Sinful vs. Objectively Immoral

I would like to get some reactions to this article posted on 9/23/15 by the dean of Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (yes, I know Fordham has its issues, but I’m trying to evaluate this article on its own merits):

The article is called “Who Am I to Judge? Pope Francis and the New Evangelization”

Here is an interesting excerpt:

“More importantly, you cannot charge someone with sin, because sin is a subjective reality. It is radically subjective because it is about the relationship between God, who is not an object, and a person, who is not an object. Whereas Catholic doctrine identifies certain actions as objectively immoral, it does not equate what is immoral with sin. A person has to believe that an action is sinful for it to be so. If a person willfully did something that he or she believed was sinful, even if it was morally good, then it would be sinful for that person. So it is not our task or our place to charge people with sin, especially if the goal is evangelization. We should keep in mind the fact that contrition over sin is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not the result of browbeating.”

Any thoughts are appreciated.

I think that the Church teaches that commiting an immoral act is always sinful. However, if someone does not realize their act is gravely wrong or if they are forced to do it, it is only a venial sin. I may be wrong, but I think that is what I have been taught.

I disagree with “A person has to believe that an action is sinful for it to be so”. The Church has good principles about how grave matter dovetails with mortal sin and when a sin is venial and why, and obviously we will have been in a variety of states of belief.

I also disagree with equating justification and being part of the Church. A person is part of the Church when one is in the Catechumenate or has been initiated.

Whilst the rest of the article “sounds right” by itself, the Pope’s argument is not supported by these two points of the writer. The Pope is far sharper than him. We have to ask ourselves what is the point of the article.

The author is clearly unfamiliar with the Spiritual Works of Mercy.

To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.

Pope Francis exercises these works daily. Just read his Domus Sanctae Marthae homilies and you will see plenty of admonition.

The bible teaches that where there is no law, there is no sin. The law is very objective, therefore sin is also objective. Sin is due to violation of God’s laws and nothing subjective…

Catholic teaching has always used the term “sin” to refer to objective acts. This point is made at great length in Veritatis Splendor by Pope John Paul II, who wrote the following:

In any event, it is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives. In the case of the correct conscience, it is a question of the objective truth received by man; in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man, mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true. It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience.108 It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.

But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.

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