Some so-called theologians are denouncing shame as toxic. Various popes, however, have defended Catholic guilt as the valuable feeling of unrest at having broken a relationship with God that leads us to reconcile with Him.
Emily Reimer-Barry is one such theologian from San Diego who in a recent paper denouncing Church Militant for our "sin-talk" claimed, "Shame can be toxic and can stifle the person's growth and integration. Toxic shame is a persistent feeling of worthlessness, humiliation and self-loathing."
Pope Pius XII, however, lauded the value of authentic Catholic guilt (shame) in a 1946 radio message sent to U.S. catechists. "Men must be brought to be conscious of the fact of God's existence," said Pius XII, "and of their moral obligation to shape their lives, according to His most holy will."
The Holy Father added, "Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin."
Pope Francis also praised the concept of shame, saying it leads us to be reconciled to God. In a homily October 6, the Roman Pontiff said that instead of getting "depressed" by guilt, all people, rather, should see shame as a "great sentiment" and as a "grace from God."
He added that authentic guilt "opens the door to healing" when the "Lord sees us ashamed" of what we have done and we "humbly ask pardon."
Not to feel any shame at doing evil is a condition psychologists call psychopathic. To feel guilt when one has done nothing wrong is the scrupulous condition psychologists label neurotic. If one has a well-informed Cathoic conscience and feels shame after violating God's laws, then that person experiences authentic Catholic guilt. It's this sense of sin that popes praise as spiritually valuable, as it leads a sinner to seek reconciliation with God and neighbor.