Does having a drink on Friday night require a trip to the confessional on Saturday?
If you're a Catholic who enjoys a nice glass of wine with dinner or likes to kick back and crack open a cold beer now and then, the Catholic bishops of Kerala, India have some bad news for you: Drinking alcohol might be a sin.
The Asian Age newspaper reports that the Kerala Catholic Council is considering a new liquor policy proposal that would declare alcohol consumption to be a sin that Catholics must confess to a priest. The initiative is being considered by the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council's temperance commission, which has as its stated purpose promoting a drug and alcohol free society. A spokesman for the commission said the church has a "moral responsibility" to address the issue of excessive drinking in Kerala.
Interestingly enough, this initiative comes from a group of church leaders who are more relaxed when it comes to other issues, such as the use of artificial birth control by Catholics. In both cases, the bishops' goal is to use church teaching to best address the needs of the local Catholic population. In the case of birth control, the church's softer stance was due to local customs that emphasized the benefits of smaller families. The church started to change its stance, however, when those smaller families started leading to a declining Catholic population and decreasing vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
When it comes to drinking, the bishops recognize a serious concern over the dangers of alcoholism in society. It is certainly an important issue to address, and it shows that the church is in touch with the needs and struggles of its members. But does that mean they can declare drinking, even in moderation, to be cause for heading to the confessional? Would any Catholic who takes a drink then be distancing themselves from God and in need of reconciliation?
The Kerala bishops are obviously hoping that warning Catholics that drinking is a sin will act as a deterrent to keep them from going down a dangerous path. But I have to wonder if using the threat of sin is really the best way to convey that message to the faithful.