Moral Gravity is Not an Intrinsic Feature of Immoral Acts
Masturbation is intrinsically immoral. The purpose of male orgasm is procreation and the unitive bond of male and female. These basic human goods are never to be directly inhibited. Male masturbation and homosexual acts directly inhibit the procreative and unitive goods of sexuality. This moral judgment was reached independently of any consideration of the intention of the actors, the circumstances of the action or consequences of the action. So, they are always on the wrong side of being right. That takes care of intrinsic wrongness.
But how wrong? How grave? My Church, The Roman Catholic Church, teaches that they are always gravely wrong. I accept that teaching because I accept the teaching authority of the Church. But Church teaching about the gravity of an act is an extrinsic characterization of the act. So, the moral gravity of masturbation in Church morality is not intrinsic as is masturbation’s moral wrongness.
These observations about masturbation can be generalized to cover all of the Church’s judgments of gravity.
A major significance of a judgment of moral gravity for the Church is providing a mark of a mortal sin. In general, a mortal sin must be forgiven with sacramental absolution after confessing the sin in a sacrament of reconciliation. Judgment of how an act makes a person ritually impure is a judgment made apart from the characterization of the act for moral judgment. Ritual impurity is decided by reference to features about the ritual which are not part of the act.
So, Church teaching about moral gravity does not allow for intrinsic moral gravity. We have seen that in law and daily practice gravity is an extrinsic feature of immoral acts. See Gravely wrong So, it is safe to conclude that judgments of moral gravity are separate from judgments of rightness or wrongness.
This seems like a straightforward result. But it is has tremendous implications for moral theorizing.
Some, not me, may conclude that it shows that we should not distinguish gravity from immorality. That line of thought leads to consequentialist moral theories.
Here I want only to note for fellow Catholics that all immoral acts are sins. If the immorality is not grave, the sin is venial. However, a corruption of Catholic morality is to belief, perhaps unconsciously, that if an act is only a venial sin, it is permissible.