Sexual Morality and Shame Among Catholics Whose Lifestyle Does not Conform to Church Teaching

  • Angele DeguaraEmail author
Original Paper


The study explores whether and how Catholic morality still plays a role in the lives of Catholics in Malta who are in sexual relationships which do not conform to the moral guidelines of the Catholic Church—more specifically divorced or separated and cohabiting or remarried men and women, and how they experience the conflict that may arise from the incongruence between their beliefs and their lifestyle choices. The research suggests that while Catholics who are engaged in such relationships may experience some guilt because of living ‘in sin’, they are more tormented by shame rather than by guilt, as they experience a sense of judgement and exclusion from the religious community which draws its sexual morality from Catholic teaching. Non-conforming Catholics tend to redefine their notion of sin in a way which departs from official Church teaching. In reconstructing their sexual morality, they redeem themselves of any wrongdoing in the eyes of God. Yet, while they manage to neutralise their guilt, their perceived condemnation and rejection by the Church is a source of distress and conflict. Conflict with the Church is partly driven by their perceived loss of status, particularly in their parish community. The Church influences the morality of the social community and disturbs their previous embeddedness within a social network where they now feel stigmatised. At the same time they romanticise Church morality and would have preferred to have continued conforming to its expectations and to have remained part of its core.


Catholic Church Sexual morality Shame Malta Separated Relationships 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Consulted Legislation

  1. Cohabitation Act 2017 (Act XV of 2017), Chapter 571 of the Laws of Malta, Accessed 5 October 2018.
  2. Marriage Act and other Laws (Amendment) Act 2017 (Act XXIII of 2017), Accessed 5 October 2018.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Junior CollegeUniversity of MaltaMsidaMalta

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