Culpability for mortal sins only for Catholics?


We are all sinners, I know.

Question: Are well-catechized Catholics with informed consciences the only people capable of committing a mortal sin with culpability?

To clarify, I understand that many baptized christians commit sins that Catholics know to separate us from God (mortal). But if you are the average American Christian, who attends a large Protestant bible church, and you have access to lots of information, the internet and awareness of the Catholic Church and yet do not understand what mortal sin is or venial sin for that matter, are you always in a state of grace?


There are three conditions required for a sin to be mortal:

  1. The matter must be grave or serious
  2. The person must know that it is serious.
  3. The person must do it of their own free choice.
    One does not need to be catholic to satisfy these three conditions.
    So, i would conclude that one dies not need to be catholic to commit a mortal sin.
    God bless!


Thanks for replying!

I’m still not sure. It still seems like if someone commits a sin, and they don’t think it’s a sin, then they aren’t as accountable as if they DID know it was a sin…

For example, having a Intrauterine Device placed to prevent pregnancy, for no good reason, is a mortal sin. So let’s say you are catholic and you heard it’s grave matter, you think about it for a while and then do it, it’s a mortal sin. If you’re Protestant, you don’t know if it’s a good act or a bad act but you don’t usually think about things in such a way, so it would make life easier so you do it…and it’s not a mortal sin?

I just feel like as Catholics we really have a different set of rules and although I believe they are the right ones…I can’t understand how if they are right objectively for us, how do they not apply to everyone?


There are certain sins - eg murder, adultery - that are so disordered that any typical person will know that they are serious sins (seriously immoral). Knowing that it is serious, and choosing to do it anyway would meet the criteria for mortal sin. An individual’s conscience, as much if not more than the Church (especially for non-Catholics), dictates what is serious personal sin (as opposed to merely grave matter).

Catholics have a special capability to deal with mortal sin, via confession, which other people do not. Instead they would rely on perfect contrition - being sorry for their sin for love of God, rather than fear of hell or punishment (eg getting caught).


So really, Protestants are correct when they say they’re saved by faith alone…because they really will be?

If perfect contrition is efficacious enough to get them into heaven they don’t even need to the sacraments?


There has been some ambiguity as to what constitutes “full knowledge,” which is, I think, what your question is getting at. Some have said that “full knowledge” requires knowing that X is mortally sinful, in which case non-Catholics would easily be non-culpable even for intentional grave matter (and even Catholics who “disagree” that something is a mortal sin might be excluded). But I do not think that that is what full knowledge entails; it seems that instead full knowledge requires knowing that I am doing X, whether or not I know that it is mortally sinful or even what mortal sin is.


I too would like to hear more about this as I’ve wondered myself. I know that that verse “to much is given, much is required” but…??? Having been brought up protestant I can identify with things like birth control, not even thinking twice as to it being right or wrong. Now that I’m Catholic I’ve met Catholics that honestly don’t feel that missing Mass is a big deal whereas I was told (before becoming Catholic) that not going was a mortal sin (without real cause- illness and the like) So therefore, it’s a mortal sin for me but not for others that are Catholic to miss Mass? (just one example) This confuses me too. I would love to hear a good answer to this also:) Of course the greatest commandment is to love our Lord with all our heart and soul and our neighbor as ourself which would mean I’d never WANT to miss Mass, right



Thank you for sharing because I have worried I was the only one who wondered about this! And I love being a catholic SO much, it IS the biggest blessing in my life. But I want to know a solid answer or have more insight on this topic–I think the New Evangelization would have more fuel if we were all clear on what is at stake! But there’s no point in evangelizing to people who will be saved regardless if they believe in sin or not, right?


No, we also have an obligation to form our consciences properly, and Catholics especially should form their conscience to attend mass regularly. Ceasing to believe that missing mass is a mortal sin does not remove one of culpability for missing mass.

We, of course, can never judge another person’s culpability, since it depends on interior factors that we do not have access to. But in principle, becoming lax about sin does not relieve one of the “full knowledge” criteria.


That’s a whole other discussion. Picked up on in the book of James, ie faith without works being dead.

A hypothetical protestant who claims to be saved by faith alone, but goes around murdering people, is unlikely to be in a state of grace.

Good works don’t get us into heaven, but bad works can certainly exclude us if we fail to repent…keeping in mind that repentance is taken to include a resolution to change, not merely being sorry for what you’ve done, but may do again anyway.


Sorry to have thrown that in there, I know it’s also it’s own topic…it just popped into my head that the “am I in a state of grace vs non-state of grace” dilemma doesn’t probably resonate with Protestants. And if so, maybe they’re correct that their faith alone saves…


I am glad you posted this. I was actually wondering that same thing. I wish I had more to say, but I’m currently tapering off of prednisone because it’s been making me unable to think very clearly. I look forward to reading all of the comments, though!


Faith is ultimately what saves us all. Faith puts us in a state of grace.

But mortal sins remove that state. And then coming back to God in faith - through perfect contrition or specifically confession for Catholics - restores that state. We can’t earn back the state of grace, it is God’s gift (thus grace).

This is perhaps a bigger issue with regard to protestants who think you are saved once and can never fall. They are, quite simply, wrong. Whereas those who think you are saved by faith alone are sort of right.


I also don’t know all the answers, but I would think that with all that is in the secular media about Catholics considering birth control, and especially abortion (!!!) to be a serious sin, most Protestants are at least aware that a large part of the world of Christians considers those as “grave matter” and “mortal” sins, even if they don’t quite know what “mortal” means in regards to sin. They certainly are aware that Catholics consider birth control - in any form other than NFP - to be a form of murder, just like abortion, so they can’t claim they’ve never heard that it is a sin!!

I too, have heard occasional Catholics who “choose” to believe that birth control, missing Mass, and never or rarely going to Confession is “o.k.”. However, they were taught about these things, so they have no excuse before God for these practices. Perhaps a “perfect contrition” on their deathbed will help them get to purgatory, but I wouldn’t want to bet my immortal soul on that! Besides, who wants to spend that much “time” in Purgatory, when they were taught better to begin with? Most other “mortal” sins refer to the 10 Commandments, so the Protestants have no excuse for breaking those either. I actually have an RCIA teacher in my general area who thinks Confession is “not necessary”. She only goes because she will be noticed by the Priest if she never goes at all! (And she hasn’t had any new converts in 3 years now – the only one she got chose to go to a nearby Parish, rather than have a class of one!) She also believes in birth control & “some” abortions - those for babies that will be disabled. Obviously her Priest, who is strict Catholic on both issues, is not aware of her private beliefs, and those few who know don’t want to be “gossips” and tell him.

Since the Catholic Church has the fullness of faith, these are very grave matters for Catholics, and I’m not sure how they manage to “secularize” themselves and be convinced that these sins are “o.k.” As was said above: “To whom much is given, much is required”. How true!


When someone is in charge of the Catechesis of others… I wouldn’t consider telling the priest ‘gossip’. But the high school leader at my former church lives openly with her boyfriend… So apparently the church doesn’t care much about these things anymore :eek: (sarcasm)



For example, having a Intrauterine Device placed to prevent pregnancy, for no good reason, is a mortal sin.

Not sure why you insert the phrase “no good reason” here.

You are correct that it is possible for a person to have no awareness that contraception is any kind of sin at all. Further, they may not grasp that how the method works might matter, so they might choose methods by considering feasibility, etc. only. Likely for them NFP is just another method of contraception in that they consider it in a long list of possible ways to achieve the same goal, lined up by most effective percent to least. Such lack of awareness can cause the use of contraception for such folks to fail to be a mortal sin.

I just feel like as Catholics we really have a different set of rules and although I believe they are the right ones…I can’t understand how if they are right objectively for us, how do they not apply to everyone?

The rules on contraception are right for everyone, but some people don’t know the rules, so they are excused from serious blame. However, not knowing a rule/fact doesn’t necessarily protect from every consequence that might result. For example, some emotional consequence of usage may be experienced.

Other rules just apply to Catholics. Only Catholics are required to marry according to Catholic form. Protestants are not so obligated. That is because some laws are fixed by the Church, and are not strictly divine law. The requirement for two witnesses at a marriage is not a divine law. It is not immutable. They could require three or only one if they wished. Thus it is not required of Protestants that they observe Catholic form.

Remember, though, ignorance through deliberately burying your head in the sand so you don’t have to know about it, this is not the kind of ignorance that protects you from guilt.




Exactly right.
This is why we must strive to share our faith with others.
I used birth control for years, and only learned in nursing class that it may have worked as an abortifacient. I was devastated, and still am at the thought of the children I may possibly have aborted. I would not wish that sorrow on anyone. It may not have been mortal sin due to ignorance, but the consequences were grievous.


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