The Rev. Debra Haffner joins us from Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection?:

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.

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