Notification Regarding Certain Writings of Fr. Marciano Vidal, C.Ss.R.

Author: CDF


Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


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 – utopia).

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 instructions given.

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 ministry.


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 teológica5 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 after.46

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


1Moral 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 =.

2Moral 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.].

3Moral 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.].

4Moral 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.].

5Diccionario de Ètica Teológica, (Estella [Navarra]: Editorial Verbo Divino, 1991), 649 pp. (henceforth cited as Det).

6Ma I, 266 = 283; cf. Ma I, 139, 211-215 = 147-148, 222-226.

7Ma 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.

9Ma 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 (1993), 1168-1169.

13Ma 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".

14Ma I, 203-204 =214.

15Ma I, 192-193 = 202-203.

16Ma I, 274 = 291.

17Ma I, 452 = 476.

18 Cf. Ma I, 268-270 = 285-287.

19Ma I, 275 =291.

20Ma 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, 553.

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 Italian edition.

23 Cf. for example Ma I, 468 = 492.

24Ma II/2, 574 = 651.

25Ma II/2, 574 = 651.

26Ma 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.

31Ma II/2, 268 = 316; cf. 268-270 = 316-318.

32 Ma II/2, 281-282 = 330.

33Ma 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.

35Ma II/2, 324 = 374.

36Ma II/2, 330 = 381; cf. Det, 45.

37Ma 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.

39Ma II/2, 576 = 653.

40 Cf. Ma II/2, 576 = 653.

41Ma II/2, 576 = 653.

42Ma 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 = 648-650.

47 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae (February 22, 1987), II, B, 5 AAS 80 (1988) 92–94.

48Ma II/1, 597 = 660.

49Ma 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.

55Ma II/1, 412 = 454.

56Ma 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.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 May 2001, page 8

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