The dual betrayals of Judas and Peter offer to us some instructive lessons on juridical culpability – a topic that you might say has been in the news lately as it relates to marriage, adultery, fornication and the like in Chapter 8 of AL. The differences are grounded in motive, intent, premeditation, and remorse. Really only the first three play into culpability, but the fourth is worth noting for contrast as well. Let’s examine these elements as they apply to Judas and Peter.
Remember, we are only comparing culpability, not gravity. The sin of Judas would seem to be far more grave, in that he actually handed over the Son of God. Peter’s thrice denial and swearing of oaths would not seem to be as serious, but it is no light matter. Regardless, what we are contrasting here is only culpability. Also, I’m not a lawyer, canon, civil, or otherwise. You don’t really need to be; the concepts just aren’t that hard. This is going to be a bit of a mash-up of moral theology and civil law, but hopefully you will get the point.
Motive: Judas was motivated material greed, and probably revenge. Peter was motivated by primal fear. Do you see which is worse?
Intent: In secular law, this is known as the concept of mens rea (“guilty mind”) and refers to what degree the perp personally desired the bad outcome. In moral theology we would speak of giving our assent to the sin. Judas directly intended the result he orchestrated, which makes his culpability very high. Peter was acting/reacting to events as they unfolded, and, overcome with fear, may not have even been conscience of the seriousness of his actions, which reduces his culpability potentially to zero.
Premeditation: This refers to weather the action was planned out in advance. The fancy term is “malice aforethought.” Remember I said Judas was motivated by greed but also probably by revenge? That’s because it’s likely he started plotting all the way back in John 6. At the very height of Jesus’ popularity, and therefore the popularity of His apostles, He delivers the Bread of Life discourse, and the multitude desert Him. It’s at this very moment that the betrayal of Judas is mentioned (John 6:65, 71-72). Judas was probably both embarrassed at the teaching and enraged over the lost popularity and prospect for riches. It seems appropriate it was in this moment he began to plot his revenge. Contrast this to Peter, who only acted in the heat of the moment. Do you see which is worse?
Remorse: In the moral realm we would call this “contrition.” Whether or not you are found culpable for a crime/sin, you can’t be forgiven for it without contrition. This means not only being truly sorry, but it’s also bound up in the idea of having a firm purpose of amendment – to not want it ever to happen again. Judas is sorry, but he’s not sorry about what he did nor the end result of his actions. If he was sorry about the result, he still had time to try to intervene, but he didn’t. No, Judas was sorry FOR HIMSELF. He was sorry about how the result affected him. Selfish to the end, he commits the ultimate act of selfishness and hangs himself. In sharp contrast, Peter’s contrition is like a bolt of lightning. As the cock crows, he is made acutely aware of what he has done, by remembering the words of our Lord, and he is devastated by his own betrayal, and he is fully contrite, and all of this happens in the same instant.
I’m out of time, but let me just tie this back to Amoris Laetitia. Someone who willfully commits mortal sin (all three conditions are present), is not contrite, and does not intend to amend their life, is 100% culpable for their actions. There is no such thing as “concrete situations” by which “accompaniment and discernment” can mitigate the facts of the matter. There is no such thing as God’s laws being impossible to keep. There is no such thing as God’s laws changing to confirm to “differing cultural norms”. There is no such thing as objective, intentional, repeated mortal sin being reduced to zero culpability and actually becoming (!) a moral good “for the sake of the children.” This is simple situational ethics, and it’s always wrong.