Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(4) November 2023

The Splendour of Truth

Dr Pravin Thevathasan

Dr Pravin ThevathasanPope John Paul II's great encyclical Veritatis Splendor shines forth more brightly than ever before. Some of our liberal minded leaders are telling us that while it was great for its time, it is not fit for purpose any longer. How wrong they are.

In the third chapter of the encyclical, John Paul makes it clear that he is "teaching with the authority of the successor of Peter" that "intrinsically evil acts" are always wrong without exception. He proceeds to identify various ethical theories that run contrary to this position: consequentialism and proportionalism. The proponents of these theories claim that it is not possible to determine whether an act is morally evil until the concrete situation has been considered. They conclude that the forseen proportions of pre-moral goods to evils can at times justify exceptions to the norms. Let us take the example of a pregnant woman whose husband threatens to evict her and the children unless she has an abortion. The proportionalists will argue that abortion is indeed evil. However, in her situation where she may face destitution for herself and her children, it may be justified on the principle of being the lesser of two evils. Or, let us consider a couple who is in an objectively adulterous relationship. The relationship may be considered morally acceptable and even good if the pre-moral goods outweigh the evils, if continuing with the relationship is good for the couple and the children from a psychological and financial perspective.

In contrast, John Paul teaches that "reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their very nature incapable of being ordered to God because they radically contradict the good of the persons made in His image."

The proportionalists, and there are many in leadership roles, are critical of the encyclical. They are particularly hostile to the claim made that there are intrinsically evil acts. An act may be morally evil in most circumstances, they say. But the act may be justified if a good of a higher order is at stake. Abortion, adultery and homosexual acts may be generally wrong. But the "principle of proportionate good" may justify them. They claim that people may experience a specific situation that may put a moral problem in a new perspective. There may be exceptions to all moral norms.

I fear the proportionalists. In contrast, Veritatis Splendor is surely one of the greatest documents of our age