Did Catholic Priests Who Molested Children Commit the Worst Sin?
Photo credit Josh Applegate

Did Catholic Priests Who Molested Children Commit the Worst Sin?

Posted August 21, 2018 by Sean McDowell

Did Catholic Priests Who Molested Children Commit the Worst Sin?

It is common for people to believe that all sins are equal. But where does the Bible say this? According to James, all sins are equal in the sense of making the sinner a lawbreaker before God (2:10). But this does not mean all sins are equal in their moral wrongness.

The Bible does indicate that some sins are worse than others[1]. And in contrast, some virtues and actions are greater than others.[2]

Is There A Worst Sin?

Of the Ten Commandments, only the third (“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain”) is followed by the claim that “the Lord will not hold him guiltless.” In other words, according to Dennis Prager in his commentary on Exodus, the Lord will not forgive the one who commits this violation.

But why is this command such a big deal? Why not murder or adultery? Answering this question requires an accurate understanding of the third commandment.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain does not mean saying the word “God” when you’re upset, or even saying the words, “God Da—,” as bad as that can be. Technically God’s name is YHWH. Jews refrain from saying YHWH because it is this name that is sacred.

Do Not “Carry” God’s Name in Vain

According the Prager, the Hebrew word in the third commandment is best translated as “carry” rather than “take.” So, the commandment should technically read, “Do not carry God’s name in vain.”

But what does this mean? Prager explains: “Any person who claims to be acting in God’s name while doing the opposite of what God wants—evil.” In other words, the third commandment involves someone doing evil in the name of God.

An act of evil reflects on the person who does evil. But an act of evil by someone claiming to represent God reflects on God. Simply put, breaking the third commandment involves committing an evil act that disparages God’s name.

Disparaging God

Given this context, an obvious example is Muslim radicals killing innocent people in the name of God. But the most recent example, which is rightly a prominent story in the news, is the rampant sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. The story runs deeper than most people could have ever imagined, involving the systematic cover-up of over 1,000 cases against children by 300 priests in Pennsylvania alone over the past seventy years. The individual stories are harrowing, heart-breaking and infuriating.

Sadly, these horrific actions don’t merely reflect on the individual priests, but on the Catholic Church, the entire Christian faith, and religion in general. And rightly so. Can we really blame people who abandon God when his “representatives” commit such abominable crimes?

As Prager has sadly, but correctly, observed: “No atheist activist is nearly as effective in alienating people from God and religion as are evil ‘religious’ people.”

Wakeup Call

My purpose in writing this post is not to disparage the Catholic Church. After all, there are also instances of egregious sins committed by people in the Protestant Church. I have many Catholic friends and family members who I love dearly. My heart breaks for the good, faithful Catholics who desperately want to see reform in the church they love.

But this crisis must be a wakeup to all Christians, and especially those of us claim to speak for God (see James 3:1). All sins are not equal. Harming people—and especially children—in the name of God, is perhaps the worst sin we can commit.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[1] For example, see John 19:11; Matt 23:23; Proverbs 6:16-19; 1 Corinthians 6:18.

[2] Consider these two passages: Matt 22:38; 1 Corinthians 13:13.