Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

We are continuing our discussion about sin. Last time we mentioned that for sin to be a mortal sin it had to involve grave matter, be done with the knowledge of the sinner and with deliberate consent. Thus, the question, “Is murder a mortal sin,” is an invalid question. What we really mean to ask is, “Is murder considered grave matter?” If yes, then the sin may be mortal if the other two elements are met.
Let’s take a look at the requirement that the sinner act with full knowledge. This presupposes that the sinner is aware that the action they are undertaking is sinful. It also means that the sinner needs to have an understanding that the action is seriously sinful. So, if a person knows that their selfish actions are causing others to do without, but the person does not understand that their selfish actions are causing others to do without to the point that some are dying, then the sinner is aware that they are doing evil, but are unaware that they are doing serious evil. Thus, they are probably not guilty of mortal sin. But even if one is not guilty of mortal sin, they have still committed a grave evil. They just may not be held morally responsible.
I say probably, because if a person is ignorant by willful choice, then they can be guilty of the grave sin. Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove our responsibility, or culpability. “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of sin.” (CCC #1859)
Jesus died for our freedom. It seems pretty insulting to our freedom to willfully remain ignorant in the hopes that we are found to be not responsible for our actions. As people created with a free-will we should realize that God made us free precisely so that we could choose the good, so that we could choose to love.
Next time we will look at what “deliberate consent” is.
— Pat Arensberg is the Director of the Office for Evangelization and Family Life. Email him at
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