In 1968, Fr. Don Miller, CSsR, founder of Liguori Publications and Scrupulous Anonymous, published “Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous.” It was an immediate hit. My 1996 revision was also well received. Seventeen years later, it’s time for another revision. We’ve learned a great deal about scrupulosity since the original Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous were published, and these revised commandments may contradict portions of the first two versions. When this happens, I’ll off er pastoral direction to help readers understand the reason for the contradiction. I hope these revised and updated Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous will be a useful tool for the spiritual formation of Scrupulous Anonymous members. The commandments don’t guarantee peace and freedom from undue anxiety, but practicing them is a step in the right direction. Trusting and believing in the power of God’s grace is much more healthy than letting scrupulosity guide our decisions. When we practice these commandments—not with perfection, but with normal human effort—they are channels of God’s grace and help.
Commandments 1 through 4 focus on the sacrament of reconciliation.
When Fr. Don wrote the original commandments, he understood scrupulosity in the traditional manner: as a “manifestation of the tender conscience.” He believed the best treatment was good catechetical advice and direction from a skilled confessor. Today, however, we know that scrupulosity is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) with a religious manifestation and that catechetical formation will have little or no impact on a person with OCD-based scrupulosity. People with scrupulosity think and study about sin repeatedly, to little or no avail. You cannot think or study your way out of OCD. What is required at minimum is behavior modifi cation that severely limits reception of the sacrament of reconciliation. Daily or weekly reception of the sacrament is not advised. It’s pastorally benefi cial to limit reception of the sacrament to once a month at most; ideally, people with scrupulosity should receive the sacrament only during Advent and Lent, the traditional penitential liturgical seasons. Th e guidance and pastoral direction of a wise and understanding confessor and/or spiritual director is also essential.
Commandments 5 and 6 focus on behaviors and uncontrolled and unwanted thoughts that ignite concerns about sacrilege and/or disrespect for God and his saints. Both commandments address the fear of losing control: Commandment 5 addresses bad thoughts and desires, and Commandment 6 focuses on expression of feelings and emotions.
Commandments 7 and 8 focus on doubt, specifically the issues of resisting your confessor and his directives and confusion about obligations. Commandments 9 and 10 address the seemingly constant fear experienced by people with scrupulosity and the need to put individual trust in Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Without exception, you shall not confess sins you have already confessed.
Perhaps the most persistent experience of the scrupulous condition is doubt accompanied by never-ending anxiety: “Have I thoroughly and completely confessed my sins?” That’s why scrupulosity is often called the “doubting disease.” Doubt-generated anxiety deprives us of the peace of Christ, our birthright through grace. When doubt and/or anxiety are removed from the equation, the scrupulous condition—although not healed—is signifi cantly reduced. Resisting the urge to confess doubtful sin or sins you’ve
Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous (2013) by Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR © 2013 Liguori Publications. All Rights Reserved.