Preparing Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on reconciliation and penance for this site, I’ve noted his assessment of a “loss of a sense of sin,” this, as of 1984. I’m more convinced than ever this is a misdiagnosis of things in the real world. I think the human sense of sin can shift from person to person, group to group, nation to nation over time. If I were to make a brief declaration on the matter, I think human beings improve on some fronts and decline on others. No generation is any better or worse. All are in need of Jesus Christ and his saving grace.
We can be confident that grace operates in believers, that sinners can repent and an awareness of sin increases as does the commitment to self-examination, admitting wrong, and making amends when and where appropriate.
Just as confidently, we can note individuals and groups falling into moral misbehavior: social media abusers, people who perpetrate lies, insurrections, wars, crusades, arms build-ups, etc.. Maybe with stockpiles of nuclear weapons and the rocketry to deliver them seem to spread, the dangers of the age are greater than when people fought with bows and arrows or slings on chariots.
On the plus side, Twelve Step programs spread a gospel of recovery to addicts of all sorts. If an alcoholic finds a sponsor as a first go-to rather than a confessor, I’m not sure I would count that as a loss of a sense of sin. It’s a judgment of trust. Maybe that judgment is misplaced if one adheres to a vision that sacramental penance is optimal, but that’s another loss. Not of a sense of sin.
Society, especially in the West, has begun to repent of racism and sexism. As a consequence, people of color and women find fewer obstacles in their way … maybe that’s a recognition that discrimination was wrong. Hopefully white men are doing more than go along with it. A lot of guys seem to recognize that keepings ceilings in place is a bad thing. Would they identify it as sinful? Would they have to go to confession for past sins against non-white non-males?
I was thinking about all that when this news item crossed my screen today. Fr Hans Zollner, SJ on bishops and addressing abuse:
(T)he bishops know what they are supposed to do, and they have the handbook to do that, so they have no excuse anymore. (The pontifical secret specifically) gives no excuse whatsoever to deny collaboration with state authorities.
I’m not sure the bishops realize that the charter, the handbook, the movement by a pope will not be enough. Rebuilding trust will take a lot of time. Probably more than a generation. Given the whack-a-mole nature of misbehaving bishops around the world, every major scandal sets the clock back to zero. Ted McCarrick erased the 2002 charter and all the work in the 16 years that followed.
Catholics may, more or less, trust their local bishop. I continue to see Right-leaning believers call for things like the abolition of the USCCB. I don’t think they understand their own request at all. They seem to just dislike any prelate who disagrees with them. They are prepared to bishop-shop just like any dissatisfied Catholic will hunt down a “better” parish. Will most people ever be happy with their bishop again? Likely never to the level as things were before the 1960s. Or 2002.
When we get to the so-called loss, we’ll discuss in detail. And maybe the sainted pope can convince me. For now, I remain a discouraged realist. No age has any particular advantage in terms of virtue or vice, and the bottom line is that everybody has work to do without comparing how we measure up to someone, somewhere, or some time else.