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The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell“.

Traditionally, the seven deadly sins were considered: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. The Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Vatican’s most secretive departments, which fixes the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners, last year updated its list of deadly sins to include more modern ones. The revised list included seven modern sins it said were becoming prevalent during an era of “unstoppable globalization”.

These included: genetic modification, experiments on the person, environmental pollution, taking or selling illegal drugs, social injustice, causing poverty and financial greed.

A recent survey of Catholics found nearly a third no longer considered confession necessary, while one in 10 considered the process an obstacle to their dialogue with God.

Pope Benedict, who reportedly confesses his sins once a week, last year issued his own voice of disquiet on the subject. “We are losing the notion of sin,” he said. “If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm.”