Can The Church Condone, Permit or Legitimize Sin?

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The Answer: No.

In 1995, in an article entitled “Morality and Christian Morality”, Father Joseph de Torre made the point that the Church cannot change morality, the natural law, or the content of revelation. Father de Torre’s general conclusion is this:

“Christ never condones or ‘permits’ sin.  What he does is always to forgive the sins of those who are repentant. The Church founded by Christ follows the same line: she cannot condone, permit or “legalize” sins; through her ordained ministers, however, she can always forgive sins confessed in the sacrament of penance with true repentance.”

He also makes the point that doctrine, law, morality, and teaching cannot be changed simply by employing a notion of “general charity” which would trump all other considerations. This is particularly relevant today in the face of those who would change the teachings of Christ and the revealed will of God based on an asserted domineering divine attribute of “mercy”.

Changing the Face of Sin

Father de Torre’s work on the change of morality in general is important today in the consideration of attempted changes related to two specific moral issues: whether the Church can, following alleged repentance, condone continuing adultery in the context of divorce and remarriage without annulment of a first marriage; and whether the Church can  permit or legitimize voluntary homosexual acts of a person within the context of an ongoing homosexual relationship without repentance that includes a commitment to no longer engage in such acts.

The basis for the conclusion that the Church cannot change morality is simple, clear and straightforward: Christian morality is part of Divine Revelation. Its immutable principles are transmitted to successive generations by the Church (through its “Magisterium”), but these principles cannot be changed. The Church can interpret this revelation, but it cannot alter it.

As Father de Torre says, both faith and morality are gifts from God. They are not something that evolves or changes, not something that is made known through human nature or any creature of creation.  Human beings cannot change morality and morality is not a product of human reasoning.  It is this morality that Christ revealed to the Apostles and which he gave them to transmit to all of us, unchanged, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ never gave them any authority or power to change the moral teaching he entrusted to them. And the job of authentically interpreting this morality is the exclusive province of the Church’s Magisterium – no priest, no individual bishop, and no group of some bishops (such as two-thirds of the bishops at a synod) can definitively and authoritatively interpret, or change, this morality. This is for the Magisterium alone.

Synods, particularly, according to Canon Law, have no magisterial authority,  can issue no decree, and cannot resolve any issue. Synods are merely agencies of a papacy rather than an authoritative microcosm of the college of bishops.

Deposit of Faith

The Dogmatic Constituion On Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, makes clear the exclusivity of the Magisterium’s role in handing on this unchangeable morality:

“But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” (Dei Verbum, 10).  “Teaching only what has been handed on” means that the Magisterium is limited to teach only that which Christ gave.”

Can morality be changed to reflect “the signs of the times”?  Do morality and the natural law change if a number of persons say that they think they are not acting immorally in engaging in certain acts which heretofore the Magisterium condemned as immoral, as sins? Again,   Father de Torre says the answer is: No. He quotes the Declaration On Sexual Ethics (1975) of the Sacred Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith:

“Of course, in the history of civilization many of the concrete conditions and needs of human life have changed and will continue to change. But all evolution of morals and every type of life must be kept within the limits imposed by the immutable principles based on every human person’s constitutive elements and essential relations – elements and relations which transcend historical contingency”

The words “transcend historical contingency” mean when a group of people begin to do something contrary to morality, at some point in human history, the fact that they do it, even if they are many,  does not change morality.  Such a group does not in any way exercise the role of the Magisterium, no group can base a doctrinal change on their actions, and they in no way  constitute or proclaim the “sensus fidelium” or the “sensus fidei”.

Father de Torre says there are two main reasons that people want morality to change: 1) the “weakness of man;” and 2) “the wealth of divine revelation.”

Because of the “weakness of man,” persons justify or rationalize immoral behavior by appealing to extrinsic factors other than their own free will and free choices they make – e.g. social, economic, cultural conditions  – often making them scapegoats for one’s free actions. Again Father de Torre cites the Declaration On Sexual Ethics referred to above:

“Hence, those many people are in error who today assert that one can neither find in human nature nor in the revealed law any absolute and immutable norm to serve for particular actions other than the one that expresses itself in the general law of charity and respect for human dignity. As a proof of their assertions they put forward the view that so-called norms of the natural law or precepts of sacred scripture are to be regarded only as given expressions of a form or particular culture at a certain moment in history.”

Today the appeal by some to the alleged “general law” of mercy is precisely the type of appeal to “the general law of charity and respect for human dignity” for changing morality that the Sacred Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith rejects. Yes, God’s mercy can extend to any sinner and cover any sin; but that mercy is powerless to force the sinner to repent, impotent to compel the sinner to reject the sin with a “firm purpose of amendment”, and ineffective, alone, to make the sinner, in the future, choose to “sin no more.”

“The wealth of revelation” is appealed to in failed efforts to change morality.  The contra-Magisterial reasoning goes like this:  because God permitted divorce and polygamy for the Jews, therefore today the Church can permit ongoing adultery following attempted reconciliation and voluntarily engaging in homosexual actions after asserted repentance. But there are two reasons, according to Father de Torre, the Church cannot do this today. One, this type of concession by God, due to “the hardness of their hearts,” indeed was a moral step backwards, but God tolerated it. And second, no such ancient concession or lowering of moral standards is possible today since the total fullness of divine revelation has been achieved in and through Christ.  And Christ himself made it clear that no such concession can be made.  Father de Torre goes on to note that, although Christ forgives sinners, he never permits sin; and He forgives only those who are repentant, i.e. those who decide to sin no more.

Sin Is Not Sin?

No thinker, philosopher, or theologian is more matter-of-fact than St. Thomas Aquinas; but he does have some words, in his Catechetical Instructions,  that are fairly harsh for those who would say something that is sin is not sin:

“Now, it must be known that, although some believe that adultery is a sin, yet they do not believe that simple fornication is a mortal sin. Against them stand the words of St. Paul: “For fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” And: “Do not err: neither fornicators, . . . nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind shall possess the kingdom of God.” But one is not excluded from the kingdom of God except by mortal sin; therefore, fornication is a mortal sin. But one might say that there is no reason why fornication should be a mortal sin, since the body of the wife is not given, as in adultery. I say, however, if the body of the wife is not given, nevertheless, there is given the body of Christ which was given to the husband when he was sanctified in Baptism. If, then, one must not betray his wife, with much more reason must he not be unfaithful to Christ: “Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid!” It is heretical to say that fornication is not a mortal sin.”

Not only is it wrong to say ongoing adultery and voluntarily engaging in homosexual acts, without true repentance,  are not sins (and by fair implication are acts of virtue), but the person who says these things, in attempting to change morality and condone sin,  is a heretic.

Whether efforts by liberals and dissenters to change doctrine, natural law and morality are based on an asserted overarching divine attribute such as justice, love, “social” justice, or, as is being done currently, mercy,  there is no magisterial warrant,  basis in tradition, or scriptural authority for such change. Those who attempt this have diminished or lost their hope for the Church and their faith in God.

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20 thoughts on “Can The Church Condone, Permit or Legitimize Sin?”

  1. I’ve read Étienne Gilson on Thomas, not his original works (too difficult in my 30s and 40s). They were instrumental in getting me on route to coming back to the church. Philosophy, difficult-to-understand-philosophy is never going to help in this war. It’s gotta be simpler. John Paul can be similarly difficult. We need snippets from their works (Thomas, JPII, Augustine et al) to be more effective. Philosophy ain’t gonna work.

  2. Thomas Aquinas must be spinning in his grave. It has been over 50 years since I studied Logic 101 but I doubt anything has changed since it does not seem to have changed between the time of Aristotle and Thomas. Those who are trying to find a way around clear laws of morality are twisting themselves like a pretzel but the facts remain what they are. It would be amusing were the matter not so serious.

  3. If you maintain that the Church cannot condone sin or moral wrong….how can you explain the “Catholic Doctrine of Discovery” (1493) contained in a papal bull by Pope Alexander VI (“Inter Caetera,” which promulgated theft and appropriation of lands which did not belong to Catholics, appropriation of people and goods which did not belong to them….seems to be in conflict with “Thou shalt not steal….”

    1. I believe the proper term would be “permitted” rather than condone. Seems like a small difference but rather crucial. As far as Pope Alexander VI (Borgia), I don’t think anyone should be looking to him for moral guidance.

  4. Not only is it wrong to say ongoing adultery and voluntarily engaging in homosexual acts, without true repentance, are not sins (and by fair implication are acts of virtue), but the person who says these things, in attempting to change morality and condone sin, is a heretic.
    Pope Francis?
    I think we must acknowledge what he is about to do, in the name of “mercy.” And anyone who opposes him he labels a heretic, either a Pelagian because they rely on doctrine or a Gnostic because they rely on logic and reason. [See, his speech in Florence this week]. You see, mercy trumps both doctrine and reason. You need to stop pointing to the truth or thinking and just be merciful. Apparently if you are Pope then when truth and logic defeat your agenda you can just rule truth and logic out of bounds. Pretty cool, huh?

  5. Get ready. There is no escaping the reality of what Pope Francis is about to do: living in a conjugal union outside of marriage will either no longer be considered necessarily sinful, or being in a state of serious sin will no longer be an obstacle to receiving Holy Communion.

  6. Following Jesus Christ

    I do not know the answers; I am just asking questions. I have recently been inspired to ask myself: What if Pope Francis takes a dramatic action to approve something in this matter and what if he is right? All of the priests I know have supported the pope, in general, since most of the cardinals and several visionaries have assured us that he was chosen by the Holy Spirit for these times. Every major Catholic organization that I know has been saying the same thing. Who among them would not support the pope in such matters as this? What if this is one area where God has inspired Pope Francis to try to solve this problem affecting millions of people worldwide who are divorced and re-married without an annulment? If God has prepared him for these times, does this mean that what he does will be what God really wants and is the right thing to do? What if Pope Francis is convinced that he has really been told by God to take this step, and other steps, to solve problems that seem to have no workable solution? Even if this is not in strict conformance with the Magisterium and Tradition of the Catholic Church, will the pope take upon himself the responsibility for authorizing solutions to these irregular situations, and thereby reducing the responsibility from the millions of Catholics in such marriages and other irregular situations? If the pope can provide ways to accomplish the goals that he feels God wants him to achieve, why would these not be acceptable since we are often told the Catholic Church guarantees that the pope cannot lead us into error? Are we better than the pope? Do we know more than the pope? What alternative do we have? Are loyal Catholics thinking about not following the pope and seriously thinking about other options they would consider? Would loyal Catholics declare war on the pope, go into schism, and try to find a new leader (or anti-pope)? Is it prudent, or not, to think about these things so that we are not shocked and do something as an impulsive reaction as soon as the pope issues a document on this topic?
    Many faithful Catholics are confused especially when they hear that the pope might be condemning them as Pharisees (The Christian includes; Pharisees exclude -Nov. 5, 2015- reported by Vatican Radio). They feel they have no direction on these matters since most bishops and priests are silent and might also be just as confused as the laity. Most importantly, let us pray daily for all involved. Jesus I trust in You.

    1. Following Jesus Christ: Good questions and NEVER stop asking. Here are the words of Jesus on divorce, remarriage and adultery: Mark 10:11–12 (“And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery against him’”) and Luke 16:18 (“Everyone who divorces his wife and
      marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery”). These are the words of God, Jesus Christ, God
      Almighty; and they are absolute, no exceptions, no Germany2015 proviso, no
      world2015 exception, no exception for modern adulterers. Here are God’s words, spoken by divinely-inspired St. Paul, about those who receive the Eucharist in sin: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:27). FJC, some of your questions suggest that God can now say God was wrong? God can now, through this man or through some few cardinals contradict Himself? God could change what God taught? God cannot say 2000 years ago 2+2=4; but now for some in 2015 2+2 = 5. The scenario you suggest may be possible for those who want to change immutable revelation, alter the natural law, and change morality as given to us by Jesus; but this scenario is not possible in Jesus’s Church. This scenario could be done by someone or some someones who wanted to injure the Church of Jesus, but not by someone true to her teachings and faithful to Our Lord. By their fruits you will know them; and if anyone says those divorced and remarried without annulment and without true repentance that includes their firm resolve to sin no more – to stop the adultery – that such sinners can receive Holy Communion, that person or those persons are not only wrong, they are heretics. In the past over many centuries many people have on their own contradicted God’s teachings-a huge number of them have left the Church and started protestant denominations. Public revelation has ceased – God will not have a new revelation proclaimed by anyone – not by a Pope, not by some continental Cardinals, not by any saint no matter how holy. There will be no addendums to Holy Scripture, no Bible update for Christmas 2015, no list of “errata” for God’s word. There would have to be a new revelation for Jesus’s teaching and God’s words to change – and such revelation is done, over, finished, completed. Your concluding advice is as good as it gets – pray daily and “Jesus I trust in you.”
      Guy McClung, San Antonio

  7. Today we have a Jesuit Pope and we know that the Jesuits can do anything. If they cannot get around Church doctrine they’ll try to get around doctrine-based pastoral practice and that’s exactly what Pope Francis is doing. Besides, according to the Exercitia Spiritualia of the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius de Loyola, Catholics should hold that “the black that I see with my eyes is white if the hierarchical Church declares it to be so”. In my opinion Francis is brazen enough to turn the moral teaching of the Church on its head by an “authentic” re-interpretation. He has one weakness, however, which is that he is incurably addicted to popularity. Serious Catholics should do everything to make him unpopular, if not in the world, then at least in the Church.

  8. “Christ never condones or ‘permits’ sin. Meaning God NEVER permits sin.

    ” …this type of concession by God, due to “the hardness of their hearts,” indeed was a moral step backwards,
    but God tolerated it. And second, no such ancient concession or lowering of moral standards is possible today..”

    God is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow. God did not permit sin to satisfy the “hardness of their hearts”
    It was either a sin then or not. Your logic is very faulty.

    1. James, Christ also stated that God allowed divorce to the Jews due to their hardness of heart….Matt.19:8. Man prior to sanctifying grace ( Jn.1:17) and the reduction of the devil’s power by Christ…was much weaker morally than post Christ mankind.

    2. E. Jesus had not another frame of reference. Jesus referenced Adam and Eve, allegorical beings that did not exist in actual history. He worked with what He had. If divorce was always
      a sin “since the beginning” then any Person of the Trinity could not have suspended that sin.
      It would be the same if a parent let a child play with a gun because the child had a hard heart.
      No responsible parent could ever justify this based on what the kid wanted. Jesus dealt with
      the history of his times and men leaving women and stoning woman and dumping wives for
      better models was as common as dirt – unlike today. It’s quite a different time for an ancient
      church to be holding ones feet to a fire that burned two millennium ago.

    3. . Augustine pointed out that governments permitted prostitution in order that rape and adultery with married women would be less likely to happen. Why would not God permit divorce to pre Christ very weak people along the same logic? Keep in mind that pre Christ Jews needed a death penalty to keep them from adultery but post Christ mankind does not. It’s not a matter of God changing but of man radically changing after Christ…. Pre-Christ man needed great threats because three things had not happened yet
      ….Christ had not brought sanctifying grace: John 1:17 ” the law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
      …..Christ had not yet reduced the devil’s power so that possession cases abounded in His culture but not after Him: Luke 10:18 ” I saw satan fall like lightning…” Once Christ reduced satan, even non Christians have an easier time trying to be good.
      …… Christ had not yet been lifted up from whence He draws all men to Himself ( though many resist the drawing): John 12:32. ” And I if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself”.

    4. ” Augustine pointed out that governments permitted
      prostitution in order that rape and adultery with married women would be less
      likely to happen.”

      – Does the fact that prostitution is illegal in
      most of the world account for the high rate of both rape and adultery today ?

      ” Why wouldn’t God permit divorce to pre
      Christ very weak people along the same logic”

      – Ah, the end justifies the means. Sin is sin no
      matter what the logic and God, as Guy

      pointed out, cannot condone sin. it’s like the kid
      with the gun, try taking it away from

      him after he’s had it awhile. Any parent would not
      set themselves up this way.

      …..Christ had not yet reduced the devil’s power so
      that possession cases abounded

      in His culture but not after Him:

      – He may have seen Satan falling but it was an
      inaccurate metaphor as to what was

      postulated. Today’s crimes are beyond heinous and
      I think quite few people are so mentally ill as to be in some state of
      possession of one evil or another..

    5. You’re not hearing Augustine’s logic. A government is not condoning prostitution…it’s permitting it. God in the Old Testament times was not condoing divorce, He was permitting that sin to occur lest a worse sin happened. We’re done. I have to box for 15 minutes straight tonight and you I think are going to debate to infinity. Good luck.

  9. The author is not dealing with local circumvention and he knows local circumvention can happen and can happen with a Pope’s help. The author actually worries that places like Germany will circumvent on the Eucharist for remarrieds but not annulled…by use of paragraphs 84-86 of the final Synod report. But few worried when St. John Paul II circumvented Romans 13:4 and Gen.9:5-6 on the death penalty for the whole Church ( not locally) by saying that modern prisons are so secure that murderer A. will never escape. That Pope never faced the fact of murderers in prison ordering witnesses killed by phone ( happened in Newark and in a southern state just within my casual reading). That Pope never faced the truth of murderers murdering in prison ( rampant in the two largest Catholic countries…Brazil and Mexico). That Pope never faced the fact that deterrence studies showed the US Supreme Court between 1972 and 1976 that execution deters the majority of murderers who are not caught at all ( Catholic Brazil captures 8% of murderers and Catholic Quatemala captures 5%). Pope Francis may have noticed that St. John Paul and Pope Benedict suffered no great outcry by this circumvention of the tradition and scriptures on execution. So now that chicken has come home to roost on the Eucharist which by the way is more important because while the new death penalty mistake will get many murder victims killed yearly going forward where it has been influential, still…scripture from front to back has a special horror of sacrilege. God kills individuals in both testaments for sacrilege: He kills Uzzah for touching the ark; He kills Achan for stealing herem or holy precious metal from Jericho; He kills 72 descendants of Jechoniah for not greeting the ark; He kills Herod by an angel not for killing James in Acts 12:2 but for later accepting the crowd calling him “god” without stopping them; God kills Ananias and Saphirra for lying to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5. So yes…the above author is rightly worried.

    1. Apples and oranges.

      Your logic goes like this: 1. God commands that adulterers (or murderers, or homosexuals or those who eat shellfish, or those who eat pork) must be executed. 2. Therefore, it is a sin to fail to execute an adulterer ( or a murderer, or a homosexual or an eater of shellfish or pork). 3. St. JPII said “no more executions”; therefore, he condones sin.

      But Jesus changed this. See, the woman caught in adultery. By your logic, Jesus sinned by not participating in her stoning. Yet, he did the opposite. Yes, the sin of adultery is grave and still deserving of the death penalty in God’s eyes – that has not and will not ever change – but Jesus showed us why it is better to be merciful than to exact justice. Why? Because we all deserve death, so if we applied justice equally we would all be executed.
      The Church has permitted, condoned, and even carried out the death penalty at points in its history. But it has never, since the time of Christ, held that it was a mortal sin to refuse to impose the death penalty. If you can show me anywhere in Church history that it has been held to be a mortal sin to refuse to execute someone, then I will concede your argument.

    2. Your post first of all conflates Jewish only death penalty offences ( sodomy) with Jewish only eating offences that had small punishments as e.g. being unclean til evening. Your next paragraph disallows Christ to signal an end to the OT Jewish only death penalties for personal sin not crimes like murder. I see Him as doing such ( those Levitical death penalties are gone and have nothing to do with the death penalty for murder given to gentiles and Jews both in Gen.9:5-6) and He gives you the reason by writing in the dirt whereupon the men leave one by one in perfect order of descending age….ergo Christ had written their hidden sins in the dirt next to their names ( that’s why they became quiet and walked away not as a group but each alone )…. Jeremiah 17:13 ..” they that depart from thee, shall be written in the earth: because they have foresaken the Lord”. Your last paragraph is weird. If a new policy on the dp is getting thousands killed into the future by omission, it is objectively mortal sin but whether these three Popes are guilty of imputable mortal carelessness in this is known only to God. China unlike Sweden and Maine has millions of poor people…like Brazil and Mexico. Poor people commit most physical murders though rich people can commit corporate based murders as in cars with known unsafe conditions hidden from regulators. UN world murder data shows that Catholic, non death penalty Brazil and Mexico have over 20 times the murder rate of death penalty China….that’s thousands of murder victims extra in non death penalty countries. Sweden, Maine, and Austria are irrelevant…with or without the death penalty…they’ll have few murders since they have few really poor. UN figures show the two worst murder areas both have millions of poor…Latin America and Africa….and few death penalties. Yet Asia…death penalty heavy….has millions of poor and a murder rate even lower than Europe which is second safest via middle class culture not via the dp.

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