Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Re-cultivating a Sense of Sin in the Abuse Crisis

August 19th, 2018, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Recultivating a Sense of Sin

From various quarters, including the pulpit, we hear about the loss of the ‘sense of sin’. And that is indeed true. We are encouraged to try to contemplate the vast abyss between divine and human, and how the slightest transgression is an infinite transgression. (Consider the imagery of a disobedient bite of fruit closing the gates of heaven!) We are encouraged to contemplate the Son of God upon a Cross, Divine Suffering unto Death, and the enormity of what sin actually ‘costs’. And this too is true, and right and convicting.

But without rejecting or modifying the foregoing, we nevertheless reduce the significance of ‘sin’ when we apply it to anything other than God.  In the emerging exposition of the clerical abuse scandal, we are again apt to fall into the very trap of using the word ‘sin’ to describe actions against other humans. This is an opportunity for clarity, to reinforce the “Sense of Sin,” an opportunity which should not be missed.

One seminarian can abuse another, priests can cover–up crimes, and a bishop can fail in his duties to protect the flock, but it is not a sin against the seminarian, the crime victim, or against the flock. The sin is against God. There are indeed abuses, injustices and derelictions which must be reckoned, and laws which must be enforced, but sin? No,  not against the other humans. The “sin” in every one of those situations is against God Himself. Using even the word ‘sin’ in the human-to-human failures only diminishes the understanding of sin. Such language minimizes ‘sin’ by implying a similarity of magnitude or of essence between sin against God, and offenses against other humans.

Buried in the morass of the current homosexual abuse crisis in the Church is an opportunity to delineate carefully the use of the word ‘sin’ to serve the purpose of reminding each of us that the horrendous error and indignity of the situation is against God Himself.

Psalm (50) 51, repeated often in the Liturgy of the Hours (Breviary), is King David’s soul-full prayer to Almighty God after David seduced the wife of Uriah, killed her husband, and caused the punishing death of a newborn. David understood the point which we so often confuse. In verse 4a he wails:

“Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight, ….”

David committed crimes worthy (in his own judgment) of his death. He committed adultery and murder, with lies of cover-up, and scandal to the kingship. But the sins were against God only, says David.  In no way does increasing the clarity of sin as being only against God diminish what is owed to the human victims; it simply orders more properly the use of the word ‘sin.’ But it is a step in the right direction for a culture which has begun to characterize poor recycling habits as ‘sin’ against the environment!

The opportunity in such a devastating set of circumstances as we now find ourselves, in which the Church founders from the crisis of one moment to that of the next, is to set right the understanding and ‘sense’ of sin — consistently, repeatedly, faithfully.


6 Responses to “Re-cultivating a Sense of Sin in the Abuse Crisis”

  1. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    Is Bishop Morlino setting right the understanding and “ sense of sin” consistently, repeatedly, faithfully?

    Act of Perfect Contrition
    O My God, I am heartily sorry and beg pardon for all my sins, not so much because these sins bring suffering and hell to me, but because they have crucified my loving Savior Jesus Christ and offended thy infinite goodness. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen


    Forgive me, O God, and have mercy on me a sinner, for Jesus’ sake an in his Name. Amen

  2. Ginger says:

    Bishop Morlino does mention sin, sinning or sinful 45 times. His reference to sin is not as purely given as in the Act of Contrition I learned at age 7.

    ‘Oh My God, I’m heartily sorry for having offended thee…because I have offended you my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.’ Isn’t it amazing how little Catechesis one needs to have Faith?

    The Act of Contrition is so beautiful and concise.

    Last night I was thinking about how little Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions probably knew yet their faith was so rich and pure.

    Recalling the day when a simple beautiful saint prayer card could speak volumes over and over again.

    “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” Matthew 5:8

  3. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    In case any one is wondering, I am grateful for Bishop Morlino’s letter linked above. As a matter of fact I have tweeted it and posted it on Facebook thanking His Excellency for his courage to state the truth in love, praying God His holy boldness inspires all of us.

    I regret and apologize for any confusion my post might have caused.
    Thank you.

  4. Mary-Kathleen says:

    I saw this on Twitter referring to Morlino and Cupich letters:

    Letter word counts
    Bp Morlino VS Cd Cupich
    Sin-Morlino 44 / Cupich 0
    Jesus-Morlino 1 / Cupich 0
    Heaven-Morlino 1 / Cupich 0
    Homosexuals-Morlino 6 / Cupich 0
    Clericalist mindset-Morlino 0 / Cupich 1
    Policies-Morlino 1 / Cupich 6
    Pray-Morlino 6 / Cupich 1
    God-Morlino 6 / Cupich 0

  5. christian says:

    I remember the above post on Cleansing Fire on World Youth Day.

    Many years ago, I was involved with a co-ed Catholic Singles’ Group which met at a retreat house. There were retreats, days of reflections, and group activities. It was a wonderful group, but there was one instance on a day of reflection/teaching day where I was at odds with the advice given by the guest nun speaker. The topic had to do with human sexuality and relationships.

    One young woman in the group had been experiencing difficulty with her boyfriend who she had been dating for a few years. She asked the nun, who was a guest speaker for advice following the lecture. She stated that she and her boyfriend were opposites and she felt strong emotional and physical attraction to him, as well as having deep feelings for him. She said he kept pressuring her to have more intimacy with him, sexually, and go farther, but she did not feel comfortable with that because of her faith. This young woman relayed how conflicted she felt. She begged for clear direction as to boundaries, as she didn’t want to sin and offend God. She said she also wanted to be able to share this information with her boyfriend. (This young woman in her 20’s was a devout, practicing Catholic and virgin. I don’t think her boyfriend was a devout,practicing Catholic, and I don’t think he was a virgin).

    This older nun began giving vague information with regard to boundaries, stating how it depends on an individual couple and their relationship, and how far they feel they want to go. She relayed that there were no clear cut boundaries. She said the couple are the ones who decide together to how far they want to go with their sexual intimacy. This nun stressed that no one had any right to tell a couple what boundaries they had to keep, or how far they should go; it was personal.

    This young woman was devastated after hearing this advice and told the nun how disappointed she was by her answer. She said she had failed to give her a clear cut boundary that she needed to hear, which would align with her faith, and that she could also tell her boyfriend. She stated she was no better off.

    (It turned out that this young woman wound up leaving this boyfriend despite having very intense feelings for him. Apparently, marriage was not a option her boyfriend was considering at the time. Her boyfriend who kept pressuring her to become more sexually intimate, felt he had been patient for a very long time and he finally gave her an ultimatum. She said that she knew that she could never have the same strong attraction and intense feelings for another man, but she chose chastity because of her faith).

    This young woman was a strong witness to morality involved in the Catholic Christian faith, while the nun was not.

    I was absolutely shocked at this nun’s answer. Especially as this nun was rather old, I thought she would have taken a moral approach in agreement with the Catholic faith. Her answer came across as human secularism in which there is no right or wrong, it all depends on an individual’s personal situation and preference, and what feels right for them. God does not appear to be factored into what’s going on, so there is no mortal sin.

    I think the diminishing sense of sin through the years could be due in certain part to human secularism or secular humanism. The term secular humanism has been around since at least the 1930’s and was used by Anglican priests. In 1943, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, warned that “Christian tradition … was in danger of being undermined by a ‘Secular Humanism’ which hoped to retain Christian values without Christian faith.”

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