Being an accessory to sin by "silence"? When is silence, then, not a sin?

I believe the Roman Missal outlines 9 ways to be an accessory to sin. One of those ways is by silence. Yet I can think of many real examples of where silence was used in the face of obvious sin.

For example the whole quiet life of the Holy Family was silence to sin. They could have been proclaiming Herod’s faults, the Roman Pagan’s faults, the Pharisee’s faults from the roof tops because they had the authority (and the protection of our Heavenly Father) for the 30 years they were silent.

Jesus Himself in His ministry surely could read all peoples hearts and point out each person’s sins, but rarely do we see accounts of this (though there are some, such as the Pharisees’ sins). Most of His mission was not focused on pointing out specific people’s sinful behavior.

Our recent popes do stress caution in pointing out sins. For example, when they meet with leaders they don’t always immediately jump on birth control, abortion and homosexual acts making it clear that these leaders are accessories to sin (the last two being abominations).

Most Ecumenical meetings carefully avoid the topic of the outrages of schism (example the topic of excommunication and what that means from an eternal fire perspective) in order to help bridge a sense of Christian brotherhood.

So I’m thinking “silence” as an accessory to sin must have a very specific definition in order to qualify as a sin. For there is much silence in the face of sin and always has been.

*Note: being courageously vocal is not necessarily sinful - there are many prophets and saints who have demonstrated this (often at the cost of their own lives). Yet, silence in the face of sin has been practiced by many saints as well.

Thoughts on when “silence” is sinful vs. when it is not?

Can you provide the pertinent quote you are referring to? My guess is that the “silence” you are talking about is in regards to not speaking out when we have an obligation to.

My thoughts on when silence is sinful or not: When we have a duty to speak out against evil, our silence makes us an accessory to that evil.

Here is a link to some more info, but I have seen this called out on an examination of conscience as well: stpeterslist.com/6942/the-9-ways-of-being-an-accessory-to-anothers-sin/

So when do we think it is our “duty to speak out against evil” - particularly in this day and age where one cannot help but trip across venial and mortal sins by practically walking out the door?

For example, I could write every movie producer and director which has loving-ish sex scenes between un-married couples letting them know this is a grave matter of fornication. I could drive to all the abortion clinics nearby and politely knock on all their doors letting them know that what they are doing is horrific in the eyes of the Church. I could go to all the public schools and politely reach out to all the administrators and teachers who promote birth control to let them know they are sinning. I could stand in a drugstore in the birth control isle and inform all consumers of those products. I could walk into each protestant service in town and politely speak up to the congregation to let them know they are promoting a schism that has lasted for centuries and it is a terribly sinful schism that needs to come to an end. I could go after venial sins much the same way (by simply standing at a playground and catching all children who behave as bullies and/or are selfish or unthoughtful). And of course, I can be the Dad who lovingly reviews all the actions of his growing boys pointing out every sinful flaw (including silence).

One could say all of those things above is my “duty” since all of this could be local and I have some spare time, but I remain silent because, well quite frankly, I would be ostracized in this society for doing such things. Also - I’m not sure it would do much good.

So in light of the above, I am very silent when I could be very vocal. Is this silence sinful? Am I an accessory to sin?

Silence is an accessory to sin when the silence implies tacit approval. We are, obviously, not generally in a position to speak out against any given person’s sin. But silence can mean tacit approval or disapproval. For instance, if one were invited to a “wedding” ceremony for a homosexual couple, and declined the invitation, one need not state the reason for declining the invitation. You would not be giving approval by keeping your mouth shut, but have decided that, in some cases, silence can be the better part of valor.

For another example - Currently, one of my coworkers is pregnant from an adulterous relationship - still married to her husband (and father of her younger two children), yet living with the father of the baby she’s carrying. Since I have to work with her (and her mother) on a daily basis, I am not in the position to speak out against what she’s doing - especially as she has bullied anyone who she has thought to be speaking up. She has even convinced herself that her relationship is okay with God! But, when the occasion came (she was wondering whether to leave her current baby’s father), I did suggest to her that she simply move in with her mother and think about things.

It’s about time, place, and power. Will speaking up change someone’s mind? Does the person respect your opinion? Has your opinion been requested?

It does have a definition, but it is not specific to “silence” - it is the same definition that applies to ALL sin.

There is no act which is always sinful by the nature of the act itself. In order for an act (any act) to be sinful, two additional things must be present (at the time of the act): knowledge of the sinful nature of the act and freewill consent to the sin.

If we have full knowledge AND complete consent then the sin becomes mortal. Otherwise it is venial.

If you have an ecumenical meeting and choose not to mention sins against Christian unity, with the intent of developing a better relationship with non-Catholics (and not with the intent of implying acceptance of their disunity) then there is no sin (and, in fact, the act is meritorious).

If the Holy Family had been proclaiming the sin of the Herodians, you can rest assured that none of them would have lived much longer. Sometimes it is prudent to be silent.

In particular, telling someone that they are a sinner in most situations is just a bad thing to do - people get very defensive (at least, I know I do!) when others point out their faults, and harden their hearts to your message. Sure you’re performing a spiritual work of mercy, but it’s a really bad tactic in most situations. Subtlety and compassion are of paramount importance.

What I think is a better way to handle the situation is to address the sin itself, in more general terms, instead of pointing out how the person has committed it. If they remain oblivious, you can get less subtle, and in rare instances you can point out that they need to repent of their sins. But only as a final resort. Then you’ve done your duty, and the rest is on them.

Just my :twocents:.

My gut tells me you are right. I’m thinking now about the greatest sin of all: the Crucifixion and how those with Jesus remained silent - and rightly so - there was no sin in their verbal silence but glory in their just being there lovingly crying in the deep sorrow of that terrible, terrible moment. If anything there was a sin in the other apostle’s absences.

So here’s a question to the viewers - if silence in the face of sin is not a sin in most situations (examples: not saying anything to those in a drugstore birth control isle, while visiting a protestant church, in the situation where bishops and popes host political leaders, when we interact socially with political activists, in not writing a director of a film just watched about sinful actions, and thousands of other very real, very local scenarios) and is considered “prudence”, then what are examples of when silence is an obvious sin?

Please read: newadvent.org/cathen/04394a.htm

This is one of the sites I quote on here most often.

As you can see after reading this, correcting someone else is hardly silent (though it doesn’t necessarily apply to every instance of silence) and it’s rare for it to be due under pain of mortal sin.

If you break your silence & try to correct your child for living in sin or whatever the problem, you’ll be accused of “judging”. So it makes you decide to keep silent.

Good article - thank you, It made sense until the final paragraph but then I became confused again… sigh…

Every one, however, whether having an official competency or not, is bound to give the admonition when the sin, committed though it be from ignorance, is hurtful to the offender or a third party or is the occasion of scandal.

Which leads me to believe that we should speak up in every occasion of sin we see (such as admonishing those that participate in a Protestant Service out of ignorance or out of schismatic protest) because sin is always hurtful to someone.

And that doesn’t make sense, for sin abounds everywhere today just as it did in the time of the Holy Family. And there is no record of the Holy Family actively admonishing everyone they met that was participating in sin (such as Romans participating in Pagan activities, or speaking out against the sinful Roman rule of God’s People - especially when provoked by the ruler’s census which required Joseph to take Mary on a long journey days before she was due). They were silent and compliant to the Roman rulers in the face of the sin that was directly affecting the mother of Someone greater than Ceasar. And at the Crucifixion there was silence to the Romans as well as to the Religious Leaders.

So what am I missing - when is silence a sin vs. when it is not?

Someone who participates out of ignorance does not sin (because sin - even venial sin- requires knowledge of the sinful nature of the act, which ignorance precludes). Did you even read my response to your question?

Do you know of any modern protestants who participate out of willful schismatic protest? I don’t.

And that doesn’t make sense, for sin abounds everywhere today just as it did in the time of the Holy Family. And there is no record of the Holy Family actively admonishing everyone they met that was participating in sin (such as Romans participating in Pagan activities, or speaking out against the sinful Roman rule of God’s People

Did pagans sin by participating in pagan activities? Did you even read my response to your question?

  • especially when provoked by the ruler’s census which required Joseph to take Mary on a long journey days before she was due).

Is it sinful for a government authority to perform a census of its population? Even if some are inconvenienced? Did you even read my response to your question?

They were silent and compliant to the Roman rulers in the face of the sin that was directly affecting the mother of Someone greater than Ceasar.

Actually, the Holy Family fled to Egypt. Did you even read my response to your question?

And at the Crucifixion there was silence to the Romans as well as to the Religious Leaders.

Did the Romans or the Jewish leaders sin? Did you even read my response to your question?

So what am I missing - when is silence a sin vs. when it is not?

Did you even read my response to your question?

No wonder your handle is IWishIKnew. You ignore actual answers, and keep wishing.

You need to talk to a priest and ask when and if fraternal correction and being silent is a sins for you.

There’s being bound by a moral obligation, a word that’s perhaps used too lightly too often, and doing extra things.

Hi David - first an apology for seeming to ignore your response. Secondly, I see that sin in the Catechism is defined as follows:

[quote=Catechism of the Catholic Church 1849] It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.
[/quote]

So sin is not just by intent but can be committed in varying degrees of ignorance.

But more specifically I would guess that most trained Protestants are not fully ignorant. For example, Protestant Preacher (and most trained Protestants) must know that they are protesting (by the very name of “Protestant”) against the Catholic Church - from which Protestantism was protesting. Catholic Leaders have denounced all schism as clearly and undeniably sinful, though a trained Protestant may not accept this denunciation. And even if a Protestant were in ignorance, it seems the Catholic Church is teaching us NOT to be silent. Now, the Mercy of God can intervene for Protestants allowing them an eternal life - but it is by a special grant of Mercy in light of the schism which has been, if anything, over-communicated by the Catholic Church. This however, is just an example of how much sin exists. There are several others.

Let me re-phrase what I am seeing so that you might help enlighten me if anyone knows the answer…

This is where I get confused - in all reality there is sin (by ignorance and by intent) practically everywhere in our society… not just in a local Protestant Church. There is sin of contraception practiced greatly in our own Catholic Church reflected not only by surveys but also by an extraordinary number of small Catholic Families, abortion abounds at 40-ish million per year and maybe even a higher number now that there are home-versions of abortions (an appalling amount of sin against children robbed of whole lifetimes), there is the use of God’s name in vain everywhere, there is servile labor on Sundays everywhere (in the US), there is godlessness (which if we read in Scripture was appalling to God the Father for which he punished Isreal greatly and repeatedly) everywhere - especially from Science, Education and in the Entertainment Industry… where God is simply no place to be found and one that does speak of God too much in open public circles is shunned or ostracized (if just simply by being glared at). God is only invoked by Government when great tragedies occur. And one could go on and on pointing out venial sins forever when walking through a typical US city.

The point being, if sin abounds everywhere, when is silence to sin a sin? Sin abounded everywhere also during the Holy Family’s existence with the Mediterranean opening up and the pagan cultures threatening the teachings of Israel from every side (including by Roman occupation), meanwhile the Religious Leaders at the time were corrupt. Yet for the most part, the Holy Family did not go around pointing people’s sins (ignorant or not) and of the 33 years of Jesus’ life He was silent most of the time.

So if the silence is the example set by the Holy Family, then when is silence a true quailed venial sin (no need to limit it to mortal sin)?

This is the question that I don’t think I understand the answer to yet.

Any further thoughts or ideas from the readers out there?

It’ s when our counsel is specifically sought or required that silence becomes a sin. If a family member, say, revealed she was pregnant and was thinking of aborting the child, and as a parent or sibling you failed to speak out and she carried out her intent, the silence would be sinful. It would be less evidently so if a co-worker whom you knew on a casual basis were talking on her cell phone about such a thing and you overheard her- silence might not be sinful because she might not have realized someone was within earshot.
Was it necessary for every German to announce publically that Hitler was a murderous lunatic when his actions made it plain to those who recognized it, and when his allies and myrmidons were in power?
Because the principle was more elaborated.at a time when social responsibilities and boundaries were more explicit, it’s more difficult to deal with a time in which they are not so well-defined.

This answer rings true to me and explains how popes, saints and even our Lord have at times remained silent while at other times were not.

Thank you for sharing.

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