“Ask a Priest: Are Novels With Adult Themes OK to Read?”

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Q: Is a Catholic allowed to read novels that contain themes of adultery and fornication, etc.? These are not major themes, but some characters might have practiced or committed one of the acts, and the author has not taken the sin seriously. Thank you. – L.F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The answer depends on a lot of factors.

For instance, there are reports of adultery and fornication in the Bible, but we aren’t dissuaded from reading Scripture.

In modern novels there are various ways these particular topics are dealt with. Some novels might simply refer to the occurrences, without graphic details. The 1920s novel The Great Gatsby is an example.

However, novels that deal with these topics in graphic ways could probably be occasions of grave sin for readers and thus best avoided.

Treatment of delicate themes can vary over a wide spectrum, and each reader would need to discern what would constitute for him a temptation to grave sin.

So, you would need to decide what is and isn’t morally convenient for you to read.

You won’t go wrong by leaning toward the side of caution. We can easily fool ourselves that “We’re adults” and we can handle things. Yet, allowing ourselves to draw close to near occasions of sin can already be a sin.

Two quick suggestions might help.

First, remember St. Paul’s words, “Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Second, don’t feel as though you are forced to choose from the dicey literature out there on a lot of bookstore shelves or libraries. There is no shortage of high-quality literature out there (see https://www.catholic.org/advent/story.php?id=48784).

Life is short, so it’s good to read things that feed the mind and soul in a healthy way.

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