This article by Prof Claudio Pierantoni, one of the signatories of the Filial Correction, is very helpful, certainly to me, not least because Pierantoni expresses the problem in a way slightly differently from the way I have been doing. Pierantoni is a long-term acquaintance of Rocco Buttiglione, and not only knows his thinking well and sympathetically, but has corresponded with him on these precise issues.
Here is a key passage; do go over to LifeSite to see the whole thing.
There are therefore some cases in which remarried divorcees can (through their confessor and after suitable spiritual discernment) be considered to be in God’s grace and therefore deserving of receiving the sacraments. It seems a shocking novelty, but it is a doctrine that is entirely, and I dare say rock-solidly, traditional.
Note the rush and superficiality (certainly not justified by the mitigating circumstance of a lack of intelligence) with which Buttiglione jumps to the twofold consequence: in the first passage, he draws from the general doctrine of extenuating circumstances the immediate consequence that “remarried divorces can be considered to be in God’s grace.” With this, he skips over the strong objections that we critics have raised without even responding to them.
The mitigating circumstances would be based, as AL states and Buttiglione reiterates, on an inadequate understanding of the norm. Now, AL proposes a “suitable spiritual discernment.” But we would say that, for this spiritual discernment to be “suitable,” it must necessarily lead to a proper understanding of the norm. A poor understanding of the norm could perhaps be invoked by those who, left to themselves, do not have access to a confessor or spiritual guide. But to suggest that it would be invoked by someone who has access to this spiritual formation is a contradiction.
When someone confesses a sin, even if the confessor is able to assess that there have been mitigating circumstances in the past, the logical consequence is that the sinner renounces committing the sin in the future. If this were not the case, he would not be dealing with a sin, and so it wouldn’t make sense to speak of mitigating circumstances. If the penitent thinks he can continue to act in this way, he is affirming that “given the situation” the action wasn’t really, in fact, a sin, but rather the right thing to do. And this is precisely what situational ethics says, which in vain Buttiglione seeks to separate from AL. In this case, adultery wouldn’t be intrinsically evil, as Catholic moral theology states, but would be so “according to the case.”
Ultimately we are faced with a clear dilemma: either the irregular situation is sinful, or it isn’t.
If we say that it is sinful, then even though it might be mitigated by circumstances in the past, it must be forsaken in future. If instead, we say that it is not sinful, then we aren’t talking about extenuating circumstances anymore, but rather we fall head-on into situational ethics, which states that adultery is not always evil, but only in certain cases. And if this is true for adultery, then there’s no reason why it can’t be true for other actions which are considered to be intrinsically evil in Catholic doctrine. This would be the “atomic bomb” effect of which Joseph Seifert spoke.