Scots sceptical about Pope's gender specific sin bins

By staff writers
February 19, 2009

An ex-bishop, a writer and a psychologist are among Scottish commentators who have cast doubt on a Catholic survey which suggests that men and women have different catalogues of weaknesses.

The Catholic report, based on a survey of confessions carried out by Fr Roberto Busa, a 95-year-old Jesuit scholar, claims women are prouder than men, but men are more lustful.

"Men and women sin in different ways," Msgr Wojciech Giertych, theologian to the papal household, wrote in L'Osservatore Romano.

He added: "When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create you find that men experiment in a different way from women."

Msgr Giertych says the most difficult issue for men to face was lust, followed by gluttony, sloth, anger, pride, envy and greed.

For women, the most dangerous temptataions were pride, envy, anger, lust, and sloth, he added.

But Richard Holloway, the former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and chair of the Scottish Arts Council, describes the exercise in assigning particular sins to the genders as "crude".

"Each of the seven deadly sins is excessive use of a good thing, apart from perhaps the sin of Envy. I think a more helpful approach would be to look at how we can manage those (tendencies] in a positive way," he commented to The Scotsman newspaper.

Holloway agrees that lust may be more of an issue in men, though he suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that "without the sin of Lust there would be no human race". But he disagrees with assignment of pride as the most common female vice.

He declared: "I think if he's suggesting that female vanity is the same as Pride, then he doesn't know women. Pride is the root sin, it's about treating yourself with absolute self-regard to the detriment of all others, and female physical vanity is light years away from that. It is designed probably for attracting, whereas Pride is what you see in these buccaneering bankers who have brought the country to (its current] financial straits."

Psychologist, broadcaster and author Oliver James says: "This does surprise me; while Lust is definitely more common in men, I don't think there would be any scientific evidence for there being differences between the sexes in terms of any of the other sins."

James adds that while women are more likely to take pride in their appearance than men, he does not believe they are more guilty than their male counterparts of other types of pride.

Women have suggested that the assumptions behind the study are sexist and patronising.

Well-known author and artist Alasdair Gray, whose verse comedy Fleck is inspired by Goethe's work, also disagrees with the attempt at gender differentiation.

He said: "In my books most of the sinners are men, because they have had a bigger part in my work, and I do think women are less likely to commit crimes because they are less powerful, physically and also often socially and monetarily too."

"But I wouldn't agree with (the Vatican's list], no," declared Gray. "The top sin of both sexes is selfish greed, and while that can take the form of lust, I suppose, it is selfish greed that is the worst sin."

The report appears amid Vatican concerns about the declining rate of confessions.

A recent survey of Catholics found nearly a third no longer considered confession necessary, while one in 10 considered the process an obstacle to their dialogue with God.

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