Illness caused by sin says Vatican official
FROM RICHARD OWEN IN ROME
February 07 2002 A SENIOR Vatican official has asserted that illness is the result of sin and that people have a natural desire to be "healthy and good-looking". Presenting the Pope's message for Lent, Archbishop Paul Cordes, the German head of the Vatican's agency for humanitarian aid, maintained that there was scriptural authority for the idea that those who contract illnesses do so because they have sinned.
Father Georges Cottier, the Pope's chief theologian, immediately stepped in to reassure those who were ill that they were not in fact "paying for their sins".
The Pope, in his message, had urged genetic scientists and other health experts not to succumb to the temptation of "tampering with the Tree of Life" under the illusion that advances in biotechnology had made man his own creator.
Monsignor Cordes, elaborating on the Pope's remarks, went further and said that the root of much modern illness lay in sinful or immoral behaviour.
"Jesus heals sickness and banishes sin," he said. "He therefore teaches us that there is a link between sin and illness. This does not happen in every individual case, but it is a fundamental law. The history of salvation shows us that illness is a consequence of sin."
The theory was enshrined in Roman Catholic doctrine, he said. "Man's desire to be healthy, good-looking and strong is justified because it anticipates our future salvation. One cannot deny that death, of which illness is an anticipation, has always been seen as a consequence of sin."
He quoted the Gospel of St John, which describes Jesus curing a crippled man he found lying on a pallet by the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. Jesus told the man, who had been crippled for 38 years: "Take up your bed and walk". Finding him later in the temple, Jesus ordered the cured man to "go and sin no more, or something worse may happen to you".
Father Cottier said that the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had "introduced sin and suffering into the human condition". This was not the same as saying the sick were guilty and it was unacceptable to use passages from the Gospel in which Jesus "frees people from sin" to suggest otherwise.
Commenting on the altercation, La Repubblica said that the idea that those who were vigorous and good-looking were blessed while the ugly and the sick were damned was an ancient one that predated Christianity. La Stampa said that if illness really was the result of sin and crime, then "the great dictators and criminals of the world would all have been struck down".
Father Bruno Moriconi, a leading theologian, said that illness was neither a blessing nor a curse, but simply a result of the malfunctioning of the human organism. "There is no point in looking to the Bible for an explanation."
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