Pope Francis: "Corruption is a greater evil than sin."

I was wondering if anyone could help me to understand Pope Francis’ magisterium in his most recent address to a delegation of the International Association of Penal Law.

In it he stated that corruption was a greater evil than sin:

Breitbart: Pope Francis: Corruption Is a Greater Evil than Sin

I checked with the official Vatican press release in Italian, and it really does say that he said this:


"La corruzione è un male più grande del peccato."

So could anyone help me to understand this teaching from Pope Francis? :shrug:

Is there something lacking in my Catholic education? Because I don’t understand how something evil could be more evil than sin itself, yet not be a sin. Does that mean I can commit corruption, because it’s not a sin? But if it’s more evil than sin, surely it’s not something that is permitted by God. But would I need to confess corruption if it’s not a sin? Or does it take a special kind of confession to absolve such a “more evil than sin” type of crime?

I am so confused. :confused:

If anyone with a stronger background in moral theology than me could help me out here I would greatly appreciate it.

I too found this distinction between corruption and sin unusual. A commenter on this article made a good point when he or she said this distinction might have been an error of translation. For me, the key point in this article is this: “According to Francis, remorse is possible only when one is aware of evil, which is not the case with a corrupt person.” That is to say, corruption is worse than a sin of weakness because a person who acts upon it does so without any guilt. Compare a sin like masturbation or alcohol indulgence to corruption. There is often a sense of remorse or sadness that accompanies these sins, while someone who is politically corrupt often feels justified in their actions. Sins like those I’ve mentioned might harm those around us emotionally, but their harm to ourselves is distinct and clear, and so it is easier for a sinner of this nature to feel remorse and repent. Corruption on the other hand often seems to benefit the sinner, at least in the short term, and therefore it is easier for them to feel comfortable in their actions and to loose sight of its immorality. This is why, for me, terms like evil are too weak to convey any meaning. Corruption is of course a sin, but one which is far more rooted in pure motivation to commit a wrong, which would also eliminate any remorse and lead the commiter of this sin to feel vindicated and just in their actions. Consider Hitler, for example. His motivation to commit wrong was so pure of a remorse that, in a sense, he might have felt he was doing right. I suppose this is what is meant by evil, and how this definition distinguishes the severity between sins of weakness and corruption. That’s my take on it anyway.

Perhaps in Italian corruzione is a systemic evil and peccato is personal sin.

I think he used the word “sin” in the sense we usually think of it - individual acts that are evil. But the term “corruption” seems to refer to the ongoing* state* of hardening one’s heart against truth and goodness. Think of the 2 men praying in the temple in the gospel; one man may have committed “sins” in the common sense, but Francis says the other man, who has hardened his heart by spiritual pride, is in a worse condition. I would say the state of “heart hardening” is also sinful - in fact the more deadly sinful - but Francis is comparing obvious sins to (sinful) conditions we don’t thing of as sinful - especially if that is our own current condition.

It is simple: A sin is a sin, no matter how bad, even a murder. But corruption is a state of total depravity, mortal sin after mortal sin, till the person or institution is filled with all kinds of evil and depravity. In a state of corruption, a person commits habitual sin and every aspect of their lives are overcome by sin. Or as Scripture says, “nothing is good.” Think of the organization of Planned Parenthood and it’s members. How close would you want your home to be to an abortuary? How about right next door? Would you sit on your porch in the summer sun with lemonade in your hand and a nice book to read while the clients wishing to utilize their business come and go? If *they were your neighbors, would you let your children play in their *yard? Corruption is worse than sin. It is evil multiplied and rarely sees the light and has to be stopped by something else. Think Communism as the poster child for corruption.


Perhaps he meant being disposed to sin if the situation arises to make it worthwhile in the sinner’s eyes is worse than actually committing that sinful act. A volitional act is complex with all its hidden motivations. Being corrupt is rather simple to describe.

Of course, I’m just guessing.

A good write-up, IMHO. I would add though that if one is corrupt and does not know one is sinning in a way that a practicing Christian knows they are sinning, then the practicing Catholic, whose sin may be less in size and reach, is worse in a way than those who sin in a massive way, because it is the practicing Christian who has a fuller knowledge of God. So yes, they feel sad, but they have a greater duty to not sin as they have more responsibility on their shoulders to be faithful. How can a corrupted person be more sinful if he/she doesn’t understand what sin is, has never known forgiveness because he/she has never sought it, and never known love because he/she never stopped to find it? I think it must be either a mistake in translation or be referring about the sort of person who is well, well, well on the way to blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (dying unrepentant).

Corruption is a sub-set of sin. Draw your own conclusions.

I think we know now that Pope Francis is speaking directly to us in an unedited colloquial way on ethical matters…this is relatively abnormal as previous Popes usually have prepared speeches or their reported conversations are scrutinised and cleaned up theologically by the Vatican before official release.

So I find at least two of the below explanations very good.

I would like to add a third.
Corruption is a sort of sin against the Holy Spirit which is therefore worse than normal run of the mill sins.

This is because, like bad breath, if we don’t even realise we are sinning we do not even see the need for asking forgiveness … as others below have noted.

So to say corruption is worse than (usual) sin is not that hard to understand.

He said: “The corrupt person does not perceive his corruption”.

From St. Pope John Paul II (1986) The Universality of Sin in Human History:Already in Genesis 4 we read what happened between the two elder sons of Adam and Eve. Cain killed his younger brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:3-15). We read in chapter six of the universal corruption resulting from sin: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that the thoughts of his heart were only evil” (Gen 6:5). Later: “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (Gen 6:12). In this context, the Book of Genesis does not hesitate to say: “The Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen 6:6). Likewise in the same book we see, in the account of the flood at the time of Noah, the consequence of that universal corruption resulting from sin (cf. Gen 7-9). Genesis mentions also the building of the tower of Babel (cf. Gen 11:1-9), which resulted ”contrary to the intention of the builders” in the dispersal of peoples and the confusion of languages. This shows that no external sign, and similarly no merely human agreement, can bring about union among men if it is not rooted in God. We must note that, in the course of history, sin manifests itself not only as an action clearly directed “against” God, but at times it is also an attempt to act “independently of God,” as if God did not exist. It is a pretense to ignore him, to do without him, and to exalt man’s power instead. This is presumptuous beyond all limits. In this sense the tower of Babel can also serve as a warning to the people of today. For this reason I mentioned it in the Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (13-15).

Already so clear in Genesis, the witness to the general sinfulness of humanity is found in various ways in other parts of the Bible. In every case this universal condition of sinfulness is placed in relationship with the fact that man turns his back on God. St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans is particularly eloquent on this subject: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error… Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them” (Rom 1:28-31; 25-27; 32).


Not only that, but a corrupt person can and will try to corrupt others. It’s like Satan - he wants to get more and more people to his side, by corrupting them. Same with very corrupt people, they get a lot of pleasure and power out of dragging other people into their corrupt world.

How does “La corruzione è un male più grande del peccato” get to be paraphrased as
“The corrupt person does not perceive his corruption”?

Under Section III-b.

“La corruzione è un male più grande del peccato.” is “Corruption is a greater evil of sin.”

“Il corrotto non percepisce la sua corruzione.” is “The corrupt person does not perceive his corruption.”

The Church has always taught that there is no evil that exists worst than sin, with mortal sin being the worst evil that exists and venial sin being the next worst evil – even more evil than the pains of hell. Do not believe in lies; believe only in what the Church has always taught. God bless you.

Whoa, you are calling Pope Francis a liar? Isn’t that a bit uncharitable here (for anyone, much less the Pope)?

We need a thread on the morality of Pope-bashing.

Apologies if I’ve misconstrued your words…

I have heard him address this in different occasions.
The corrupt see sin no more. It is like they have already settled with evil,made a deal.
He has a well known phrase as a bishop. He said something like Sinners have friends but corrupt people have accomplices.
It is obviously sin,but it is worse as a state of the heart,cause there is a voluntary decision to see sin no more. No regret. As somebody posted,the corrupt extend their corruption to others.
God bless you

There is a distinction made between material sin and culpable sin. As Pope Francis stated: “Il corrotto non percepisce la sua corruzione.” (The corrupt person does not perceive his corruption.) Of course this is not applicable in every situation.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: IV. ERRONEOUS JUDGMENT

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man "takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin."59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
1793 If - on the contrary - the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

To say that sin is not the worst evil there is just is not true and goes against Church teaching – no matter who says it. I will rephrase what I said and say that what Francis said is NOT true at all. Friend, calling an untruth an untruth IS charity, so I hope that you will not persecute me for saying that what Francis uttered is very untrue. Calling an untruth the truth or downplaying an untruth is NOT charity – it is what Modernists do all the time and the way that souls get destroyed by them. I am through here on this thread now that I have pointed out Francis’ error, in charity ,for the sake of those Catholics who are not aware of the Church’s true teaching. God bless you.

Excuse me - who is the head of the Church?

I interpreted the “corruption” Pope Francis spoke of as being the “structures of sin” referred to in the Catechism:

1869 Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” [144]

The footnote takes you to the 16th paragraph of John Paul II’s Reconciliation and Penance which distinguishes between personal sin and social sin.

Of course, “social sin” (AKA “structures of sin” AKA “corruption”) is basically the sum total of a lot of individual sins. Every sin is personal. But then every sin has social repercussions.

So saying corruption is more evil than sin strikes me as akin to saying X number of personal sins that have coalesced to create a social structure whereby sin is acceptable and even encouraged is more evil than one person’s individual sin. That doesn’t sound wrong to me.

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