Cardinal McElroy Questions 17th Century Teaching on Sexual Sin

Mar 3, 2023 | 0 comments

Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego

In a defence of his appeal for the admission to the Eucharist of divorced and remarried Catholics, and those in LGBT+ relationships, Cardinal Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, California, has questioned a 17th century doctrinal innovation that made only sexual sins of all kinds necessarily ‘mortal’ sins, capable of separating the sinner from God.

In the Jesuit weekly ‘America Cardinal McElroy writes that:


“For most of the history of the church, various gradations of objective wrong in the evaluation of sexual sins were present in the life of the church. But in the 17th century, with the inclusion in Catholic teaching of the declaration that for all sexual sins there is no parvity of matter (i.e., no circumstances can mitigate the grave evil of a sexual sin), we relegated the sins of sexuality to an ambit in which no other broad type of sin is so absolutely categorized.”
He goes on to ask:
“Does the tradition that all sexual sins are objectively mortal make sense within the universe of Catholic moral teaching?”
The cardinal goes on to point out that while the use of artificial contraception is argued to be a mortal sin in accordance with this teaching, the church does not teach that physical or psychological abuse of a husband or wife is a mortal sin, or that this judgement applies to the exploitation of employees or to racial or gender or religious discrimination, or even to the abandonment of one’s children.
With Pope Francis also apparently arguing against the elevation of all specifically sexual sin onto a separate and higher plane of gravity, Cardinal McElroy’s questions seem set to feature in the synodal meetings of Catholic bishops in the autumn of 2023 and again in 2024.  In December 2021, when asked about the admission by a French archbishop of an affair with an adult woman,  the pope declared:
“This is sin, but it is not one of the most serious sins, because the sins of the flesh are not the most serious. The gravest sins are those that are more angelic: pride, hatred. These are graver.”
For Cardinal McElroy’s complete article in ‘America‘, click here.
Cardinal Robert W. McElroy is the bishop of the Diocese of San Diego. He is author of The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contributions of John Courtney Murray (Paulist Press, 1989) and Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs (Princeton University Press, 1992).


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