Duress

Under what circumstances would being forced to do something affect one’s culpability in an evil act?

For example, if you are told to rob a bank otherwise the bomb strapped to your wife and children will be detonated that would be coercion. Robbing the bank in such a scenario would be be a mortal sin because the third condition would not have been satisfied, i.e. you would not have given full consent of the will.

I believe you meant, NOT a mortal sin?

You are correct. I meant it would NOT be a mortal sin.

How strong would a threat need to be to count as duress?

That’s a good question and it is difficult to answer here. I’ve heard varying answers, and I think it would be best to consult with a priest on this issue.

I ask because even priests, even Cardinals, seem to have varying answers.

You’re absolutely right, they do.
And something else i’ve learned. Priests tend to be more generous (if that’s the proper term) about such things than people on this forum can be.

But then, if opinion is divided, what is one to do?

I think that is where your conscience comes in.

Go to Confession.

Duress, in and of itself, never justifies an intrinsically evil act. Duress is in the circumstances of an act, but circumstances cannot justify an intrinsically evil act.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” (n. 1756)

Suppose that you are told to murder one innocent person, or 100 innocents will be killed. Despite this hypothetical case of severe duress, you cannot morally comply. If you do comply, your culpability is not extinguished as if you had acted without freedom of will.

In the case of a bank robbery, the teller held at gunpoint is not one of the robbers, but one of those being robbed (a victim, not a perpetrator). So the teller is not committing a sin.

It may be the case, with severe duress, that a person’s judgment is affected, reducing culpability. However, duress does not automatically cause the chosen act to be done without any freedom of will (i.e. without full deliberation), nor without sin.

Many sinful acts are committed under some degree of duress: stealing to pay the rent, lying to a boss to avoid being fired, lying to your spouse to avoid divorce, voting for an immoral bill to avoid losing one’s political office, etc. Duress, in and of itself, does not necessarily take away culpability.

Strong enough to make YOU do it BECAUSE of the threat.

It varies from individual to individual and from situation to situation.

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