Seven (New) Deadly Sins? Or Not?
As an example of how the media sometimes can get a story wrong, or at least confuse things unnecessarily, witness the story from the March 8 issue of L’Osservatore Romano, which included an entirely sensible interview with Bishop Gianfranco Girotto, an official at the Apostolic Penitentiary, on the subject of social sin. Contrasting an older understanding of sin as more individualistic in nature, Bishop Girotto noted that sin "today...has an impact and resonance that is above all social, because of the great phenomenon of globalization." He pointed to a number of "social sins" (by now a familiar term to Catholics accustomed to hearing it applied to racism, sexism and anti-Semitism). Among those he mentioned were economic injustice, environmental irresponsibility, accumulation of excessive wealth and genetic experimentation with unforeseen consequences. The media’s reporting, however, transmogrified this into something different. "Seven New Deadly Sins," wrote the Times Online, mistaking the main point of the interview, which was that these new social sins were in fact different in nature for those more individualist "deadly sins," which focused more on regulating a variety of human passions. "Vatican Lists New Sinful Behavior," wrote the Associated Press, as if accumulating excessive wealth hadn’t been already condemned by the church for centuries, and, before that by--well, Jesus for one. My guess is that some in the media bobbled this story for two reasons, neither of them malicious. First, a general unfamiliarity with the contemporary Catholic tradition of social sin, even though under Pope John Paul II something like "anti-Semitism" was often referred to in those terms. And, second, the fact that a headline that reads "Seven New Deadly Sins" is undeniably sexier than a headline saying, "Vatican Official Deepens Church’s Reflection on Longstanding Tradition of Social Sin." The Vatican’s intent seemed to be less about adding to the traditional "deadly" sins (lust, anger, sloth, pride, avarice, gluttony, envy) than reminding the world that sin has a social dimension, and that participation in institutions that themselves sin is an important point upon which believers needed to reflect. In other words, if you work for a company that pollutes the environment, you have something more important to consider for Lent than whether or not to give up chocolate. Update: Here’s NPR’s take on the situation, along with some commentary by your blogger: "NPR" James Martin, SJ
Bill McCormick, S.J.
Catholic News Service
James Martin, S.J.
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