Catholics & Masturbation
December 12, 2005 9:24 AM   Subscribe

There was a rumor going around back when I was a kid back in the 1950s than masturbation was a venial sin in Indiana and a mortal sin in Illinois (or visa versa.) Is/Was this true?
posted by Raybun to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total)
Wha? Why would what state you're in have any effect on masturbation's biblical stature?

Anyway, masturbation is not either one, as far as I know.
posted by delmoi at 9:29 AM on December 12, 2005

how can it be? the catholic church decides that kind of thing, not american states.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:29 AM on December 12, 2005, venial and mortal sins are part of and parcel of the Catholic Church. [As far as I know, they're not part of any Protestant churches, although it's possible that the Protestant churches that are doctrinally closest to Catholicism, such as the Episcopalian Church, might have retained them.] The Catholic Church is a hierarchical organization, and the same catechism guides all Catholics. Furthermore, the Church isn't quite subdivided along the lines of secular states. There are dioceses; beyond that, the Church is organized more or less on a regional and then national level. Thus, even if doctrine _did_ differ between two archdioceses or regions, it wouldn't be along state lines. The state itself, of course, has nothing to say on what sort of sin masturbation may or may not be.

So no, I very much doubt that this rumor is or was ever true.
posted by ubersturm at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2005

It's a joke. Some adults were pulling your leg and you were too young to understand that what they were saying couldn't possibly be true. Happens all the time to kids.
posted by kindall at 9:38 AM on December 12, 2005

The Catholic Catechism, as with most things, is up for interpretation. Here's what it has to say on masturbation, scroll down to paragraph 2352. It states that the Church considers it "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action". However, it goes on to say that "one must take into account the affective immaturity... or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability." This indicates, at least to me, that the sin can be either mortal or venial depending on the circumstances. In most cases, it's probably mortal.

Also, it's worth remembering that prior to Vatican II (1965) the distinction between mortal and venial was a lot less subjective. Perhaps this could have been a result of someone's interpretation of a particular diocese's teachings, but I don't see that your rumor could be overtly true.
posted by cacophony at 9:59 AM on December 12, 2005

Ditto on the leg-yanking...

uberstrom: morality issues such as masturbation isn't normally going to be determined by individual dioceses. Such issues are left up the the Magisterium.

In most cases, it's probably mortal.
Aye, most Catholic theologians & Priests would consider it mortal sin. Some say it's not really up for debate, but that's a whole other debate in of itself. However, for something to be a mortal sin, you have to know it's a mortal sin in the first place (along with doing it under your own free will and a third condition which always skips my mind). Therefore, ignore everything else that was said and head back to Indiana.
posted by jmd82 at 10:10 AM on December 12, 2005

jmd82 - that was part of my point. The entire Church shares the same basic doctrine and follows the rules and guidelines laid out in the Catechism. The Catholic Church is very hierarchical compared to Protestant churches, where regional variation may be possible. I was simply noting that even if somehow two dioceses or archdioceses did have different teachings, you wouldn't see differences between states, because the Church isn't subdivided by state.

I don't remember anyone informing us in religion class that "masturbation is a mortal sin," but between the passage from the Catechism linked by cacophony and my understanding of how the Church generally deals with sin and intent, I'd say that it cetainly looks as if it could only be venial in special circumstances.
posted by ubersturm at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2005

Some of the details are substantially different but I found one source which describes a circumstance where something is a sin in one place and is not a sin in another place. See here and search for "Vimala".

I remember reading about this originally and being awed at the diversity of humanity. (Apparently, I'm easily awed. This story is about a Jesuit who likes bacon.)
posted by stuart_s at 11:30 PM on December 12, 2005

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