admitting typical divorced-and-remarried Catholics to holy Communion. By invoking a phrase redolent with ecclesiastical tradition, the “internal forum”, one criterion among several that, in a few cases among many, might contribute to making possible the reception of holy Communion by someone in an irregular marriage situation, Kasper et al present the “internal forum” as if it could be, at least in some cases, the sole criterion authorizing one’s being given holy Communion. As I and others have argued many times, however, there is considerably more to it than that.

In a way, though, this presenting of the “internal forum” as if it could be, even sometimes, the ultimate dispositive factor in whether holy Communion should be given to an individual is actually worse than what the proportionalists do above, because, while ‘proportionality’ is almost always a factor to be considered in making moral choices, the “internal forum” is almost never a factor to be considered in making Communion-distribution decisions!

A recipient’s assessment of his or her own situation in the “internal forum” IS relevant in his or her deciding about whether to approach for holy Communion (see c. 916); but a minister’s decision about giving the Sacrament to an individual is NOT controlled by the recipient’s subjective conscience (well-formed or otherwise); instead, a minister’s decision to distribute is controlled by—again, long story made short—Canon 912 (that sets out a general obligation to administer the Sacrament) and Canon 915 that requires a particular withholding of the Sacrament from people who are known to fall within certain OBJECTIVELY established conditions. It is a simple, but absolutely crucial distinction, this distinction between a recipient’s approaching and a minister’s distributing which, however often the two acts happily coincide, sometimes must be painfully honored, which is being blurred by the pious invocation of the “internal forum” in a context in which it has virtually zero relevance.

I say again, the minister of holy Communion is always bound by law and is never bound by a recipient’s conscience.

*On the “Principle of Double Effect” see e.g.: Judie Brown (citing John Hardon) or the New Revised Catholic Encyclopedia.

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