Old actions, present sin?

Maybe this is Moral Theology, maybe it’s Philosophy.

If there were an act/practice/belief/value that had been accepted as not sinful in the past, but has since become regarded as sinful as our understanding grows, I’m going to guess that people who had engaged in the ‘now’-sinful behavior would not be culpable for their past actions.


As an example, 2,000 years ago it was accepted to own slaves. If an early Christian owned slaves, and this person somehow lived until 2014, would the have to confess his sin?

Slavery was always one of those things regarded as problematic by the Church, but was so commonplace in society that there seemed no way to easily abolish it.

Anyone who still owned slaves at the time slavery became illegal in his country was bound to release them. I would think that he should have then confessed his involvement in slavery, but some would say that they were invincibly ignorant.

Maybe slavery wasn’t the best example. But otherwise?

Since full knowledge is required in order for a sin to be mortal, I would say that the person’s culpability for the act is likely reduced. I would still encourage the person to bring it to Confession, though.

It seems like the reverse tends to be true, i.e. that things that were once thought sinful now aren’t, and people don’t confess to them anymore. Strangely enough, our understanding of those things hasn’t grown–our ignorance of them has.


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