BBC has an interesting story on the new seven deadly sins of our time.
The Vatican has brought up to date the traditional seven deadly sins by adding seven modern mortal sins it claims are becoming prevalent in what it calls an era of "unstoppable globalisation".
This is a tremendous breakthrough, not so much for the Vatican, but for the understanding that we have of sin. "Sins" are often understood as constituted by a simple list of "wrongs" that stand outside of one's social context. The one way that this may be said to be true is in relation to the seven deadly sins. They constitute, one could say, the "conditions for the possibility" of sin in general, whatever its kind or variety. In this sense they are universal categories of fallen humanity. However, the constant re-articulation of the meaning of what these sins designate is important. The Vatican has done this in the person of Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, who is quickly becoming a personal hero of mine. His new list includes:
- Environmental pollution
- Genetic manipulation
- Accumulating excessive wealth
- Inflicting poverty
- Drug trafficking and consumption
- Morally debatable experiments
- Violation of fundamental rights of human nature
The new mortal sins were listed by Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti at the end of a week-long training seminar in Rome for priests, aimed at encouraging a revival of the practice of confession - or the Sacrament of Penance in Church jargon.
The job of a priest in confession is often to help reveal or uncover the sins of which the penitent is unaware. Ignatius of Loyola was revolutionary in his understanding of sin in the First Week as something that we don't simply "know" but that God must "reveal" to the sinner. We are so careful and clever in devising mechanisms of veiling that the disclosure of our own sins is not something of which we are capable. Benedict points to this in his comments:
Talking to course members at the end of the seminar organised by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican department in charge of fixing the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners, Pope Benedict added his own personal voice of disquiet. "We are losing the notion of sin," he said. "If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm," he added. The Pope confesses his sins regularly once a week.
Priests are helps to penitents by helping them understand and "see" their own sins. The above list is attempting to be a new list of "existential categories" of sin as revealed by reflection in a new age of globalization and consumerism. It argues what many have been arguing for a long time, that practices such as artificial contraception and condom use and unhampered capitalism and unsustainable treatment of the environment stem from the same root sin. Philosophically they date to Descartes; Spiritually they date back to the snake in the garden whose very first temptation of Eve was a mistreatment of creation in order to usurp the place of God. Instead of subduing and caring for the earth, Adam and Eve raped it. And so do we.
In an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Girotti said he thought the most dangerous areas for committing new types of sins lay in the fields of bio-ethics and ecology. He also named abortion and paedophilia as two of the greatest sins of our times.
Fr. Gerald O'Collins added some thoughts:
"It was interesting that these remarks came from the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary," he said. "I can't remember a time when it was so concerned about issues such as environmental pollution and social injustice. It's a new way of thinking."
Let's hope we listen.