In my previous post, I noted how Jimmy Akin believes that "quite a number" of those Americans who are, "committing abortion and contraception...sleeping together outside of marriage, using porn, and doing a host of other things that can endanger their souls," will not end up in hell. He writes, "It can be tempting to conclude that most Catholics in America today are going to go to hell.
Is the situation that bleak?...Although Catholics sometimes say things like “contraception is a mortal sin” or “sleeping together outside of marriage is a mortal sin,” this is a form of shorthand.
For a person to truly commit a mortal sin, more than a mere act of contraception or a mere act of fornication is needed.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
Grave MatterIf a married couple contracepts or if an unmarried couple has sexual relations, this fulfills the first of the three conditions: They have committed a “sin whose object is grave matter.”
But the other two conditions must also be fulfilled for the sin to be a mortal one.
In our shorthand way of speaking, we’re warning people against doing these things, because if the additional two conditions are fulfilled, it will be a mortal sin, but if they are not fulfilled then it won’t be.
Full KnowledgeThe second condition involves having “full knowledge,” and here is where the reader’s remarks about society come into play.
The reader acknowledges that society makes it difficult for people to do what the Church teaches.
One of the ways it does that is by feeding them a constant narrative—through the media, through social interactions—that contradicts the Church’s teaching.
Even within the Church, there have been many people (priests, nuns, catechists) who have undermined the Church’s teaching in recent years.
We’ve had really bad catechesis for the last 40 years, as well as an assault on Church teaching by society and the media in general.
The result, as the reader notes, is that many people committing acts that are objectively gravely sinful do not believe that this is what they are doing.
As a result, for many of these people, the second condition needed for mortal sin may simply be lacking. On this point, the Catechism notes:
1859 Mortal sin . . . presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law.
1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense.This is likely the case with a large number of people who have been the victims of bad catechesis and the constant subversion of the Church’s teaching by society and the media.
On the other hand, if someone has a kind of willful blindness, that won’t let them off the hook:
1859 Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.How many people fall into this latter category? See below.
Deliberate ConsentThe third condition is that of deliberate consent. According to the Catechism:
1859 Mortal sin . . . implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.
1860 The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.This means that the brief thoughts that flit through your mind and that you try to get rid of swiftly are not mortally sinful. You are not deliberately consenting to them.
You’re only doing that if you purposefully dwell on and foster them.
In the same way, “the prompting of feelings and passions”—to which young people in particular are subject—“can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense.”
So can “external pressures” and “pathological disorders.”
So even when people have committed a sin with grave matter and done so with full knowledge of its sinfulness, there are a number of things that could keep the third condition from being fulfilled and thus keep it from being a mortal sin.
The State of American CatholicsGiven the factors mentioned above, the situation for American Catholics does not look quite as bleak.
While it is true that many of them are committing sins that have grave matter, between poor catechesis in Church, society’s constant assault on Church teaching, and the various factors that diminish the voluntary and free character of a sin, quite a number of them likely do not have all three conditions fulfilled." (See here for full post).
The problem with Mr. Akin's thinking was addressed by Dr. Germain Grisez during a talk he gave entitled Legalism, Moral Truth and Pastoral Practice which was given at a 1990 symposium on moral theology and the Catholic priesthood which was held at St. Charles Seminary in Overbrook, Philadelphia in 1990.
Dr. Grisez correctly noted that, "Even before the current moral crisis in the Church, legalism affected pastoral practice in many ways. Very often God's sovereignty and the Church's teaching authority tended to overshadow the inherent reasonableness of moral requirements and their intrinsic relationship to the kingdom. Obedience rather than charity seemd to be the basic Christian virtue. Hell was a punishment that God would impose rather than the inevitable outcome of unrepented mortal sin...
Many pastors stressed the minimum required to avoid mortal sin...Because invincible ignorance frees one from guilt, pastors were more concerned about the sincerity of penitents than about the correctness of their consciences. Considering morality a matter of laws rather than of truths, pastors assumed that people could easily be in good faith while doing what is objectively wrong. And ignoring the phenomena of rationalization and self-deception, pastors confidently thought that they could discern when penitents were and were not in good faith.
During the twentieth century, pastoral treatment of repetitious sins through weakness - especially masturbation, homosexual behavior, premarital sex play and contraception within marriage - grew increasingly mild. Pastors correctly recognized that weakness and immaturity can lessen such sins' malice. Thinking legalistically, they did not pay enough attention to the sins' inherent badness and harmfulness, and they developed the idea that people can freely choose to do something that they regard as a grave matter without committing a mortal sin. This idea presupposes that in making choices people are not responsible precisely for choosing what they choose. That presupposition makes sense within a legalistic framework, because lawgivers can take into account mitigating factors and limit legal culpability. But it makes no sense for morality correctly understood, because moral responsibility in itself is not something attached to moral acts but simply is moral agents' self-determination in making free choices."
Our Lady of Fatima told the children that if people would do what she told them, many souls would be saved. The road to salvation is narrow as Our Lord said. That road will not be found by freely choosing to commit sins which are grave while engaging in rationalization and self-deception and convincing oneself that such acts really do not constitute a grave sin.