Creating new sins for a new world

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A senior official at the Vatican recently discussed his list of seven mortal “social” sins:

  • “bioethical” violations such as birth control
  • “morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research and DNA manipulation
  • drug abuse
  • polluting the environment
  • contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
  • excessive wealth
  • creating poverty

“A person that commits a mortal sin risks burning in hell unless absolved through confession and penitence,” (emphasis mine) per AP’s description of Catholic theology. The media’s been particularly fixated on the environmental angle.

While the list doesn’t carry the weight of the Pope or the Vatican as a whole, it’s interesting to see a massive 2000-year-old institution working to amend points of theology, particularly those of personal sin, to adapt to changing understandings of the world. Not all Church policy positions (e.g. opposition to the Iraq War) get dealt with at the level of God-will-condemn-your-soul-to-hell mortal sin.

(And isn’t it fun to be able to change God’s rules as you go, like when the LDS Church suddenly declared in 1978 that men of African descent—but not women of any race—could become priests?)

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I debated on whether or not to say anything given our fundamentally different viewpoints, but I thought I would point out a couple of things. First off, this Bishop never calls these things mortal sins in either the original interview or in the article you linked to. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are a variety of different kinds of sin, and only the most grievious (and fulfilling certain requirements) are considered mortal. See

Also, the Bishop was speaking informally in an interview. As you mentioned, he has no authority to render any official teachings. He didn't even try to release this in a paper or anything. Bishops all over the world and all through the church's history have said and tried to implement all sorts of things that have been anywhere from laughable to heretical, but none of their actions have the weight of official teachings.

Also, I hardly see how this is equivalent to the LDS decision - it isn't like the Pope said he had a direct revelation from God that said that abortion should be acceptable, women should be priests, or anything else that is held completely against Church tradition and teaching. The sins this Bishop have listed could be argued from a natural law perspective, and that's most likely where he's coming from on this. While perhaps rather silly, I don't see how any of this can be construed as a radical departure from previous teaching or thought.

And finally, in reading the interview excerpt ( I found that the whole thing seems rather taken out of context and is hardly as cut and dry as many have made it out to be.

OK, enough, off my soapbox!

Thanks, I appreciate your taking the time to set me straight. I followed up here.

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