By James W. Dolan
Special to the Reporter
As a septuagenerian, I’m comforted by the thought I no longer can sin. At a certain age, we lack either the mental or physical capacity, or both, to commit offenses. I take advantage of an obscure dispensation that recognizes whatever the elderly do can be explained and excused due to dotage, that is, a gradual deterioration of capacity coupled with responsibility.
For years I struggled with temptation, fearing that what I liked to do (and took pleasure in) was wrong. Having again reached the age of innocence, it no longer matters. Sadly, this enlightenment strikes as opportunities diminish. It’s like breaking out of prison only to find the door was never locked.
One reason the elderly escape to Florida is to avoid sin. Anything goes down there if you can find someone to do it with, and if you remember what “it” was. Nobody is conscience-stricken because by then they’ve forgotten what conscience is and those who remember realize it no longer applies to them.
The churches are filled with folks who can’t remember when they last sinned but who aren’t taking any chances. I understand Confession can be very dull as seniors file in, seeking reassurance more than forgiveness. Remember how, as children, many of us wrote down our sins so we wouldn’t forget them in Confession. Many of the elderly can no longer write and, if they could, wouldn’t be able to read their own handwriting.
There are few benefits to aging, but the over-70 dispensation does relieve the anxiety and stress associated with guilt. Serious offenses, spiritual or temporal, usually require intent. The dispensation is an acknowledgment that at a certain age you can no longer intend to do anything wrong. In a nutshell, the dispensation means: “If you don’t think it’s wrong, then it isn’t.”
While the church has not formally recognized the dispensation, theologians (especially older ones) have argued that seniors need something to look forward to in their old age. What’s the harm in relieving some of their burdens? Guilt, particularly unwarranted guilt, is an affliction too many carry into their twilight years.
As long as you continue to love God and your neighbor, the Over-the–Hill gang is free to carry on without fear of being held accountable for transgressions. Offenses once viewed as mortal are now only venial, and felonies are misdemeanors. There’s enough to worry about without getting your Depends in a bundle over sin. Just as there are specialized courts, there is a sliding redemption scale for seniors. If it looks like fun, you can still do it, and nobody’s harmed. God will understand.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.
SINLESS AT 70
There’s the dos, the don’ts and the can’ts
With age, fewer dos and more cants
How’s a senior expect to live?
Surely somethings gotta give?
It’s the don’ts that get in the way
They can ruin a lovely day.
Here since the dawn of creation,
A newly discovered dispensation.
Found deep in profound Holy Scripture
Is relief from a burdensome stricture.
For those lucky to live that long
Nothing you do can be wrong.