Earlier this week, I read this article in the Washington Post about Josh Duggar’s inappropriate (and quite frankly, gross) actions against several of his sisters and another family friend. That alone isn’t worth blogging about, though. What is worth writing about are are similarities and difference between sin and crime–something that the author of this piece doesn’t seem to understand. The author seems to think that “repentance” is equal to getting off scot-free, and that there isn’t any sort of price to be paid for committing sin, whereas with a crime, there is a cost–jail, usually, or a fine of some sort.
When you treat this as a sin instead of a crime, you let everyone down…The behavior alleged was a crime, not a sin.
Actually, it’s both. If I commit murder, I have sinned and committed a crime. Same with theft, abuse, using illegal drugs, etc. There are some things that are sins but aren’t crimes, like adultery. You can’t go to jail for sleeping with your co-worker’s wife. No one’s going to lock me up for not observing the sabbath or for taking God’s name in vain (at least in the United States).
Let’s look at a few terms, here, because the author didn’t, and that’s a big problem.
First off, what is sin? Here’s how the Catechism defines it:
1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121
1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation
We see, in this definition of sin, that no sin only hurts one person. Sin is an offense against God. It is opposed to grace. Sin removes grace from your soul, and places you farther from God.
Now, what is crime? According to Merriam-Webster, crime is:
: an illegal act for which someone can be punished by the government
: activity that is against the law : illegal acts in general
: an act that is foolish or wrong
So both sin and crime are about doing things that are wrong, whether by God’s law, the law of the state/country/county, or by Natural Moral Law. Essentially, Natural Moral Law states that even if you never met a Christian, read the Bible, or ever heard of Jesus Christ, there are some things that humans know are intuitively wrong. As Catholicism for Dummies puts it:
Moral law is natural because it’s known by reason — not written in stone or on paper, like the Commandments or the Bible. It’s moral because it applies only to moral acts — actions of human beings that involve a free act of the will. (It doesn’t apply to animals, because they don’t have the use of reason.)
What Josh Duggar did (and he confessed to doing it, so this isn’t alleged behavior) is both a sin and a crime. He committed a sin by violating one of God’s commandments–sexual acts outside of marriage are wrong. (While the Duggars have some pretty extreme courtship measures, the general message of “no sexual activity until you’re married” is a tenant of Catholicism, as well. But full-frontal hugs are allowed, and I never dated with my siblings as a chaperone, etc. The Duggars embrace a pretty hard-core version of purity, which the article discusses.) So that’s sin. However, it’s also illegal to perform sexual activities on others without their consent, so that’s the crime portion of the situation. Both require confession and punishment/penance, but they go about it differently.
If the Duggars were Catholic, they would have strongly suggested that Josh confess this sin (you can’t compel a confession. The penitent has to come to it of his own free will and with a proper spirit of contrition), and he would have received a penance. After the penance was completed, Josh would have been fully absolved from the sin, thus returning to a state of grace and a state of friendship with God. The Catechism says (my emphases)
1468 “The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.”73 Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.”74 Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.75
1469 This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it. In this sense it does not simply heal the one restored to ecclesial communion, but has also a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members.76 Re-established or strengthened in the communion of saints, the sinner is made stronger by the exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the Body of Christ, whether still on pilgrimage or already in the heavenly homeland:77
It must be recalled that . . . this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded. He is reconciled with the Church. He is reconciled with all creation.78
So, not only would Josh’s sins have been forgiven after confession, but he also would’ve received grace to strengthen him against committing sin again. (as I tell my first graders–GRACE IS AWESOME.)
Now, that being said–confession heals the person’s relationship with God. When criminal activity occurs, the Church believes that the process of law and due process has to happen for the common good of society. For example, if a murderer comes and confesses his sin, the priest will strongly urge that person to confess to the authorities, as well. It’s part and parcel of justice, which is a virtue. If you steal, you not only confess it–you have to pay back what you stole.
So, yes, Josh’s parents would’ve had to turn him in to the authorities. What happens after the crime has been admitted is a different thing in different localities, and thus outside the realm of this discussion.
However, the thing to remember is that sin hurts everyone. When you sin, you don’t just confess and get off scot free. There has to be penance, there has to be contrition and yes, you have to do your penance. The author of this piece is wrong when she suggests that sin and crime are different things, and that one is more or less serious than the other. Sin and crime are both offenses against other people, and both must be dealt with accordingly, whether sacramentally or judicially.