Fri. Oct 23rd, 2020

This time we are going to finish our discussion about mortal sin by pondering some of the factors that can diminish our culpability or responsibility.  Remember, if the person is not acting with deliberate consent then it is not a mortal sin.  If the action involves grave matter, that doesn’t change, but the person is not in the state of mortal sin.

A quick word about why I started this whole mini-series about mortal sin.  I was speaking with the catechists and youth ministers from around the archdiocese and we were discussing teen depression which lead to questions about suicide.  We had a counselor address many dimensions of that topic and I discussed it from the theological perspective and discussed many of the things I have written about over the last several issues.

So, our responsibility may be diminished by unintentional ignorance, feelings/passions, external pressure/fear, pathological disorders, altered mental state due to chemicals etc.  As emphasized in the last column, only God can judge whether a person is acting with full consent and is thus in the state of mortal sin.  So, when someone has committed suicide, while it is clear that the act involves grave matter only God can judge whether the person acted with full knowledge and deliberate consent.  Thus, the Church hopes for the salvation of the person and does not exclude them from having a Funeral Mass and a Christian burial.

Look, the instinct to live is about the strongest instinct that we have.  It seems to me that if someone kills themselves and is actually hoping to succeed, they really are acting contrary to their deepest instinct out of fear or depression.  I have trouble believing that such a person is acting with deliberate consent.  I also know that often a person commits self-harm as a cry for help.  How many people who committed suicide really did not want to succeed in that, but really just did not know any other way to ask for help?

Let us pray for people who see so much darkness that they don’t know how to escape, other than to forfeit their life.  Lord, help us to be your instrument of light, hope and joy.

— Pat Arensberg is the Director of the Office for Evangelization and Family Life.  Email him at

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