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Vatican official: New sins on horizon

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  • Unofficial update aligns with pope's communal emphasis, observers say
  • Modern list has to with how sin affects community more than individual
  • Pollution, genetic engineering, social injustice among new transgressions
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From Jennifer Eccleston
CNN
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Fifteen hundred years after the Roman Catholic Church introduced the original list of seven deadly sins, a Vatican official last week suggested an updated roster for a new age.

Although it doesn't reflect a change in official doctrine, the expansion of sins brought on by technology and science aligns with Pope Benedict XVI's emphasis on communal rather than individual piety, observers say.

In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti said priests must take into account "new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as corollary to the unstoppable process of globalization."

In the 21st century, he said, "You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbor's wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos." Video Watch what sin looks like in the 21st century »

The original deadly sins -- mortal sins that require absolution for the sinner to avoid hell -- are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. They have been vividly portrayed in literature such as Dante's "The Inferno" since the Middle Ages.

Girotti is second in command at the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican body responsible for confessions and absolutions.

In his L'Osservatore interview, Girotti said pollution and genetic engineering, as well as drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia, social injustice and extreme wealth were now on record as mortal sins, those the Church deems most offensive to God and those that could land you a spot in hell without repentance.

"In different times, in moments of history, cultural moments, technological moments, sins dress themselves up, so to speak, in a different way," the Rev. John Wauck from Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross told CNN.

"The underlying sin tends to be the same -- a variation of a theme of selfishness, a lack of respect for others, of lying, cheating , stealing or killing," Wauck said.

In the modern age, people find new ways to commit the seven deadly sins.

"Our wrath has new outlets and we have new technology with which to deceive people or even kill people," Wauck said.

Technology is a blessing, he said, but it can also be a danger. Take pollution, for example. Wauck said it's a variation of the original mortal sin of gluttony or selfishness.

Protecting the environment comes from the Bible's book of Genesis, he said: God created the world and placed man in it to thrive and not destroy. But the population explosion and the production of extremely toxic materials make the stakes much higher.

"We're seeing now that the kinds of sin that have an impact not on particular individuals -- I stole my neighbor's property or I damaged his property -- but [rather] I polluted in a way that damaged the entire environment, which doesn't belong to me and doesn't belong to my neighbor either. It belongs to mankind and so it's a sin in a certain sense against all of us," Wauck said.

Pope Benedict XVI "wants every person to stop and think about their actions and how it affects not only their own soul but the community and the world at large," said CNN's Vatican correspondent, Delia Gallagher.

"I think he thinks that by doing so this, by making people reflect on what they are doing, in the long term that is what is going to create a better world."

Girotti last week delivered his decidedly modern revision of deadly sins at the end of a weeklong seminar for priests and deacons on the sacrament of confession.

In Catholic teachings, professing one's sins before a priest in confession is the only method of absolution. But Girotti told the audience of several hundred clergy that some worshippers believe priests have fallen out of touch.

He pointed to a 10-year-old study taken by the Catholic University of Milan, which found that 30 percent of worshippers in Italy didn't believe a priest was necessary to atone for one's sins. It also found that 10 percent thought priests were actually an impediment to forgiveness because they were so out of touch with the ills of modern-day Catholics.

The communal aspect of Catholic behavior is one of the hallmarks of Pope Benedict XVI's tenure. The pontiff has long warned against "dangerous individualism," a state that can cause "enormous difficulties for social cohesion."

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Addressing Girotti's confession refresher course, the pontiff lamented what he called "a certain disaffection" with the sacrament within his flock.

"Those who trust themselves in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their own 'I' and their hearts harden in sin," he was quoted. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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