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Good evening Father,

I am writing to you because, as by title, I would urgently need your help on a matter that I am going to submit. Thank you in advance for all the attention you can give me and I also apologize in advance for the length of the message, but I want to make sure I explain well because this is a matter of the gravest importance for me.

I will move on to the problem.

I can say that I am a boy literally tormented by what I think in psychology are called “intrusive thoughts”. Basically, it’s been years now that all day and every day I’m assailed by bad thoughts that come out in my mind without calling them. For me it is a real torture: If I fight to hunt them, it’s like I strengthen them, if I try to ignore them and let them slip away I feel guilty because, not hunting them, I’m afraid to be somehow guilty of having thought them. And it is in these situations that my mind is taken by the greatest torture: doubt, I start to wonder, “Was that thought just now voluntary or not?” And then I begin to reconstruct mentally what I was doing when that thought came up, so that I can see if I was actually guilty or not. And when I come to the conclusion that I did not want that thought, here comes a new torture: “I hear a little voice in my head saying “A-ha!! Did you see that? You were really innocent before, but now you are not!! Because, even if you did it only to try to understand the truth, now you have still reconstructed the impure thought!!”.

I will try to make myself understood with an example. If I am watching a football game and I am caught up in an impure thought, what I wrote begins to happen: First the struggle between my mind and my thought and then the arrival of doubt. And to dispel the doubt, I mentally reconstruct what I was doing: “Then, I was sitting on the couch, I turned up the volume of the television because the commentary was low and at that point that impure thought appeared. But I did not want it: I remember very well to have driven him away!”. That’s when the little voice comes in, “Look!! Now you have thought about it! Now you have called him! Now you are guilty!!”. I try to get out of it by saying, “Of course: how else can I examine my conscience? In order to understand what mistakes I made, don’t I have to think about them in some way? How can I know if I made a mistake or not if I cannot even think about it? But I have no desire to indulge that thought!”. And the little voice says, “It’s okay, it’s okay, now you have called him back!! Now you are guilty! Before you were not, now you are!!”

Father, in these moments I am assailed by the blackest despair: a moment before I am in seventh heaven because I reach the awareness of not being responsible for that thought, a minute after I feel guilty because I do not know if, in the attempt to understand if I was really responsible or not, I made myself actually responsible. What I want to understand, Father, is this: to recall an impure thought, during an examination of conscience, without any complacency, without making it the aim of the memory, but only an element of the same, is it a sin of impure thought? And if it is, how can I examine my conscience? How can I possibly determine if that thought or situation was impure/sinful if I cannot even call it back to reason on it?

Sometimes I feel like a mathematician who does not know if he has miscalculated or not: how can I establish it if I am not even allowed to pick up and view the sheet with the calculations?

I look forward to your answer Father, because this situation is making me despair. I do not deny that there are days when the temptation to burst into tears is very strong.

I am a shy person and I would prefer this email to remain private, but there are probably other brothers who have the same problem and your answer may also help them, so I leave it to you to decide whether to publish it or not.

Thank you again and I wish you a good continuation.


1. I will answer your question immediately because the answer I give can reassure you very much.

You talk to me of intrusive thoughts that in theology sometimes take the name of temptations.

Concerning that never mind, because these intrusive thoughts can arise in anyone.

But in you they flow into such anguish of conscience that they lead you to despair.

The anguish is caused by the scrupulousness of conscience for which you are always in mortal sin while your soul, as emerges from your email, is beautiful.

2. You have been able to describe precisely what is going on in the mind of a conscientious person.

Those who are not scrupulous cannot get an adequate idea of such a state of the soul.

Personally I can say that I have rarely found myself in such precise descriptions.

And that is also why I took the opportunity to publish the question with its answer because it could be useful to many.

3. In the meantime, it must be said that scrupulous conscience means that conscience which for futile and insufficient reasons considers that a given act is a sin.

It is therefore an unnecessary fear or anxiety which in itself has nothing to do with a good conscience.

The scrupulous conscience should not be confused with the delicate conscience, which is the most beautiful form of conscience that avoids even the smallest sins for the sake of the Lord.

4. Although it is a sacrosanct principle that one must not act against one’s own conscience (understood well-formed), acting against one’s own conscience is lawful and also necessary to the scrupulous, because his conscience – and he is fully aware of it – is ill or distorted.

The conscience of the scrupulous is a real torture both for him and very often for those close to him, like the confessor.

Typically such a state of consciousness produces damage to the body and soul. In fact, it  debilitates psychically and sometimes impairs health, above all it prevents spiritual progress, makes life sad and sometimes makes you go so crazy that you even think of extreme solutions.

In some cases, it also happens that some scrupulous abandon themselves to despair and let every rule go.

5. The most striking signs of scrupulousness of conscience are the following:

an exaggerated anxiety about the completeness of the actions and in particular on the completeness of the confessions of the past life;

an endless accusation of the circumstances especially of internal sins concerning thoughts and desires, as emerges from the email of our visitor;

an insistence or pertinacy on his own judgment, so that, doubting the wisdom of the confessor, they pass from one confessor to another.

6. As regards the causes of scruples, the spiritual authors identify three.

Sometimes this state may have supernatural causes. In other words, it would be desired by God to exercise the soul in humility and patience. This is how the scruples of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis of Sales are interpreted. Such scruples generally last little time to give way to a great peace.

Sometimes with divine permission they could be caused by the devil to upset the soul and take revenge on its defeats. Even these scruples do not last for long and are noticed in some people immediately after their conversion.

Much more often they are produced by natural causes, that is by pathological predispositions accompanied by fixed thoughts. In some cases, once these predispositions are overcome, even the scruples disappear.

Sometimes they are provoked by readings and frequent visits with meticulous people. Some have observed that just as dating shy and fearful people makes them look like them, it would also happen in some cases of the scrupulous.

7. Remedies for scruples vary.

The first is the removal of the causes that have generated the scruples.

If the origin is pathological, the care of a doctor of good conscience can lead at least to a mitigation of the scrupulous inclination.

Another remedy about which both psychiatrists and theologians agree is perfect obedience to spiritual guidance and trust in it, mindful of the words of the Lord: ““He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10,16).

A third remedy consists in always going to the same guide or confessor, avoiding to turn from one confessor to another because in this case – also because of the disparity of opinions – it does nothing but increase anxiety.

A fourth remedy consists in the occupation of one’s mind in doing some material work or in some other activity, even recreational, that distracts from the obsession of fixed ideas.

Finally, a fifth remedy must not be neglected, which consists in fervent prayer aimed at increasing trust in the mercy of God, which can also have the effect of bringing, little by little, peace to the soul.

8. Finally, the scrupulous must be firmly and decisively told that, because of the pathological disturbance of their conscience, they are exempt from examination of conscience in order to verify the consistency of sin.

They can be certain that they have committed that particular sin only if they have that very clear assurance by which they can attest it with an oath before God.

It should also be remembered that the scrupulous are exempt from the material integrity of the accusation because the integral accusation of sins is a positive divine precept.

In fact from the positive divine precepts (that are those given in addition to the commandments, such as going to Mass on Sundays and the charge of serious sins) they can be dispensed because of a serious extrinsic inconvenience and moral impossibility.

Well, some theologians say that in the scrupulous there would be this moral impossibility because the full accusation of sins, instead of being advantageous to them, would become harmful to their lives.

For the same reason the scrupulous must be prevented from repeating the general confession of the sins of their past life.

With these criteria, I trust I have alleviated the anxiety of your soul.

With the wish to keep peace forever, I assure you of my prayers and I bless you.

Father Angelo