Extreme Necessity and Double Effect in Attending Masses of Schismatics

Jan 28, 2017

In a post published on his blog on Friday January 20, 2017, Mr. Sean Johnson argues against the “non una cum” position.  The Our Lady of Good Success Mission also opposes the “non una cum” position.  However, we don’t necessarily agree with all the points used by Mr. Johnson to help reach his conclusion.  One of the points that we do not agree with is his use of particular grounds that would permit one to attend Masses offered by schismatic priests without committing sin.  Here is the quote (emphasis mine):

 

“If omission of Francis from the Canon implies schism for refusing to recognize him as head of the Church, then one is quite possibly running into the same preclusions that apply to prevent Mass attendance at Orthodox and other schismatic Masses.

 

In such cases (unless ignorance, extreme necessity, or double effect would excuse such a course of action), sanctifying grace from the sacrament would not be communicated, since, though it would be produced in the sacrament “ex opere operato,” it would fail to transmit “ex opere operantis,” because of the bad disposition of the subject (i.e., Who would be objectively and knowingly committing a grave sin, and therefore would not be in the state of grace to receive an increase of same).”

 

I have written extensively regarding the “ignorance” ground in my paper regarding active attendance at the Novus Ordo Mass, so I will not focus on this ground in this article.  I also wrote about the “extreme necessity” ground in the same paper and I did somewhat make an analogy between using “extreme necessity” for permitting one to actively attend the Novus Ordo Mass to using “extreme necessity” for permitting one to actively attend Masses offered by schismatic priests.  As far as I am aware, the Catholic Church has never taught that “extreme necessity” may be a ground for actively attending Masses offered by schismatic priests without committing sin.  However, she has taught that “extreme necessity” (e.g., immediate danger of death) is a ground for receiving the Sacrament of Penance from a schismatic priest without committing sin.

 

In his article, Mr. Sean Johnson adds a third ground (not included in his Catechetical Refutation and hence not applied to active attendance at the Novus Ordo Mass), the Principle of Double Effect, for actively attending Masses offered by schismatic priests without committing sin.  I use the term “ground” loosely here as the Principle of Double Effect is really a method of applying moral principles to concrete cases.  Nevertheless, I neither affirm nor deny that actively attending Masses offered by schismatic priests is “intrinsically evil” as I do affirm in regards to actively attending the Novus Ordo Mass.  However, I object that “extreme necessity” or the Principle of Double Effect may be used as a ground to permit one to actively attend Masses offered by schismatic priests without committing sin.  As with “extreme necessity”, I have never heard of the Catholic Church teaching that the Principle of Double Effect may be used as a ground for actively attending Masses offered by schismatic priests.  I therefore challenge Mr. Johnson to substantiate his claim with Church teaching or even reputable pre-Vatican II theologians.  Otherwise, he is making up his own theology as he did in order to defend Bishop Williamson’s permission to the lady in Mahopac, NY to actively attend the Novus Ordo Mass given her circumstances.

 

Note:  Mr. Johnson uses the term “excuse” in “would excuse such a course of action”.  The implication of using the term “excuse” is that the person performing the action is ignorant and therefore not guilty of sin.  Therefore, I have no problem with the phrase “unless ignorance would excuse such a course of action”.  However, I do have a problem with Mr. Johnson using the term “excuse” in relation to “extreme necessity” or “double effect”.  The reason I have a problem in Mr. Johnson using the term “excuse” in relation to “extreme necessity” is because “extreme necessity” is a material (objective) element when analyzing the evilness of an act whereas “ignorance” is a formal (subjective) element.  I discuss this in my paper that I linked to above.  Therefore, one can be knowledgeable that the act he intends to perform is evil, except when, for example, “extreme necessity” justifies his performing the act.  “Excusing” an act and “justifying” an act are not the same thing; one is negative and the other is positive.  The same line of reasoning can be applied to “double effect”, and even more so, because to apply the Principle of Double Effect one must be consciously studying the concrete case in question in order to determine whether its execution is justifiable.  Therefore, it is more accurate to state the phrase in the following manner when it concerns “extreme necessity” or “double effect” (if one is arguing in favour of Mr. Johnson’s proposition that these two grounds do not contribute to a subject’s bad disposition in regards to actively attending Masses offered by schismatic priests):  “would justify such a course of action”.

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