“Ask a Priest: Can a Confessor Ban Me From All Movies and Social Media?”

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Q: When I went to confession last week my confessor gave me some harsh advice after I asked him about my choice of movies and shows. I am usually careful about what I watch. For example, I avoid violent content, and I try my best to weigh the pros and cons of a movie. The same goes for video games. My confessor told me to avoid movies at all cost and even social media. I was worried after that because I know that I am morally bound to obey his advice. I was taken aback, since I am just 18 and in college, so my classes are online. I do watch movies and shows in my unproductive time (around four hours or so daily). I want to know whether I still need to follow whatever advice I get in a confession? Plus, I have scrupulosity, so it doesn’t let me live in peace. – R.O.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Since I don’t know the whole context of the conversation between you and the confessor, I don’t want to second-guess the advice that he gave in the moment.

While we should take seriously the advice of a confessor – the confessional can be, after all, a special forum in which the Holy Spirit works – the following of that advice might not always be obligatory but rather prudential.

The penance that a priest prescribes is obligatory, but his advice is something that you would want to weigh the pros and cons of, and decide whether to follow it.

Ideally the confessor could educate a penitent’s conscience about the objective sinfulness of something. For it is the evil of the thing that obliges a penitent to avoid it, not the priest’s obliging him to avoid it.

Perhaps the priest felt as though he didn’t have a lot of time to give you a detailed moral explanation, and so advised an across-the-board ban on movies and social media. Or, if he perceived that just about any media pose a grave danger for you, the prohibition might have been the strong medicine he thought you needed.

In general, though, I wouldn’t say that a person is obliged to avoid all movies and social media.

Some movies can be uplifting, and social media can be a powerful tool if used correctly.

The key here is discernment. We have to be prudent about our use of media.

You mention that you spend four hours a day watching movies and shows. That seems like a lot of time.

You mention “unproductive time.” There really shouldn’t be unproductive time in our lives.

Every day is a gift of God. One of the most valuable things he gives us is time — and like all our God-given gifts, we should use them for his glory and for the good of others.

My suggestion is that you spend some time in prayer and see how you might use your days more productively.

Being of college age, you have a capacity to learn things more quickly and deeply. These are the years that you want to use well, to study hard, to form yourself well. It would be a pity to spend a quarter of your waking hours watching movies.

In lieu of movies, you might consider the fine resources online that could help you grow in your knowledge of the faith, such as Catholic Answers, the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Discerning Hearts, and Renewal Ministries.

For more reading about use of the media in general, see the Second Vatican Council decree Inter Mirifica and John Paul II’s apostolic letter “The Rapid Development.”

Remember, someday we will have to give an account to God of how we used that great gift of time.

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