….My view of this papacy is that Pope Francis—slowly and brick by brick—is attempting to subvert the theological hermeneutic of the previous two papacies: Pope John Paul II’s in particular, and primarily in the realm of the late Pontiff’s moral theology. Bishop McElroy has been an unabashed supporter of Amoris and his promotion to the red hat is the Pope’s way of signaling that McElroy’s approach to the moral theological principles of Amoris is correct.
This also explains, as I have blogged on before, why Pope Francis has systematically dismantled the John Paul II Institute in Rome and replaced numerous professors and leadership—all of whom were devotees, of course, of John Paul’s thought, of Communio theology, and of Familiaris Consortio/Veritatis Splendor—with theologians who are largely proportionalists in moral theology and strong supporters of a more “progressive” agenda. And they have all been given the specific mandate to transform the Institute into a think tank for Amoris Laetitia. This is also why nobody from the previous regime at the Institute was invited to the Synod on the Family.
Therefore, in my view, the various red hats that Francis has given out to the Church in the U.S. are primarily, although not exclusively, about moral theology and the revolution in the post-conciliar theological guild on the topic of human sexuality. People tend to focus on the great controversies surrounding liturgy in the post-conciliar era. And those issues are important. But take it from someone who lived through it—the deepest, most important, most contentious, most divisive, and most destructive debates surrounded moral theology, especially after Humanae vitae and the massive dissent from it that followed.
Charles Curran, Richard McCormick, Bernard Häring, Joseph Fuchs, and many others, developed a form of moral theology called “proportionalism” or “consequentialism” that taught that there can be no absolute moral norms since moral actions are largely determined, not by the moral object of the act itself or the teleology of the faculty in question (classic natural law principles), but by the concrete circumstances in the life of the person committing the act. They spoke of “premoral goods” that had to be weighed against each other and that these kinds of judgments are almost always prudential and fraught with the ambiguity of “difficult and mitigating” circumstances. It is a bit of a caricature, but for the sake of a useful shorthand familiar to most readers, proportionalism is a subspecies (in Catholic drag) of situation ethics. They deny this, but it is what it is.
Along these lines, Pope Francis, in a much ignored but enormously significant comment in October 2016 (made to Jesuits gathered for the 36th general Congregation), praised the dissenting, proportionalist, moral theologian Bernard Häring (1921-1998) as a great “model” for the renewal of moral theology. This is the same Bernard Häring who dissented from Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor. And Pope Francis said that Häring’s kind of moral theology is expressive of Vatican II and of how moral theology should be done. A clearer endorsement from a Pope for a proportionalist approach cannot be found. Imagine the consternation if Pope Benedict had said, when issuing Summorum, “You know, that Lefebvre dude was right all along.” But Pope Francis praises a leading proportionalist theologian as a wonderful role model for renewing moral theology—and nobody even blinks twice….
The above comes from a June 2 posting by Larry Chapp in Catholic World Report.