BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (203): What are occasions of sin? And what does “cooperation in evil” mean?

Rev José Mario O Mandía


An occasion of sin is an external circumstance (person, thing, book, play, situation, event, and so on) which offers a strong incitement to sin and a suitable opportunity to commit it. Such circumstances lead to temptation.

There are many kinds of occasions of sin.

(1) Remote occasion: offers a slight danger of sin; in such cases, a person rarely commits sin.

(2) Proximate occasion: offers a grave danger of sinning. This can be further classified into three groupings.

A proximate occasion can be either (2a.1) absolutely proximate: some external circumstance causes a serious danger of sinning for everyone (for instance, the reading of extremely obscene literature); or (2a.2) relatively proximate: dangerous only for certain individuals.

A proximate occasion can also be either (2b.1) free: if it can be avoided easily; or (2b.2) necessary: it cannot be avoided (for example, a male doctor examining a female patient).

Moreover, a proximate can also be either (2c.1) continually present: the person remains in the occasion always and continually (for instance, keeping a mistress in the house); or (2c.2) not continually present: the person is in the occasion only at certain times.

What principles should we remember regarding occasions of sin and forgiveness in confession?

(1) Since remote occasions are common to everyone, then this is not a hindrance to receiving forgiveness and absolution in confession.

(2) In the case of necessary proximate occasions, if the person is truly contrite and seriously resolves to take all the steps needed to avoid sin, he or she can obtain forgiveness and absolution.

(3) In the case of a person who is in a free proximate occasion, he cannot obtain forgiveness. Moreover, if this free proximate occasion is continuous and he sins repeatedly, the priest should at least defer absolving his sins until he has actually removed that occasion.


What about cooperation in evil? We have discussed this in Bite-Size Philosophy 70. Cooperation in evil is concurrence in another’s sinful act. Note that cooperation in evil is different from scandal (we will take up the topic of scandal when we discuss the 5th Commandment). In scandal, person A causes person B to sin. In cooperation in evil, person B has already decided to commit the sin, even before asking person A for his or her cooperation in the act.

The CCC (1868) says: “Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

– by participating directly and voluntarily in them;

– by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;

– by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;

– by protecting evil-doers.”

There are various kinds of cooperation in evil, but the most important classification is that between material and formal cooperation.

(1) Cooperation is formal if help is given to another to commit sin as a sin. In other words, the “cooperator” in evil approves of the sin itself, and therefore his intention is also evil. Formal cooperation is always sinful.

(2) Cooperation is material if one cooperates in the physical action only. The act of this “cooperator” is in itself a good act but it is abused by another in order to commit sin. Material cooperation is sometimes permitted.

Cooperation in evil gives rise to structures of sin, which the CCCC (no. 400) defines as: “social situations or institutions that are contrary to the divine law. They are the expression and effect of personal sins.”