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It Is Not According to the Gospels
To Censure Unwed Mothers

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Dear TIA,

In the page titled Questions to TIA an inquiry is addressed by Fr. Sretenovic. The question he answered on how Catholics should treat a repentant unwed mother "opposes to the face" the very Gospels. We are taught that God himself forgives and remembers no longer the sins of the forgiven.

Who are we to forgive but never forget? To keep at distance a repentant unwed mother all her life is an appalling piece of advise.

Mary Magdalene was admitted into the very heart of discipleship after her conversion. Who among us has not sinned? Is any mortal sin worse than the other... its eternal consequences not the same? The accident of pregnancy, in this ideology, is the reason for approved shunning. What advise would there be then for our treatment of those (men & women, alike) who commit the same sin, but without the consequences of a child, who also repent? Are they to be shunned socially the rest of their lives, also?

Logic would follow... a disordered logic.

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Fr. Sretenovic responds:
Dear M.K.,

Your objection is based on some erroneous presuppositions that will I point out below:

1. Confusion between what is a private sin and a public sin

There is a fundamental difference between a private sin and a public sin. The private sin involves the sinner and God, who is offended by that sin, no one else. Hence, only the two subjects are involved. The public sin is one committed before society as a whole. Therefore, in addition to the sinner and God, members of society are also damaged by that sinful action. Hence, three or more subjects are involved.

The absolution of a private sin is one thing; the absolution of a public sin is another. In the latter case, the priest can give a personal absolution to the sinner, but the sinner still must pay his debt to society.

For example, when a man kills another man and repents, he may be personally absolved by his confessor, but he still needs to pay his debt for the damage he caused to the victim and his relatives. He has to be judged by a civil court and be punished by it: pay a fee, go to jail or perhaps even receive the death penalty depending on the gravity of the crime.

Similarly, when a woman has a child out of wedlock, she gives a bad example to all society; she especially injures well-ordered families. Consequently, she has to pay her debt to society, as does the murderer, with due proportion maintained, of course.

The counsels I gave do not refer to the private situation of the Catholic, repentant unwed mother – her guilt was already forgiven – but rather to her public debt to society. She has to be punished for the sake of the healthy formation of the good families.

According to this wrong presupposition of yours, if a murderer would be absolved by the priest, he should not be punished for his crime, which is absurd.

2. Confusion between absolution of the guilt and reparation for the penalty

When someone commits a sin or a crime, there are two elements involved: the guilt and the penalty. The absolution of the priest washes away the guilt of the sinner, not his penalty. The penance imposed by the priest in the confessional should be proportionate to the gravity of the offense committed against God. When the penance given by the priest is not sufficient for that, the sinner has to make reparation for that sin during his life. If there is insufficient reparation and that person dies in the state of grace, he goes to Purgatory to finish the atonement still due.

The penance normally imposed on an unwed mother for her sin is what I described in my answers. To allow her to repair for her offense during this life is also a charity that spares her a much longer stay in Purgatory.

Applying your criteria, the absolution of the priest would be able to wash away both the guilt and the penalty. If this were true, then, there would be no need for a particular judgment after one’s death, or a Final Judgment for all mankind at the end of History, which is wrong.

3. Confusion between to forgive and “to forget”

The previous simplification leads one to say that God “forgets” what was forgiven in the confessional. So, anyone who would recall that sin would “oppose to the face the very Gospels” as you say. Again, there is an inappropriate generalization in this assessment.

It is true that God forgets, so to speak, the sins absolved in the confessional for which due reparation was made. It is even true that the Church, as a merciful Mother, provides partial and general indulgences for her children to help them pay the penalties due for their sins. Note: absolution washes away the guilt; indulgences abbreviate or annul the penalty when they are respectively partial or plenary indulgences.

However, the sinner should never forget his sin and the offense he caused God. For example, there is a good tradition that St. Peter increased his penance during his life for having denied Our Lord three times, and also having been absent from Christ's side during the main episodes of his Passion and Death. Likewise, in Heaven, the Blessed do not forget their sins, but sing forever the mercy of God who forgave them.

The sins of each one of us will be known by everyone at the Final Judgment. Therefore, when the Church, as well as Scriptures, says that God “forgets” the sins of a person, this should be understood as meaning that those sins will no longer bring about his condemnation, not that they will disappear from the Book of Life where they remain written forever.

4. Simplification about the penance of St. Mary Magdalene

Finally, in the sequence of your confusions and simplifications, you say that Mary Magdalene “was admitted into the very heart of discipleship after her conversion,” implying that she was completely free of all moral debt regarding her past life. This is certainly not true. After Pentecost, St. Mary Magdalene went to France along with her siblings St. Lazarus and St. Martha. She removed herself completely from all association with her past life and became a contemplative hermit, living alone a life of penance for around 30 years.

It is quite different from the “happy ending” you portrayed.

I hope these considerations will help you acquire a true Catholic approach when it comes to unwed mothers.

Be sure that I will be praying for you in this intention.

In Jesu et Maria,

Fr. Paul Sretenovic

Blason de Charlemagne
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