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McHugh and Callan, Moral Theology, On Scandal
McHugh and Callan, Moral Theology (Wagner, 1958), Vol. I, p. 584, 585, and pp. 600-604.
1445. Scandal.—Scandal is derived from a Greek word signifying a snare or trap prepared for an enemy, or a stone or block laid in the road that he may stumble or trip over it. In use, it is applied in a wide or general sense, and in a strict or special sense. (a) in its wide sense, it refers to any kind of harm, especially of a spiritual or moral nature, that one brings on others. (h) in its strict sense, it refers to a fall into sin which one occasions for others by misconduct.
1446. The following are some examples of the word “scandal” as employed in its wide sense: (a) It is used to signify physical or natural injuries of various kinds. Thus, the servants of Pharaoh called the plagues brought on Egypt by Moses a scandal (Exod., x. 7), and the Psalmist says of the sinner that lie laid a scandal (calumny) against his brother (Ps. xlix. 20). Those who spread defamatory gossip are called scandal-mongers, and “scandal” often signifies opprobrium or disgrace, as when Shakespeare speaks of the wrangling of nobles as a scandal to the crown. (b) The word “scandal” is also used to signify moral injuries distinct from inducement to sin. Thus, the shock and offense given to virtuous persons by blasphemous language spoken in their hearing is described as a scandal, and one who would prevent another from following some more perfect course or practice to which there is no obligation (such as entering religion, saying grace at meals, etc.), is sometimes said to scandalize.
1447. Definition of Scandal — In the strict sense, scandal is defined as “any conduct that has at least the appearance of evil and that offers to a neighbor an occasion of spiritual ruin.”
(a) By conduct is understood external behavior or manner of acting in the presence of others. Thus, scandal differs from sin, for sin is committed, not only by external acts done before others, but also by internal thoughts and desires and external acts that are secret.
(b) Scandal is conduct which is evil at least in appearance, that is, sinful, or from the circumstances seemingly sinful. Thus, an act is not scandalous, if it is morally indifferent or a less good, and is perceivable as being such.
(c) Scandal tends to spiritual ruin, that is, to a fall into sin, great or small. Here scandal strictly understood differs from scandal in the wide senses given in the previous paragraph.
(d) Scandal is an occasion of a fall into sin, that is, it sets an example of sin before the attention, and thus suggests to the will that the will imitate the sin. Scandal is not, however, the cause of sin, for a person causes his own sin in yielding consent to the suggestion offered by scandal.
(e) Scandal is to another. A person may be said to scandalize himself in the sense that by his looks or acts he puts himself in an occasion of sin (Matt., v. 29, 30), or inasmuch as he maliciously makes the acts of a virtuous neighbor an occasion of sin; but scandal is more properly understood of an occasion of sin prepared for one’s neighbor.
1448. Causes of Scandal.—There are various divisions of scandal according to the kinds of external acts. (a) There is scandal in words, as profane language or calumnies spoken in a gathering of people. (b) There is scandal in acts, as when one is perceptibly drunk or fights in a city street. Scandal applies also to things, in so far as they are the result of acts or related to acts, such as disedifying books, pictures, dress. Thus, one gives scandal by having sinful objects on display, such as profane mottoes on one’s wall, obscene advertisements or announcements on one’s billboards. (c) There also may be scandal in omission, as when one is conspicuously absent from Mass on Sundays.
1449. The following kinds of sinful acts are not scandalous, for they are unknown to others, and hence cannot suggest sin:
(a) internal acts, such as wicked thoughts, desires, emotions; (b) external acts concealed from others, such as inaudible profanity, intoxication not noticeable by others, omission of an obligatory penance about which others have no knowledge.
1477. Duty of Avoiding Scandal.—At times it is impossible to avoid giving scandal, unless one surrenders some spiritual or temporal good. Hence, on this point there are two questions to be considered: (a) When is one obliged to surrender spiritual goods for the sake of avoiding scandal? (b) When is one obliged to surrender temporal goods for the sake of avoiding scandal?
1478. The Surrender of Spiritual Goods in order to Avoid Scandal.—(a) Spiritual goods that are so necessary that one cannot give them up without committing sin may not be surrendered; for, according to the order of charity, one must be more solicitous to keep oneself from sin than to preserve others, and moreover a good end does not justify sinful means. Hence, it is not lawful to commit mortal or even venial sin to avoid giving scandal to another. Examples: One may not tone down the doctrine of right and wrong in order to keep another from blasphemy. One may not tell a slight lie to keep another from taking undeserved offense.
(b) Spiritual goods which can be put aside without sin are not to be neglected on account of malicious or Pharisaic scandal, as long as there is a good reason which calls for their use; for the person who takes malicious scandal from these spiritual things is in difficulty through his own fault and can rescue himself, and it is not reasonable that his malice should be permitted to impede the benefit of others. Thus, our Lord declared that no attention was to be given the scandal which the Pharisees took from His doctrine (Matt., xv. 14).
(c) Spiritual goods which can be put aside without sin should be neglected on account of Pharisaic scandal, if there is no great reason for their use; for one should not give another an occasion of sinning, even if the other is in bad faith, unless there is necessity. Thus, our Lord declared that the act of teaching truth to others should be omitted, if it would only provoke rejection (Matt., vii. 6). Example: A wife may omit saying grace aloud, if her prayer moves her husband to mimicry or to attempts to make the prayer a mockery.
(d) Spiritual goods which can be put aside without sin should be omitted on account of the scandal of little ones, as long as it remains scandal from weakness or ignorance; for charity requires that one assist those who are in spiritual need, and persons who are in danger of scandal through no fault, or through a slight fault of their own, are in spiritual need, Hence, one should conceal or delay the performance of good works that are not necessary, if they would scandalize the weak, or else one should explain to these persons the righteousness of such works. In any case, one should not do these works before those who without malice will be scandalized, but should await such a time as will give them better knowledge, or put them in bad faith.
Examples: If a person knows that personal acts of piety which he performs seem to some well-meaning persons superstitious and will shake their faith, he should omit these acts when such persons are present. If parents are scandalized because a child wishes to leave them in order to become a priest or a religious, the child should delay for a while, if there is hope of a change of view on their part.
1479. As was said in the chapter on law (see 288 sqq.), the higher law has the preference in case of a conflict. Now, natural law itself requires that one avoid the scandal of the weak. Hence the following cases:
(a) Negative precepts of the natural law may not be contravened in order to avoid the scandal of the weak; for such contravention is necessarily sinful. Hence, one may not lie or commit perjury to prevent scandal.
(b) Affirmative precepts of the natural law should be contravened in order to avoid the scandal of the weak, but only when such scandal is a greater evil than the omission of the thing commanded. Thus, one should omit a fraternal correction or a punishment, if the one corrected would be made worse, or the punishment occasion a schism. But one may not neglect to help a person in extreme need because of scandal.
(c) Precepts of the divine law should be contravened on account of scandal of the weak, unless contravention of the law is a greater evil than permission of the scandal. Thus, the preaching of the Gospel is commanded by divine law, and yet it may be omitted to avoid scandal (Matt., vii. 6). Item integritas confessionis de jure divino est, et tamen poenitens deberet peccatum silere, si intelligeret confessarium cui ex necessitate confiteri deberet grave ex eo scandalum passurum. But it is not lawful to omit Baptism in order to avoid scandal to those who will be provoked to anger or blasphemy.
(d) Precepts of ecclesiastical law should be contravened when otherwise there will arise a scandal of the weak which is a graver evil than the contravention of the precepts. Thus a parish-priest should say Mass on Sunday, even though not fasting, if this is necessary in order to avoid great scandal among the people. A wife may omit Mass or a fast, in order to prevent her ignorant husband from using blasphemies or imprecations, or to avoid notable dissensions in the home. Puella quae scit juvenem infirmum ex suo aspectu scandalizari debet sacro omisso domi manere.
1480. In order that scandal of the weak may be considered a greater evil than contravention of a grave precept, it is necessary that the following conditions be verified:
(a) The evil of the scandal must be certain and grave, for an uncertain or slight scandal is not a greater evil than certain contravention of a grave precept. Thus, if one only has vague fears that scandal may be given, or if one has no determined person in mind and thinks only that someone or other will be harmed, there is no excuse for contravention of the precept.
(b) The evil of contravening the precept must not impose intolerable hardships or lead to greater scandals; for one is not required to attempt the impossible, or to give scandal in order to avoid scandal. Thus, it would be unreasonable to expect that a student should never read the classical poets or philosophers of Greece or Rome, lest scandal be given some person overstrict in this matter; that a wife absent herself from Mass permanently, lest her ignorant husband be provoked to rage; that a young lady be deprived of fresh air and exercise, lest an old relative be disedified. If we have to choose between occasioning irreligion in one person by attending Mass and occasioning irreligion in many persons by staying away from Mass, we should rather permit the scandal of the one. Moralists generally hold that scandal of the weak does not justify absence from obligatory Mass oftener than once or twice, and some hold that it does not require absence from Mass at all.
1481. Good works that are of counsel only (such as evangelical poverty), and those that are obligatory only under certain conditions (such as almsdeeds), may be more easily put aside in order to avoid scandal of the weak. It should be noted, however, that for some persons these works are of precept, and hence they are to be judged, as regards those persons, according to the rules given for contravention of precepts. (a) Thus, the counsels are obligatory for those who have vowed them (e.g., religious).
(b) Corporal and spiritual works of mercy are obligatory for prelates and other clerics because of their office.
1482. Spiritual goods, therefore, whether of precept or of counsel, are not to be surrendered entirely on account of any scandal, whether it be Pharisaic scandal or scandal of the weak. But, out of charity for others, these goods should not be made use of (apart from necessity) in a way that would occasion spiritual ruin to anyone. Hence, if there is danger of scandal (a) they should be concealed, as when one goes to Mass early in the morning or by another way, so as not to occasion blasphemy in one’s neighbor; (b) they should be delayed, as when one puts off a fraternal correction until the other person is in a frame of mind to be corrected with profit; (c) they may be used but should be explained, as when one is called to give Baptism to a person dying in a notorious resort and takes witnesses with him, or tells the bystanders the reason of his visit.