Friday 6 July 2012

The New 7 Sins

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S. J.

One of the least pleasant aspects of our faith is thinking about our sinfulness. More specifically, those acts that we do in our everyday life that go against God’s will for us and break our covenant with Him. These are very same acts we should be confessing on a regular basis to a priest. However, in many Catholic communities around the world, the act of confession has declined significantly over the years, as people seem too preoccupied with life to think about their sins!

Despite this, the 7 Deadly Sins continue to fascinate our modern culture. Many movies, books, plays, and TV episodes continue to address this topic. There is very pragmatic element to them: Although many people in the secular world would have us believe that the concept of sin has no place in the modern world, there is still a need in our society to identify what makes a person commit evil, and to respond to this evil as Christ calls us to.

This is why it is understood that although sin is considered as part of the Christian tradition, it exists in everyone’s lives. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride can indeed affect the lives of everyone. If people can learn to comprehend sin better, not with our heads, but with our hearts, the world would be different.

In 2008, the Vatican decided to shake things up a little; 7 New Sins were introduced. Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, who back then was head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the tribunal of mercy responsible for issues related to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church, stated:
You offend God not only by stealing, taking the Lord's name in vain or coveting your neighbor's wife, but also by wrecking the environment, participating in activities that generate poverty for others, or carrying out morally debatable experiments that manipulate DNA or harm embryos.
According to the tribunal, the 7 new sins are:
  1. bioethical violations such as birth control,
  2. morally dubious experiments such as stem cell research,
  3. drug abuse,
  4. polluting the environment,
  5. contributing to widening divide between rich and poor,
  6. excessive wealth,
  7. creating poverty.
For most people, these went unnoticed. Especially in the secular world, where people remain unimpressed by any wisdom the Church may have. However, I don’t think all Catholics were entirely thrilled about these either. Part of the reason for this is that these are very different types of sins. The earlier ones were more personal. You mess up at a very private level, you go to your priest, and come out with a clean conscience, hopefully inspired to reduce the presence of these sins in your life. But these ones are different.

Indeed, the focus is not only on one’s personal temptations that can lead one astray from a good Christian life (like addictions or drug abuse), nor is it strictly on moral issues, like the use of birth control or stem cell testing. There is also a strong focus on ‘relationships’, or lack thereof. It is our lack of strong connections with people that make us apathetic to their hardships. It’s our lack of a strong bond with creation that makes us neglect it time and time again. That we should consider these as sins is almost a no-brainer, and yet, it can’t be easy for anyone to hear how our level of sinfulness can reach deeply into our very lifestyle: How we practice business, how we interact with others, how we indulge in luxuries, how wasteful we can be. Yet, I believe thinking about these acts as sins is one of many first steps we can take in our efforts to be closer to God, or to quote the old prayer used in the musical Godspell: To see God more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly.


  1. I would have liked to see something on the list about excessive and unscrupulous media consumption. This undermines a healthy spiritual life and is far more widespread than excessive wealth, I imagine. (Also, I think #5 & #7 are morally the same.)

  2. Agreed! On the air, is in the air, to be a tab Mcluhan-esque. Many breath in media deeply, smoke and all. How do we cultivate a spiritual baleen to filter out? Why has media consumption become part and parcel of the charter of modern rights -- the right to convenience? Is the grand story being lost, diffused by little meaningless stories and images?

  3. I believe that the post is in error on several counts :
    Firstly the media did cover them, at least here in Australia, they covered the idea of "new"sins with ridicule - a sort "here they go again!"reaction!

    Secondly the post is wrong in agreeing that they are "new"- everyone of them could be deduced by the properly -informed conscience as sinful in the normal course of living. The use of the word "new"sins was unfortunate and inaccurate. Whereas the && Deadly Sins are carefully crafted general headings that embrace everything, the published list is no more than a set of sub-headings under which specific actions may be identified.