In Mgr Ronald Knox's brilliant collection of Essays in Satire, there is a piece about a 'Professor' who invents a new sin. Now, even Knox's brilliance has been quite superseded. Now, you see, we have completely new types, genres, of Sin. The Third Millennium has branched out into a whole novel taxonomy of Sin.
Earlier this month I approached this subject and asked three simple questions, as tests to apply to any newly fashionable theory about Sin. Here they are again:
(1) Can you square it with the Sermon on the Mount and the ethical teaching of S Paul?
(2) Can you square it with the Lord's parables about not knowing 'the Day or the Hour'?
(3) Does it apply to murderers and paedophiles?
Let me remind you what the New Casuistries teach about Sin.
(a) Graduality. "People cannot give up their Sin instantaneously. They should be given the time, and the grace of the sacraments, to wean themselves off it gradually."
(b) Acceptance without Approval. "Remarried divorcees may be in a position to which the Church cannot give formal approval; but she may welcome them as they are into her Sacramental life."
(c) Elements of truth. "Outside the relationship of heterosexual monogamy, other models of relationship exist in which important elements exist of the values proper to Marriage itself: and it is these elements which we should emphasise (permanence; self-sacrificing love ...)."
Now apply Fr Hunwicke's Question (3). Would you accept that, since a paedophile has very strong inclinations, his aim should be to work hard to abuse children less and less frequently? How do you feel about the Church accepting that some paedophiles are gentle and affectionate to the children they abuse, and that we should concentrate our attention on those good elements of gentleness and affection? Take someone with a pathological impulse to murder: would you want the Church to continue to maintain the teaching of the Ten Commandments about Murder, but, without approving of the murders, to accept the unrepentant murderer as he is?
Probably you wouldn't. Probably most people, even very liberal Catholics wouldn't, unless they are themselves paedophiles or murderers or both. Why not?
What we have is, in fact, the adoption by liberals of two quite distinct categories of Sin. There are sins which (most people would agree) are really sinful. Such as abusing and/or killing children. The clever little games (a), (b), (c), would never be acceptable here. If somebody suggested that it really is in accordance with a nuanced Christian morality for a paedophile to abuse children as long as he does it gradually less frequently, most of us would probably kick him. However they contrive to control their behaviour, paedophiles should just give up, or genuinely try to give up, their vice. They should receive Absolution and then "Go and Sin No More".
But there is now, for the Liberals, an additional, quite different category of Sin. It consists of things which, because they are condemned by Christ or by long centuries of Christian Tradition, liberals might agree are in some sense technically sinful. But liberals do not feel that they are really wrong. So they devise sophisticated ways of avoiding the requirement of the Gospel: repentance and a firm purpose never to offend again and to avoid the occasions of Sin. Like children who have cheated and found out the answer to a sum, they start with the conclusion and then try to find the right 'workings' to get to the answer. "I want to argue that a homosexual couple may continue to live in a genitally sexual relationship: where can I find clever arguments to support that conclusion?"
SO WE NOW HAVE
(I) REALLY WRONG SINS; they really turn me upside down in my tummy.
(II) SINS WHICH ARE ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG; my tummy feels completely OK about them. We've just got to find a way for the Church to shift her line without completely losing face.
Those are the two radically distinct categories of Sin in which Liberals now believe.
Neither in the Bible nor in two Christian millennia is there evidence for (II).
Bibliography: the important discussion here in the Church's Magisterium is paragraphs 79-83 of the Encyclical of S John Paul II Veritatis splendor, together with its footnoted sources. The Holy Pontiff quotes (para 81) a passage of S Augustine in which that Doctor discusses the 'absurdity' of any notion that sins done for good motives (causis bonis) might be thought of as 'sins that are justified' (iusta peccata: I think this would have to be S Augustine's Latin term for what my account above calls (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG).
The Holy Pontiff cleverly takes (para 80) the list of sins in para 27 of Gaudium et Spes and says that they are good examples of acts intrinsice mala, that is, always wrong, independent of circumstances. What is neat about this is that it includes sins which Liberals would consider (I) REALLY WRONG SINS (such as genocide, trafficking in women, slavery) and mixes them up with (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG (such as abortion). He then goes on to the intrinsically evil contraceptive acts and, in para 81, includes S Paul's condemnation (I Cor 6:9-10) of categories including the sodomised and the sodomites (malakoi, arsenokoitai; molles, masculorum concubitores).