“We are all sinners,” is a popular quote from Pope Francis. But a recent survey indicates “we all” disagree on exactly what’s a sin.
Is it using artificial contraceptives? Squandering energy resources? Having an abortion? Buying expensive stuff without donating to the poor? Out of wedlock cohabitation?
These were among 10 possible deeds of the devil that the Pew Research Center asked Catholics to evaluate in its recent national survey. The results show many Catholics, now invigorated by the Pope’s U.S. visit, nonetheless disagree with church teachings about the definition of sin.
Contrary to Catholic teachings, for example, two-thirds of U.S. Catholics said that using artificial birth control was not a sin. Likewise, most (61 percent) said getting a divorce is not sinful, nor is living with a sexual partner without being married (54 percent).
Even with the hot-button issue of abortion, 57 percent said abortion was a sinful behavior, but 23 percent — or nearly one in four — said it wasn’t.
Pope Francis’ message of helping the poor and protecting the environment apparently is gaining some ground. Four out of 10 Catholics surveyed said it was a sin to “buy luxuries without giving to the poor.” One in four said the same about using “energy without considering the environment.”
But Catholics draw the line on a few potentially sinful behaviors, namely drinking those frothy beers or glasses of wine in their spacious homes. Only 12 percent said drinking alcohol was a sin, the same percent who condemned living in a house “larger than needed.”
While they differ on what actions are morally wrong, nine out of 10 Catholics believe that some actions are divine transgressions (sins), the survey indicated. That’s basically the same as Protestants.
Unlike Protestants, however, Catholics can absolve their sins through the sacrament of confession. Pope Francis is urging more to do just that — but it could take time. Only about four in 10 Catholics report going to confession once a year, and 28 percent say they don’t go at all.