One of the responsibilities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith is to watch over and protect the doctrine of the faith, so that
the People of God may remain faithful to the teaching which has been
received. At times, the Congregation must proceed to a doctrinal
examination and point out, even by means of a public notification, the
ambiguities and errors contained in widely-distributed works that may be
harmful to the faith of the People of God, in order to make the
necessary corrections. On some occasions, such a notification is
necessary even when the author is disposed to correct his writings or
when the corrections have already been made.
An initial study of certain works by Father Marciano Vidal, C.Ss.R.,
namely, Diccionario de Ètica Teológica, La Propuesta moral
de Juan Pablo II: Comentario Teológico-Moral de la Encíclica "Veritatis
Splendor" and the volumes of Moral de Actitudes (in both
the Spanish original and the most recent Italian edition), revealed
errors and ambiguities. For this reason, and because of the wide
circulation of these books and their influence above all in theological
formation, the Congregation decided to proceed to an examination of the
texts by means of its Ordinary Procedure, according to the norms
established by the Regulations for Doctrinal Examination.
On December 13, 1997, the Congregation sent the text of the official Contestatio
to the author, through Father Joseph William Tobin, Superior General of
the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. It was composed of an
introduction, which dealt with the christological foundation of
theological ethics, and two parts, the first on epistemological
questions (the relationship of Scripture – Tradition – Magisterium,
and theologians – Magisterium), and the second on particular errors
(person – sexuality – bioethics; social morality; eschatology –
On June 4, 1998, Father Vidal provided his Response, which had been
prepared with the assistance of an advisor chosen by him, and was
accompanied by a letter from his Superior General. The Response was
examined according to the procedures of the Congregation, which, finding
it to be unsatisfactory, decided to offer Father Vidal another
opportunity to clarify his position on the points at issue. A new set of
questions was submitted for the approval of the Ordinary Session of the
Congregation on January 20, 1999, which also decided to grant Father
Vidal an additional three month period in which to make his response, as
indicated by the Regulations. This manner of proceeding and the text of
the above-mentioned questions were approved by the Holy Father in the
Audience granted to the Cardinal Prefect on February 5, 1999.
The new documentation with an accompanying letter were presented to his
Superior General in the course of a meeting at the Congregation on June
7, 1999. The results of the examination of Father Vidal’s first
Response and the decision of the Congregation, by way of exception, to
reformulate its questions in order to obtain more exact and precise
answers, were communicated to Father Tobin at this meeting. In addition,
while manifesting the sincere hope that Father Vidal would understand
the offer of this new opportunity as an invitation to a deeper
reflection, for his sake and that of the Church in whose name he carries
out his service of teaching theology, it was decided that his responses
should be prepared personally, in an unambiguous and succinct form, and
should arrive at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before
September 30, 1999.
Informed of this decision, Father Vidal gave assurances through his
Superior General that he would comply with the requests made by the
Congregation. On September 28, 1999, the Superior General personally
delivered to the Cardinal Prefect the text of the Respuesta a las
"Preguntas dirigidas al Rev. P. Marciano Vidal, C.Ss.R.",
together with his own personal opinion. This second Response was then
submitted to the judgment of the Congregation, in accordance with the
Regulations for Doctrinal Examination.
On November 10, 1999, the Ordinary Session of the Congregation, on the
basis of all the phases of the examination and the entire documentation,
concluded the exceptional procedure. The Congregation noted with
satisfaction that the author had shown himself willing to correct the
ambiguities in his writings on heterologous artificial procreation,
therapeutic and eugenic abortion, and abortion legislation, and that he
had stated his adherence to the teaching of the Magisterium on the
doctrinal points at issue, though without substantial or concrete
modification of the other doctrinal points mentioned in the Contestatio.
In light of this situation, the Congregation judged it necessary to
prepare a Notification, which would be presented to Father Vidal in a
meeting aimed at obtaining explicit recognition of the errors and
ambiguities found, and at verifying, in keeping with the principles
recognized by the author, his commitment to revise his books in the
manner decided by the Congregation. Moreover, the text of the
Notification, incorporating the results of the meeting and approved in
Ordinary Session by the Congregation, would subsequently be published.
These decisions were confirmed by the Holy Father at the Audience
granted to the Secretary of the Congregation on November 12, 1999.
The above-mentioned meeting with the author took place on June 2, 2000.
Those participating were the Cardinal Prefect and Archbishop Secretary
of the Congregation, the Most Reverend Antonio Cañizares Llovera,
Archbishop of Granada and Member of the Congregation, who represented
the Spanish Episcopal Conference, various Delegates named by this
Dicastery, and Father Vidal, who was accompanied by Father Joseph
William Tobin and Father Joseph Pfab, C.Ss.R., former Superior General,
who was the Advisor chosen for the occasion. After the formal
presentation of the Notification, and a cordial and productive
conversation regarding the doctrinal questions and the procedural
aspects of the case, Father Vidal accepted the doctrinal judgment
formulated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as
the formal obligation to revise his writings according to the
Informed of the positive outcome of the meeting, the Cardinal and Bishop
Members of the Congregation in the Ordinary Sessions of June 14, 2000,
and February 7, 2001, noted with satisfaction Father Vidal’s assent
and confirmed the agreed-upon procedure, that is, the publication of the
present Notification. They also decided that the editions of Moral de
Actitudes (including the volume on social morality), the Diccionario
de Ètica Teológica, and La propuesta moral de Juan Pablo II,
as well as any translations of these published prior to the
Notification, cannot be used for theological formation. Furthermore,
they decided that Father Vidal would revise Moral de Actitudes,
under the supervision of the Doctrinal Commission of the Spanish
Episcopal Conference. The text of the present Notification, including
these conditions, was sent through the Superior General to Father Vidal,
who manifested his acceptance by affixing his signature.
This resolution is not meant as a judgment on the person of the author,
on his intentions, on the totality of his work, or on his ministry as a
theologian, but solely on the works examined. It is intended for the
good of the Christian faithful, especially pastors of souls, teachers of
moral theology, and those who have received their formation according to
the author’s theological perspective or who themselves share such
views, in order that they may dissociate themselves from these errors
and deficiencies, and avoid their practical consequences in pastoral
1. General Evaluation
Moral de Actitudes is composed of three volumes. The first
is devoted to fundamental moral theology.1 The second is
divided into two parts, the first on the morality of the person and
bioethics,2 and the second on the morality of love and
sexuality.3 The third volume treats social morality.4
The Diccionario de ética teológica 5 offers a more
concise, but still sufficiently detailed study of the principal concepts
and themes of Christian morality.
Moral de Actitudes makes reference to the pastoral concern for
dialogue with "autonomous, secular and contemporary man".6
This dialogue is pursued with magnanimity and understanding, attentive
to the gradual and progressive nature of life and of moral education. It
also seeks to moderate positions considered to be extreme through a
consideration of the data supplied by the human sciences and by
contemporary philosophical currents. However, this praiseworthy concern
often does not achieve its goal, because it is undertaken at the expense
of essential aspects constitutive of an integral presentation of the
Church’s moral teaching; in particular, correct theological
methodology, proper definition of the moral object of an act, precision
of language, and integrity of argumentation.
The author states that his text is based on the "option for the
paradigm of ‘theonomic autonomy’ reinterpreted through an ‘ethic
of liberation’".7 His objective is a personal revision
of this paradigm, but he is unable to avoid some of the errors
associated with his chosen model, errors which substantially correspond
to those indicated in the Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor.8
Indeed, insufficient consideration is given to the fact that faith and
reason, while distinct, have a common source and end, and therefore do
not relate to each other simply to delineate their respective areas of
responsibility in an exclusive and excluding manner, or to expand these
areas at the expense of the other, with a view towards emancipation. He
does not conceive of "‘ratio’ normativa"9
as a link between man and God, which unites them,10 but
rather as a partition which comes between man and God. Therefore, it is
no longer possible to see "Divine Wisdom" as the ontological
(and therefore objective) foundation of the moral competence which every
person unquestionably possesses,11 and there is a consequent
failure to recognize that moral reasoning can be "enlightened by
divine revelation and by faith".12
The author expresses more than once the determinative approach of Moral
de actitudes: "The characteristic and specific quality of the
Christian ethos is not to be found on the level of the concrete contents
of the moral commitment", but rather "on the level of the kind
of world-view which accompanies" those contents.13 Only
against the background of statements such as these can one understand
the meaning of "the reference to Jesus of Nazareth as horizon or
new sphere of understanding and of lived experience of reality",14
or in what sense it can be maintained that faith offers an
"influence", a "context", an
"orientation",15 a "new frame of
reference" and a "dimension".16 Although the
author occasionally states that "Christ is the decisive norm of
Christian ethics" and that "there is no other norm for the
Christian than the event of Jesus of Nazareth",17
nevertheless, his attempt at a christological foundation does not
succeed at giving concrete ethical normativity to the revelation of God
in Christ.18 The christological foundation of ethics is
acknowledged insofar as it "re-contextualizes the secular
imperatives of a personalism of political alterity".19
The Christian ethic that results from this is "an ethic influenced
by faith",20 but the influence is weak, because it is
juxtaposed in fact to a secularized rationality laid out completely on a
horizontal plane. Therefore, Moral de Actitudes does not stress
sufficiently the ascending vertical dimension of Christian moral life.
And the great Christian themes, such as redemption, the Cross, grace,
the theological virtues, prayer, the beatitudes, the resurrection,
judgment, and eternal life, are hardly mentioned and exert almost no
influence on his presentation of moral teachings.
As a result of the moral paradigm employed, an insufficient role is
given to Tradition and the Magisterium’s moral teaching, which are
filtered through the author’s frequent "options" and
"preferences".21 In particular, his commentary on
the Encyclical Veritatis splendor manifests a deficient notion of
the competence of the Magisterium in matters of morality.22
The author, while informing his readers about the teaching of the
Church, critically distances himself from that teaching in the solutions
given to various special moral problems, as will be seen below.
Consideration must be given, finally, to the tendency to make use of a
methodology of the conflict of values or of goods in the study of
various ethical problems, as well as to the role played by references to
the ontic or pre-moral level.23 This leads to a
reductionistic treatment of some theoretical and practical problems,
such as the relationship between freedom and truth, conscience and law,
fundamental option and concrete choices, which are incapable of positive
resolution due to the inconsistencies in the position taken by the
author. On a practical level, he does not accept the traditional
doctrine on intrinsically evil actions and on the absolute value of the
norms that prohibit such actions.
2. Specific Questions
The author maintains that contraceptive methods which intervene after
fertilization and before implantation, are not abortifacient. He
maintains that, generally speaking, they cannot be considered morally
licit means of birth control;24 however, they are morally
acceptable "in situations of particular gravity, when it is
impossible to have recourse to other means".25 The
author applies this same standard of judgment to sterilization, stating
that in some situations it does not pose a moral problem, "given
that the intention is to achieve a human good in a responsible
way".26 Both these positions are contrary to the
teaching of the Church.27
The author holds that the doctrine of the Church on homosexuality
possesses a certain coherence, but does not enjoy an adequate biblical
foundation 28 and suffers from significant conditioning 29
and ambiguities.30 It reflects the defects present "in
the entire historical construct of Christian sexual ethics".31
In the moral evaluation of homosexuality, the author adds, one must
"adopt a provisional attitude", formulated "from the
perspective of inquiry and openness".32 For the person
who is irreversibly homosexual, a coherent Christian commitment
"does not necessarily lead to the rigid morality of either becoming
heterosexual or total abstinence".33 These positions are
incompatible with Catholic doctrine, according to which there is a
precise and well-founded evaluation of the objective morality of sexual
relations between persons of the same sex.34 The degree of
subjective moral culpability in individual cases is not the issue here.
The author asserts that the "gravity ex toto genere suo of
masturbation" has not been established. 35 In fact,
personal conditions are objective elements of this behaviour and
therefore "it is not correct to create an ‘objective abstraction’
from personal conditioning and make an evaluation that is universally
valid from an objective point of view".36 "Not
every act of masturbation is ‘objectively grave matter’".37
In this view, the judgment of Catholic moral teaching, according to
which acts of autoeroticism are objectively intrinsically evil, would
not be correct.38
With regard to responsible parenthood, the author states that none of
the present methods of birth control is good in every respect. "It
is inconsistent and dangerous to make an overall moral evaluation based
on one particular method".39 While it is the
responsibility of the Magisterium to give positive and negative guidance
on the use of the various methods,40 if conflicts of
conscience arise, "the fundamental principle of the inviolability
of the moral conscience would continue to be valid".41
But even prescinding from conflict situations, "the moral use of
strictly contraceptive methods must be the object of the responsible
discernment of the married couple".42 Among the various
criteria presented by the author to guide this discernment,43
there is no reference to the objective and binding character of the
moral norm contained in the Encyclical Humanae vitae44
and in other documents of the papal Magisterium before45 and
On homologous in vitro fertilization, the author distances himself from
the teaching of the Church.47 "With regard to
fertilization limited to a husband and wife (‘the simple case’), we
hold that it cannot be rejected...".48 If the likelihood
of risk to the unborn child is removed as far as possible, and there is
a reasonable proportion between the failures and the well-founded hope
for success, and the human condition of the embryo is always respected,
then "homologous artificial fertilization cannot be declared
immoral in principle".49
Moral de Actitudes also contains ambiguous judgments on other
specific moral problems, for example, on married couples having recourse
to artificial insemination with the sperm of a donor,50 on
heterologous in vitro fertilization51, and on abortion. The
author rightly affirms the overall immorality of abortion; however, his
position on therapeutic abortion is ambiguous.52 In his
discussion of the possibility of medical intervention in some very
difficult cases, it is not clear whether he is referring to what has
traditionally been called "indirect abortion", or if he admits
the lawfulness of procedures which do not come under this category. His
statements on eugenic abortion are similarly ambiguous.53 On
abortion legislation, the author correctly asserts that abortion cannot
be considered an individual right;54 nevertheless, he goes on
to state that "not all liberalization of laws [on abortion] is
directly contrary to ethics".55 The author seems to be
referring to laws that depenalize abortion.56 There are,
however, different types of depenalization; some in practice constitute
the legalization of abortion and the others are not acceptable according
to Catholic teaching.57 Since the context of the author’s
statement is not sufficiently clear, it is not possible for the reader
to determine what form of abortion depenalization is not considered
"directly contrary to ethics".
The Congregation notes with satisfaction the steps already taken by the
author and his willingness to follow the documents of the Magisterium,
and trusts that his collaboration with the Doctrinal Commission of the
Spanish Episcopal Conference will result in a text suitable for the
formation of students in moral theology.
With this Notification, the Congregation also wishes to encourage moral
theologians to pursue the task of renewing moral theology, in particular
through deeper study of fundamental moral theology and through precise
use of the theological-moral methodology, in keeping with the teaching
of the Encyclical Veritatis splendor and with a true sense of
their responsibility to the Church.
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the
undersigned Cardinal Prefect on February 9, 2001, in light of the
further developments, confirmed his approval of the present
Notification, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and
ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, February 22, 2001, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, Apostle.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli
1 Moral de Actitudes, I. Moral fundamental
(Madrid: Editorial PS, 1990), 8th edition (enlarged and completely
revised), 902 pp. [Italian trans. Manuale di etica teologica, I. Morale
fondamentale (Assisi: Cittadella Editrice, 1994), 958 pp.]. In the
following notes, Moral de Actitudes will be cited according to
the form Ma, with the volume number and page number; the corresponding
text in the Italian translation will be cited also, indicated by =.
2 Moral de Actitudes, II/1: Moral de la persona y
bioética teológica (Madrid: Editorial PS, 1991), 8th edition, 797
pp. [Italian trans. Manuale di etica teologica, II-1a: Morale
della persona e bioetica teologica (Assisi: Cittadella Editrice,
1995), 896 pp.].
3 Moral de Actitudes, II/2: Moral del amor y de la
sexualidad (Madrid: Editorial PS, 1991), 8th edition, 662 pp.
[Italian trans. Manuale di etica teologica, II-2a: Morale dell’amore
e della sessualità (Assisi: Cittadella Editrice, 1996), 748 pp.].
4 Moral de Actitudes, III: Moral social
(Madrid: Editorial PS, 1995), 8th edition, 1015 pp. [Italian trans. Manuale
di etica teologica, III: Morale sociale (Assisi: Cittadella
Editrice, 1997), 1123 pp.].
5 Diccionario de Ètica Teológica, (Estella [Navarra]:
Editorial Verbo Divino, 1991), 649 pp. (henceforth cited as Det).
6 Ma I, 266 = 283; cf. Ma I, 139, 211-215 =
7 Ma I, 260 = 276; cf. Ma I, 260-284 = 276-301.
8 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor
(August 6, 1993), especially 36-37: AAS 85 (1993), 1162-1163.
9 Ma I, 213=224.
10 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 100,
a. 2, c.
11 Cf. Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, 36,
42-45: AAS 85 (1993), 1162-1163, 1166-1169.
12 Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, 44: AAS 85
13 Ma I, 203 = 214; the same statement is found in Ma
II/1, 131= 140 and 139 = 148; Ma III, 99-100 = 107-108 and in Ma
I, 99 = 103 in reference to Sacred Scripture; all this is in contrast
with the Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, 37: AAS 85
(1993), 1163: "This then has led to an actual denial that there
exists, in divine revelation, a specific and determined moral context,
universally valid and permanent. The word of God would be limited to
proposing an exhortation, a generic paraenesis, which the autonomous
reason alone would then have the task of completing with normative
directives which are truly ‘objective,’ that is, adapted to the
concrete historical situation".
14 Ma I, 203-204 =214.
15 Ma I, 192-193 = 202-203.
16 Ma I, 274 = 291.
17 Ma I, 452 = 476.
18 Cf. Ma I, 268-270 = 285-287.
19 Ma I, 275 =291.
20 Ma I, 192 = 202-203.
21 Cf. for example, Ma I, 260, 789-790, 816, 848 =276,
837-839, 872, 904; Ma II/1, 400-403, 497, 597= 434-437, 550-551,
660-661; Ma II/2, 189, 191, 263, 264, 495 = 202, 204, 311, 312,
22 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic
Constitution Lumen Gentium, 25; Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis (May 24, 1990), 16: AAS
82 (1990), 1557. In this regard, see: La propuesta moral de Juan
Pablo II. Comentario teológico-moral de la encíclica Veritatis
splendor (Madrid: PPC, 1994) especially 24-26, 29, 54, 76-78, 82,
89-90, 94-95, 98, 102, 116, 120, 130-131, 136, 167. See also Ma
I, 80, 145= 82-83, 154; Det, 362-365; in addition, see the Italian
version of Ma I, Manuale di etica teologica I: Morale
fondamentale (Assisi: Cittadella Editrice, 1994), 142-145: these
pages on the Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor were added
after the Spanish edition was published and so appear only in the
23 Cf. for example Ma I, 468 = 492.
24 Ma II/2, 574 = 651.
25 Ma II/2, 574 = 651.
26 Ma II/1, 641 = 714; cf. Ma II/2, 575 = 652,
which considers sterilization as an "adequate solution" in
some cases, and Det, 225, where it is stated that in some
situations sterilization is "the only method recommended".
27 Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Declaration De abortu procurato (November 18, 1974), 12-13: AAS
66 (1974), 737-739; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae
(March 25, 1995), 58: AAS 87 (1995), 466-467. On direct
sterilization, see Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae (July
25, 1968), 14: AAS 60 (1968), 490-491 and the sources cited
therein; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Response Circa
sterilizationem in nosocomiis catholicis (March 13, 1974), AAS
68 (1976), 738-740; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2399.
28 Cf. Ma II/2, 266-267 = 314-315.
29 Cf. Ma II/2, 267 = 315.
30 Cf. Ma II/2, 268 = 316; also Det, 294-295.
31 Ma II/2, 268 = 316; cf. 268-270 = 316-318.
32 Ma II/2, 281-282 = 330.
33 Ma II/2, 283 = 332.
34 Cf. Rom 1: 24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tm 1:10; Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Persona humana (December
29, 1975), 8: AAS 68 (1976), 84-85; Letter Homosexualitatis
problema (October 1, 1987), 3-8: AAS 79 (1987), 544-548; Catechism
of the Catholic Church, 2357-2359, 2396.
35 Ma II/2, 324 = 374.
36 Ma II/2, 330 = 381; cf. Det, 45.
37 Ma II/2, 332 = 382.
38 Cf. Declaration Persona humana, 9: AAS 68
(1976), 85-87; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2352; Leo IX,
Letter Ad splendidum nitentis (1054): DS 687-688.
39 Ma II/2, 576 = 653.
40 Cf. Ma II/2, 576 = 653.
41 Ma II/2, 576 = 653.
42 Ma II/2, 576 = 653.
43 Cf. Ma II/2, 576-577 = 653-654.
44 Cf. Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, 11-14: AAS
60 (1968), 488-491.
45 Cf. the sources given in the Encyclical Letter Humanae
vitae, 14: AAS 60 (1968), 490-491.
46 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
consortio (November 22, 1981), 32: AAS 74 (1982), 118-120; Catechism
of the Catholic Church 2370, 2399. See also Ma II/2, 571-573
47 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum
vitae (February 22, 1987), II, B, 5 AAS 80 (1988) 92–94.
48 Ma II/1, 597 = 660.
49 Ma II/1, 597 = 661.
50 Cf. Ma II/1, 586 = 649 and Det, 315.
51 Cf. Ma II/1, 597 = 660.
52 Cf. Ma II/1, 403 = 437.
53 Cf. Ma II/1, 403 = 437-438.
54 Cf. Ma II/1, 412 = 454.
55 Ma II/1, 412 = 454.
56 Ma II/1, 408 = 442 (and 444).
57 Cf. Declaration De abortu procurato, 19-23: AAS
66 (1974), 742-744; Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, 71-74: AAS
87 (1995), 483-488.