God doesn’t work the way we would like Him to. Fine examples of this can be found in the Holocaust and the atom bomb, in child abuse and the recent sentencing of the BTK killer.
When Hitler’s Germany was reduced to ashes and its scientific Darwinian eugenics was fully exposed, the world recoiled in horror. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke for many Americans when he opined that the Germans should be collectively sterilized. They had, after all, violated European harmony twice in thirty years. This modern, science-based Thirty Years’ War left the accusation of collective guilt on everyone’s lips. Every German, it was said, was guilty for everything that had been done under the command of the little Austrian.
Today, many lay the burden of collective guilt on America for having waged total war, targeting civilian populations and dropping bombs that wiped out entire cities during our more violent invocations of science.
Only one voice spoke in opposition to this idea: the Catholic Church.
The Church pointed out that collective guilt, whether for Nazi camps or American bombs, was a theological impossibility. There existed only one instance of collective guilt, original sin. The absence of grace that is original sin originates in the fact that Adam, the father of the human race, refused to accept the inheritance of grace that God offered him. Just as I am much more likely to be poor if my grandfather father decided to refuse a winning lotto ticket, so I am poor in grace because my great-great grandfather decided to reject God’s grace. Hitler was many things, but he was no one’s father.
It might have been the case in the Old Testament that when the fathers are sour grapes, the children’s teeth were set on edge, as the Scriptures say, but that changed with Christ. He won the grace necessary for each person to enter heaven. Now that we can be baptized into His Body, my parents’ sins can no longer be imputed to me. Collective guilt doesn’t exist. Each one of us is responsible for his own relationship with God, the Bridegroom.
Incidentally, this is why the annulment of a Catholic marriage does not imply bastardy for the children. Bastardy is solely a statement about inheritance: a bastard can never inherit his father’s property. From a spiritual point of view, my father’s property, that is, Adam's inheritance from God, was grace and he refused that inheritance. As a result, from the moment of my conception, I am already cut out of the inheritance of grace.
From a spiritual point of view, from the point of view of grace, I begin existence as a bastard, whether or not my parents were married when I was conceived. My inheritance of grace is not restored to me through my parents’ marriage. It is restored through my own adoption into God's family in baptism. It is restored by my subsequent marriage to Jesus Christ in baptism. He is the Bridegroom Who pays the dowry. My inheritance of grace from Him does not depend on whether my parents fornicated or engaged in sacramental marriage. My inheritance of grace does not depend on whether my parents got an annulment or a divorce or both. God cares only about whether I have married and stayed true to the Bridegroom. No matter what guilt or innocence existed in my parent's marriage, I am not responsible for that, nor does my state of grace depend on that, nor does an annulment make any reference at all to the state of the children. Annulment does not imply that children born from the marriage are bastards. Annulment is only a statement about the relationship between two adults who tried, and failed, to establish a specific kind of relationship between each other. A declaration of annulment does not, it cannot, imply that children from this attempted relationship are bastards.
The state may say this about the distribution of temporal goods, but temporal goods are the state's business. That has nothing to do with the Church. The state does not recognize the Catholic declaration of annulment, so there is no correspondence there. The Church's statement of nulllity is about the existence of grace in a relationship between two human adults. Being a parent is not a sacrament. Being a child is not a sacrament. The declaration about the state of grace between two adults cannot ever be considered part of the completely separate statement about how an adult and his/her own child interact. The spouses are not collectively guilty or innocent. Neither are the children. It doesn't make any sense to talk that way. Collective guilt does not exist.
Similarly, just as collective guilt does not exist, so incurable evil does not exist.
During the recent sex abuse scandals, many were amazed to discover that the bishops – advised by the science of professional psychology – believed predatory gay sex with teenagers was a curable disease. Today, we shake our heads and opine wisely, “That kind of activity is incurable, you know.”
Actually, we are wrong and the bishops were right. While it may well be true that modern science finds pedophiliacs and predatory gays incurable, it is not the case that pedophilia or homosexuality are incurable. They can be cured, they just can’t be cured with the tools of modern science. The bishops’ error lay not in thinking these conditions curable, but in thinking the cure lay in modern science. It didn’t.
According to Martin Luther, faith alone saves. In his sermons, he insisted that we can commit adultery one hundred times a day and still be saved, as long as we had faith. For Luther, someone like the BTK killer, a man who bound, tortured and killed his victims while living the rest of his life as a church-going Christian, had done nothing that might imperil his salvation, as long as his faith in Jesus was strong. But that’s just bad theology.
Faith doesn’t save, marriage saves. Faith is a product of marriage. Faith comes from trusting the Bridegroom and remaining faithful to Him. Faithful living is what you do after you take the vows.
Collective guilt does not exist. Incurable sin does not exist. We are each judged on what we have done, on our contrition for the evil we have committed, and on our resolve not to repeat that evil. What the BTK killer did to his victims, we do to ourselves every time we sin. We bind our conscience, torture it with evil, and kill the life of grace within us. We can be brought back to new life, but modern science isn’t able to do that work. Only the grace of God, and our cooperation with His grace, can resurrect us.