This post contains my email question to Fr. Pacwa via firstname.lastname@example.org and a response I received on behalf of Fr Pacwa
Sent: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 11:53 AM
To: Threshold of Hope
Subject: CCC paragraph 1735
Paragraph 1735 of the Catechism reads as follows:
1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even
nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments,
and other psychological or social factors.
This paragraph is one of the most under-explained in the CCC. The only people
with some credentials to respond about 1735 tend to dismiss what it says, as
if it meant nothing.
It actually seems to say that some people commit mortal sin who cannot avoid it,
due to a variety of factors. Do they need to confess these sins, if their
responsibility is reduced or nullified by various factors?
It seems to apply not only to individual occurrences of sin, but to conduct
over time, perhaps even a person’s whole life. Do you agree?
How are people supposed to repent, whose freedom to act is reduced by
such factors? What is their obligation to repent, when it is impossible or
nearly impossible to do so? e.g. use of contraception, duress causing one
to seek abortion, addiction to pornography, homosexual orientation (a psychological
factor?), or let’s say, bullying a high school kid (for any reason), because of
social pressure to do so.
1735 is so broad, when does it NOT apply?
The following is sent on behalf of Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ in regard to your e-mail question to Threshold of Hope on 3-5-13:
Dear (my name),
Your questions are extremely important, they require a very long answer. One key is that the level of imputability due to ignorance, inadvertence, fear, habit, attachments and
other factors are experienced to varying degrees by each individual in various areas of life.
Most simply, life is a process of trying to grow in greater responsibility, awareness of life’s reality, and self-knowledge. We expect much less responsibility from a child than
from an adult. However, in the very broken culture of today we have degradation of the ability of people to be responsible for this variety of reasons. That is why this must be
dealt with in terms of the complexity of different individuals. Everyone is called to know and accept the moral laws of nature and the revealed laws of God. However,
pastorally each of us must deal with the impairment of the will in everyone’s life, while at the same time calling each person to become capable of greater responsibility.
**Certainly, the person who does not try to overcome the inhibitions to full use of their mind and will are responsible for that neglect and will be judged more for that neglect **
than for their decreased imputability. Perhaps that will entail a life-long struggle, but it is a struggle that everyone must enter.
Finally, the role of grace in helping a person acquire greater personal responsibility and to change immoral behavior must also be addressed. This entails a closer relationship
with Christ by which he helps the weakened will to do what is just and right.
Of course, specific issues must be addressed after general principles are stated, and this requires a careful study of moral theology. I recommend reading authors like John
Ford, S.J. and Gerald Kelly, S.J., or H. Davis, S.J., true masters of moral theology.
In Christ Jesus,
Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.
hope this is enlightening on a much-underdiscussed subject, namely, when is a mortal sin NOT a mortal sin.