When “Catholic guilt” gets in the way of Catholic faith


I am not sure where the idea of the neurotically guilty Catholic comes from. To outsiders, it might seem like we have a morbid fixation on sin or that Catholicism has not fully shed its medieval reputation

The article is mostly about scrupulosity. The OCD variety - if there is any other variety, I’m not sure. I’ve heard the term Catholic guilt, but I don’t have any experience with it. I always thought of it as something that was caused by harsh nuns and pastors in the days before Vatican II.

In this article it’s being associated with scrupulosity, as if they are the same thing…although, in the title of the article the term Catholic guilt is in scare quotes. I see them as two different things that share an element, but are notably different.

Do they have the same meaning? Similar, but different subtleties? What is your experience with these terms?


I always thought of “catholic guilt” to be something lapsed Catholics use to describe the cultural vestiges which remain in place making them feel guilty about doing things they no longer intellectually believe to be wrong. It is the remnants of a well formed conscience in a person who is straying.

And then religious scrupulosity to be more a manifestation of OCD.


Yes catholic guilt is a powerful way to determine if you have a conscious.
I think you are supposed to feel guilty.
Non catholics don’t feel guilty like catholics!!


Without reading your article, I’ll say “Yes–Catholic guilt DOES get in the way of Catholic faith.”

Why? Because–just read the threads in this forum–there is an obsession among a lot of Catholics (not me…) about sin. Is this a sin? Is that a sin? etc. etc. What they ignore is the commandment to do good. They should be concerned about what good they can do in the world, not this sin and that sin. But sadly, that’s not the focus.


Quite frankly, I only hear about Catholic guilt from Hollywood and on the internet.

IRL Catholic guilt is dredged up by fallen-aways while they’re explaining why they walked away from the teachings of Jesus…


I don’t think this is a fair thing to say at all. Who are we to say whether or not someone anxious about what is a sin doesn’t care about doing good? Who are you to judge and make these kinds of assumptions about them?

Some people who deal with this anxiety actually are dealing with scrupulosity, and/or severe anxiety disorders and OCD that often manifests in worry about sin and they beat themselves up about everything and feel they don’t do enough good. For you to say that they don’t care about doing good is a pretty horrible thing to say.


You’re right, that WOULD be a horrible thing to say. But I didn’t say it. You did. As always (yes, another sweeping generalization) on this forum, people put words in your mouth.

My point was–as I clearly said–that IN THIS FORUM the emphasis is on sin, not doing good things. As I said, doing good is not the focus in this forum–sin is. I’m not judging the PEOPLE, I’m judging what they write in the forum.

I’m a good sport: point me in the direction of a thread that discusses what types of good works we should be doing. If you can find one, I’ll be impressed.


Here you go, if you want me to quote what you actually said. Again, you aren’t in a place to make that kind of assumption.

Also, discussing good works, I’m not sure what you consider suitably “good” but there is a Social Justice forum here.


Don’t know about Catholic guilt, but get 2 Catholics who disagree about something and you get one heck of a fight.:face_with_head_bandage:


Also, I apologize in advance if I have come across as harsh, but scruples are a very terrible thing to deal with. God bless.


I just didn’t want you two to argue, did not mean anything personal…God bless you.


It’s OK! I didn’t take it as a dig at me. Given that this is a forum with a lot of people, I figured you could have been talking about anyone :flushed: I honestly felt that I should have made my point and raised a concern without being so cranky about it.


I’m going to double down here. Again, I’m talking about what people write in this forum, not what they do in their personal lives. You’re quite right, I have no business judging them, and I don’t. But I do judge what people write about–after all, it’s public, and they’re inviting comments! Just like I am!

I’m not really talking about social justice. What I’m talking about is people that agonize over whether missing Mass when it snowed two feet and they have to ride 20 miles through the mountains on a motorcycle to get to Mass (actual true post!!!). But the same person (here I’m making it up…) will happily go to work the next day, and–you pick it–cheat a customer, do shoddy work, steal stock, lie to their boss or a customer, etc. etc. etc. and not give it a second thought.

Somehow no one talks about those things. I do. In every job I’ve had, I’ve been asked–sometimes ordered–to do unethical things. They ranged from signing a contract that I knew to be fraudulent to assuring customers that our products did not contain banned substances (they did), to overlooking millions of dollars in overpayments by a large customer…I could go on and on. And yes, I resigned (at great personal cost, I might add) from several of those jobs. At one job in particular, I was asked to do something unethical almost every day. And the things escalated from trivial to major felony level. And I can’t believe I am unique. I think it’s the norm.

Once I was in a department meeting where the main topic was how to fire a secretary–married–who had dared to get pregnant. Her own supervisor, a woman, was the most enthusiastic about firing her. Was it illegal? Sure. Did they do it? Sure. Did I object? A little. I wasn’t the boss, and if I raised too much of a fuss, the next meeting would have been about how to fire me. But it raises moral issues–a lot more important in my opinion than the trivia (my opinion of course) that takes up so much space in this forum.

And, to get back to the original issue of “guilt,” yes, I still feel guilty about some of those things.

Remember that whistleblower a few years back who told her supervisor that they were burying people in the wrong graves at Arlington Nat. Cemetery and throwing cremated remains in the dump and in the stream? Remember her? What do you think she’s doing now? Did she get a medal? Nope. About 5-6 years later, she’s still unemployed. This is the sort of thing I’m talking about.


Since 20% (1 in 5) of Americans (that would be 64 MILLION) suffer from some form of anxiety, it is little wonder that many of them are in the Church. This reflects zero on the faith, as the Sacraments destroy our culpability and should erase our feelings of guilt.

Scrupulosity runs high, in accord with the general anxiety level.

I see no real news here.


It’s funny that this topic should come up now. I’ve been studying various sources on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and I have recently read a chapter or article that indeed states there is a difference between genuine religious scrupulosity and the OCD variety. I’ll have to go back through the stack of papers I read last week to find it in order to give an exact reference and quote, but here is the gist of what I remember. Basically, genuine religious scrupulosity can be a stage in someone’s spiritual life. As they draw deeper into their devotion to the sacrament of reconciliation, they can become scrupulous in an attempt to purge themselves of sin. It’s the Priest or Spiritual Director’s prerogative to determine if this is occurring due to intense devotion or because of some psychological problem like OCD. If scrupulosity is not due to a psychological problem, then the Priest can direct the person out of the scrupulosity taking certain steps. In other words, with guidance, the scrupulosity will pass. But, if the scrupulosity is due to a psychological problem, then the Priest must guide the person differently. The steps used for guiding someone out of genuine religious scrupulosity won’t work if there is a psychological root to the condition.


I remember my older brother talking about Catholic guilt way back in the seventies. I think the context was mainly in regard to sex. Things like sex before marriage. Now I see that it reflects more on how loose some of the Protestants were, that we befriended at the time. Anything goes was the attitude of many then who weren’t church going. The sexual revolution of the 60’s was continuing.
I certainly had a puritanical streak. But now I see it wasn’t such a bad thing to have, after all.


I think that’s a fair concern to have, I mean, as far as the balance on what people discuss. And here is the point where I can only speak for myself – whenever I’ve had personal moral dilemmas or concerns about doing the right thing or other situations in public life, I generally have preferred to discuss them with a priest in private and not on a forum. By all means, I think it’s good that you have something else to bring to the table on here. For me, usually when I visit a Catholic forum I am more interested in talking specifically about spiritual matters, the liturgy, religious news, etc. though I suppose of course that’s going to vary for everyone. I can’t say who is and isn’t scrupulous in specifics with posters on here, but I can see the patterns – especially when people ask about what is sinful in ways that seem overly sensitive, legalistic, or even ridiculous to average people not familiar with the condition. I have noticed this forum attracts a lot of them. (It’s a very specific state of mind that is different than the average churchgoer that is nice in church but a complete turd the rest of the week) I only had bouts of the condition off and on when I went through bouts of depression but I dated a scrupulous Catholic who also had anxiety and OCD for a very long time where his condition became so severe he just went completely off the deep end. I don’t think the lack of concern or discussion about good works, at least on the exterior, is intended. At its worst, the condition is like a tape that plays in your head over and over again where the mind constantly becomes preoccupied with sin. And it has a field day with Catholics – though it does manifest in other religious denominations, especially ones people feel are legalistic, we just don’t hear about it as much.

I totally sound like I’m projecting and again I’m sorry if I came across as rude in my first post, I just tend to get somewhat protective of some of the people that are scrupulants that post on here that get into great distress about what is a sin and wanted to explain the other side of the coin. I certainly can’t say whether or not it is the case for everyone that posts about sin on here, but I think it probably could explain a lot of them.

(FWIW I wasn’t familiar with the Arlington situation – I suppose it’s because I’ve long since moved to the U.K. so that never made the news here. I hope she finds a job soon.)


“Catholic guilt” is one of those Hollywood/ publishing industry buzzwords like Jewish guilt. Catholic guilt usually refers to a cradle Catholic who is either committing big sins, usually sexual, and feeling guilty about it even if they no longer practice their faith, because of the tradition that they were raised in or the development of their conscience so that they can’t just dismiss the fact that they are looking at porn, having sex outside marriage, having an affair etc. Or else it refers to someone who has fallen away from the faith and feels guilty about having done so. My own experiences of Catholic guilt are in both categories.

This author is misusing the term, perhaps to draw people into the article. Scrupulosity is NOT Catholic guilt. Scrupulosity is an OCD-type disorder. I had Catholic guilt for years but I was never scrupulous. There’s a big difference.


I don’t disagree about the number of threads, but they actaully can be quite concerned about the commandment to do good. The same kinds of obsessive thinking that cause the scruples/despair can be of the am I doing enough good? variety or a who didn’t I help when I should have? variety.

If you look at some of the rituals people with OCD develop, some of them are oriented towards a belief that either performing or avoiding specific unrelated behaviors can either harm or save people. They come to live in a prison of rituals out of a combination of disordered thinking and genuine concern for other people.

Those other concerns of the OCD/ scrupulous person are just less likely to result in threads because they are less likely to mask themselves as legitimate concerns in the mind of the person as compared to sin questions.

Still, you may be on to something. Understanding OCD and doing good by helping others who have it might really help the individual through helping others and advocacy. But you have to know you have it. So many don’t know that’s what they have.


Yes it is hard to work with dishonest criminal psychological perverts. where it is OK to lie cheat defraud the customer and co workers. I’ve left 4 different jobs.
Gee don’t you want to go into management? Because all company’s are corrupt was the motto.

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