Social Sin

The principles, values, and virtues taught by the Church consist in relatively broad, positive, general exhortations and guidance to seek and do good. In keeping with the requirements of subsidiarity, the Church acknowledges and encourages public debate concerning the manner in which its teachings should be applied.

The Church also recognizes, however, that within such debate there exist limits on what can legitimately be considered proper moral behavior. Accordingly, the Church acknowledges the concept of social, or “structural,” sin.

[W]e can speak of personal and social sin. Every sin is personal under a certain aspect; under another, every sin is social, insofar as and because it also has social consequences… taking into account the fact that by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others…  It is not, however, legitimate or acceptable to understand social sin… [as cancelling] the personal component by admitting only social guilt and responsibility. At the bottom of every situation of sin there is always the individual who sins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Compendium [117]

The concept of social sin has firm roots in the Gospel. Christ indicated very clearly at Matthew 25:31-46 that nations will be judged on the manner in which they have treated the weakest, poorest, and most abused.

[Social sin includes] every sin against the rights of the human person, starting with the right to life, including that of life in the womb, and every sin against the physical integrity of the individual; every sin against the freedom of others, especially against the supreme freedom to believe in God and worship him; and every sin against the dignity and honor of one’s neighbor. Every sin against the common good and its demands, in the whole broad area of rights and duties of citizens, is also social sin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Compendium [118]

Actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God and the good of neighbor, as well as the structures arising from such behavior, appear to fall into two categories today: on the one hand, the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others. In order to characterize better each of these attitudes, one can add the expression: ‘at any price.’

                                                                                                                                                                                              Compendium [119]

Seven Social Sins

The concept of a grouping of seven social sins, as a complement to the traditional seven deadly sins of the individual, appears to have originated in a sermon delivered by Anglican Canon Frederick Donaldson of Westminster Abbey in 1925. Canon Donaldson’s listing was adapted by Mohandas Gandhi in the struggle for Indian independence.

In 2008, Bishop Gianfanco Girotti, of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, published a modified list.

The following listing was created by Catholic Conscience, with reference to the earlier listings of Canon Donaldson and Bishop Girotti and with special reference to the Compendium:

1. Politics of fear, hate, or exclusion:

• Government by fear, division, or abuse.
• Derogation of conscience rights.
• Interference with free, responsible speech.
• Military or police aggression.
• Disrespect of future generations through the creation of non-sustainable social, economic, or legal structures.

2. Misuse of Creation:

• Abuse of our fellow living things.
• Abuse of the environment.

3. Society without love:

• Religion of hate, fear, or exclusion
• Indifference to others

4. Acquisition or retention of unjust wealth:

• Promoting poverty.
• Contributing to unjust distribution of social produce; increasing the gap between rich and poor.
• Accumulation of unnecessary wealth.

5. Commerce or industry without morality:

• Creation and exploitation of false needs, promotion of unsustainable consumption.
• Exploitation of workers, or by workers.
• Interference with dignified work, e.g., unnecessary automation.

6. Science without humanity, e.g.:

• Interference with life between conception and natural death.
• Creation, possession, or use of biological weapons, weapons of aggression, or of weapons of mass destruction.

7. Exploitation of ignorance; acquiescence in ignorance:

• Unprincipled education.
• Promotion of entertainment without conscience, e.g.,

i. Substance abuse.
ii. Salacious media.

• Promotion of vanity and self-centeredness.
• Misuse of news, irresponsible journalism.

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