The media has coined the term “seven new deadly sins” to describe some examples of social sins spelled out by Bishop Gianfranco Girotti on 9 March, 2008. Many Catholics were frustrated with this characterization, arguing that the sins listed in the article were hardly new, and that in fact the Church had been decrying these activities for centuries. However, the term “seven new deadly sins” appears to have caught on, and it certainly attracted attention to the Catholic Church and the Pope, who pointed out that many people, including Christians, began leading a more secular and selfish life in the 20th century.
Before delving into the content of the seven new deadly sins, it may help to briefly discuss the nature of sin in the Catholic church. “Deadly” or mortal sins are sins which must be absolved before death, through confession and penitence. The seven new deadly sins discussed by Bishop Girotti are what are known as “social sins,” distinctive from individual sins. Social sins reflect a collective failure on the part of society; some examples include oppression of the poor, racism, and sexism. Unlike individual sins, social sins involve a multitude of selfish and complex decisions, and they require a shift in social perceptions to be changed.
In Bishop Girotti's interview, he listed seven social sins which reflected the changing face of society; some of the things in his list are ancient problems, while others reflect 20th and 21st century issues which would not have occurred to the early church. He listed these sins as examples, illustrating the complex nature of faith and sin and encouraging Catholics to think about the role of social sins in their own lives. It is notable that the seven new deadly sins appeared during Lent, a traditional time of introspection and reflection.
Bishop Girotti's list includes: polluting the natural environment, excessive accumulation of wealth, genetic manipulation, inflicting poverty, violation of the rights of human nature, drug use and trafficking, and morally debatable experiments. Issues like inflicting poverty and accumulating wealth have been a part of Christian belief for centuries, with Christ Himself advocating a life of humbleness and decrying people who made wealth for wealth's sake. Violation of the rights of human nature is also an ancient issue, as the Church encourages people to be responsible to each other and to their community.
Other issues like morally debatable experiments and genetic manipulation are new to the Church, and they have been a topic of discussion. Human cloning, for example, could be considered a morally debatable experiment, and the Church has issued opinions on this issue before; genetic manipulation is also viewed as contrary to the values of the Church. Pollution of the environment may seem like a surprising inclusion, but it harks back to the concept of social responsibility, with the Church recognizing that people must maintain the natural environment as part of a commitment to the world at large. Drug use and trafficking is also extremely harmful to many societies.
The list of seven new deadly sins is designed to spark introspection about faith, and to remind people that social sins can be very dangerous. The Church also hoped that it would spark a greater interest in confession and absolution which could perhaps have far reaching social impact.