John Paul 2 wrote (or his boys wrote and he put his name to) this encyclical because of his shock-horror at the fact that human beings, even Catholic human beings, were having the gall and foolhardiness to think about morality in human terms using human reasons. That would never do.
In particular, the question is asked: do the commandments of God, which are written on the human heart and are part of the Covenant, really have the capacity to clarify the daily decisions of individuals and entire societies? Is it possible to obey God and thus love God and neighbour, without respecting these commandments in all circumstances? Also, an opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality, as if membership in the Church and her internal unity were to be decided on the basis of faith alone, while in the sphere of morality a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behaviour could be tolerated, these being left to the judgment of the individual subjective conscience or to the diversity of social and cultural contexts.
5. Given these circumstances, which still exist, I came to the decision — as I announced in my Apostolic Letter Spiritus Domini, issued on 1 August 1987 on the second centenary of the death of Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori — to write an Encyclical with the aim of treating “more fully and more deeply the issues regarding the very foundations of moral theology”,9foundations which are being undermined by certain present day tendencies.
A pointless exercise from the start, because morality is not about theology, and theology does harm to morality.
We can be pretty sure we know where this is going, though. The point is to remind everyone, and to insist with a stamp of the red silk foot, that the church is the boss of morality, and what it says is absolute, and not accepting that is heresy and blasphemy and worse than murder (though not worse than abortion). Morality is absolute; we know what it is because of that book we can quote from; that’s all there is to be said.
32. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.
Whereas what everyone should be doing is just whatever the church tells them.