Catholicism in the Culture: Sin, Crime, and the Duggars

Catholicism in the culture: Sin and Crime @emily_m_deardo

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

There are also different types of sin. 

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

(The entire section on confession is worth a read, if you’re interested, or this post)

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.

Catholic 101: Confession

Catholic 101: Confession

Or, what it is and how to do it.

One of my non-Catholic friends asked me, as we ate Chinese two weeks ago, all about confession. “What do you say in there? And how do you know what’s a sin and what isn’t? And what sins send you to Hell?” So we spent the rest of the meal unpacking these questions. (This is what my friends and I talk about.)


The first thing is what is sin. Sin, according to the CCC, 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. (CCC 1849)

There are two types of sin: Mortal and venial. Mortal sin destroys all grace in your soul, as well as your relationship with God. If you die with mortal sin on your soul, the Church says you go to Hell. Venial sin, while still sin, wounds your relationship with God; it doesn’t completely destroy it.

The only way to remove mortal sin from our souls is to go to confession. Venial sins can be forgiven a few ways, but it’s always good to go to confession regularly, even if it’s just venial sins. (I mean, you really don’t want to be committing mortal sins on a regular basis, guys.)

Since mortal sin merits such a serious punishment, there are three criteria that must be met for something to be considered mortal sin. They are:

  1. Full knowledge
  2. Grave matter
  3. Deliberate consent

So, you have to know that it’s wrong. For example, you cannot kill the guy who hit your car. We all know murder is wrong.

Grave matter, i.e., not a white lie. Telling someone her dress is lovely, when it’s really hideous, isn’t a mortal sin. Neither is “the dog ate my homework.” Lying to a grand jury? Yes. Or, in our murder case, taking someone’s life? Yes.

Deliberate consent–you fully choose to do the action. “I know that murder is wrong, and I know it’s a big deal, but I am going to do it anyway.” “I am married, and I know adultery is wrong, but I am going to sleep with Mrs. Jones’ husband.”

If all three things are present, then it’s a mortal sin. You cannot accidentally commit a mortal sin. If you’re raped, you are not committing a mortal sin, since, obviously, you are not deliberately consenting to it!

So here are some mortal sins: Missing Mass on Sunday for a not-important reason (“I wanted to do the NYT crossword,” for example….or “I’m going to go shopping instead of going to church”); adultery; murder; rape, and abortion (which is, you know, murder). Things that you generally go to jail for are mortal sins (theft, etc.) . You cannot receive communion with unconfessed mortal sin on your soul, so if you’ve committed one, get to confession post-haste.

Venial sins are things like disobeying your parents, calling someone a name, gossip, taking the Lord’s name in vain, etc. Anything that violates the 10 commandments is sin. But as we’ve already said, there are degrees of sin. Not every sin merits the same punishment.

When we go to confession, we are confessing our sins to Christ, who is there in the person of the priest. The format can be found here. Also–do an examination of conscience before you go in. Be concise. Confession isn’t therapy, so don’t take an hour, guys! Try to be as succinct as possible.

If you forget a sin after confession, that’s OK. There have been multiple times I’ve left the confessional and gone, “Oh, crap, I forgot to mention X.” However, if you deliberately omit something, that’s not OK. All mortal sins must be confessed in kind (what you did) and number (how many times you did it)–i.e., “I murdered five people”, or “I committed adultery with my co-worker’s husband five times.”

(And, no, the priest cannot divulge what he hears in the confessional. That’s totally against church law and carries severe punishment for the priest. What you say in confession is entirely confidential.)

The priest will give you a penance that you have to do. Hopefully it’s a penance that’s clear and simple to do–like “say five Hail Marys”–as opposed to something like “be nice to someone today.” (I hate those sorts of penances.) You shouldn’t get a Herculean Penance from a priest, like cleaning the Augean stables. You will say an act of contrition and the priest will absolve you from your sins. Remember to thank the priest! (manners, peeps. Manners!) After confession, it’s a good time to perform your penance. Do it right away so you don’t forget about it.

The Church recommends that we go to confession frequently, but requires that we go to confession and receive communion at least once a year, preferably during the Easter Season (which we’re in right now)–this is often called the “Easter Duty.” Basically, it’s one of the bare minimum requirements of Catholicism.

The more you go to confession, the easier it gets, and the more sensitive you are to sin, meaning you’re more aware of what constituents it and when you’re doing it. The pope, in general, goes once a week. If the pope is going once a week, then I don’t think once a month is too much to ask for us normal Catholics. I try to go once a month. Sometimes the month gets away from me.

So that, in a nutshell, is Confession!

Easter 2015


On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

–John 20:1-9

painting: Bergognone – “Christ Risen from the Tomb”

He Is Risen!

He Is Risen Indeed!

Holy Week 2015: Holy Saturday


Now in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish Day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

–John 19:41-42

painting: Baltasar de Echave y Rioja, “The Burial of Christ” 

Holy Week 2015: Good Friday


See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him—
so marred was his look beyond human semblance
and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man—
so shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
for those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Who would believe what we have heard?
To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up like a sapling before him,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him,
nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by people,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
one of those from whom people hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
a grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though he had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.

If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.

–Isaiah 52:13-53:12


first image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, “Christ Carrying the Cross”

Second image: Fra Angelico, “St. Dominic Adoring the Crucifixion” 

Holy Week 2015: Holy Thursday


Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?”Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.”For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

–John 13:1-15

painting: Dirck van Beburen, “Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet” 

Holy Week 2015: Spy Wednesday


One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said,“Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”’” The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”

–Matthew 26: 14-25

painting: The Kiss of Judas by Fra Angelico

Holy Week 2015: Tuesday of Holy Week


Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,“Master, who is it?”Jesus answered,“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas,son of Simon the Iscariot.After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,“Buy what we need for the feast,”or to give something to the poor. So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.

When he had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,and he will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered him,“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,though you will follow later.” Peter said to him,“Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”

–John 13: 21-33, 36-38

painting: Salvador Dali, Christ of St. John of the Cross

Holy Week 2015: Monday of Holy Week

Vermeer Christ with Martha and Mary

Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus, too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him. 

–John 12:1-11

Painting: Johannes Vermeer, Christ in the Home of Martha and Mary

Holy Week 2015: Palm Sunday

Holy Week 2015: Palm Sunday


Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion
shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king shall come to you;
a just savior is he,
Meek, and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the foal of an ass.

–Zechariah 9:9

Palm Sunday, the day the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as their king into the city.

And in five days, they will be calling for him to die.

As my pastor said in his homily last night, “how fickle we are.”

Let’s enter deeply into Holy Week this year. What is God saying to us in this most holy week of the year?

(side note: Palms are blessed, they’re sacramentals, meaning that you can’t just throw the old ones away. You have to burn them and then throw away the ashes [this is actually how we get Ash Wednesday ashes; they’re the burnt palms from the year before], or toss the palm into a garden or your yard, so that it returns to nature that way. I usually put it in my front landscaping bed after burning off a bit of it. But remember to treat it and all blessed objects reverently!)