Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur---reader culpability?


When a book or pamphlet receives the Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur. That means it isn’t in conflict with any Church teaching on faith and morals. It also means it’s aloud to be print and distributed.

At the same time, these approvals don’t mean that the book is inerrant or even correct.

Does this mean the reader WILL NOT be held culpable of sin if they read and practiced the contents of the book? (Ex: Way to Perfection contemplative methods)


I’m not sure how a book that has ecclesiastical approbation could possibly contain instructions that would lead someone into sin. That’s sort of a contradiction in terms, since those approvals are a declaration that the book is free of moral and doctrinal error. To follow something that is written so as to be morally and doctrinally correct couldn’t possibly be a sin.

But assuming it were somehow possible, I’m not sure it’s possible to answer your question, since moral hypotheticals generally aren’t answerable. There could always be another variable. Perhaps you could give an example of what you’re talking about?



The Pieta Prayer Book.

It seems to have been condemned and approved at the same time. The book is full of Imprimaturs, but it is also being pulled from churches and Catholic bookstores and warned against by EWTN


Neither the Imprimatur nor the nihil obstat would apply if sin was contained in the book, as that is contrary to Catholic moral teaching. Still, spiritual guidance should be sought out in such cases.


You’d have to look at culpability of sin. You sinned without knowledge? Well, lesser or no culpability.

Normally the nihil obstat/imprimatur is also a good indication that you can read the book with confidence in the church’s authority to endorse it. Then it’s an act of faith, if for example you decide to believe a private revelation that the church examined and says holds nothing against the faith, you are very probably good and as a pope said:“you’ll be happy for having believed.”



Prayer books are a bit more complicated especially if they are compilations. What is a prayer (differentiating from private revelation)? I know some lay person were prompted to write prayers on a special occasion/circumstance and it got the churches approval. A prayer is asking to God in a ritualized way, so as long as it’s devoid from error. Has some controversy (historical uncertainty) arisen that would prompted a more uncontroversial approach? Then it’s safer and prudent to pull the book, which doesn’t necessarily invalidate your prayers and petitions.


[W]e don’t carry many popular books including the Pieta Prayer Book because of the private, unapproved revelations they contain.

I think that reading unapproved private revelations is not a matter of sin. It would be wrong to present them as Church teaching.



Since the abolition of Canon 1399 and 2318 of the former Code of Canon Law by Paul VI in AAS58 (1966) page 1186, publications about new apparitions, revelation, prophecies, miracles, etc., have been allowed to be distributed and read by the faithful without the express permission of the Church, providing that they contain nothing which contravenes faith and morals. This means, no imprimatur is necessary.

The Discernment of Visionaries and Apparitions Today by Albert J. Hebert, S.M., Page III


Well that’s disconcerting. I have two copies of the Pieta Prayer book. One at home and one I carry either in my truck or in my duffel bag if I am traveling. I rather like this prayer book.


@Techno2000 help me out here…Who was that 17th century pope that wrote an encyclical on approval of private revelations (which is largely independent from a written prayer itself)? And what was the name of that document, because I have read that and think it still holds for the most part.


An imprimatur is not an endorsement by the Church. It means that a review found no specific doctrinal false teaching. But it depends on the purpose. a book could be totally lacking in crucial facts, so as to give an unwary reader a misleading conclusion

Some religion texts in the 1970s omitted crucial doctrinal content. They got imprimaturs because they didn’t exactly teach heresy.

Sometimes books have misused by people, or used in ways not anticipated when the imprimatur was granted. Imprimaturs have been removed.

In other words, the imprimatur is still essential, but so is your virtue of Prudence.


If a book intended for private devotion later gets used for evaluation of the magisterium, then prudence must kick in. For instance if a private Revelation cited in a prayer book gets used as evidence Mary is displeased by Vatican 2, or Pope Francis, then I could see a bookstore removing this.

It depends on how something is currently used


What texts were these, and what was omitted?


We must remember that Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur certifications are issued personally, not through the Magisterium. It is a personal declaration that those issuing the certificates believe that the work does not come in conflict with Church teaching on faith and morals. It is not an infallible declaration. There are only three sources for these infallible declarations: the Pope (personally), the head of the College of Bishops (the Pope or his delegate), or an Ecumenical Council (promulgated by the one presiding over the Council). Bishops can be wrong in their granting of Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. Sometimes, as with private revelations, the local bishops do not even have the authority to grant these certificates as the Holy See reserves the right to rule on matters of private revelations as to their conformity with faith and morals.

Will they be totally blameless of sin? No. The degree of that sin, however, will vary depending upon the circumstances.

If they correctly believed beforehand and turned away from those beliefs and moral actions through the influence of the mis-issued Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, the no. They are still hold some culpability. It is not the full culpability that would be experienced if they had simply taken up the sinful practices on their own, but the ultimate choice lies with the individual. One of the criteria for mortal sin would not be met, no matter how grave the matter (unless the action is an excommunicable offense). Mortal sin requires full knowledge of the sinful nature of the action.

The person must reflect on the actual cause for the sin. Was the sin something they desired before hand and simply used the book as an excuse to go ahead and commit that sin? If this is the case, then full culpability would fall upon him or her.

Now, if the person did not have full knowledge of the faith and morals behind the action before reading the book and was drawn into sin, then it would definitely be a venial sin unless it was an excommunicable offense


“Christ Among Us”, an adult ed text, by Anthony Wilhelm, had its imprimatur removed in 1984, after lots of protests by the laity. It is possible later editions were granted an imprimatur, after revisions.
In this case, actual heresy was being taught.

Much more common were religion texts, such as those printed by Benzinger, Sadlier, Silver Burdette, and other publishers, primarily for children. They tended to omit anything about supernatural content, such as good or bad Angels, or the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood, and focused only on “social content”. What they say was not so much wrong, but grossly incomplete.

Yes, Baptism does involve a person becoming part of the Christian community, but isn’t there something else? True, the Mass does bring the community together, but isn’t there something else happening, that God is doing, besides making people more concerned about the poor? Yes, priests do social work at times, but isn’t there something else in Holy Orders? The bad texts taught Peace and Justice, as defined by the secular media, rather than Catholic Social Teaching.

The bad religion texts had page after page of asking students “how do you feel about this?”, with no mention that some things are inherently True or False, Right or Wrong, regardless of our opinion. They encouraged Relativism, facilitated students obeying the secular culture, rather than critical thinking, or objectively looking at the secular culture.
When the Catechism came out in the 1990s, Religion texts in the USA were required to in some way adhere to that. Some genuinely did. Others would include what the CCC had about a topic, but in a footnote, or an appendix, which most classes would never cover.



So in other words, the Nigil Obstat & Imprimatur are kind of meaningless?

That’s pretty disconcerting.


No, they are still important.

Think of it as a still useful minimum standard, just not the only standard.

If a book claiming to be Catholic is unable to get them, you know the book is a fraud. This eliminates most of the problematic books, the worst. That is extremely helpful to a non theologian like myself. It used to be that they were not so necessary, because no priest or sister, no active Catholic layperson, would even consider writing a book that falls below that minimum standard. But today they will. So that standard is still needed. It weeds out the Grade F ones.

All I am saying is that within that standard of passing grades, you can make a distinction between grade A and grade C and D. Keep in mind changing times, and changing audiences. A book written years ago that included the statement “women must have the right to choose” may have been harmless, because back then “right to choose” meant career options, not abortion. Or a speculative book written for theological discussion might have presented the speculative argument for accepting divorce/remarriage…but only as part of a 3 book series that would in the end reaffirm traditional teaching. But laymen reading a paragraph out of context might leap to the wrong conclusion.


The particular online bookstore is not condemning the book, nor does it have any authority to condemn the book on behalf of the church. It is instead enforcing an editorial decision to avoid certain content.

The N.O./Imp. demonstrates that a local bishop reviewed the work, and found the private revelations are not grossly contradictory to the faith. The bookstore, however, has chosen to only sell private revelation approved at a higher level than local bishop.

The bookstore’s private editorial choice does not void the local bishop’s approval in anyway.


Ok, that is good to hear! Thanks :grinning:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit