Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The New Seven Deadly Sins

Earlier this week, a Vatican representative announced a new list of the seven mortal sins for the 21st century. As I understand it a mortal sin without accompanying confession is the route to hell. I asked my colleague Dr. Kate Ott, Associate Director of the Religious Institute and a Roman Catholic theologian, to share her thoughts on the new list:

After reading the list of new mortal sins, I wanted to applaud the Catholic Church, of which I am a laywoman and trained academic moral theologian. For the first time in years, there seems to be a focus on the systemic nature of sin. And then, I read the finer details. Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti named these at the close of a week long Vatican conference on confession. Why create a new list of mortal sins that recognize the scope of globalization and systemic oppression, all in an effort to revitalize individual confession?

A mortal sin “is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent” (Catechism, #1857, © 1994). But “inflicting poverty” is not done by one person, but global capitalism in which we all participate. “Environmental pollution” is the result of individual choices, but also fixed social systems of waste disposal, water treatment, and energy distribution. The confession booth is either going to be overflowing . . . or people will soon exempt themselves from these sins. Who can claim full knowledge and consent for global markets? I’m feeling sloth creeping into our psyche.

The traditional seven deadly (or mortal) sins – pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth – already seem to cover the modern evils. Isn’t gluttony, greed, maybe even pride and envy at the foundation of “accumulating excessive wealth.” It is the intention behind the sin that classifies it as mortal. Of course, Girotti does not fail to mention abortion and pedophilia as two of the greatest sins of our time. I assume he puts those under “violation of fundamental rights of human nature.” Somehow, the social nature of sin is lost on these remarks. Why not note patriarchy and the devaluing of women’s reproductive rights, instead of abortion? And why not own up to the gravity of pedophilia as a sin of power and pride motivating years of shuffling priests instead of holding them accountable?

I want to place my vote for keeping the age old sins. Most of the new sins are a result of the original list. Shaming folks into confession because they drive their cars too much, won’t result in a reversal of global warming. But people understanding how greed affects their daily choices could result in real conversion on multiple levels. Penance is intended to bring about a conversion of heart through God’s grace . . . Recognizing the fundamental rights of every human being, especially women around the world, means we take environmental, racial, economic, sexual, and reproductive justice seriously – in their systemic entirety.


Chalicechick said...

(((( But “inflicting poverty” is not done by one person, but global capitalism in which we all participate. )))

So there wouldn't be poor people if there weren't capitalism? Seems to me that poverty predates capitalism by thousands of years.

eric said...

Wasn't one of the "new" deadly sins something to do with enabling social injustice?

And this from the Catholic Church? An organization at the heart of social injustice?

As one who grew up Catholic, studied for the priesthood in the Catholic church, I first guffawed, then laughed uproariously upon reading this list... and then the sobs began, tears for the spiritual blindness of those who believe themselves called to be spiritual leaders.

Anonymous said...

Where is this "list" of new sins? I'm just not seeing it in actual transcript of the interview with Monsignor Girotti:

As usual, the secular media gets it seriously wrong when it comes to religious reporting. It's appalling, really.

Anonymous said...

The list of the sins is:
Environmental pollution
Genetic manipulation
Accumulating excessive wealth
Inflicting poverty
Drug trafficking and consumption
Morally debatable experiments
Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

Anonymous said...

I posted this at our Catholic blog and the consensus seemed to be that the Cardinal was not intending to present a new list of sins to replace the old, but rather was inviting us all to reflect on how sin manifests itself anew in our modern world. There are several posts, including my own reply, at

There are no comment boxes at our blog, so to see replies one has to start at the post linked above and then scroll up. Most of the replies are titled something like "New" Deadly Sins.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty clear from the interview, if you read it, that the Monsignor was merely commenting on sinful behaviors which are prevalent in today's society. It's a given that these are all manifestations of the 7 deadly sins that already exist. This was not an ex cathedra announcement of new sins made by the Pope like the media made it out to be. You get two very different stories from reading what the secular media wrote and what the Monsignor actually said.

Michael Ejercito said...

It's a given that these are all manifestations of the 7 deadly sins that already exist.

If you dump trash into your neighbor's yard without consent, is that not trespassing, thus stealing ?jjej