The Catholic Church, in trying to get with the times, has decided to come up with a new list of mortal sins, but, like middle-aged parents trying to look cool in front of their teenaged kids, I think it loses the plot a little. The old ones: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth have one thing going for them - they are pretty clear and unambiguous. You know when you have been proud or envious or have eaten too much (the belching usually gives it away). The new ones - Environmental Pollution, Genetic Manipulation, Accumulating Excessive Wealth, Inflicting Poverty, Drug Trafficking/Consumption, Morally Debatable Experiments and the Violation of Human Rights- can be somewhat confusing in that respect. For example, if you were to buy carbon offsets, would you still need to go for confession? And just what counts as 'excessive' when accumulating wealth? Would Norman Borlaug and the rest of the team behind the Green Revolution be considered sinners for genetically manipulating crops, or saviours for making food more readily available to the poor?
Now that environmental pollution is a sin, one might well ask where the Church stands in terms of remedial measures. Is the Pope a Pigouvian, I wonder, expecting all sinners to undergo some penance for their sins so as to understand the true 'cost' of their wayward ways, both in this world and the next? Or, alternatively, would we see the revival of papal indulgences, now enhanced with a cap-and-trade system that creates a market for sin offsets? Apparently the Vatican is already the world's first carbon-neutral state, so you never know.