Q. I’m having a difference of opinion with a friend who says that scrupulosity is a sin. I say it is not. What does the Catholic Church teach on this?
A. Genuine scrupulosity is not a free choice like preferring Snickers candy over Skittles. Scrupulosity is influenced by many factors beyond a person’s complete control. Although atheists can be scrupulous, we tend to describe their situation as seeking an impossible certainty or perfection. We associate scrupulosity with a religious motivation, probably linked to a person’s mental image of God. If that is the case, there is some possibility of change once the individual realizes that no single mental image can represent God completely.
Someone whose scrupulosity is religiously related should seek the help necessary so that he or she can enjoy the inner freedom that flows from being made in God’s image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26).
We certainly need to reflect upon our decisions. Scrupulosity, however, is a continual agitation that maybe I could have made a better choice or perhaps God is angry with me over something that, in fact, a reasonable person would regard as not that important.
Under the heading “Scrupulosity” in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Cyril James Harney, O.P., writes: “Deriving from the Latin scrupus, whose diminutive form scrupulus means a small sharp stone, scrupulosity signifies habitual and unreasonable hesitation, doubt, coupled with anxiety of mind, in connection with the making of moral judgments.
“The scrupulous person’s life journey has been aptly likened to that of a traveler whose pebble-filled shoes make every step painful and hesitant. Scruples render one incapable of making with finality the daily decisions of life.”
All the time and energy claimed by scrupulosity should be available for generously cooperating with God’s grace in a person’s life.