Is it permissible to associate with deliberate sinners, both inside and outide the Church?

Salvete, omnes!

Is it permissible to associate with deliberate sinners, both within and outside of the Church?

What I mean by “deliberate” sinners is: sinners who are in the process of sinning, show no signs of being willing to stop and are doing so knowing of the sinfulness of their actions

From what I have read in Sacred Scripture at least, it seems that we are very often if not always to shun their company. Or, at least we seem to see this with reference to those inside the Church.

Yet there are many today who would encourage us to stick by them and to continue loving them, doing good to them and even enjoying (the positive aspects of) their company. After all, most people are not entirely bad and many who are found in sin have other issues and simply need acceptance (as a person) and an ear to listen to them. I have always preferred this view, but with the qualifications that we are not in any way to participate, condone or support mentally or physically their sin and under the condition that we are strong enough not to fall into that sin with them. It has always been my belief that more people are stronge enough to do these things than we often realize.

However, again, there are those troubling passages in Scripture that seem to prescribe that we totally socially isolate ourselves from them, even though Christ Himself ate with apparently deliberate sinners and even though God, in some sense, continues to “associate” with them by doing good to them (He makes it to rain and shine on the good and the evil).

Furthermore, as I understand it, while there used to varying degrees to be classes of deliberate sinners, at least within the Church, that were to be avoided (called “vitandi” in the Middle Ages within the context of excommunication), in modern times, all such practices of shunning seem themselves to be shunned. If there are so many Scriptures that seem to speak positively of the practice of shunning, then why are we today encouraged quite in the opposite direction? For, did not Christ Himself prescribe a kind of shunning of deliberate sinners when He asked us, if someone sinned against us, first to confront him privately, then to take with us witnesses, then to take it to the Church and, if the sinner will not hear the Church, that that person should be treated as a tax collector and a Gentile (as I understand it, shunned from the society of the Church and possibly even her members individually).

For me, I’ve always thought the decision whether to avoid someone or not should be up to the individual and not necessarily determined as a catch-all rule for everyone.

As far as the Scripture quoting the poet Menander stating that “bad company corrrupts good morals”, I would argue that the statement was made not to discourage association but as more a descriptor of what was already happening within the church that was being addressed. After all, the only way morals can be corrupted is if someone willingly does what the “bad company” is doing or follows after it because he is already somewhat of a corrupt mind to begin with. At least that’s how I understand it.

So, again, why does the Church today discourage pretty much any practice of shunning, a practice which seems even to be advocated by none other than Christ Himself?

To be very blunt and honest, I myself have always highly frowned upon shunning of any kind for the reasons I have stated above and, frankly, because I am of a personality type (INFJ), I think, that tends to attach very easily to people in terms of love, affection, sympathy and even empathy for them. I loathe seeing people entirely abandoned, most especially by those who might love them most fully.

So, should we or should we not associate with deliberate sinners both inside and outside the Church? (I mean that I am asking the question both of believers and unbelievers.) Why or why not?

If we are permitted to associate with men such as I am describing, what do we do with all of the problematic passages that seem to suggest otherwise? (and I’ve only scratched the surface here in this post of the Scriptures that seem to suggest shunning as the proper mode of conduct toward these men)

I am particularly interested in those who would advocate not shunning these individuals. I am interested in hearing the arguments they make from Scripture, Tradition and reason in favor of their position. I am also interested in hearing how they deal with the Scripture, Tradition and reason that seem to speak in favor of complete and total shunning of such people.

Of course, I do not wish to neglect those on the other side of the equation. I am always willing to change my opinion if the argument is strong enough. In fact, I am not even 100% sure about the viability of my present opinion in favor of not shunning.

Gratias mutlas.

Also, there is the Scriptural issue of Paul delivering men over to satan, if it is interpreted as everyone in teh Church leaving him utterly and not doing good to, associating with or loving him. (Not sure precisely what this even means, though.) But, again, for those who would support continue association with deliberate sinners, how do you understand passages where Paul delivers people over to satan?

There was also apparently a very early form of shunning (excommunication) that Paul himself practiced when he told his church not to associate with so-called brothers who were practicing sin and, indeed, not even to eat with them. How do we, then, today, justify the encouragement to continue association with such men though they may be excommunicated for whatever reason?

I think the teachings are saying to not be around people who fully know what they are doing is wrong and do it anyway. I would not shun someone who I thought did not fully know what the are doing is wrong. This is so common in my generation because of poor catechesis and tons of worldly misinformation; people really think what they are doing is ok.

There is also, as I have said, the question of unbelievers who are knowingly doing something wrong. Interestingly, Paul often said that he had no place to judge them. He also specifically said that he never said that his flock should not associate with unbelievers. However, the way he qualifies this is by saying that, if they did, the would “have to go out of the world”. This indeed almost seems like a concession than an encouragement to associate with unbelievers. What he seems to be saying is, “Well, since you are around them anyway, it would have been absurd for me to demand of you to avoid unbelievers. But, since they are aren’t, then I can’t demand that of you because it would be impossible.” He does not, rather, seem to be saying, “Go ahead and associate with unbelievers who sin. It is all right. It is lawful. It is not sinful. It may even be profitable.” Are we, then, permitted to associate, to do good to, and even to be friends with unbelievers, so long as it does not harm us spiritually? If so, how do we deal with the passage I just mentioned?

But, why should we do this? Of what benefit is it to them? Of what benefit to us? And why is this apparently not encouraged in the Church today, at least not so formally as it used to be? In fct, as I say, it seems to be discouraged and very much permitted today, likely for the reasons I outlined in my first post.

After all, Christ Himself ate (and even enjoyed the company of?) deliberate sinners, I would argue, not because of their sin, but because of their humanity and the other aspects of them that were good. After all, not everyone, and, I would indeed argue, very few, people are 100% entirely bad. I think He loved them how God does, unconditionally, doing good to them even though they were His “enemies” in that they were participating in some form(s) of evil. And, yes, He surely also witnessed to them.

My point is that the sinners Christ hung around did not fully understand the ramifications of what they were doing even if they may have known it was wrong. The same applies for us today. You may be surprised at how many Catholics do not understand mortal sin. If a person does not understand mortal sin, then they are not fully culpable.

The key to your question lies in the word deliberate. What exactly do you mean by deliberate sinner? We all sin, and sometimes deliberately. Who is to judge the deliberate nature of a sin?

These questions can be frustrating to articulate and answer. We are called to do our best to listen to God.

Deliberately sinning means not attending Church, contraception and marriage after a Divorce.

I come from an area where there is an incredibly high number of baptized Catholics who don’t practice their faith.

If what you are insinuating is true…everyone on both my husband and my families are off limits. With one or two exceptions.

So…I couldn’t visit my parents, my sister or BIL and my nephews, my aunts and uncles and cousins…my in-laws, SIL or BIL and my three nieces…and all of his aunts, uncles and cousins.

All of them…except for his 85 year old Great aunt.

Not to mention a huge majority of my friends…except some of my friends from Church.

I love my family. We are all sinners and they all know what the Church teaches but they do it anyway.
I still love them, still love to be around them and pray for them.

I cannot shut them out. I love my family and so do my kids.

**And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” **(Matthew 9:10-13)


I’m not saying Catholics shun, they don’t, unless they choose to. The church says not to be around people who may cause you to sin, but that is your call to make; who you feel comfortable around. I don’t shun but I don’t hang out with people who I think may try to get me to do something I don’t want to do.

Deliberate sinners are Everywhere , I guess one way to avoid sinners is to become a hermit living in total isolation, dedicating your existence to Prayer ,
Perhaps that’s the way to go ,
But are we as individuals willing to live like that ?
Where a Splinter could cause infecting and be cause of our worldly demise ,
We could dedicate our lives to live a fruitful life and give help to those less fortunate than ourselves ,even in only small ways , to show sinners there is another way by our actions .

I’m not sure where your confusion is. Jesus is our example of how to live out God’s commandments - and he associated with sinners. A healthy man has no need of a doctor, so I’m happy to be a witness to those may be acting sinfully knowing that through me they can experience God’s love.


Nobody sins by accident. ALL sins are deliberate.

If you want to avoid sinners then you would have to live alone in a cave in a desert and even then hope there is no mirror there.

It is simply ridiculous for anyone to think they must avoid all sinners. This is NOT a Church teaching.

You still have the sinner in the mirror. We have to look at others with God’s eyes, and that includes ourselves.

No one has addressed what is meant by “associate”. If by associate is meant “participate in sinful activities with”, or activities which put us in jeopardy, then of course not.

But of course it is permissible to associate with sinners according to whatever purpose God has for you.
Let common sense and prudence prevail.

With all due respect, are you serious??? Do you really think that the adulterers withwhom JEsus ate didn’t realize that what they were doing was wrong? Highly unlikely, I would posit. These were JEWS, who had been born and bred on the Jewish Law. Not to mention the fact that many many cultures throughout the centuries have considered adultery morally wrong. One could even argue that it is something ingrained in all of us as a part of the Divine Law written on our very hearts! Surely all the adulterers with whom Christ ate were not irgnorant of the unlawfulness of their actions.

When I speak of sin that is NOT deliberate, I mean something that God considers sinful but that a person may not realize is sinful because of ignorance of some kind or because they have wrongly convinced themselves otherwise. I am thinking, for instance, of idolatry. Many during pre-Christian times had grown up with it. It was a part of their tradition and many simply didn’t question its rightness. That sin, if done genuinely, I would think, God would not have held against those that did this in such a way. “Deliberate” sin, at least for me and for this discussion, is sin wherein a person, Christian or not, knows what he is doing is wrong.

I agree with you completely here.

What if, though, we take cases of grave sins such as, let’s just stick with, adultery. As I recall, Paul writes to the Corinthians to avoid people who commit serious sins such as this, and even tells them not to eat with them. I have heard this passage interpreted as an early form of excommunication. However, as I understand it, the shunning aspect of excommunication is no longer practiced and is, indeed, discouraged, even though such shunning was apparently a practice from early times up through the Middle Ages.

I am indeed wondering why this practice has now ceased and is indeed discouraged when it was apparently enforced to varying degrees, apparently even from Pauline times until, as I say, the Middle Ages. During the Medieval period, only certain classes of person (“vitandi”) were supposed to be shunned, as I understand it. These, I believe, would have been for more “serious” sins such as I have mentioned above.

But, again, today, we seem not to look kindly on the practice of shunning even for very serious offenses.

While I certainly prefer this later practice, I am still not sure why it changed, especially given the Scriptural passages that would seem to support it and the length of time before which it ceased from being practiced.

But, as I say, you also have Scriptural passages that seem to speak to the appropriateness of associating with deliberate si9nners both inside and outside of the Church, e.g., Jesus’ eating with them, the admonition to do good to “all” men, advice on how to handle yourself when eating at table with an idolatrous unbeliever (which apparently would make thsi permissible to some degree), and others.

Again, for folks who support the practice of NOT shunning, how do you reconcile all of this information which would seem to contradict your (our) position?

BTW, even the Medieval practice of shunning the vitandi made some exceptions for family and close relations (though not sure if this latter meant close friends or associates or what) and any other association, as I nderstand it, was purely to be for the salvation of the person’s soul and not for any other reason.

Is shunning more likely to bring a person back to Christ or keep them away?

Sometimes I think it matters if a person can be a negative influence on you (or your children.) People who are easily led astray probably need to exercise more caution in who they spend their time with - and children are a great example of this. We shield children from all kinds of things because we know that as children, it affects them differently. The degree to which we quit sheltering and how is something each family discerns.

The Scriptures don’t tell us the culpability of the woman at the well or the adultress awaiting stoning or the foot washing prostitute.
What we are left with is Jesus’ compassion for each of these people.

Jesus not only speaks Good News, he touches people, they touch him. Jesus intimately engages sinners.

I love this image of a man who is not accustomed to being touched by anyone, being embraced by the Son of the living God, and how he is overcome by sight.

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