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Ryan wrote:

Hi, guys —


I am a middle aged man who also is a recent convert to the Catholic Church, Thanks be to God!

I have struggled since about the age of 12 with being "impure" with myself and never even thought about it being a sin, but a natural thing to do. During my months of prepping for coming into the Church, this issue was never discussed, so I never even thought about it.

I have since found out that it can be a mortal sin, but I have a 30+ year habit and some psychological factors (indecisiveness, compulsion, anxiety) that has plagued me since I was a child. I had a wonderful priest tell me to pray an act of contrition when this happens and move on, but at times I worry it may be a mortal sin. I was shown this from the Catechism:

CCC 1735: "Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors."

They said this is why it is not a mortal sin, but I still worry. I was told not having trust in God's understanding of my disorder is worst than the act itself.

  • What do you think?


  { Does the longevity of my habit and my illness excuse my struggles with the sins of the flesh? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Ryan —

Thanks for the question and welcome to the Church; your presence strengthens the Church!

Before I comment, I want to make sure you saw our FAQ section on this. Your question is one of
the most frequently asked questions. You can check out similar questions here:

Masturbation is a grave sin, and when committed deliberatelywith full consent of the will — it is a mortal sin that causes us to lose the grace of salvation, but first let's talk about what mortal sin is. This is from a different portion of the Catechism:

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is:

  • grave matter [which it is here.]
  • which is also committed with full knowledge, and
  • deliberate consent.

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother." The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputably of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The prompting's of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

That said, even the Catechism tells us it is a constant struggle and battle, and will be, until we are six feet under the ground : )

You said:
I was told not having trust in God's understanding of my disorder is worst than the act itself.

Yes, your disorder will lessen your culpability, but I would say you are trusting in the Lord by frequenting the sacraments. If there is a question of whether one has committed a mortal sin or not, in my opinion, we should always error on the safe side and go to Confession.

  • Why?

Because sin, from a Catholic view, is social in nature; it effects the entire Body of Christ.

Now, there maybe times where we can't discern whether we had deliberate consent or not,
but don't sweat it!

The Lord knows you have a well intended heart otherwise you wouldn't have asked this question; the same is true for any other reader who has pondered on the question you have asked.

If you struggle with this sin sometime during the week, just go to Confession on Saturday afternoon, so you can receive the Blessed Sacrament in a state of grace on Sunday.

If you are fortunate to be able to attend daily Mass, just make sure you go to Confession first, before you receive the Blessed Sacrament during the week; you can still go to daily Mass
(or Sunday Mass), without receiving.

If someone asks you why you didn't go to Communion, just tell them you were not properly disposed. Beyond that, it's none of their business.

I don't think you'll run into this problem, but if a priest tells you that you don't need to go to Confession on a weekly basis, tell him that Blessed John Paul II did, so why can't you. If you do go weekly, just don't be scrupulous : )

For the past 30 years, I've also worn a Brown Scapular; Our Blessed Mother said the following
to St. Simon Stock:

"Take this Scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”

This is Mary's promise made July 16, 1251 to Saint Simon Stock. Taken from this page.

I also have a picture of Divine Mercy in each one of my rooms. You can find out more here:

What is Divine Mercy?

Jesus said to her:

Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory (Diary, 47, 48). I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You (327). I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world (47).

Keep in mind that both:

  • Mary's revelation to St. Simon, and
  • Jesus' revelation o Sister Faustina

are private revelation and therefore are not binding on Catholics to believe; but I believe them because they manifest the love of a loving mother and the mercy of a loving Lord.

Finally, remember Jesus was a man, like us in all things, but sin; so he understands your trails more than you realize.

Hope this helps! Make sure you read our FAQ page. Eric's postings have some good advice!


Eric replied:

Hi, Ryan —

I wouldn't go so far as to say "not having trust in God's understanding of my disorder is worst than the act itself", although I hesitate to contradict your Confessor, since he knows you better than
I do and what he said, may make more sense in context. It is important to maintain a balance between self-flagellation and making excuses. God is merciful; yes, he does understand your condition, but he also wants you to continue to strive for purity. Yes, you should put your trust in God foremost, but I'd hesitate to say that not trusting in God is a sin, much less a worse one than masturbation. — If you want to be paralyzed with neurosis, convince yourself that it is a sin to fail to do something you can never fully accomplish in this life.

Given your habit, it will likely take a long time to gain mastery over this sin, and ultimately mastery is what you want. Don't settle for less, but don't be discouraged by failures.

Perhaps what your confessor is trying to say is don't be fearful of God's judgment, but appreciate his mercy. I think if you continue to strive for purity and don't, in a premeditated fashion:

  • deliberately
  • purposefully
  • intentionally, and
  • freely
    • under no constraints
    • pressures
    • stresses
    • habits
    • impulses
    • passions
    • semi-consciousness
    • knowingly with ample deliberation

choose to commit the act, realizing fully what you're doing, it probably doesn't meet the qualification for mortal sin, so don't get worked up about it.

— Repent
— address any occasions of sin or anything that might contribute to it in the future
— and move on.

It's important to realize that it's pretty hard, for someone steadfastly committed to obeying God, to commit a mortal sin, especially if they don't want to!

It is usually a good practice to go to Confession each time. Confession always gives you the grace to break out of downward spirals and patterns of sin, since sin weakens us and it's often easier to recommit it once we've committed it. But special pastoral care may be required for scrupulous types. (Someone who is especially fearful about committing sin and obsesses over matters that don't deserve it — your confessor can help you discern this, I suggest you discuss this with him.)

If you are of a scrupulous type, you should find a confessor who is proven to be orthodox and faithful to the Church, stick with him alone, and obey him. Here is a good article on that:

We've answered a lot of questions on this topic so you may wish to search our site for the keyword "masturbation".

[Related posting]

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