Is there an example of non-negotiable value? Of intrinsic evil?
The Church gives us one in her constant and universal teaching, which every Catholic, be he whomever, must accept and embrace with the certainty of divine faith. That evil is non-marital intercourse. The Church is very clear: Non-marital intercourse is intrinsically evil. It can never be good. Likewise, all the actions oriented towards that act are evil. They can never be good. All the “tenderness acts” that are ordered towards fornication acts are disordered as well. As the Church infallibly teaches, these all lead astray, wound; these all are evil. One cannot “extract” these rumored “tenderness acts” out of an evil life and call them “good” or “ready to be good” or “positive points”. No, they are all actually evil. They in no way mitigate the evil. As ordered to the evil act, they participate in that evil. When one is so kind and cheerful to the secretary whom one is regularly embracing sexually, one is not being good but evil.
An analogy. A master thief is very quiet. He doesn’t disturb things. Walks very cautiously. Uses great prudence. Great with tools. Plans well. Organized. Gives lots of forethought. Etc. All of these things are evil. They are not “on the way so far to being good”. They are ordered to the act of crime and thus are themselves already the crime under way. So, we should not say of the master thief, “You should tell me what he is like when talking to the store clerk, seeking to understand the various products available for say, such as the crowbar, hammer, picks, gloves, etc.” He may be very polite to the clerk, even cheerful. But these acts he orders to the act of thievery. Hence, they are evil.
Whatever is ordered to the evil deed is itself wicked as well. It is not “good” or “ready to be good”.
There may be other things, not ordered to this evil, that the one-committed-to-sin does. Those things – those that are not ordered to the evil to which he commits – can be naturally good. For instance, the one committed to committing fornication might call his mother to wish her a good day. Such an act is good. Never to call his mother would be evil. To call his mother is good. But this act is not ordered to his evil of fornication. If it were, it too would be evil. What is “ready to be good” in anyone’s life are only those things which both (a) are not evil in themselves and (b) are not ordered to things evil in themselves.
Thus, the Church bids us, in our search for what is good in an active fornicator’s life, to separate out all that is either the evil itself of fornication or ordered to this evil itself. Since most people order much of their lives around the end they have chosen – be it greed, or unnatural sex, or devotion to the poor, or helping the illiterate – this removes many things from the sinner’s life. However, not all things are so ordered, and these, if they are not evil, can be “so far good”.
We might add, finally, that certain things which are actually evil for the sinner are potentially good in relation to who we can be after repenting. Not actually but potentially good. They will be actually good when ordered to the good. For instance, the master thief is very skillful. After he repents, he can take all that skill and become a great Jesuit. (Good Jesuits are crafty in good ways.)
Thus, repentance can redeem for the sinner some of the very things that were actually evil when ordered to the evil acts of the sinner. “Redeem the time” says T.S. Eliot. Repentance is like despoiling the Egyptians of their gold. If one holds political office, for instance, and then converts from having served one’s own interests, one can thenceforth devote oneself to the duties of that office in devotion to the common good. The authority once actually used for evil, and thus evil, now becomes a vehicle for good, and thus good.