Masturbation: Mortal Sin?GRACE MACKINNON
Dear Grace: What is the Catholic Church's teaching on masturbation? Is it viewed as a mortal sin or as a venial sin? Could it prevent us from getting into heaven?
answer this, let us look, first of all, at the Church's teaching. In 1975, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Declaration on Certain
Problems of Sexual Ethics, and it is this document that the Catechism of
the Catholic Church quotes regarding this issue. "Both the Magisterium of
the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the
faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is
an intrinsically and gravely disordered action" (CCC# 2352). Whatever the
motive, solitary sex in itself contradicts the meaning of human sexuality, which
is meant by God to be shared between a man and a woman in marriage.
ask if masturbation is viewed as a mortal or venial sin. Remember, that for a
sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met. It has to be a very serious
and grave matter, which is committed with full knowledge and with deliberate consent.
What we are saying is that for it to be mortal sin, it would have to be done deliberately,
knowing that it is not what God wishes for us and without any regard for that.
In order to judge the morality of a human act, certain conditions have to be considered.
The Church recognizes, for example, that in the practice of masturbation, psychological
factors including adolescent immaturity, lack of psychological balance, and even
ingrained habit can influence a person's behavior, and this could lessen or even
eliminate moral responsibility.
The condition that many persons claim
for their innocence regarding masturbation is habit, and we certainly know how
difficult habits are to break. We must keep in mind, however, that habit does
not completely destroy the voluntary nature of our acts. As Christians who are
going to be held accountable for our actions, we must strive to unite ourselves
to the Lord and, therefore, do all we can to curb or eliminate all habits that
detach us from Him. So, if a person is masturbating and knows fully that it is
wrong, and does it willingly without doing anything to resist, then he or she
is guilty of grave sin.
If they are in doubt about the morality of any
sexual activity, a person should talk to his or her confessor, a priest. After
listening to all of the circumstances and conditions surrounding an individual's
actions, he will make a judgment and give the proper guidance. Sometimes, professional
help will have to be sought. But we should be careful with this because some professionals
will actually encourage masturbation, and this would be wrong. God knows that
we will sometimes fail, but He does expect us to do our best to live according
to His ways. He knows when we have done all we can to resist sin. If we have done
that and have acknowledged and confessed our sin, then we can rest in the knowledge
that we have done our best, and that He will forgive us.
Grace MacKinnon. "Masturbation: Mortal Sin?" (March, 2004).
with permission of Grace MacKinnon.
MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. She
is the author of Dear
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