The Vatican has now defined an extended list of sins – updating a tradition that is 1500 years old. And, may I say, it signals a crumbling of the Catholic Church.
That’s a dramatic suggestion and it’s not intended to be anything but an observation. Consider what is happening here and make your own assessment.
A recent Milan Catholic University survey of Italian Catholics, arguably as devout a constituency as could be found on the planet, showed a serious change in attitude toward perennial Catholic practice. Attendance at confession is no longer practiced by 60% of Italian Catholics.
The Catholic University showed that 30 percent of Italian Catholics believed that there was no need for a priest to be God’s intermediary and 20 percent felt uncomfortable talking about their sins to another person.
These findings prompted Pope Benedict XVI to express concern over rising secularization. He told a seminar group that hedonism and consumerism had even invaded “the bosom of the Church itself, deeply undermining the Christian faith from within, and undermining the lifestyle and daily behaviour of believers”.
In apparent response to this trend Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti of the Vatican Apostolic Penitentiary told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”.
“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos,” he said.
Now the Vatican says it is time to modernize the list of sins to fit a global world.
Commendable as it may be to draw attention to all forms of wrong, including those that have previously been sidelined, the TREND of what is happening is more significant than the detail.
Here we have one of the most powerful forces in Christendom acting as a handmaiden to social pressures beyond its control. In previous generations this would never be so. In centuries past the Catholic Church set the trend. Indeed Christianity has imposed itself on cultures, nations, families and individuals with profound impact again and again since it was born 2,000 years ago. Christianity has never had to be a handmaiden to society, but rather called society to accept its truths, receive its grace, comprehend its worldview and cooperate with its agenda.
So, I find this latest invention alarming. It signals that the Catholic Church has somehow embraced a position of powerlessness. It almost ascribes the greatest social prominence to the “forces of globalism”, probably including such corporations as McDonalds and Microsoft.
At the same time however, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is still as powerful as ever. The truth of Christianity owes nothing to global forces, but stands in their face and in their way, not needing to step aside to accommodate human culture. The Spirit of God does not need a new sales-pitch or a new message. The old rugged cross, that amazing grace and the church triumphant proceed full-force in this new millennium without apology and without need to re-invent themselves. Praise God for a Saviour who does not change, for grace that is always sufficient and for a hope that is eternal.
The Catholic Church may be signaling by this significant step that it has lost confidence in the gospel which spawned it. It will be interesting to observe, over the next decade or so, if similar expressions of accommodation emerge from the papal corridors.
Believers the world over, be they in traditional churches or underground gatherings, in cathedrals or jungle huts, need not be tempted to uncertainly or doubts about the relevance of their long-held faith. The rock cut out of the mountain is still growing into a mountain that fills the earth – and that is the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sources: Reuters – Vatican lists “new sins,” including pollution / Times Online – Seven new deadly sins: are you guilty? / CNN – Vatican Updates Sins. March 10, 2008