The Vatican brings sin into the 20th century

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The Independent Online
EVADING TAXES, taking bribes, speculating on prices and wrecking the environment are grave sins and those who commit them are in danger of burning in hell, according to a new Roman Catholic catechism. It is also sinful to read horoscopes, consult astrologers and take part in seances. It is 'blasphemous' to wear amulets or talismen.

These are some of the teachings contained in a new 'Universal Catechism' ordered by the Pope for the world's 960 million Roman Catholics and due to be published, after translation into many languages, at the end of the year. Excerpts, said by Church sources to be accurate, have been leaked by an Italian news agency. It is the Catholic Church's first general catechism in more than 80 years and was designed to bring its teachings, in particular the Ten Commandments, into the context of the modern world. Thus, duelling is no longer mentioned: its place has been taken by, among other things, terrorism.

Hell still exists and its flames await those guilty of 'grave sins' - a term that now replaces the older 'mortal sins', but at the same time the Church appears to have softened its position on sins prompted by social problems.

'Grave sins' are many and varied, from 'exploiting natural, mineral and animal resources' to 'influencing public opinion against moral values,' commercial fraud and producing, distributing or using drugs. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco and food are considered 'excesses'. But endangering others by drunken driving or by driving too fast is condemned as 'grave'. The political and financial scandals that have rocked Italy seem to have penetrated the Vatican walls because the seven cardinals, 15 bishops and other eminent figures who drew up the Catechism have included corruption, speculation, appropriation of public property, tax- dodging and waste.

Sexual sins, dealt with by the old catechism in seven reticent lines (do not fornicate, do not commit impure acts, beware of immoral books or plays, preserve the sanctity of the body) occupy 10 pages in the new one. Couples who live together outside marriage are in a state of 'grave sin' and are excluded from the sacraments. Sex within marriage is a 'source of joy and pleasure', but must bring 'fecundity to the marriage'. If done 'for good reasons' family planning is allowed but only using 'natural' methods (ie, not contraceptives). The catechism encourages Catholics to have large families.

Homosexuals must live in chastity, but should be 'treated with respect, compassion and delicacy. Unjust discrimination against them is to be avoided.'

Adultery, divorce and incest (described as a 'regression to the animal state') are 'offences against the dignity of marriage'. Pornography, masturbation, fornication, prostitution and sexual violence are 'offences against chastity'.

But the Church shows some understanding for such sinners: at confession priests should consider 'psychological and social factors' that lead to masturbation, while prostitution is less of a sin if caused by 'poverty, blackmail or social pressure'. No such understanding is shown for abortion which the Church continues to regard as murder. At the same time, however, it continues to sanction the taking of life in the death penalty, 'just' wars, and armed revolts under certain circumstances.

Suicide, formerly considered so serious that those who killed themselves were refused a religious burial, now also meets with understanding if provoked by serious psychological problems, grave suffering or torture. Euthanasia is forbidden, but it 'can be tolerable' under certain circumstances to withdraw life-support equipment or treatment from terminally ill and suffering people.