The Latest Q&A Post

Ask a question on any subject in theology.

This entry was posted in commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to The Latest Q&A Post

  1. Matt Z. says:

    Maybe it would be well to pin this at the top, you know, the latest Q and A? My question is this: From the Council of Trent on Grace, what does this mean? (13). If anyone says that, to attain the remission of sins, everyone must believe with certainty and without any misgiving because of his own weakness and defective disposition, that his sins are remitted: let him be anathema.

    • Ron Conte says:

      CANON XIII — If anyone says that it is necessary for every person, in order to attain to the remission of sins, to believe, with certitude and without any hesitation from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him: let him be anathema.

      It means that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is effective even if you have doubts about having received forgiveness. It also means that an act of perfect contrition forgives, even when the person has doubts.

    • Maybe you should have a section on the right hand side for all the Q&A posts.
      Some of them were quite awhile ago.

  2. Francisco says:

    Are the Eastern Orthodox Churches heretics besides being schismatic?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The hold ideas which are material heresy, and they are in a state of material schism. I would not charge them with the formal sins of heresy and schism, though, since they adhere to what they believe to be the true faith. They are not Catholics who have rejected their own Church’s dogma or authority.

  3. Matt says:

    I asked awhile back to rank sexual sins. Does the Church have an official position on the “hierarchy of sin?”

    BOTH Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine thought that unnatural acts were worse than rape. Because rape only violates charity to one’s neighbor and is violent, but unnatural acts are a sin against God himself (because he is the law giver of nature).

    It appears this was a widespread view: even the heretic Martin Luther thought masturbation was worse than heterosexual rape.

    Were they all wrong? Is this a 30-1600 AD theologians vs 1600-2000 AD theologian debate? So we don’t know who is right, it could be either of two apposing sides? (Or has the Church officially clarified). And relating to today, perhaps we should shift our outrage, because if you followed Saint Thomas Aquinas all the way, then we should rank masturbation as a worse sin than heterosexual sexual assault and rape. What are your thoughts?

    • Ron Conte says:

      St. Thomas ranked masturbation as less sinful than other types of sexual sin. In that particular ranking, he did not mention rape.

      Rape is worse than consensual sexual sins. Rape of a child is even more gravely immoral, as the CCC says. Most of the time, when a child is raped, the sexual acts are of the unnatural type.

    • Matt says:

      I realize priest abuse is of the unnatural type, that is why I said “heterosexual assault and rape.” But more importantly, am I misinterpreting the below from Thomas Aquinas. Here is objection number 1 in the Summa (Article 12. Whether the unnatural vice is the greatest sin among the species of lust?)

      MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Notice the word RAPE is included in the objection he is replying to. He explicitly says they are an AN INJURY IS DONE TO GOD. Is this a mistranslation? Is he only looking at adultery and seduction? Then why is RAPE included in this list? And is St. Thomas Aquinas mistaken to say St. Augustine agrees with him?

      Thomas Aquinas: “Objection 1. It would seem that the unnatural vice is not the greatest sin among the species of lust. For the more a sin is contrary to charity the graver it is. Now adultery, seduction and RAPE which are injurious to our neighbor are seemingly more contrary to the love of our neighbor, than unnatural sins, by which no other person is injured. Therefore the unnatural sin is not the greatest among the species of lust.”

      Thomas Aquinas: “Reply to Objection 1. Just as the ordering of right reason proceeds from man, so the order of nature is from God Himself: wherefore in sins contrary to nature, whereby the very order of nature is violated, AN INJURY IS DONE TO GOD, the Author of nature. Hence AUGUSTINE says (Confess. iii, 8): “Those foul offenses that are against nature should be everywhere and at all times detested and punished, such as were those of the people of Sodom, which should all nations commit, they should all stand guilty of the same crime, by the law of God which hath not so made men that they should so abuse one another. For even that very intercourse which should be between God and us is violated, when that same nature, of which He is the Author, is polluted by the perversity of lust.”

    • Ron Conte says:

      So these two Saints are saying that consensual unnatural sex is more gravely immoral than rape by natural intercourse. They might be correct about that.

  4. Mark P. says:

    Recently the Holy Father requested that all the faithful take up prayer and fasting due to the abuse scandals. But I cannot see when we are supposed to fast and pray, or for how long, etc. Is it just on Fridays? Whenever we can? Until a certain date? It feels like such a call should suggest that this be done on certain dates, perhaps for a feeling of unity in prayer. Ultimately, I am just trying to see what others are doing.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The call doesn’t need a date or other specifics. Follow your conscience and use your own good judgment. Positive precepts allow for discretion in when and how to fulfill them.

  5. Matt says:

    What is a sex act?

    1. If someone attempted to masturbate, but couldn’t get an erection, did “use” of the generative faculty occur (even though it appears like a failed attempt to “use” this faculty)? In other words, did a sex act occur? (How do you define the act not in terms of intentions)?
    2. There are some VERY rare people who can achieve climax without touching themselves. They can climax through fantasy. Would these thoughts just be lust, or would they constitute “use” of the generative faculty? (And be masturbation).
    3. Larry Nassar was a doctor pedophile who abused many girls, but it occurred during medical exams. They call it abuse because it was “medically unnecessary touching.” How would Catholics distinguish medical exams from abuse? Is it “medically unnecessary” vs “medically necessary,” or if not, please give some other distinction.
    4. When does “touching” become “use,” of the generative faculty. What if someone just has a bad habit of “holding their genitals for long periods of time.” When does this touching become “use?” Is it defined upon erection? Does it require “stroking?” When does “touching” change to “use of the faculty.”

    MOST IMPORTANT: define “use” in the definition of sex act, without appealing to intentions!!!

    • Ron Conte says:

      1. If someone attempts to rob a bank but fails, they still knowingly choose a disordered act. They tried to use the generative faculty outside of the natural marital act, so they sinned.
      2. Yes, that would be masturbation as it is a deliberate knowing choice to use the faculty outside marriage.
      3. That type of touching was not medical, but sexual abuse. The difference is in the manner of touching, and also in the deliberate knowing choice, not only in his intention, but in what he was choosing to do.
      4. I think people know the difference between, e.g., cleaning the genitals in a bath or shower, versus masturbation. The type of touching is different; the latter is ordered toward sexual stimulation. And what is being chosen is different.

  6. John Platts says:

    There are cases where a married man attempts to engage in natural marital relations with his wife with the intent of the sexual act being marital, procreative, and unitive but fails to ejaculate due to natural causes. This kind of attempted sexual act would have the proper marital, procreative, and unitive meanings if the man is validly married and if the sexual act had resulted in ejaculation. Does a married man commit a sexual sin if he fails to ejaculate in attempted natural marital relations with his wife due to natural causes (as opposed to withdrawal or amplexus reservatus)?

    • Ron Conte says:

      He does not sin, and the act is marital, unitive, and procreative. It is not the attainment of the moral object that makes the act good or evil, but rather the deliberate knowing choice of the act ordered toward that object. If a couple use contraception in order to thwart the procreative meaning, and they conceive a child by accident, they still sinned; they chose the disordered act. If the man tries to complete a good act of marital relations, and he fails to climax, he does not sin; he chose the ordered act. If a surgeon tries to save a life and fails, he does not sin. If someone tries to commit murder and fails, he still sins gravely.

  7. I purchased a collection of movies. A few of the CDs did not work. Could I watch these movies on a pirate site?

  8. Michael says:

    Would a priest who is mute and needed a sign language translator be able to perform a valid mass if the words of consecration were actually said by a layperson?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The words cannot be said by a layperson. The priest might be able to get permission from the Holy See to sign the words. The words of consecration work in any language, so I don’t see why not sign language.

  9. Jonathan says:

    I was reading through a forum, and someone wrote,

    “the Church’s doctrine of double-effect is different from secular society’s. In the secular arena, double effect is often comprehended as a category of consequentialism (an evil act becomes moral if the purpose is moral). In the Church’s doctrine, the evil act only becomes permissible, but does not become moral.”

    He wrote this in the context of the death penalty debate. He argues that Pope Francis is teaching that the death penalty is intrinsically evil, but argues that it is still permitted for the public good under double effect.

    I find this opinion to be erroneous since something that is intrinsically evil always carries guilt (whether venial or mortal, such as in the case of lying).

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is highly erroneous. The first criterion for an act to be moral under the principle of double effect is that it NOT be intrinsically evil (no evil in the moral object). What is tolerated is some physical evil (harm or disorder) in the font of circumstances, if equaled or outweighed by good in the circumstances. You still need three good fonts, and so the act is good, not evil.

    • Marco says:

      To make and example about the intrinsical evil of lying

      “Wolnerman, then 13, noticed that the old, young and sickly were in a line to the left. When Mengele asked his age, Wolnerman said, “I am 18.” Mengele pointed his stick to the right. The left line was eventually sent to the gas chambers. “I didn’t have brains to say this,” said Wolnerman on a recent afternoon in his condominium in Des Moines. “I believe God told me. If not, I wouldn’t be here.” “

      I have a really hard time to believe that God would have wanted him to be used as a test subject for Mengele’s horrible experiments just because he couldn’t have avoided that fate without lying.

      And in fact I tend to believe him when he says “I didn’t have brains to say this,” “I believe God told me. If not, I wouldn’t be here.” “

    • Ron Conte says:

      The immorality of lying does not imply that God WANTS the person to suffer this or that. Lying is contrary to truth, and God is truth. If the person commits a venial sin, and avoids great suffering, then God is pleased that he avoided the suffering. God does leave the decision to the individual who has free will. And venial sins are easily forgiven. But if we take the approach of justifying a small venial sin to avoid great suffering, then this leads down the path of justifying more serious intrinsically evil acts, in order to avoid lesser sufferings. Contraception becomes justified to avoid the disorder of pregnancy outside marriage. Abortion becomes justified to avoid various sufferings (such as carrying the child of a rapist, or risks to the mother’s health). As a matter of principle, we have to hold that intrinsically evil acts, even a venial lie, are immoral. If you then, rarely, tell a venial lie to avoid great suffering, God is not going to punish you. But you are not justified in concluding that God wants great suffering.

      Please do not keep repeating the same arguments over and over.

    • Marco says:


      I agree that intrinsically evil acts aren’t justified. What i meant is that maybe God sometimes prefers that we commit an intrinsically evil act, though it is never justified in and of itself, rather than suffering great harm.

      One more thing

      “Abortion becomes justified to avoid various sufferings (such as carrying the child of a rapist, or risks to the mother’s health). ”

      Abortion is doubtlessly the greater evil, since the child has no fault if he is born of a rape. And about the risk to the mother’s health, a mother can cure herself even if it causes indirectly the death of the fetus, she can decide to sacrifice herself but she is not required to. What is always forbidden is direct abortion, since it is the killing of an innocent.

      By the way, the core issue of my argument is in the words of that Jew

      “I didn’t have brains to say this,” “I believe God told me. If not, I wouldn’t be here.”

      I also believe that God was pleased that he avoided suffering and he most likely helped him out, even though this meant that the person had to commit the intrinsically evil act of lying.

      This is my last post about the subject. Forgive me Ron but this teaching, phrased in certain ways, caused me a lot of trouble in the previous months, i nearly questioned my Faith, so i’m not doing this just for the hell of it, nor have i an “obsession”. I just wanted to see things more clearly.

      Thanks for your answer.

    • Ron Conte says:

      What God wants in these situations is for there to be no grave immorality, as committed by the other persons, and no grave harm, inflicted on the innocent. He does not, per se, want anyone to lie. Jesus did not lie to avoid death on the Cross. The martyrs did not lie and claim they were not Christians. And God is not a consequentialist. He does not decide what is right based on the results, but based on his own nature. If you wish to lie in such a situation, it is only a venial sin. But saying that God wants that sin is not true, and would ultimately imply a destruction of all morality. What God wants is for you to make your own decision.

    • Marco says:


      I didn’t want to post anymore on this subject but after reading your answer i feel like i have no choice but to answer.

      “What God wants in these situations is for there to be no grave immorality, as committed by the other persons, and no grave harm, inflicted on the innocent. He does not, per se, want anyone to lie”

      Absolutely. I never said that God “wants” someone to lie, per se. What I said is that maybe he prefer the lie of an innocent than seeing him be used as a test subject by Mengele, since there was no other way for him to be saved (actually, there was, God could have made a miracle, which would have avoided the lie of the victim and the great harm that the victim would have suffered had he not lied, but this is another matter).

      “Jesus did not lie to avoid death on the Cross. The martyrs did not lie and claim they were not Christians.”

      This is not comparable to that situation. Jesus had a mission to accomplish, the atonement. The martyrs could have renegated God if they had lied (they could have repented afterwards but we are talking about of the act per se).

      That Jew we are talking about, the one who risk ending up as a test subject for Mengele, didn’t have to die for our sins, nor was he renegating God with his lie. He was only lying to someone, Mengele, who had no right to the truth and Mengele was the only one “damaged” by his lie.

      “And God is not a consequentialist. He does not decide what is right based on the results, but based on his own nature”

      Is God hatred for sin stronger than his love for the innocent?

      Also, consider this, Ron: let’s suppose that every Christian and/or Catholic person in the world decided to apply in his life this ultra deontologist view about the act of lying.

      What would happen? No undercover cops, no intelligence, no secret services. The consequences for the national security of America and every Western European country would be unimaginable.

      Is God’s law unreasonable? For example, the intrinsical evil of abortion is not unreasonable.

      And even when it comes to self defence the Church accepts that we may kill in some situation without sinning, if it is the only way to prevent us or another innocent from being killed.

      Now imagine what would happen if the Church said that killing another human being is always immoral and an intrinsically evil act. Every policeman, soldier, every citizen who may be in danger would be a sitting duck.

      The same happens is we were to apply this ultra deontologist view about the act of lying to our practical lives.

      The Church teaches that the law of God is for our own good, that following God’s law is beneficial, that God’s yoke is easy and not burdensome.

      Now, can all of this be applied to the deontologist view about lying and its practical consequences?

      “If you wish to lie in such a situation, it is only a venial sin. But saying that God wants that sin is not true, and would ultimately imply a destruction of all morality. What God wants is for you to make your own decision.”

      I’ve never said that God wants sin in true absolute sense. But God knows that we live in a fallen world and that some fallen sinners can put us in some situations in which we have no choice.

      And i find very hard to believe that the Jew who said

      “I didn’t have brains to say this,” “I believe God told me. If not, I wouldn’t be here.””

      Was, in all actuality, deluded, and he will have to be punished in Purgatory for his sin.

      I accept that he sinned, objectively, because lying goes against God’s nature. But what i think is that in some situations those who commit certain sins aren’t even venially culpable, on a personal level.

      I don’t think that this is heresy, nor i think that my thesis destroys the moral order.

      Tell me what you think.

    • Ron Conte says:

      “No undercover cops, no intelligence, no secret services.” If everyone were so holy that no one told even a venial lie, you wouldn’t need these roles. The fact that some roles rely on objectively venial sins, committed by persons who don’t think they are sins (so no subjective culpability), is not really relevant. The person who lies to avoid death might not be culpable for actual venial sin; there might be no subjective culpability. Also, even when a venial sin is culpable, it does not imply punishment in Purgatory. The temporal punishment due can be remitted by prayer, by love of neighbor, by works of mercy.

    • Marco says:


      “No undercover cops, no intelligence, no secret services.” If everyone were so holy that no one told even a venial lie, you wouldn’t need these roles.”

      But this is the actual core of the problem, Rom: we live in a fallen world, so what you said would be possible in a world not tainted by sin. But, as the first letter of John teaches, “the whole world is under the power of the evil one”.

      A world where everyone is THAT holy is simply impossible under the real state of affairs.

      Sure, God’s “potentia absoluta” could make every person in the world as righteous as the Holy Virgin, and if that were to happen, even the standard police and the standard military wouldn’t be needed, for nobody would commit any crime.

      Sadly, between God’s “potentia absoluta” and God’s “potentia ordinata” there is a universe of difference.

      So i don’t think that some persons can be held culpable when they commit acts which are sins because they go against God’s nature but, at the same time, they are absolutely necessary for the preservation of the national order and security. That’s why i don’t think that catholic undercover cops are culpable of venial sin, even if and when they know the doctrine of the Church about the intrinsical immorality of lying.

      A world without abortion would be a better world. A world without a single lie would have already collapsed on itself, unless God decided to make a huge miracle and make everyone as holy as the Holy Virgin with the help of continuous very special and powerful graces.

  10. What causes haunted houses?

Comments are closed.