Retrograde Amnesia and Mortal Sin

This is the third thread asking this question, because I have not gotten a strait answer from the first two attempts.

To start with, it is very easy to lose all or most of your memories. All it takes is a neurological disease or a bad accident, and you won’t even remember your name. In some severe instances, accidents have left people in such poor conditions that they are permanently reduced to the mental capabilities of a three year old.

My question is this: If someone commits a Mortal Sin, has no intention of ever confessing or repenting, but suffers such a bad accident that they lose all their memories (they can’t even remember their own name, let alone their Mortal Sin), will he still be held accountable for his sin in the eyes of God? Will someone go to Hell for sins they committed which they are incapable of even remotely remembering?

I thought of this question after watching the film Regarding Henry. It is a movie in which a bad person suffers from severe Retrograde Amnesia as a result of a near-fatal shooting, has to be re-taught everything, and becomes a better person than he was before his Amnesia.

Why wouldn’t he be held accountable? Assuming the person had the chance to repent and didn’t (so it wasn’t like person had injury 20 seconds after first ever mortal sin), I don’t see why it matters whether the person has amnesia. It’s just like death- we never know when our last hour will be.

Hopefully if others knew about the mortal sin, they would tell that person so that person could take it to Confession. We know that God is merciful, BUT his mercy is really unfathomable. It’s beyond anything we could ever imagine as human beings. I find it hard to believe that our loving God would deny that person eternal life because of something the sinner cannot even remember doing. I do understand, though, the other side of it. I would take this question to God in prayer for sure, if you’re really wondering.

:signofcross:God Bless. :signofcross:

How is it fair for someone to suffer in the next life for something they can not remember having ever done.

For all intents and purposes, the person might as well have been born in the hospital bed where he woke up after the injury because that’s all he’ll be able to remember.

Such a person freely chose to commit a mortal sin. If they do not repent and get hit by a car and end up not remembering even who they are and later die or die immediately from the accident what is the difference? In both cases they die in a state of mortal sin. They go to Hell.

This is a true story told by the psychiatrist Oliver Sachs. A man lived in a mental health facility and had done so for years. He had suffered a dissociative fugue (similar to TV amnesia except you wake up with a completely new, fully formed personality) and assumed that was the reason for his confinement in the facility. One day he was riding his bike in the grounds and fell off, hitting the side of his head. After this he had terrible nightmares every night, seeing the scene of a horrific murder. When he spoke to the psychiatrist he was told that he had committed the murder and that he was confined in the facility as part of a forensic mental health program. The man was horrified and sickened at what he had done.

The new identity taken on in dissociation is total. It is a completely new person and there has even been discussion in legal circles as to whether an alter is a separate person before the law.

If you have no memory whatsoever of your past you cannot confess the sin. You might as well confess to the sins of a third party. It is the same as that personality having died. We may very easily forget a sin when we get to the confessional. That is why we say “and all the sins of my past life.” Confession is about the state of the heart, not a scrupulous transaction where God owes you one because you did your bit. If that new person would confess if they knew and lives their life in such a way as to show that they would not be unrepentant if the situation arose again then there would be no reason to assume they are still guilty.

Could it not be that God, in His mercy, knowing that the first personality would never repent, gave the person a second chance in the form of amnesia?

Such a person had the chance to either not commit the sins in the first place or get to Confession as soon as possible after committing the sins. They obviously chose not to.

By the way I don’t believe dissociative identity disorder is real. It is just a means that a person uses to try to consciously escape their crimes. Even many of the medical community have doubts about it.

So there is no chance for conversion? If they didn’t repent then and there then the chance has gone? Exactly how long, in minutes, does a person have to get to Confession before the chance to repent is gone? I need to know this! The Catechism certainly never gave me such useful information. How remiss. God chose to let the person live and where there is life there’s hope. Doesn’t God offer mercy to amnesiacs? Should we just cast them out in case they have a secret, forgotten sin? Or do we show mercy to our brethren and hope in the mercy of God?

What if the person had never been baptised, wasn’t a Catholic, and came to the Church only after sinning? Would their baptism then be invalid? It’s possible when I made my first confession as an adult convert that I didn’t mention every sin I ever committed. The point is that you confess what you know and can remember and wholly desire to do better in the future.

Your doubts about the veracity of dissociative identity disorder are something you should take to the committee writing the DSM VI. The psychiatrists of the world have agreed it exists and have published it in their premier diagnostic manual.

What if the person had never been baptised, wasn’t a Catholic, and came to the Church only after sinning? Would their baptism then be invalid?

No, baptism erases all sins up to that point, so if the person had not been baptised and later was, they are covered. Of course a more interesting question is, what if they forgot they were Catholic and were baptised again (in a different parish), with everyone believing it to be the first time. :wink:

  1. If they have never been baptized - and now have faith they can repent of their sins (in general…for obviously they do not remember what they where) - and be baptized. Then they are in the Christ and thus in life.

  2. If they were Baptized already - and now are turning to the Lord anew and receive the Sacrament of Confession repenting of all mortal sin -then the forgotten mortal sins would be indirectly absolved along with the new ones - or with the venial sins that were confessed if they were not conscious then of any new mortal sins. They would then be living in Christ again. In true life.

  3. If they do not hear the Gospel but seek to respond to the graces they have received - it is still possible for them to be saved. That does not mean they “will” be in the end -and they like others who have not heard the Gospel are in a precarious circumstance amid much evil in the world…but yes it is possible.

Keeping in mind that there is now an “impossibility” for them to know they had committed those sins …so that is not necessarily per se…but not impossible for them to turn away from sin and respond to grace …it is not an impossibility for God to work in ways we do not know. Saved by Jesus in relation to his Church in ways known to the Holy Trinity not me.

On our part we would propose the Gospel to them - so they may receive true life and salvation in Christ.

848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”

scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p3.htm#848

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