When will the sin of causing scandal to little ones count as real sin in the Catholic Church?


I recently came across an essay that I want to discuss. I’m not going to link to it because it is not my intention to question the author’s intelligence or intentions. I just want to discuss how we, as a culture, do not take into account the sin of scandal to little ones as we work out the knotty and difficult marital situations people get themselves into. We seem to be mainly concerned about the adults as we work through the issues.

This author proposed a hypothetical situation that troubled me a lot. It discussed the idea that it might be possible for somebody in a second marriage:

  • to be sexually active in that marriage
  • and not in a state of mortal sin
  • without going through the nullity process to determine the objective status of the first marriage.

He argues that such a person might be in a state of venial sin rather than mortal sin. Big difference there because if somebody dies in a state of mortal sin then they are going to hell. The author offers the following scenario as evidence:

  • An invalidly married couple has had children together, who are still at home.
  • Either the man or the woman recognizes the sinfulness of the “marriage”, regrets having entered into it, and desires now to do what is right (which in this case would be for the parents to live as brother and sister while still caring for their children as mother and father in the same household).
  • The other party refuses to live as brother and sister.
  • The other party says he (or she) will leave the family if sexual relations are refused.
  • Hence the man or woman in question continues sexual relations, in effect under duress, to ensure that his or her children are not deprived of one parent.

He goes on to argue that the person who is having sex under duress is not in a state of mortal sin on the grounds that the full consent of the will is lacking. It is the presence of the children that make this so. 

Here is the problem: there are countless second marriages that have kids from first marriages. There are so many of these marriages, in fact, that experts attribute the higher failure rate of second (and subsequent) marriages to the presence of kids from a first marriage. Those kids exert a different kind of influence and pressure than kids born into the union.

I wish the author had made it clear whether or not he was excluding marriages that had children from prior marriages (or relationships). If he intended to exclude them, people with children from a prior union would have understood immediately that his scenario did not apply to them. As the argument stands, it sounds like he may be giving preference to kids born into a second union, as if those kids are sort of like a vaccine against mortal sin. But there so many other things to consider:

  • What about the sin of offense against kids in the first marriages?
  • What about causing scandal to them through the remarriage, through the involuntary fracturing and restructuring of their families?
  • What about the familial obligations that are imposed upon them without reciprocation?
  • What about causing scandal to all the children due to the sinful sexual activity, due to giving all of the children a false understanding of what the Church teaches regarding the proper context for sexual activity?
  • Is that person still in a state of venial sin even though there is quite a bit of scandal going on?

I am pretty sure this author was raised in an intact home. This would explain why the sin of causing scandal is missing from his argument–he simply cannot imagine how it feels to be a child from a first marriage: loss of family, “two homes,” new step-families (more than one), unreciprocated demands, double-standards, unequal treatment with other children, loss of inheritance, confusion on licit sexual activity, raised risk factors for many negative outcomes… and on and on.

Our culture is perfectly fine in making life comfortable and easy for adults, all the while overlooking the sin of scandal to little ones. When will the sin of causing scandal to little ones count as real sin in the Catholic Church? When will this sin be included in how we resolve the thorny marital issues that people get themselves into?


Author: everybodysdaughter

I'm an adult child of divorce, having been raised in multiple divorce/remarriage situations. I originally started writing here to shed light on the problems of divorce from the perspective of the child. I gradually started writing about the Catholic faith, and the blog probably is more of that at this point. However, there is overlap between the two, since the "shape" of the family is a triangle, which is a reflection of the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity.

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