Turning the innocent into material adulterers
March 5, 2013 § 28 Comments
It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. – Veritatis Splendour
In Catholic moral theology we distinguish between what is formal (that is, intended) and what is material (unintended).
Most of us are probably material heretics: that is, we believe certain things to be true which are in conflict with sound doctrine. We’ve all experienced that “aha!” moment when we understand a doctrine and realize that we had it wrong before. When we had it wrong, we were material heretics: we didn’t intend to dissent from sound doctrine, and as soon as we realized our error we corrected it. But the ideas we had held to be true were in fact in conflict with sound doctrine.
One of the reasons that the annulment process should be very rigorous, and should err very strongly on the side of declining to invalidate a marriage, is that if the tribunal makes a mistake – and as a juridical institution it is certainly liable to do so – the resulting annulment and ‘remarriage’ turns the parties into material adulterers. This is a gross injustice against everyone involved, and most especially against any “new” spouse not previously married.