A reader sez:

Is it defensible to claim that a bishop has sinned? For that matter, is it defensible to assert that any particular person has sinned?

There’s a whole basketful of terms to choose from when talking about the wrongs people do; among them are


wrongful acts


immoral acts

apparent sins


Sin is linked to subjective personal guilt, so an unqualified assertion that “Joe Blow has sinned” amounts to a claim of knowledge about the state and the workings of Joe Blow’s soul. That knowledge is a divine prerogative seldom conceded to men.

In the case where Joe Blow is actually Bishop Blow, the duty of reverence should be a further reason for self-restraint.

I understand what you are saying, and you are right. We cannot be the ultimate judge of hearts. But on the other hand, Jesus tells us to forgive those who sin against us. If what you are saying is accurate, we can never ever say that anybody has sinned against us. This seems to me preposterous. As I understand it, we are called to make moral judgements about the acts of others, but to refer those judgements to God. Indeed, it seems to me we cannot help but make such judgements. So when somebody shoots a kid in Maryland, I say “That’s a sin!” and pray for that man’s forgiveness. I don’t excuse him or pretend that since I don’t know his heart, there may be no sin involved. In the same way, I cannot perform the mental gymnastics necessary to say that Bp. McCormack’s gross dereliction of duty was a “mistake”. His ultra-lame excuses for overlooking the antics of Shanley are so pathetically false that I cannot function as a thinking person and give them credence. It’s true that I’m not his judge and I do refer him to God and ask for his forgiveness. But it is forgiveness for sin I ask for, not excuses for “mistakes.”