|It was not his grasping the good of money which|
saved Zachaeus, but his repentance.
But here is an idea we may well find popping up. (Remember that 'subjective' means 'from the point of view of the subject'. A sin can be objective but not subjective if the agent did an action at variance with his properly understood duty which, for some innocent reason, he didn't realise was his duty.)
There is a general principle that for a sin to be 'mortal' it must be 'grave matter' (it must be a serious thing), and also that the agent must be aware that it is grave. If you don't know that the medicine bottle contains poison you are not committing murder if you hand it to the patient. If you don't know about the decree on Friday abstinence you don't sin if you don't observe it. If you had no idea that in some complicated situation you should do X and not Y, then you haven't committed a sin if you do Y. In other words, mortal sin must be against the agent's conscience: it must be subjective as well as objective.
Great use was made of this after Humanae vitae came out in 1968. Liberal priests got the brilliant idea that if they didn't tell people that the contraceptive use of the Pill was a sin, then couples could use it without committing a sin. They called this 'leaving them in good faith.'
The case with the divorced and remarried is a bit different, but it might work like this.
1. If a couple says that they are convinced in conscience that their sexual relations are licit, because of their circumstances, then they are not in a state of mortal sin (at least, not because of that).
2. Those conscious of being in a state of mortal sin shouldn't approach Communion, but this doesn't apply in this case.
3. The couple could not only be convinced themselves, but could convince their pastor or bishop that they are so convinced. The bishop could give them a little chit to that effect; the pastor could give them Communion in good conscience; and so on.
Neat, eh? That's what Pope Francis calls 'casuistry'. Well, it is casuistry. Now, here are the problems with this line of reasoning.
1. Natural Law is written on our hearts (Romans 1:20). Ignorance of Natural Law is not so easy, and when it does occur it may well be culpable. St Paul taught that the Romans' idolatry was a sin because they knew deep down that there was only one God, the creator of the world, or (perhaps) they could have known it if they had thought about it seriously. The Romans might have protested about this, but they were not in good conscience.
a) We can never erase our knowledge of moral principles such as that killing the innocent is wrong, or that adultery is wrong. In the case of remarried divorcees the individuals are furthermore not ignorant, but, rather, painfully aware of the teaching of the Church.
b) If we convince ourselves that something gravely contrary to Natural Law is ok, we have almost certainly committed a sin along the way: of failing to take the teaching seriously, of failing to investigate the matter conscientiously, and of failing to pray for light. Is it possible that a series of non-mortal sins could leave you ignorant of the Natural Law, to the extent that a voluntary gravely sinful action does not leave you in a subjective state of mortal sin? Possibly. But we are grasping at straws here; that is not the impression St Paul leaves us, and it is hard to see how a parish priest or bishop could establish to his satisfaction that this was indeed the case for a particular individual.
2. The scandal caused by giving Communion to these couples derives from their objective state, not their subjective state. Along with the harm it does to the communicant, the priest has an overriding reason not to give Communion to a couple who are widely known to be in an illicit union, because to give it to them would be to cause others to sin (that is what 'scandal' means). Even if they only appear to be living in an illicit union - if, say, they are living as brother and sister - this needs to be handled with care, and in some cases it will be best to give them Communion in private. A casuistic solution to their subjective state won't change this side of things.
3. A couple in a state of objective sin without being in a state of mortal sin, are still in a seriously bad way. A couple who are convinced their marriage is valid, or licit, when it isn't, haven't (for that reason) committed a mortal sin, but they haven't received the graces of the sacrament, or the natural graces of a natural marriage. A person who thinks it is right to perform bad actions may not be committing a mortal sin, but these actions won't gain him merit, they won't build up his virtue, they won't draw him closer to God: no, frequent objectively evil actions will draw him away from God, they will coarsen the agent's conscience, they will make it harder to repent, and will establish evil habits, vices.
Objective states matter. To leave people 'in good faith', or even to encourage them to remain 'in good faith', in an objectively sinful situation, is not mercy, it is not bringing people into the field hospital, it is leaving the wounded man to die by the roadside. And that would be the real result of a system allowing them to receive Communion.
This is why it was so problematic to talk about 'seeing the good' in or 'valuing' illicit unions, cohabitations, homosexual sex, and so on. Yes of course the individuals are seeking the good: Aquinas teaches that Satan was seeking a good when he refused to serve God and fell into Hell. And yes, there can be a kind of fidelity in an illicit union: St Augustine said that about his relationship with his concubine before his conversion. The problem is that these are not paths to holiness. We might hope they are compatible with paths to repentance: repentance is assisted by 'actual' grace rather than 'sanctifying' grace, if along the way the agents are doing good actions, or praying. But you don't get any kind of grace from objectively evil actions.
The focus of the 'good faith' type of argument are the concepts of obligation and punishment: we won't be punished for what we do in good faith. It derives from a legalistic approach to morality. What it neglects is the spiritual life, the role of grace. That, of course, has always been the problem with casuistry. We mustn't let Kasper-like logic-chopping casuistry cut people off from the life of grace.
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