Venial Sin-The Primrose Path to Crime

The preceding chapters have shown that crimes, be they the serious violations of civil laws or the sinful transgressions of the moral laws of God or Nature, are far more prevalent among Roman Catholics than among the members of any other religious group or even among those of no religion.

The interesting and perhaps puzzling question is-why?

At first sight the phenomenon is inexplicable.  Roman Catholics acknowledge the same Ten Commandments that are formally accepted by all Jews and Protestants, and implicitly honored by Moharnmedans, Buddhists and the followers of all other great religious leaders.

They teach their children to worship God, keep His day holy and to honor their parents.  They condemn stealing, lying and adultery, and they publicly admonish their people to obey the laws of the land.

But there are tremendous differences in the moral indoctrination of Roman Catholics and that of all other peoples in the world.

Briefly, the main differences are:

(1)    The Catholic teaching on venial sin.

(2)    The theological concept of penal law (not to be

confused with laws or punishments having to do with penitentiaries).

(3)       The perpetual preoccupation with and overemphasis on sins of sex.

(4)       The substitution of ritual and superstition, especially confession and indulgences, in place of personal, determined integrity and prayer as the principal means of rising above moral weakness and improving one's life.

 The appealing, relaxing, comforting feature of venial sin is that it is so completely different from mortal sin.

Unforgiven mortal sin, upon death, plummets the soul immediately and irrevocably into Hell.  Venial sin does not.

The Baltimore Catechism, used in Catholic schools, words the matter thus:

 161  What is mortal sin?

Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.

#162 Why is this sin called mortal?

This sin is called mortal, or deadly, because it deprives the sinner of sanctifying grace, the supernatural life of the soul.

#163 Besides depriving the sinner of sanctifying grace, what else does mortal sin do to the soul?

Besides depriving the sinner of sanctifying grace, mortal sin makes the soul an enemy of God, takes away all the merit of its good actions, deprives it of the right to everlasting happiness in heaven and makes it deserving of everlasting punishment in hell."

 The Catechism definition of mortal sin quoted here is a correct simplification of the more elaborate explanations found in every textbook of Roman Catholic moral theology.  The great Jesuit authority, Rev.  H. Noldin, uses five pages regarding distinctions, criteria, essence and effect to reach the same conclusion.'

To the Catholic "Man in the street," the aspect of mortal sin that causes him to pause in fright, and frequently in later years as a reaction to reject the whole Catholic system as fantastically ridiculous, is not that sin is an offense against God and man.  It is the threat of hell.

To the Catholic child, even at the age of seven, eight or nine, hell is vividly real.  By that time it had already been depicted to me so often in word and picture that I could see and almost breathe in its leaping, lunging flames.

The exquisite tortures of Dante's Inferno are crude in comparison with the metaphysical refinements of hell taught as I progressed to the heights of Catholic education.  There are voluminous expoundings of the theologians, the mystics and the "retreat masters" regarding the intensity of that fire, its ability to sear yet never destroy, and the "fact" that prior to the end of the world, when bodies shall be reassembled, that fire can also bum the soul, a pure spirit which has no material parts capable of combustion.

I learned to picture hell as an undulating sea of flame, burning the human souls within its depths yet never consuming them, lapping as restlessly and endlessly on the shores of eternity as the rumbling surf of the Pacific Ocean pounded the beach near our seminary in Santa Barbara .

As frightening to me as the intensity of hell fire in the punishment of mortal sin was the unendingness of that fire.  Many a simile was used to try to convey the extent of eternity to minds accustomed only to the limitations of time.  One comparison has become a classic in the Roman Catholic world.  It is mentioned in Under Orders by the Unitarian minister, ex-priest of the Paulist Order, William Sullivan.  It goes like this: If God were to send a bird once every thousand years to peck away one grain of the earthís substance, it would take uncounted billions of years to destroy this planet.  Yet when this would have been accomplished the eternal tortures of the damned in hell would be only beginning.'

This picture of mortal sin, its consequences and their duration, was taught to me and is taught to every Catholic child in every parochial school in America .

A venial sin is an omission of a duty or a violation that only slightly arouses the wrath of the Almighty.  The Baltimore Catechism states:

 Venial sin is a less serious offense against the law of God, which does not deprive the soul of sanctifying grace and which can be pardoned even without sacramental confession.4

 Rev.  J. Noldin defines it thus:

 Objectively venial sin is an action which violates the moral order and divine law only slightly, or it is an action which does not seriously disturb the moral good, towards the preservation of which the moral order is established by divine law.5

 The Baltimore Catechism states that an accumulation of venial sins cannot add up to a mortal sin because they are different in nature." 6

Hell fire is not punishment for venial sin.  God makes us atone for these lesser violations by the vicissitudes of this life and by confinement to the fires of purgatory if one should die without pardon.

Forgiveness for venial sins is very easy to obtain.  They may be mentioned in the confessional but they need not be. They may also be wiped off the soul by a prayer called "the act of perfect contrition." As little children we learned this by rote together with the "Our FatherĒ and "Hall Mary." Both children and adults are urged to recite this prayer every night lest the Lord take them in their sleep and they be plunged into purgatory.

 In spite of the vast distinction between mortal and Venial sin, the Catholic Church uses strong emotional means to dissuade members from venial sin.  "Venial sin is a great evil-next to mortal sin it is the greatest evil in the world, worse than the most painful sickness or the most dreadful form of death," the Catechism declares.' in parish "missions" (the equivalent of Protestant "revivals") and "retreats" (days of concentrated prayer and preaching for priests and nuns), venial sin was pictured to us as worse than the greatest cataclysms of nature, as more evil than any destructive plague, as more horrible than the combined destructiveness of all the world's bombs.  But this eloquence did not for long affect us.  Our moral reflexes had been so conditioned that a sin did not seem serious at all if we did not have to confess it and if we could not be sent to hell for having committed it.  Our norm of right or wrong was quite selfish.  Our lodestar was hell-the welfare of our fellowman rarely concerned us.

Catholic morality does mention love of God as a deterrent to sin, but that concept influences only the very devout and the mystics.  The Catechism does not emphasize respect for one's family as an incentive to good, nor love of country, nor the conventions of society, nor simple respect for oneself.

Of much more interest than the theory of this division of sins should be the Roman Catholic Church's determination of what sins are mortal and what sins are venial.

The general explanation of moral theology is that three things are necessary for a mortal sin: (1) a serious

matter; (2) adequate knowledge of its seriousness; (3) full consent of the will.  The lack of any of these qualities renders an act venial or no sin at all.

Serious matters are those determined by the Scriptures, Nature or the Church to be such.

Every sin concerning sex, whether in deed, in word, or even in passing thought is a serious and therefore a mortal sin.  Far less emphasized, but also mortal, are the usual sins-murder, bank robbery, grand theft, sacrilege, serious drunkenness, idolatry.  Manslaughter is not a mortal sin.

The Church, falling back on the assumed authority of Christ, adds thousands of mortal sins of its own which damn Catholic souls to hell forever-missing Mass on Sunday, eating meat on Friday, assaulting the Pope or priests, attending Protestant religious services, omitting the drop of water in the wine at Mass, skipping the recitation of a section of the priest's daily prayer ("divine office"), letting a woman into a monastery (even a female baby), marrying a Jew without permission, riding on a horse if one is a Franciscan, entering a beauty contest, or voting for Governor Mufioz in Puerto Rico in the 1960 election.

But the routine everyday violations of common morality upon which the integrity of nations is built are normally only venial sins, which need not even be confessed and are therefore perpetrated with complete impunity by Catholic youngsters and elders.

Childhood and adolescent brawls are only venial sins unless death or mayhem is intended.

Another venial sin is lying which in its various forms absolutely and irrevocably destroys integrity among men and peoples:

It is a grievous sin to confess grave sins that have not been committed so as to deceive the confessor in a grievous way.  It is also sinful but not necessarily gravely so, to lie concerning light matter that is not necessary for the confession.  Hence a lie concerning a circumstance irrelevant to confession or about some venial sin-if sufficient matter is already confessed-is not a grave sacrilege.'

 Most people recognize the elasticity with which truth, particularly in international affairs, is treated in the daily press.  But this bias is sketchy and amateurish when compared to the proficiency in lying shown by the Catholic press, especially in covering some incident embarrassing to the Church, such as the injection of the Puerto Rican bishops in the 1960 election, or in its defense of some outmoded Roman Catholic doctrine.

I first became aware of this distortion when I read the Catholic press coverage of the Franciscan Third Order Convention in the San Francisco Civic Center about 1930.  I was there as a member of the choir.  The affair had been a mild, pietistic gathering of docile, middle-aged and elderly Catholics who listened dutifully to priest orators expounding on the theme that because Saint Francis had revived faith and self-discipline in the thirteenth century, therefore this handful of devotees, with their prayers, exemplary lives (most were too old to sin) and copious indulgences could save the twentieth century.

I returned to Santa Barbara disappointed at the apathy of San Francisco Catholics.  But when I read the local Catholic paper I learned that I had missed the enthusiastic overflowing crowds who, thrilled by the eloquence of inspired speakers, had sallied forth after these spiritual blood transfusions to reconvert the world.

A particularly facile and effective pattern of lying indulged in by the hierarchy itself, from the pope down, consists of semantics, the use of words to conceal or distort thought.  Words or phrases have an entirely different meaning to the speaker or writer than they do to the listener or reader.  This trick of the Church is so common and so successful that it has been widely copied by Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Khrushchev and the world's lesser lights of dictatorship.

A few of these phrases that convey one thought to a pope, bishop or Catholic editor and a totally different meaning to Americans, even American Catholics, are "tolerance," "freedom of worship," "persecution," "freedom of thought," "thought control," "rights of parents."

The word "tolerance" was bandied about extensively in the 1960 election campaign.  To Americans the word means the acceptance of and living with different religions or political beliefs or customs regardless of what they might be.  To the hierarchy "tolerance" is a one-way street.  It means unobstructed freedom for the Catholic Church and the acceptance, without questioning any possible conflict of loyalty, of Catholic candidates.  It does not mean relaxing its ban on Catholic attendance at Protestant services or, more important, the reading of forbidden books.

"Freedom of thought" is not at all what a public school pupil would understand.  One Catholic writer defined it this way: "Freedom of thought means freedom to accept the truth.  The Catholic Church alone has the truth.  Therefore, freedom of thought means the freedom to accept the Catholic Faith." Very simple!

"Freedom of worship" is poutingly demanded for Catholics in Communist countries but doesn't enter the clergy's ken in Spain , Portugal , Italy and various Latin countries.

 It is forbidden in the United States by Catholics to Catholics who might want to shop around a bit spiritually among the Baptists, Methodists or Jehovah's Witnesses.

Cardinal Spellman screams that the failure to provide Federal tax funds to Catholic schools would result in -thought control by forcing poor Catholic children into the mental straitjacket of public schools.  However, he is responsible for having the film "The Miracle" banned in New York .  That, of course, was not "thought control" but a protection of the faith.  Nor, by the same reasoning, can the other facets of Catholic censorship, or his own "imprimatur"-"let it be printed"-on a host of books be any control of thought.

The most ridiculous of all Catholic semantics is the phrase "the rights of Catholic parents" when used in this battle for tax subsidies.  Actually, in the Roman Catholic Church in the field of education Catholic parents have no rights whatever.  The Church tells them where they can or cannot send their children to school, what subjects they may study and what textbooks they may read.  Canon Law #1374 forbids Catholic parents from sending their children to public schools.  Absolution of their sins can be denied to parents who freely choose to send their children to public schools.

Any disillusioned ex-Catholic, especially an ex-priest, after studying the structure of crime, "false decretals" and distorted history upon which the present Church is based, must be pardoned for rather cynical observations upon reading the headlines: Honor ' Speak, Obey Truth Pope Advises All Mankind, followed by this story:

 The Pope directed a special plea to heads of state and civic administration, to educators, parents, and 'to those and we emphasize this-responsible for public opinion, which is being formed or de-formed by means of the press, radio, and television, by the cinema, by meetings and exhibitions of every kind, literary or artistic-writers, artists, producers, directors, scenery designers."

To all these the Pontiff reminded: Never lend yourselves

to any counterfeiting of truth.  Have a horror of that.  Do not use these marvelous gifts of God and their application in technical and artistic forms-printing, journalism, television to distort man's natural inclination toward truth, on which is erected the edifice of this nobility and greatness.  Have a terror of spreading those germs that desecrate love, break up the family, mock religion, and loosen the foundations of the social order.  Christ's Word is enough for safety and victory.9

 This distortion of the truth is, of course, lying.  Doctors and nurses have often asked me why nuns and priests and even more the laity lie so fluently and apparently so guiltlessly.  What else can be expected when their code of morals makes it so trivial and when they see the constant, blatant disregard of the truth in their press, by their bishops and cardinals and with all the pompous sanctimoniousness of his office by the Holy Father himself?

The reaction of the lying and conniving of the hierarchy upon thoughtful members of the laity is revealed in the excerpts of a letter from an ex-Catholic nurse:

 Permit me to "voice" my sentiments verbally.  I have for some time past been tortured by indecision regarding my religious affiliation.  For this reason I was seeking confirmation and justification in my steps toward "defecting" from Catholicism.  Your book was the deciding factor-I am well aware you make no attempt at converting others -but you had a courage and insight I lacked.  My sincere and heartfelt thanks to you, Mr. McLoughlin, for providing "the light."

 I am a seeker of Truth, but I am a lone individual who has known bitter disillusionment.  I am and have been appalled by the bare-faced lying, conniving and downright bigotry practiced by pillars of the Church.  These experiences have made of me a cynical, non-believing, distrustful individual.

 Stealing as it develops among youngsters is merely a trifle that needs no confessing unless one knowingly steals enough to seriously hurt a family or steals about one hundred dollars from a well-to-do person or from a bank or corporation.  This applies to all the various forms of cheating, from cribbing in a schoolroom to all the tricks known to dishonest businessmen-watering milk, adulterating canned goods, short-changing customers, false advertising, tampering with scales, substituting inferior products and the actual destruction of another's property or real estate so long as one stays within the theological1y prescribed financial limits.

A permissible form of stealing which can get out of hand and land a Catholic in the penitentiary is "occult compensation," helping oneself to money or commodities one thinks is due him.  We had a Catholic pharmacist in our hospital who was caught "knocking down" by a detective agency.  They estimated his thefts at $3,000 but he admitted to $1,100.  His excuse was that if I had known his true worth I would have paid him the extra $10 per day that he took from the cash register.

Another Catholic employee in a key office position began supplementing his income.  When the bonding company paid back $4,000 that he stole, a relative-himself a gangster-paid off and kept him out of jail.

The Church's labeling of an act as merely a venial sin is in reality an encouragement to Catholics to commit it.  Since it eliminates the threat of hell-fire from these acts and offers no other effective deterrent, it is completely understandable that this dishonesty and petty lawlessness should be so common among Catholics.

A close friend of mine, an ex-Catholic, told me this tale regarding his nephew and his son (whom his ritualistically devout wife was trying to maneuver into the priesthood).  The friend had stopped at a roadside stand to buy some fruit.  When he reached home he discovered that the boys had each stolen a gallon of fruit juice (while he had been negotiating with the merchant).  When he vigorously upbraided the boys and threatened them with worse, his own son, the prospective priest and teacher of morals, said in disgust, "Get hep, Dad, donít get excited.  What if we did steal a little juice?  If s only a venial sin.  We don't even have to confess it."

The indignant father lectured the "devastated mother.  "Itís a gallon of fruit juice now and he gets away with it, then a pair of skates, then taking a bicycle comes easy, then an automobile and your son lands in a different kind of reform school than the seminary you want for him."

All too many Americans other than Roman Catholics lie, cheat and steal.  But in doing this they know that they are doing wrong and that they are violating the principles taught them at home, in school and in their churches.  The destructive and corrosive seriousness of these same crimes among Roman Catholics is that they spring not from the code of gangsters or the delinquency of slum alleys but from the lips of priests and nuns in the Catechism classes of every parochial school in America .

The Roman Catholic doctrine of venial sin merely strews the softest and most alluring flowers along the primrose path that inevitably seduces thousands of young and old Catholics into prisons all