How Can We Explain the Severe Abuse of Power?

A number of recent news stories prompt the question: How can we explain the behavior of persons who, when they obtain power, use that power to abuse their fellow human persons?

The theological answer is based on grace, sin, and free will. We are all in a fallen state, and therefore subject to temptation and sin. And this is sufficient to explain why even holy persons commit venial sins. But what explains behavior that is very gravely immoral, which even sinful secular society has no trouble condemning?

Many persons in the world today are in the state of sanctifying grace. They have the three theological virtues of love, faith, and hope. They have the grace of God continually guiding and enlightening their souls. They love their neighbor and, at least implicitly, they love God. A person enters this state of grace, which is the state of loving our neighbors, by a baptism of water or desire or blood. And a person leaves this state only by committing an actual mortal sin. Having left the state of loving everyone actual mortal sin, the only path to return to that state is by repentance.

Persons who commit actual mortal sin and refuse to repent, remain in a state devoid of true love of neighbor. They are literally incapable of selflessly loving anyone, including their friends, family, spouse, and children — until and unless they repent. Now repentance from actual mortal sin can take the form of a selfless act of love, so that the repentance from past grave sins is implicit. But failing repentance sufficient to forgive grave sin, they remain incapable of true love.

Many persons in the world today are not in the state of grace and have not been for very many years. They have committed one actual mortal sin after another, frequently, unceasingly, without any repentance. They not only lack any type of true love for others, but they are immersed in grave sin and prefer grave sin over any type of true love or other good acts. They do not wish to repent, for repentance implies the humiliation of admitting wrongdoing, giving up grave sin that they enjoy committing, practicing self-denial, putting aside their own needs and desires to help others. In short, repentance requires them to change and become a type of person they do not want to be, and to live a type of life they have chosen to reject. They are not in the state of grace, have not been in the state of grace for many years, and they do not want to be in the state of grace at all.

After committing many actual mortal sins, day after day, year after year, they rejoice in grave sins and commit grave sins whenever they wish, with no regard for the harm done to other persons. And when such a person obtains power and influence, in some way, they rejoice in their ability to sin gravely without suffering any negative consequences.

Sometimes such persons hide their sinfulness. They pretend to care about others, because they wish to be accepted and praised, and because they can more effectively sin when their evil deeds are hidden. But at times, an individual might obtain enough power that his or her grave sins are known to many persons, and yet they do little or nothing against that person. The individual has a great deal of power, and uses that power to avoid consequences for their sins and crimes.

Is this type of behavior explained by mental illness? No, I don’t think do. The individual knows what they are doing is wrong, but they just don’t care. Is this behavior explained by the culture? No, not really. For other persons in the same culture easily recognize these acts as gravely immoral. The only explanation is that these persons are deliberately doing what they know to be seriously wrong, and they just don’t want to live a life of doing good, avoiding evil, and loving others.

There are people like that in the entertainment industry, in the news industry, in politics, in religion, in human services, in schools. Everywhere that persons have influence and power, there are some persons deeply committed to exceedingly grave sin, who misuse their positions.

The reason is that they are not in the state of grace. They have rejected the grace of God that assists human persons to be good and to do good. They have rejected the grace of God that allows us and assists us in loving others and in being loving persons. They secretly despise true selfless love, as it requires self-denial, humility, and putting the needs of others before one’s own needs. They do not want to love others, as they find great enjoyment in selfishness, in the misuse of power, in putting their own desires first. They know that what they are doing is wrong (and thus their deeds are actual mortal sins), and they don’t care.

There are people like that in the Catholic Church. Some few are Cardinals or Bishops. More than a few are priests, deacons, or religious. Some use their power to commit sexual sins. But many others use their power to commit sins against religion. Their teachings make excuses for grave sins. Their teachings undermine the basic truths of the eternal moral law. They justify grave sins, such as the use of abortifacients, unnatural sexual acts in marriage, as well as sins of heresy and schism. They reject the teaching of the faith on intrinsically evil acts. Their theology does grave harm to soul and to body. And yet they continue to have positions of power in the Church, because so many Catholics support their false teachings.

In the end, God will hold each person accountable for their words and deeds, whether those deeds were public or private. Even the deepest recesses of the heart and mind will be judged by God. Some Catholic teachers and leaders will stand before that judgment and be found worthy. Many others will be found deserving of severe punishment.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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11 Responses to How Can We Explain the Severe Abuse of Power?

  1. Matt says:

    Great post, Ron!

  2. Tom Mazanec says:

    You know, I often read something like “The actions of Gary Ridgeway (or whoever) proves that there is a Devil.” No, the actions of Gary Ridge way only prove that Gary Ridgeway is evil. “The Devil made me do it.” does not wash. Satan exists, but I believe that on Faith, not because of human or social evil, which can be adequately explained by Flesh and The World.

  3. Matt Z. says:

    I just listened to a audio by Servant of God, Fr.John Hardon on conscience so I will just add that many sins start off as one not informing their conscience through vincible ignorance. Laziness, people thinking their conscience is God, or looking at false information online because one gets pleasure out of it. On top of that sin makes the conscience blind.

  4. Tom Mazanec says:

    If a Nazi believed Jews were cursed for killing Christ, and took part in the Shoah, would he go to Heaven if he died believing this? I read a passage by St. Alphonsus Liguori saying something about the Jews being cursed till the end of the world for killing Christ. If a Saint can write this, can a Nazi go to heaven?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Jews are not cursed. If Alphonsus was, in some sense, right, it can only be this: The Jewish faith, by rejecting Christ, turned aside from the plan intended by God. Judaism was a preparation for Christ. After rejecting Christ, the Jewish faith has then lost this end toward which the religion was ordered. So now there is an inherent disorder in Judaism. Even so, faithful Jews will go to Heaven when they die. And, even so, no one goes to Heaven who commits murder or mass murder or genocide, no matter what they believed (unless they repent).

      At the very end of the tribulation, when Christ returns, all faithful Jews will accept Him, and thus the figurative curse will be removed, and the proper order restored to the Jewish faith.

      The Nazis who committed genocide and did not repent went to Hell. There are certain grave sins so clearly contrary to morality and love of neighbor that they cannot be committed with a sincere but mistaken conscience. It doesn’t matter what the Nazis believed about Jews. They commit an actual mortal sin by committing genocide.

  5. Tom Mazanec says:

    If I die before I perform my Penance from Confession, do I suffer a penalty?

  6. Tom Mazanec says:

    Ron, is this video on a Marian apparition predicting a chastisement greater than the Flood authentic?
    [link deleted]

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