Amoris Laetitia: Can alleged adultery be a venial sin or less?

This is a continuation of unresolved side issues in the recently closed thread “Re: Cardinal Burke: Formal correction of Amoris Laetitia could happen in New Year”.

I try not to be to much of a control freak in these matters but I do kindly ask contributors to note this discussion is under the “Moral Theology” sub-forum. For a focussed and helpful discussion a good working understanding of at least the “three fonts”, the 1995 CCC and Canon Law 1983 will be required prerequisites for this paper :).

We begin with the following closing remarks from that thread:

Originally Posted by Ender View Post
Adultery always involves grave matter. Except for irrelevant cases it always involves deliberate consent. As for full knowledge, once it pointed out that sex with a second spouse constitutes adultery, that box is checked as well. At that point there is no possibility of defining the act as merely a venial sin.

Blue Horizon:

[quote]Quote: Thomas White
I do not agree that adultery (as defined by the 6th Commandment) can be a venial sin.

OK, then if this is your view you seem to hold that:
(a) all breaking of the 6th Commandment (sex with one other than your true wife) is actual mortal sin?
(b) all sexually active irregulars are committing actual mortal sins?"
© mitigated culpability by reason of imperfect consent or lack of understanding is impossible when it comes to sex with anybody other than your true wife?

Quote:Thomas White
I accept that some number of “irregulars” are not committing the mortal sin of adultery.

By this you mean they are engaging in “adulterous acts” other than physically sexual ones…or even just one act of remarrying civilly?


Quote Rau
There do seem to be at lot of questions:

  • Does a tribunal’s decision not to declare nullity guarantee than any subsequent marriage (absent death of the first spouse) is the sin of adultery (culpability aside)?
  • Is the priest in accompaniment addressing the question of validity of the prior marriage at all? How does any conclusion he reaches on that point affect the status of the remarried?
  • Can the accompaniment process effectively “clear” the remarried person to embrace the sexual relationship with their partner?
  • Is reduced culpability key to the reasoning in AL?

Thomas I would be interested in your response to Richa’s:

"CCC 1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience. "

Also, you never really well answered my above queries with your responses which were:

(a) Plainly and simply, a mortal sin is a mortal sin, always.
(b) Is there a difference between “actual mortal sin” and mortal sin? As you surely realize, I cannot know whether or not a person commits a mortal sin. Beyond that, I do not find that the CCC divides sin into mortal and venial categories.
© …“To diminish immutability of a grave offense” does not mean it is not a grave offense; if imputability is removed, then there is no sin.

A clear yes or no followed by any distinctions necessary would be helpful.

Your response in “c” is interesting. This is likely a key reason why I find your views above unusual. What is your definition of “sin”.
You seem to be saying something can only be called a sin if culpability (whether venial or mortal) is present?
Yet “sin” in Catholic use is a very large catchbag indeed and I believe it captures not only the notion of malice but also of transgression of a written law. Now such laws can range from positive law to expressions of natural law to divine law and mixtures thereof.

Therefore non imputable offences/transgressions of grave matter (as stipulated by the Commandments") are surely quite validly called “sins”.
Sure they are “material” sins of grave matter rather than “formal” sins of malice (either venial or mortal) … but even though not the sort of sin that damages our relationship with God they still do so with society and cause serious temporal evils and for this reason are still called sins, especially in the Old Testament. Do you deny this?

In terms of Canon Law, this is from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts’ declaration “Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried”

The Code of Canon Law establishes that “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (can. 915). In recent years some authors have sustained, using a variety of arguments, that this canon would not be applicable to faithful who are divorced and remarried. It is acknowledged that paragraph 84 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, issued in 1981, had reiterated that prohibition in unequivocal terms and that it has been expressly reaffirmed many times, especially in paragraph 1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, and in the Letter written in 1994 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Annus internationalis Familiae. That notwithstanding, the aforementioned authors offer various interpretations of the above-cited canon that exclude from its application the situation of those who are divorced and remarried. For example, since the text speaks of “grave sin”, it would be necessary to establish the presence of all the conditions required for the existence of mortal sin, including those which are subjective, necessitating a judgment of a type that a minister of Communion could not make ab externo; moreover, given that the text speaks of those who “obstinately” persist in that sin, it would be necessary to verify an attitude of defiance on the part of an individual who had received a legitimate warning from the Pastor. Given this alleged contrast between the discipline of the 1983 Code and the constant teachings of the Church in this area, this Pontifical Council, in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments declares the following

The prohibition found in the cited canon, by its nature, is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church. The scriptural text on which the ecclesial tradition has always relied is that of St. Paul: “This means that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord. A man should examine himself first only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself.”

The phrase “and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” is clear and must be understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the norm inapplicable. The three required conditions are:

a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability;

b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.

c) the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin.

Those faithful who are divorced and remarried would not be considered to be within the situation of serious habitual sin who would not be able, for serious motives - such as, for example, the upbringing of the children - “to satisfy the obligation of separation, assuming the task of living in full continence, that is, abstaining from the acts proper to spouses” (Familiaris consortio, n. 84), and who on the basis of that intention have received the sacrament of Penance. Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio is per se occult(not living as husband and wife), while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo(in private).

Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls.

The Church reaffirms her maternal solicitude for the faithful who find themselves in this or other analogous situations that impede them from being admitted to the Eucharistic table. What is presented in this Declaration is not in contradiction with the great desire to encourage the participation of these children in the life of the Church, in the many forms compatible with their situation that are already possible for them. Moreover, the obligation of reiterating this impossibility of admission to the Eucharist is required for genuine pastoral care and for an authentic concern for the well-being of these faithful and of the whole Church, being that it indicates the conditions necessary for the fullness of that conversion to which all are always invited by the Lord

You cited a comment by Thomas White, clarification of which would be useful.*I do not agree that adultery (as defined by the 6th Commandment) can be a venial sin.
*Does our culpability for an act change the nature of the act, or is the act unchanged by the degree of our responsibility for having committed it? I agree with Thomas that adultery is always a grave sin simply by the nature of the act, and that while our culpability may well be mitigated, the gravity of the act itself is unchanged. Now, whether you agree with that or not, clarifying this point will at least let us understand one another.

You continued by citing another of his comments…*I accept that some number of “irregulars” are not committing the mortal sin of adultery. *
…and responding with this:*By this you mean they are engaging in “adulterous acts” other than physically sexual ones…or even just one act of remarrying civilly?
*What is a non physically sexual act of adultery? Remarrying civilly is not a condition that prevents one from receiving communion, nor I suspect can such an event be considered an act of adultery, Christ’s comment notwithstanding.


It is always a grave matter.

One might though have committed a venial sin (or theoretically less) due to lack of full knowledge or of deliberate consent.

It will never be “light matter”.

Nicely summarized by the **Compendium **issued by Pope Benedict XVI

395. When does one commit a mortal sin?


One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. This sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of hell. It can be forgiven in the ordinary way by means of the sacraments of Baptism and of Penance or Reconciliation.

**396. When does one commit a venial sin?

One commits a venial sin, which is essentially different from a mortal sin, when the matter involved is less serious or, even if it is grave, when full knowledge or complete consent are absent. Venial sin does not break the covenant with God but it weakens charity and manifests a disordered affection for created goods. It impedes the progress of a soul in the exercise of the virtues and in the practice of moral good. It merits temporal punishment which purifies.

Exactly! Noting that even when the sin is venial or no sin, “they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo.”

What are some examples of when full knowledge or complete consent are absent in adultery?

The Catechism shows that it may be mere desire or physical. So one example is of people living together without being able to separate, and not having marital contact, that may even sin venally through desire, without the requisite consent of the will for mortal sin.

2380 Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations - even transient ones - they commit adultery. Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire. 171 The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely. 172 The prophets denounce the gravity of adultery; they see it as an image of the sin of idolatry. 173

Another situation is where the couple are not both Catholic (or even both Catholic) and only one is willing to live as brother and sister, the the will is not consenting for one party.

I believe such things as recognition that grave consequences (particularly for others, eg. children) may arise if the adulterous behaviour is ceased. Culpability may then be reduced due to the extreme difficulty and pressure of the situation.

I imagine someone raised to believe that it was not wrong …I suppose that could happen for example.

Or their mind begins to think about adultery…and then when they realize what has been happening in their thoughts and cease for they do not want to sin. etc.

Or they give partial consent to the thoughts…but then reject them (venial sin).

And if the Church were to speak to the world about these acts (it must speak, by vocation), what must it say?
General observations on the thread:
We are talking about morality. Morality is the evaluation of human acts. The Church speaks about morality and exhorts us to moral behavior. The word “adultery” has a specific moral meaning.

And what in the world does “alleged morality” mean?
And how can a productive discussion take place on such vague ground?

alleged: questionably true or of a specified kind : supposed, so-called
morality: a doctrine or system of moral conduct

Richa’s response was to quote CCC 1854: “Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.”

Of course there are mortal and venial sins. What I meant was that the Church does not specifically enumerate mortal and venial sins (as by a comprehensive list). The Ten Commandments are an exception (see CCC 1858 below).

In response to the question of this thread, I will quote CCC 1857 & 1858:

“For a sin to be mortal, three conditions together must be met: Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent” (CCC 1857).

Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: Do not kill, Do not commit adultery…” (CCC 1858).

When I mentioned adultery in the closed thread, it was with reference to this criteria: “a sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent”. I do not believe that adultery can be a venial sin. Again, I cannot make this any clearer.

(to be cont.)

(continuation of #13)

Sin is defined by CCC 1849. I answered your queries in #344 of the closed thread. Nevertheless…
a. I was speaking of mortal sin as it meets the criteria of CCC 1857. This was relevant to the question I asked in the thread.
b. What I meant in my reply in #344 was that the Church does not specifically enumerate mortal and venial sins in a list. Of course there are mortal and venial sins, as the very heading of the section of the CCC indicates.

But what follows in CCC 1858 cannot be ignored: “The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft.” While this clearly means that murder is graver than theft, it does not mean that theft is not a mortal sin. Similarly, this is true in a like way of the remainder of CCC 1858: “One must take into account who is wronged: violence against a parent is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.” In either instance the sin is grave. And this is also true of the mortal sin of adultery: the sin may be more or less grave but a grave sin it is.

CCC 1860: “Unintentional ignorance can diminish…the imputability of a grave offense.” This means that unintentional ignorance can lessen the fault or responsibility of a grave offense. What it does not mean is that diminished imputability, or fault, would render a mortal sin into a venial sin. There is relative gravity both among mortal sins and within a given mortal sin, where “diminish” does not mean elimination of gravity.

c. CCC 1860: “Unintentional ignorance can diminish or remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.”

Unintentional ignorance does not excuse fault for a grave offense. It can diminish fault, and it can also remove it–in which case there is no sin. Again, what it cannot do is render a grave offense into one that is not grave (i.e., it cannot render a mortal sin into a venial one). Beyond that, man must obey his conscience. CCC 1776: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.” For this reason, not even “unintentional ignorance” eliminates gravity.

Do I deny this? That sounds like what a prosecutor would say to a defendant on the witness stand. I disagree with it. So…I do not know that non-imputable acts (that is, acts where there is no fault) are properly called sins.

Any sin of grave matter can be mortal or venial. So you were limiting it in that case.


1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

A grave sin is committed when there is “grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent.” There is nothing there that provides exceptions for grave consequences.

I understand the inclination to allow for such an exception, but as I have pointed out before, this seems to be a choice between sin and suffering with the argument being made that in some instances sin is an acceptable choice. I am highly doubtful that such a choice can ever be valid.


This is where I object.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.” (CCC 1776). (emphasis added)

“Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man…” (CCC 1860). (emphasis added)

Man must obey the moral law, the principles of which he is not deemed ignorant for they are “written in the conscience of every man”. “Unintentional ignorance” of the moral law is therefore excluded here as a possibility, though it remains a disorder and different type of offense, i.e., of anamnesis

“The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or psychological disorders” (CCC 1860). (emphasis added) But to diminish is not to negate. When gravity is negated, there is an offense of a different order but it “remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder” (CCC 1793).

It is suggested there is perhaps an apparent logical inconsistency in the CCC.

Does my rejection of church doctrine become valid because I sincerely believe I am right? Are my sins lessened when I put my own beliefs ahead of the church’s teaching? I don’t think “full knowledge” means “full acceptance”. The church has addressed this perspective:1790 …it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed. **
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

  • 1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching*, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
    I don’t think rejecting the church’s teaching excuses sin.


The anthropological answer is clear: the intellect and will must not be sufficiently engaged in the act if in an act where there is grave matter there is only venial sin.

In some matters this may be caused by bad moral education, but in my own estimation this would have to be incredibly severe and would also not apply in the most fundamental matters unless such education actually induced an illness that inhibited the intellect and will from their proper acts (as trauma can indeed do), or they seriously misled the person about the object itself (think “releasing” in The Giver). Simply growing up in a culture that promotes adultery is grossly insufficient to excuse most otherwise deliberate adulterous acts. Some things we know are wrong because they are immediately available to our conscience, if we actually were sincere in our intention to do what is right. REMEMBER ROMANS 1! (There are some complex questions which one is not bound to know the solution for, but divorce and remarriage is not one of them. Think trolleys and life boats and complicated restitution cases.)

There is that famous line from the CCC on self-abuse: “To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.” This puts this kind of act into the category of addictive behavior, suggesting that it can reach a degree where one indeed does not have sufficient use of the intellect and will when confronted with the temptation to this act. The strength of the temptation, combined with the immediacy of the object and the act-reward paradigm having little obvious negative outcome could indeed so cloud a person’s judgment that he does not and can not engage the will or intellect sufficiently. It is hard to see how this could be the case in other acts, primarily because of the lack of immediacy (one must go to the bar, find a person to talk to, invite that person back home, etc.) and the more obvious possibility of negative side effects (getting pregnant, disease, etc.).

Then there is the question of a lack of deliberation as such on its own. This might occur if a person already struggling against violent temptations of the mind is confronted with the object in reality so suddenly that the passions move the body to an act without deliberation. It is true that in some matters this is still inexcusable, because we are bound to have control over them - Thomas gives the example of someone who suddenly rises up in anger against someone next to him and kills him without deliberation… In his mind, this is mortal sin, even without deliberation. But perhaps - PERHAPS - there are SOME instances of adulterous acts aside from the aforementioned case of self-abuse which might not be.

Absolutely none of this matters for AL.

What is being suggested is that a person might continue to intend HABITUALLY AND DELIBERATELY to continue living “more uxorio” with a non-spouse APART FROM WHATEVER CIRCUMSTANCE MAY HAVE DIMINISHED CULPABILITY, except in the case of a habitually threatening partner (seems it must be a man) who forces the sexual act which the other person simply tolerates for the sake of her safety (or some other great good) but does not consent to. If there is so much discerning and accompanying and internal forum-ing going on, certainly there will be a distance from factors which could possibly mitigate responsibility for an individual act. If the circumstance still obtains, then the person is mentally ill and needs to see a psychologist.


Nor does adultery cease to be adultery. In the case where the *culpability *is less than grave.

There is the thing itself - the grave sin of adultery in itself.

And then there in is the subjective culpability of the person involved.

As the Church Teaches - to *commit *a mortal sin more than just the grave matter is needed.

And culpability can be be reduced due to various factors.

Such does not lessen the reality of the nature of the grave sin “in itself”. Something that is grave in itself - remains gravely disordered and never able to be justified or lessened. But the persons culpability can be lessened due to for example lack of knowledge or deliberate consent.

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