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The Vatican, home to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest segment of Christianity, went on record yesterday that “genetic manipulation” is one of seven behaviors now classified as mortal sins.

The seven sins are meant to supplement the old “seven deadly sins” - sloth, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath and pride – which the Vatican views as being individualistic as opposed to the new list, which is seen as having social resonance.

The other six mortal sins on the new list include pollution, drug abuse, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice and poverty, and becoming obscenely wealthy.

The Church also said that it remains concerned about issues such as abortion and pedophilia, which remain mortal sins.

In the Catholic Church, a mortal sin is defined as a "grave violation of God's law" that can bring about eternal damnation if the person committing the sin does not repent.

KC's View:
It is fascinating that in the view of the Vatican, littering, genetic modification of food ingredients and pedophilia all can result in one going to hell. (Almost as fascinating as the fact that the church feels the need to reaffirm in a press release that pedophilia is a mortal sin, and then use the moment to say that while pedophilia has been a problems for some members of the clergy, the issue has been blown out of proportion by the media.)

I would make two observations about this story. (I could make about a thousand observations, but I’d probably end up in a ton of trouble…)

First, the fact that the use of GMOs makes the Vatican’s list means that this debate – which hasn’t been a huge issue in the US, not nearly as big as it has been in Europe – probably is going to get more heated and will move center stage. Does this mean that people who work for Monsanto are going to hell? Or that retailers who sell products created through the use of genetically engineered ingredients are facing eternal damnation? Perhaps…and if one is a practicing and dedicated Catholic (admittedly a shrinking group these days), one will have to at least consider these possibilities.

Unless, of course, people don't take it seriously and see the Vatican statement as an example of the church being out of touch with modern realities.

Second, it seems ironic that just yesterday, Reuters had a story (posted before the Vatican comments became public) about how one small Mexican farmer has been harvesting genetically modified corn that has been resistant to pests and requiring less water to keep alive. The crop technically is illegal in Mexico because of concerns that the GM seed will contaminate traditional seeds, but supporters say that the GM corn will both help feed hungry people as well as make Mexico less dependent on imported corn.

Is trying to feed your family and achieve economic independence a mortal sin? Not where I’m coming from, not if we’re talking about the use of science in responsible ways.

Now, I concede that this is a complicated issue, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about GM foods. But it seems utterly wrong to dismiss the possibilities that GM technologies might offer to people who are hungry and poor and in desperate need of hope. But the Catholic Church hasn’t just dismissed it…it has labeled genetic modification as being the same as pedophilia.

Is it any wonder that for a lot of people, organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, have lost much of their moral authority?