If it is true that each man is responsible for his own acts, it does not follow that he is exempt from all exterior influence, nor that we cannot be accounted as responsible for others’ sins by our own faults.
Scandal can be defined as any word or deed that is itself evil, or has the appearance of evil, and provides the occasion of sin to another. (Prummer, Handbook of Moral Theology, §230). The scandal can be present either in the person who performs the evil or seemingly evil act, or in the person induced to sin by another’s bad example. There is fault in both the one who gives scandal and in the one who takes it, nor is it true that the person who gives bad example can claim to have no responsibility for another’s sin, on the fictitious grounds that this person has free will of his own. The human reality is that we all learn by example, good or bad, and that our wills, weak and unstable as they are, are greatly influenced by those around us, and much more readily so for evil than for good. Did Our Lord Himself not affirm this when he said: “Woe to the world because of scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to the man through whom scandal does come!” (Mt. 18:7).
However, not all scandal that is given to others is equal in gravity. If the person actually intends to lead another into sin, as for example when a man seduces a woman, or a person sends bad images across the Internet, then he is directly responsible for the other person’s sin, nor is it sufficient that he simply confess the sin against purity. He must also confess a mortal sin against charity, and also that he induced another to commit a mortal sin against chastity. That makes three mortal sins, and not just one, to his great shame.
However, it frequently happens that the scandal given to another is not desired, even if it is foreseen. This would be the case if one child tells another how easy it is to steal from the supermarket, or how easy it is to cheat at a game. He is bragging, more than directly wanting to induce another to commit a sin. It remains still a sin against charity, lesser in gravity, more or less serious depending upon the gravity of the sin involved. If, consequently, the other person goes and commits the same sin, there is a real responsibility for that sin.
The scandal given to others is an aspect of God’s judgment that must be reserved to the last day, when all the consequences of the bad deeds for which we have not done sufficient penance, will become manifest. Frightening indeed is it for us to reflect on our bad examples given, “for all of us must be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what he has won through the body, according to his works, whether good or evil” (II Cor. 5:10).
Nevertheless, this does not free us from our obligation not to take scandal from others, for God always gives the grace to vanquish, as St. Paul teaches: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). Most importantly, it is imperative that we not take scandal from actions that are not really evil at all, but simply look like it to us, on account of our ignorance—for example, when a mother misses Sunday Mass, and we are not aware of the fact that it was to take care of a sick child. Rash judgments lead to very many falsely taking scandal in others’ good actions. Likewise, let us be wary of pharisaical scandal, in the likeness of the Pharisees, who were scandalized when Our Lord ate and drank with publicans and sinners and said: “Behold a man who is a glutton, and a wine-drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Lk. 7:34). Consequently, we can sin just as grievously by taking scandal as by giving it.
All this is very well demonstrated by the sin of our first parents. Eve, tempted by the serpent, gave scandal by actively inducing Adam to commit her same very grievous sin of disobedience. The fact that she was tempted by the devil in no way diminishes her culpability, but the fact that she induced her husband to do likewise certainly increases it. Tragically, Adam took scandal, on account of human respect. The scandal given was certainly a real influence, without which he may not have committed the sin. However, it does not diminish his culpability, since he alone was responsible for the entire human race.
The present crisis in the Church also illustrates this whole question of scandal. The promotion of liberal errors by Vatican II, by the post-conciliar hierarchy, and by the New Mass has been a profound source of scandal that has destroyed the Faith of innumerable Catholics. There is grave sin in all those responsible. However, the fact that many Catholics took scandal is their fault, for they refused to have recourse to the supernatural means to overcome the temptation to naturalism. Likewise there are many weak Catholics who take pharisaical scandal in the refusal of traditional Catholics to assist at the New Mass or to “obey” the post-conciliar prelates in their destruction of the Church. Although we cannot be responsible for such pharisaical scandal, nevertheless, we must pay particular care not to scandalize the weak by harsh expressions or disrespect in our rebuttal of the modern errors.
Although the law of abstinence frequently does not oblige every Friday in virtue of the positive law of the Church after Vatican II (with the exception of Great Britain, in which it was re-introduced in 2011), it is nevertheless our Catholic duty to keep the precepts of the Church in the traditional way, for they clearly indicate the mind of the Church and show us, amongst other things, how to do penance.
It is Canon 1250 of the 1917 Code which regulates this question, and which states that “the law of abstinence forbids the eating of meat and of broth made of meat, but does not exclude the use of eggs, milk and milk products, nor any seasonings of food, although made from the fat of animals.” This means that soup made by boiling meat flesh or bones of animals is forbidden on days of abstinence. It also means that lard, which is animal fat, may not be used for cooking if a substantial quantity is to be consumed.
However, if a small quantity of lard is used in order to give taste to food or vegetables, or to grease a pan in cooking, then it would be considered not as food itself, but rather as seasoning of food. This is what Father Prummer has to say on the issue: “Under the name of seasoning is to be understood whatever, whether it be liquid or not, is used in a small quantity, so that the principal food acquires taste, such as a few small pieces of lard employed to give taste to vegetables” (Man. Th. Mor., II, §663). Consequently one ought not to be concerned about using a little lard for baking of cakes, bread, and other foods to be consumed on a Friday.