A gem by David Cloutier:
It should be repeated again and again: “intrinsic” is not a word that denotes gravity.
This. A thousand times, this. An “intrinsic evil” is simply an evil that cannot be justified in any circumstance; it’s not a category of the most socially harmful actions. The Church calls masturbation an intrinsically evil act. Now something like war may not be an intrinsic evil, but war–even a so-called just war–harms people’s lives and the social order in ways graver than what the 13-year-olds of the world are doing under their covers, even if you accept what the Church says about self-stimulation of the genital organs.
Cloutier follows by saying, “Nowhere can it be shown that the teaching authority of the Church on morals is limited to moral absolutes, or that moral absolutes constitute the most serious or grave threats in any given society.”
According to its own self-understanding, the Church has limits to its teaching authority–it can speak authoritatively on principles of faith and morals, but not so to how they must be applied because their application involves interpreting the concrete situation, which stands outside its area of competence. Nevertheless, these principles pertain to more than just “intrinsic evils,” actions that cannot be justified under any circumstance. Acts that result in poverty or pollution may be morally acceptable in some circumstances, but that possible acceptability is no reason for the Church to keep its mouth shut about these evils.