Insofar as I am reasonably literate in modern moral theology I owe a great debt to A History of Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century (Keenan). It is of course a demanding read, but clearly written. (Try Amazon) What is traced here is the movement from a moral decision wholly based on traditional law to a moral decision which is formed by the individual, taking into account his whole human nature and the circumstances which surround the decision. The various theologians concerned of course differ in details and emphasis, but the broad direction is common. Let me give you an oversimplified example (not taken from the book) which helps me to understand.
I imagine a homosexual man who, for whatever reason, has a strong orientation. He meets another man with whom he falls in love and with whom he would like to have a committed relationship. He decides that this would fulfil himself as a human being and offers to him the opportunity of love and commitment. And that is his choice.
We can all sit back and think about the mismatch between biology and orientation, or the Scriptural condemnations, or the Church’s explicit condemnation. But here, all that is beside the point. What matters is that the individual has used his reason to decide in line with what he understands is the good. And he rightly follows that.
That example is stark. But there are others. Let’s take a divorcée from a valid marriage who enters a second marriage. Must she insist that her new marriage should eschew sexual expression? Or, of course, a Catholic married couple who have good practical reasons to use artificial contraception. Again, whatever decision we think is right or wrong it is the individual who must choose.
We might contrast this with the moral theologian, Henry Davis SJ
“The Catholic Church insists therefore, in season and out of season, on the religious education of the child, explicit, dogmatic, determinate moral education… It says to the child: you must be good in the way I teach you to be good, so that afterwards you may know how to be good.” (Moral and Pastoral Theology,1958 edition)
I find myself undecided. I recognise two contradictory predilections in me. One is the absolute importance of the decisions of personal conscience. So I am minded to follow the more recent approaches. But because of the moral teaching of Davis’s confrères (I was at school in the 40’s) my response is programmed to accept law. Were I the homosexual in the example above, I would accept the relationship – but then feel guilty throughout.
Can you solve my dilemma?