Scandal: What is it? What isn't it?

Salvete, omnes!

Scriptural passages on “scandal” have caused me much difficulty in terms of understanding this notion even when back when I was a thoroughly-convinced Protestant.

Perhaps the problem arises in terms of the way in which we define “scandal” and related terms in today’s world.

Now, I have read through the Catechism on the subject and it would seem that a key part of the definition involves the person who is scandalized falling into sin.

So, is the fact that someone may merely see us doing something (even though we have right intentions in doing it) and “thinking” it is wrong, but having no intention to fall into what he/she believes to be sin him/herself considered “scandal” according to the Church’s definition?

Even ifthe above does NOT fall under the Church’s definition, how “sure” must you be that someone else is going to fall into sin if you do X, Y or Z? To me, in this day and age, with everyone having such strong opinions/convictions on practically everything, it would seem that, while many may be “scandalized” in the modern sense of the word at this or that action, most (if not all?) would be very unlikely if at all to participate in that sin on merely seeing someone about which they expected better (apparently) doing so. Indeed, the fact that someone else expected better automatically implies that they consider what you are doing sunful. Ifthey consider it s9inful, why on Earth would you doing it automatically lead them into sin? It would seem like the opposite would be true. It would seem that their thought process would run something like, “I expected better of so-and-so. You certainly wouldn’t catch me doing that!” I would expect they would be more likely to turn away from the perceived sin.

Furthermore, their perception that you have sinned is (in this scenario) completely untrue! Their perception is erroneous. Is it still an obligation for you not to do what you are doing just because someone has the misperception that you are sinning?

This is why the notion of the “weaker” brother who believes something in error forcing you to give up something you know isn’t sinful in that famous Pauline passage has, I shan’t lie, always troubled me. Would it not be better if, on understanding that your brother thinks Xo or Y is sunfl, you were to sit down and explain why it iis not instead of simply giving it up altogether? In this way, you will likely both end up doing what is approved of by God and giving Him thanks in the process. You will have also corrected the misperception of your brother. If your brother happens to fall into what he believes is sin beforehand, not to sound cold, but isn’t that his responsibility and not yours? Could someone, along with answering the questions I pose above, please explain/clarify Paul’s reasoning in the passage to which I’m referring?

Just for the sake of example: Say you like a particular song. You may not like the lyrics, but you may like it because it has some association, say, with a high school dance you really loved. Also, you just like the beat, seriously, not using this as some excuse for liking terrible lyrics. You listen to it either alone or with friends. You might even dance to it. Would this be cause for scandal if everyone really knows why you like the song? What if someone happens to note that you have the song on your iDevice for whatever reason but hasn’t gotten an explanation for it? Would this be scandalous? Ifthey already think the lyric itself is OK, then they technically haven’t “fallen” into sin. They’re still there. If they don’t think the lyric is OK, they, again (I think), are very unlikely to ascent to it so as in any way to fall into sin. Even ifthey think your merely downloading the song is sinful, they are unlikely to follow suit.

A lot of clarity on these issues would be much appreciated.

Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary:

SCANDAL. Any action or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong. Direct scandal, also called diabolical, has the deliberate intention to induce another to sin. In indirect scandal a person does something that he or she foresees will at least likely lead another to commit sin, but this is rather tolerated than positively desired. (Etym. Latin scandalum, stumbling block.)

All right, then. Let me present another example for our consideration:

Going swimming. Are we to avoid going swimming in public places because it is very likely that someone, Christian or no, might look upon us and be led into lustful thoughts (provided, of course, we’re good-looking slight smile)? Even wearing the most conservative swimming suits, surely there would still be temptation there for those who see us, though I have never heard any explicit prohibition on Catholics (as opposed to more strict Protestant denominations) on public swimming.

No. That is being scrupulous.

Modern Catholic Dictionary:

SCRUPULOSITY. The habit of imagining sin where none exists, or grave sin where the matter is venial. To overcome scrupulosity, a person needs to be properly instructed in order to form a right conscience, and in extreme cases the only remedy is absolute obedience (for a time) to a prudent confessor.

So, then, in this, are you saying that there would be absolutely no lustful thinking on a beach of women dressed in swimming suits, even if conservative ones?

Frankly,that’s an odd question because you could argue nobody should leave their house to go anywhere - beach, bars, walk in the street, go to parks, restaurants, work. Holidays should also be banned.
That really is being scrupulous!

So, you’re saying that a person’s form of dress is ultimately in and of itself meaningless because it is up to the other person to resist temptation, not the responsibility of the one dressing this way? Again, this kind of view seemed most logical to me (see my first post), but there would seem to be both Scripture and tradition that would speak against it.

I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying you are taking things to an extreme which is completely impractical. With your thought process as I said earlier we should all be confined to our homes. We have absolutely no control over what other people wear.

I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying you are taking things to an extreme which is completely impractical. With your thought process as I said earlier we should all be confined to our homes. We have absolutely no control over what other people wear whether its on the beach or wherever.

Who is to say whether this view is “extreme” or “impractical”. It is only taking the notion of scandal/near occasion to sin (closely connected, in many cases, I think) to its logical conclusion. (Again, totally not trying to troll or anything. I think I’m just raising legitimate issues that need to be explored.) Is it really that “impractical” not to go swimming so as not potentially to put yourself in a situation where you might react? Is it really so “impractical” not to go swimming so that you, in the way you dress, might not possibly lead someone else into sin?

There is no difference between swimming, or playing other sports or going to shopping malls, or going to work etc etc. Wherever you go you cannot control what other people wear. What you can do is control your own feelings.

To the OP - In your swimsuit scenario a female who intentionally wears a provocative swimsuit with the intention of getting men to lust or women to envy is causing scandal. If a female wears a swimsuit that fits well, is flattering, and is comfortable is not. I am an older woman with a less than model like figure, so when I swim in public my swimsuit is appropriate to my needs. I wear a swimsuit because it is the appropriate attire for swimming, not because I have the intent to cause lust or envy.

Scandal is when we choose an action or engage in behavior that would cause others to sin. There has to be some intent for scandal. Wearing a swimsuit is not sinful, purposely wearing one to cause lust or envy is scandal.

Here is a more complete - and more complex - description of scandal:

Here is an important distinction:

Hence scandal is in itself an evil act, at least in appearance, and as such it exercises on the will of another an influence more or less great which induces to sin. Furthermore, when the action from which another takes occasion of sin is not bad, either in itself or in appearance, it may violate charity (see below), but strictly speaking it is not the sin of scandal.

To take the example of swimming…wearing appropriate swimming attire while swimming is not in itself, nor in appearance, bad. Thus, it is not the sin of scandal, per the above.

However, it may become the occasion for another’s sin, so charity may require consideration of the attire worn in some circumstances. What are you wearing? Who is at the beach/pool who may be tempted with lust? Are they likely to lust whether you are there or not? Who else is at the beach/pool such that your presence is hardly contributing to the near occasion?

In general, we can assume it is reasonable to wear swimming attire to go swimming. Sometimes, charity might make us re-think this, if you believed that your presence was directly the cause of another’s near occasion of sin.

Generally yes, if what you are doing appears sinful, even though it isn’t, and is likely to cause another to sin, then you have an obligation to avoid that action, unless there is a proportionately good reason for doing it.

Yes, when I wrote these comments, I was thinking of a woman who wore a swimsuit but had no intention of tempting anyone.

Also, I thought that scandal could even involve no direct intention of causing someone else to stumble. I think of Paul’s example wherein he seems to warn even those who know that an idole is, as it were, nothing in the world, not to dine at the temples of idols just in case someone who believed that eating meat sacrificed to idols was a sin should walk by, see you, and fall into what is sin to him. Here, it almost seems that the intention of the temple-diner may not be directly to cause stumbling but simply to eat meat. Paul even could be said to be warning against even the slightest chance of someone seeing that person eating and the other thus falling into sin (for him).

What would I be wearing? A normal swimsuit. Who would be at a beach or pool generally? Men. Might they lust at me because I (might) look good? Very likely, if we know men.


What would your answer be to this? Scandal or no?

As I said before, no, it is not the sin of scandal. (as per the definitions in the link I posted)

But…depending on specifics…it may be the cause of another’s near occasion of sin, and thus you need to weight this in your choices. There are really no black or white answers to such questions.

Importantly, we need to be aware that there is a meaingful difference bwteeen attraction and lust. Men at the beach/pool may find you attractive - this does not automatically mean they have lusted. But if you knew there was an individual there who lusted after you in particular, would you choose to swim there? Probably not?

If there are men there who you have no particular reason to suspect of lust, and other women there such that a man who lusts already has plenty of stimuli for such, then there’s no particular reason to assume that your swimming there is any direct occasion of sin for another.

As far as other women being there, theoretically, if this was a problem for a man lusting there, should it not be all the women’s responsibility to not be there? Or am I completely missing the mark?

It’s not reasonable to expect all women to avoid any or all beaches/pools because of the sinful behaviour of any given man, or men in general.

I think the good reasons for going to the beach/pool - recreation, exercise, family time, etc - outweight the bad effects in this case.

Should we shut down all pools and beaches because they are occasions of sin for some people? No.

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