From Fr. Mitch Pacwa on CCC P. 1735

This post contains my email question to Fr. Pacwa via threshold@ewtn.com 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.

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 1735 is so broad, when does it NOT apply?

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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.

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hope this is enlightening on a much-underdiscussed subject, namely, when is a mortal sin NOT a mortal sin.

I am very grateful that I received any reply at all to my question.

But, the reply seems only to address maybe what is the highest level question, the moral question about responsibility.

Scripture seems to say that God gives us an escape for every temptation that comes our way. Yes, that is really the answer, isn’t it? We must turn our face to God and our back to the temptation.

But, the response is short to what the writer admits requires a long answer.

In addition to the questions that I already asked, I would expand the list by one more
question (at the very least):

Can I receive communion under the provisions of 1735 – I’m doing something that constitutes grave matter, due to one of the conditions stated there?

This is a pretty obvious question that would come up to anybody really thinking about the issue.

Has anyone delved into the writings of the moral theologians that are listed in the preceding post?

What a great priest! He gave a very good answer.

I will supply a circumstance for this. Say you recognize that you did something grave, and you acknowledge that it is wrong, but you know you were under some amount of emotional pressure due to habit. You anticipate this will happen next week and next week, etc. You know it’s wrong, but you have read somewhere (CCC or a document) about mitigating circumstances and so you wonder if habit and emotional suffering might mitigate against it being mortal. But you are sure you knew the matter was grave and had plenty of time to deliberate when you chose to do it and your conscience recognized temptation and yet you gave in.

Because the scenario specifies that you knew it was grave and you had time to deliberate and your conscience told you it was wrong, I would not receive until I had confessed. Or unless a very trustworthy confessor explained that in my particular case, I have OCD or something that changes the situation. My conscience is telling me I had a choice. Thus, I assume I had a choice unless somehow it becomes clear that I didn’t. No vague, well this line here in a book or CCC says maybe there is a chance that I didn’t have a choice.

I really would talk with your confessor closely about this if it really applies to you and your life. He will help you. :slight_smile: He can hear the whole story and get to know you and hopefully help you in a deft manner.

Pug, thanks for your reply When I said that I was doing something that was grave matter, I was speaking theoretically and hypothetically, to illustrate the point.

CCC 1735 is part of what John Paul II calls the deposit of faith. It is the teaching of the church. To reject it is to engage in heresy, no?

If we judge a person guilty of mortal sin, when 1735 would release that person from the sin, is that judgment not a type of heresy? Someone who has abortion after abortion, uses contraception regularly, is living with someone without the benefit of matrimony (fornication), the homosexual who is trapped in a condition for which there is no cure,
the chronic alcoholic, etc. may simply be not able to control their behavior.

The person who replied on behalf of Fr. Pacwa mentioned that someone may be afflicted with a sin for a large portion of his/her life.

Yes, yes, we are all called to repentence and to holiness – those are OTHER paragraphs in the Catechism. But, what I don’t like is the tone of the answers I get, from people who are either denying 1735 or minimizing it, when others may really need to know that they are not condemned.

If the rote answer is confess everything and refrain from communion until confession, does that not constitute a denial, a rejection, a heretical position? If the lazy answer is to confess everything, then what is the point of 1735 then? What practical purpose does it have? We all have to decide if we have sinned and how we have sinned, why confuse us with 1735 unless it actually means something.

Part of what I’m driving at, too, is the vagueness of 1735, which just sort of glosses over psychological and social factors. Whatever is 1735 referring to?

Is there a better answer somewhere about the meaning of 1735? Is that the best we have is to go searching through a lot of over-our-head volumes of moral theology? do these authors really address the issue of the catechism?

Remember, this is the magisterial teaching of the Church, and the last thing that should be going on is that it is vague.

We might want to look into what gives 1735 its authority. It might be a direct quote from a document. Checking the footnotes I find that it gives no footnote. So that sentence there is probably not a direct quote from an authoritative document. Thus it has whatever authority that teaching has based upon where ever it came from. I’d guess it comes from manuals for confessors over time, since confessors are the ones who would have been applying it to help people, but I don’t know.

If we judge a person guilty of mortal sin…

Full stop. We don’t do this. A Christian will refrain from judging people as guilty of mortal sin. In the case of our own self, we do make a judgment such as, “I ought to go to confession this weekend”, but I don’t think you were referring to that.

, when 1735 would release that person from the sin, is that judgment not a type of heresy? Someone who has abortion after abortion, uses contraception regularly, is living with someone without the benefit of matrimony (fornication), the homosexual who is trapped in a condition for which there is no cure,
the chronic alcoholic, etc. may simply be not able to control their behavior.

I agree that we cannot know for sure what is in someone’s heart or what circumstances they face. Is it heresy to say we know for sure that so and so is in a state of mortal sin? I’ve never considered the question, since we aren’t supposed to do it anyway. It almost seems to assume one has the knowledge and wisdom of God to figure one knows the heart of another fully. I don’t know, though, it might be possible for God himself to reveal to one the state of heart of another, perhaps to a confessor so he can help the penitent, but not to go around judging the person, of course. Like Padre Pio, perhaps. Whatever gift he had in the confessional, it wasn’t heresy.

The person who replied on behalf of Fr. Pacwa mentioned that someone may be afflicted with a sin for a large portion of his/her life.

I’ve seen this. It is real. You can read about one type of this in a moral theology text by Germain Grisez (an orthodox, reliable theologian) in his chapter about certain people who keep sinning again and again out of weakness, describing it as quasi-compulsive. (Yes, I have read his entire book, in fact all three books in the series).

Yes, yes, we are all called to repentence and to holiness – those are OTHER paragraphs in the Catechism. But, what I don’t like is the tone of the answers I get, from people who are either denying 1735 or minimizing it, when others may really need to know that they are not condemned.

I agree that the content of that paragraph does mean that in some situations a person who has done grave matter doesn’t need to confess it, because that person will know they didn’t meet the full criteria for mortal sin. For example, say a new Catholic accidentally misses a Holy Day because they haven’t learned to think that it is August and that you have to watch out for the 15th. This is probably rather common, I’d guess.

If the rote answer is confess everything and refrain from communion until confession,

That isn’t the rote answer. I was very specific about whom I mean, providing a paragraph of specification. I certainly wouldn’t say it in the case of the new Catholic above. However, if they seemed to feel very guilty, I still would suggest to them to go to confession, but that would be for their peace of mind, to hear it from a priest, not some random nobody like me, and not because I thought they had to go on account of mortal sin.

does that not constitute a denial, a rejection, a heretical position? If the lazy answer is to confess everything, then what is the point of 1735 then? What practical purpose does it have? We all have to decide if we have sinned and how we have sinned, why confuse us with 1735 unless it actually means something.

Take “inadvertence”, which is listed there. I think it helps to know that if I accidentally killed someone, I am not going to hell for it. Say I habitually press some button to lock a vault every time I leave work as I shut out the lights, after I run a visual check of the premises. Say I get distracted one day during part of the visual, but I forget about that by the time I come to my habitual button press, so I just press it without thinking. But someone gets smashed in the door. It is nice to know that I am not doomed. Still, some people can’t fully convince themselves without the help of a reassuring priest. I think God wisely provided us with priests who are like his helpers in the confessional, reaching out to us in a human manner, so we are not too afraid and in the dark.

post too long, continued below

Part of what I’m driving at, too, is the vagueness of 1735, which just sort of glosses over psychological and social factors. Whatever is 1735 referring to?

Is there a better answer somewhere about the meaning of 1735? Is that the best we have is to go searching through a lot of over-our-head volumes of moral theology? do these authors really address the issue of the catechism?

I agree that the paragraph in question leaves one wondering what situations they mean. The best way to figure it out, as far as I can tell, is to read the typical examples that have been passed on by theology texts and manuals for confessors, etc. Then you have a feel for what they mean by those words. The only reason I feel rather comfortable with them is because of having read various sources, like the Grisez book, or a William May book, or an old book by Alphonsus Liguori, or The Summa, etc.

Remember, this is the magisterial teaching of the Church, and the last thing that should be going on is that it is vague.

The Magisterium does guard and also regularly explain in detail our faith, so that it can be taught more efficaciously. I think that after we got the Creed, it was probably easier for people of that time to see the full beauty of the faith, because it was so nicely summarized and memorable. So it might be that moral theology is a topic in which a better transmission is possible to the people, so they get a more full picture formed in their minds, grounded in our calling in Christ and charity. I’m saying that it might well seem vague. It isn’t vague in itself, but its presentation might be getting more brushed up with time. (I get frustrated that I can’t just look up answers in the CCC to everything, myself, but I figure that is okay.)

The issue of grave sin seems to be one painted either in black or white (or maybe I should say a paler shade of white…).

Rigorists and absolutists would leave no room for degrees of culpability.

At the other end of the spectrum is a variation of solipsism and moral laxness.

The sad part is that someone who has a habitual sin seems to get caught between the two poles as if there was not middle ground.

To answer the general question, I’ll point out that this discussion of reduced culpability for sin is mirrored in the catechism with regard to one particular sin - masturbation.

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."138 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."139

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, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

The reason I quote this is because I think it helps frame why the catechism discusses this. As above, it is to guide pastoral action. It is essentially to help confessors work with their confessees in dealing with ongoing struggles with sins of grave matter.

It is not so we can judge other people, as being guilty of personal mortal sin or not. As discussed by Pug, we are called specifically not to do this.

And it is not so we can let ourselves off the hook for serious sins. It is so we can work with our confessors in addressing those sins. So, our confessor may advise us that he considers a particular sin, even though it is grave matter, to be unlikely to constitute personal mortal sin for us, given circumstances. This way the sinner does not have an overwhelming fear of hell because they cannot break their strongly formed habit, and they may receive the most blessed sacrament and its actual graces without fear of committing sacrilege.

Now, if a person has doubt as to a particular sin they have committed, it is not really too hard to address:

a) We are not required to receive communion every Sunday, so a person with doubt can wait until they have a chance to confess.

b) There are exceptions anyway, where a person may receive communion, even though they are in mortal sin, if there is a grave reason to do so (and they make an act of contrition and intend to confess asap).

c) Discuss the matter with you confessor, including asking what one should do if the sin is repeated under the same circumstances.

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