I am still trying to wrap my head around some issues regarding Church teaching on culpability. If someone with scrupulosity is afraid something is a moral sin and talks to a priest and he says it’s not a sin at all, but the priest hypotheticaly ends up being wrong about that, does that remove the culpability from the person under spiritual direction? Thank you.


Yes. Sin is doing something you know is wrong. If you don’t know it’s wrong it’s not evil.

But if there’s a good reason for you to think it’s wrong, even if you’ve been told it isn’t, and you do it anyway, and try to get off on a technicality? It’s still a sin.


The “trick” is you must KNOW it’s a sin and do it anyway.


It can reduce culpability and in some cases nullify it.

The variables are the level of subjective ability to grasp the moral law as it applies to the situation and the objective complexity of the issue, as well as the degree of authority a counselor (cleric or not) has in himself, is seen as having by the questioner, and that he gives to his words (“It’s just my opinion it’s not a sin,” “IT’S NOT A SIN!!!” “The Church teaches this is not a sin, it’s paragraph number x in the Catechism”).

Does that help?


Yeah. Pretty much.


I’m confused.

the catechism talks about actions that are objectively evil and separately talks about imputability and responsibility for those actions (see paragraph 1735). There seems to be almost an open-ended list of reasons for reduced or nullified responsibility, ignorance (unspecified - ignorance of what, for example).

SO…contrary to this post, I think it’s more precise to say that the “sin” is still objectively “grave matter” (to use the wording of the catechism) but one’s “imputability” and “responsibility” may be diminished or nullified, for a variety of reasons. IOW, a sin is always a sin, but one may be not responsible for it.

1735 specifically mentions actions that are inadvertant – you didn’t intend to do such and such. – but, what gives with the rest? All the others are what? intentional actions that we are not responsible for, for various reasons including psychological and social reasons.

It’s been IMPOSSIBLE for me to get an official explanation of 1735, which nevertheless is part of the “deposit of faith” that we must all accept.

1735 teaches a couple broad lessons. One, it is speaking about God’s mercy, not technicalities about sin, I think. And, another aspect of it, is that it teaches US to be as little judgmental of others as possible, because we don’t always know the circumstances of what happened.

If a priest says such-and-such is not a sin, I think you just accept it and move on. You still should learn from it, especially as that sin may affect others and YOU. You stole an apple from a tree because you were starving. Get over it.


Yeah. That’s a better way of saying it.


no credit to me, that’s the Catechism talking. I can’t cut-and-paste 1735 like I used to, before, from the USCCB site. You’ll have to look it up to see the exact wording.

no, I found it, here it is:

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.

So, if you sin by habit, you may not be responsible for that sin. But, Fr. Mitch Pacwa of EWTN fame explains that you are still responsible for the habit – for getting into that habit and for trying to get out of that habit. We must acknowledge the universal call to holiness.

That’s typical of the partial explanations I find for para. 1735. He says, “yeah BUT…”

And, I suppose it’s always that way. The sin is still a sin. 1735 does not give anybody a free ticket to sin, so 1735 is like a “get out of jail” free card.

The unanswered questions for me are: 1) I’d like a detailed explanation of all those factors in 1735 – the ignorance, the inadvertence, the duress, the fear, the habit, etc. 2) same point, what are the social and psychological factors and the “OTHER” factors – obviously 1735 is vague and open-ended.

Suppose I view pornography once in a while. I can seem to hold back for some period of time, because I realize that it is degrading, demeaning, dehumanizing, sinful in itself, and it objectifies people, denying their God-given dignity – yet I go back to it, full speed ahead because there’s some psychological factor that affects me, as much as hunger.

Or, suppose a woman has multiple successive sexual relations and uses abortion as a form of birth control, repeatedly, under the duress of the pregnancy or because she succumbs to the sexual relations as a substitute for a meaningful relationship – an example, perhaps, of some ignorance and possibly some social factors going on here.

Or, suppose I work someplace – of course I need the job – and it’s a policy to cheat the customer, usually by overpricing the product. So, under “duress” I suppose, I do the same thing 5 times a day, 5 days a week.

Or, suppose the only source of income I have is selling drugs, heroin, for example. Suppose further that I am under some mortal threat to do it, or, the other way around, I am forced to buy heroin for someone who refuses to seek treatment.

and, then, the final question about 1735, suppose I decide my sin falls under 1735, do I have to confess it, if I’m not fully responsible for it? if it’s not imputable to me?

The guidance on this is sorely lacking; the average priest will just say confess the sin and be done with it. The bishops of the Catholic Church could have cleared up this question, if they had added to 1735 something like “all sins must be nevertheless confessed” – BUT THEY DIDN’T. So, then, I assume (?) that they DON’T have to be confessed.


Sirach - 1735 summarizes a broad spectrum of anthropological principles bearing on moral theology. The key is how well one’s reason is able to engage with the situation. Disturbances of the lower faculties can affect that in a variety of ways, as 1735 points out.

It is not always easy to assess the culpability of someone’s actions…


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