Not just new sins, but new categories of sins!

Fr. Hunwicke – whom I thank for the recently conferred title Archiblogopoios*has done it again.  He is on the proverbial roll.

Here’s the whole thing… I can’t resist.  Be sure to go over there, spike his stats, and read the combox.  It’s worth your time.

My patented emphases and comments:

New Sins

In Mgr Ronald Knox’s brilliant collection of Essays in Satire, there is a piece about a ‘Professor’ who invents a new sin. Now, even Knox’s brilliance has been quite superseded. Now, you see, we have completely new types, genres, of Sin. The Third Millennium has branched out into a whole novel taxonomy of Sin.

Earlier this month [HERE] I approached this subject and asked three simple questions, as tests to apply to any newly fashionable theory about Sin. Here they are again:

(1) Can you square it with the Sermon on the Mount and the ethical teaching of S Paul?
(2) Can you square it with the Lord’s parables about not knowing ‘the Day or the Hour’?
(3) Does it apply to murderers and paedophiles?

Let me remind you what the New Casuistries teach about Sin.
(a) Graduality. “People cannot give up their Sin instantaneously. They should be given the time, and the grace of the sacraments, to wean themselves off it gradually.”
(b) Acceptance without Approval. “Remarried divorcees may be in a position to which the Church cannot give formal approval; but she may welcome them as they are into her Sacramental life.” [Kasper’s position – aka Tolerated But Not Accepted]
(c) Elements of truth. “Outside the relationship of heterosexual monogamy, other models of relationship exist in which important elements exist of the values proper to Marriage itself: and it is these elements which we should emphasise (permanence; self-sacrificing love …).”

Now apply Fr Hunwicke’s Question (3).  Would you accept that, since a paedophile has very strong inclinations, his aim should be to work hard to abuse children less and less frequently? How do you feel about the Church accepting that some paedophiles are gentle and affectionate to the children they abuse, and that we should concentrate our attention on those good elements of gentleness and affection? Take someone with a pathological impulse to murder: would you want the Church to continue to maintain the teaching of the Ten Commandments about Murder, but, without approving of the murders, to accept the unrepentant murderer as he is?

Probably you wouldn’t. Probably most people, even very liberal Catholics wouldn’t, unless they are themselves paedophiles or murderers or both. Why not? [It doesn’t pass the smell test.]

What we have is, in fact, the adoption by liberals of two quite distinct categories of Sin. There are sins which (most people would agree) are really sinful. Such as abusing and/or killing children. [Except when the utilitarianism kicks in and abortion is chosen.] The clever little games (a), (b), (c), would never be acceptable here. If somebody suggested that it really is in accordance with a nuanced Christian morality for a paedophile to abuse children as long as he does it gradually less frequently, most of us would probably kick him. However they contrive to control their behaviour, paedophiles should just give up, or genuinely try to give up, their vice. They should receive Absolution and then “Go and Sin No More”.

[Here, emphases is H’s] But there is now, for the Liberals, an additional, quite different category of Sin.It consists of things which, because they are condemned by Christ or by long centuries of Christian Tradition, liberals might agree are in some sense technically sinful. But liberals do not feel that they are really wrong. [Of course not!  They are morally superior beings!] So they devise sophisticated ways of avoiding the requirement of the Gospel: repentance and a firm purpose never to offend again and to avoid the occasions of Sin. Like children who have cheated and found out the answer to a sum, they start with the conclusion and then try to find the right ‘workings’ to get to the answer. “I want to argue that a homosexual couple may continue to live in a genitally sexual relationship: where can I find clever arguments to support that conclusion?”


(I) REALLY WRONG SINS; they really turn me upside down in my tummy.

(II) SINS WHICH ARE ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG; my tummy feels completely OK about them. We’ve just got to find a way for the Church to shift her line without completely losing face.

Those are the two radically distinct categories of Sin in which Liberals now believe.

Neither in the Bible nor in two Christian millennia is there evidence for (II).


Bibliography: the important discussion here in the Church’s Magisterium is paragraphs 79-83 of the Encyclical of S John Paul II Veritatis splendor, together with its footnoted sources. The Holy Pontiff quotes (para 81) a passage of S Augustine in which that Doctor discusses the ‘absurdity’ of any notion that sins done for good motives (causis bonis) might be thought of as ‘sins that are justified’ (iusta peccata: I think this would have to be S Augustine’s Latin term for what my account above calls (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG).

The Holy Pontiff cleverly takes (para 80) the list of sins in para 27 of Gaudium et Spes and says that they are good examples of acts intrinsice mala, that is, always wrong, independent of circumstances. What is neat about this is that it includes sins which Liberals would consider (I) REALLY WRONG SINS (such as genocide, trafficking in women, slavery) [having to big a carbon footprint] and mixes them up with (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG (such as abortion). He then goes on to the intrinsically evil contraceptive acts and, in para 81, includes S Paul’s condemnation (I Cor 6:9-10) of categories including the sodomised and the sodomites (malakoi, arsenokoitai; molles, masculorum concubitores).

Fr. Z kudos.

*If that was just flattery to get me to link to him more often, it worked.  I can be bribed.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Royse87 says:

    Brilliant. The orthodoxy litmus test for liberals is how a certain sin makes their tummy feel. Spot on.

  2. iteadthomam says:

    Having had this discussion with liberals, they would argue that paedophilia and murder are wrong because they lack the consent of the victim, whereas homosexual unions are voluntary unions. Not defending them, just making this point so we can sharpen our arguments and anticipate their objections.

  3. Although I can follow the idea, the comparison to paedophiles and murderers is wrong. Although these sins may be as severe as adultery from the point of view of the sinner, they are quite different from the point of view of the victim. Paedophiles and murderers must be stopped immediatly because of their victims in the first place. If not for the victims, I wouldn’t mind for their real conversion to take some time. As for the remarried, you could call their spouse a victim, or their new partner, or their children, but I really see a difference in gradation of the urgency of stopping the sinner.

    Even the greatest saints have led sinful lifes, and they’ve taken quite some time for their conversion. I’d even dare to say that there’s no conversion that doesn’t take time, so the Church must give the conversion full support for the time it needs, although this still may imply that fullness of sacramental life cannot be granted until the conversion has reached some end point.

    I guess this is what holy pope John-Paul II wrote about in the exhortation for the previous synod on the family, Familiaris Consortio, all at the end: “With firm confidence [the Church] believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.”

  4. JARay says:

    I agree with Royse87. Truly brilliant. It’s all to do with feelings, nothing about objectivity!

  5. Matt Robare says:

    When I first decided to become Catholic I assented to the Church’s teachings, but tended to act as though the satirical categories were right. But my friends kept bringing me to Adoration and I started thinking about the implications of the Real Presence. The conclusion, as clear as day, was that if the Real Presence is true then it is impossible to rationalize away sin and if it’s posible to rationalize away sin than the Real Presence cannot be true.

  6. James Joseph says:

    I am attempting to cautious with this comment. This post made my mind fly to the poor initial translations into the English of the most recently promulgated universal Catechism where the translators decided that there would be three categories of sin ostensibly to under-gird the twice-condemned ‘Fundamental Option’: Mortal Sin (nearly impossible to commit), Non-Mortal Sin (eliminating venial), and Serious Sin (a half-way in between type that has little if any ramification).

  7. Joe in Canada says:

    I think it would be a tragedy if real pastoral gradualism got swamped by this novelty gradualism. Any pastor is familiar with the gradualism of helping someone with a strong temptation to sin. [This is an important point. Gradualism is something that can help in the internal forum on a one to one basis. It can’t be applied to whole groups of people.] Often sins of the flesh or other temptations seem almost irresistible, and frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Confession is required. Even the Apostle said “the evil I don’t want to do, this I keep on doing!” (Rom. 7:19). He absolutely did not say “I more or less intend to keep doing the evil I do.”
    Prudence helps me temper my pride and helps me grow in reliance on God’s grace. The language of conversion refers to 2 different things: the original “metanoia”, change of heart to God, and the subsequent ongoing struggle to become transformed in Christ. When saints have talked about their struggles, it is in a context of a sacramental life.

    vicmortelmans: I see what you mean, so imagine a scenario where no actual children are harmed. Could we imagine anyone tolerating CGI of … whatever?

  8. Faith says:

    Not all conversions are instantaneous, as Saul to Paul. You have to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work.

  9. Dan says:

    I think St. Gregory’s Pastoral Rule offers us a pretty good guide toward a proper understanding of graduality.

  10. Cantor says:

    The Church already teaches us that there are two categories of sin: Mortal and Venial. It seems that this battle is being raged over the categorization of those sins based on contemporary social thoughts.

    How many codicils are already in place for “murder”? First, second, third degree, manslaughter, voluntary/involuntary/traffic/self-defense, etc. Which ones qualify in which category, mortal or venial, under the fifth commandment?

    Run a stop sign? $50. Run a stop sign while there’s a kid in the crosswalk? 10 years. Circumstances override individual actions.

    And in a Church that has shown a mixed bag of consequences, wherein not even a select group of Cardinals can come to a solid, non-nuanced consensus on one small set of “infractions”, don’t blame the people for getting it wrong.

  11. Elizabeth M says:

    Sounds like some of my Catholic friends when we discuss the difference between mortal and venial sins. I can’t stand the phrase grave sin. It makes it too easy for someone to fall into this trap of “really wrong” and “technically wrong”. Sure, mortal sin IS grave sin, but mortal actually says what it’s doing to the soul. Grave sounds like, “well, it’s bad, but if I come up with enough bail money I can get out of jail” without thinking about the loss of Christ.

  12. stephen c says:

    Vicmortelmans said what I would like to have said, better than I could have. By the way, having just reread paragraphs 79 to 83 of Veritatis Splendor, through the encouragement of Father Hunwicke, I felt quite a bit – actually, quite a lot – of nostalgia for the days of Karol Wojtyla’s papacy. What Father Hunwicke did not mention – if I read his post correctly – was that contraception – not abortion – was the “least sinful” of the clear sins mentioned in the cited paragraphs of that document. As for me , I am not sure that even natural family “planning” (in spite of the arguable support from the Vatican) ever makes God happy , but I am sure that I will never hear a sermon raising the question. I also doubt I will ever hear a sermon explaining why St John Paul stated in Veritatis Splendor that contraception is always wrong. Contraception may be, in fact, the essence of of the half-hearted misanthropy that plagues our century- and I hope future prosperous generations will abhor it, as we abhor slavery and indentured servitude and religious wars of territorial conquest. However, the fact remains that everyone alive at this point in time lives in a misanthropic civilization, and supporting the various forms of contraception is just what even generally decent people might do in a civilization like that – the more misanthropic among us, with more enthusiasm, the less misanthropic with a little less (who among us – not counting St John Paul and people like that – has not been in a crowd – at the DMV, on the subway, at a monster truck rally – and hasn’t thought – God can’t really love all these people and their children as much as He says, can He? Well I have thought that , and I have been wrong). Anyway, I am just pointing out that even Fr Hunwicke is too nice to repeat St John Paul’s unequivocal criticism of contraception, and so I deduce Fr Hunwicke’s conflation of greater sins with lesser was more rhetorical than he lets on … I could be wrong, he is hard to understand …

  13. bsjy says:

    Completely distracted by the appellation conferred by Fr. Hunwicke, so apologies for going off thread.

    How about “Capo di (B)loggia” as an honorific for Fr. Z?

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