Exceptionless Moral Rules, by David Carlin

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*Image: Decadent Young Woman, After the Dance by Ramon Casas, 1899 [Museum of Montserrat, Barcelona]

By David Carlin, The Catholic Thing, Jan. 25, 2020

David Carlin is a professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.

David CarlinOne of the distinctive things about Catholic moral doctrine is that it has a number of absolute or exceptionless rules, many of them involving or at least associated with sexual matters.  For example:

  • One must never perform or undergo an abortion.

  • One must never commit adultery.

  • One must never engage in fornication.

  • One must never engage in marital contraception.

  • One must never divorce and remarry.

  • One must never commit suicide.

Most people, I believe, including most people who are on the whole sympathetic to the prohibitions just outlined, feel that some exceptions should be made to the above prohibitions. But their sympathies are partly misguided, and warrant serious clarification:

(1) Divorce.  Almost everybody agrees that marriage should be a permanent and lifelong thing.  Once you’ve promised to remain married “till death do us part,” you should make every effort to keep that promise.  You should bear with your spouse’s shortcomings as long as they are bearable.  But sometimes they are not bearable.  In that case, you may resort to measures to remove those conditions that are making you miserable.

Of course, Catholicism agrees with this, after a fashion.  It is willing to tolerate, if there is sufficient cause, divorce from “bed and board” – that is, a permanent separation.  What it is not willing to tolerate is a divorce from “the chains of matrimony” – it is unwilling, in other words, to tolerate the kind of divorce that allows for remarriage. ….