“Ask a Priest: Is It Detraction to Watch the News?”

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Q: Is it detraction to watch the news or look at websites and learn about information or incidents that were shown on other media? – L.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’ll assume that you are referring to scandalous stories about people. The Church has no rules about watching news that contains material that puts people in a bad light (which is often what the news does).

The Catechism in No. 2477 says that “He becomes guilty: […] of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them.”

So strictly speaking, watching the news isn’t the sin of detraction. Certainly, we want to be careful not to add to detraction by making the faults or supposed faults of others the subject of our conversations.

The bigger question might be how you use your time and what you ingest each day in terms of news and media.

Our minds are a bit like sponges. They soak in things constantly. And what we soak in has an impact on how we think and what we think about.

Choosing the media we view thus involves a moral decision. If we soak in too much negative news (or hearsay), it can darken our view of others and of the world. This in turn can lead to faults against charity and even against hope.

To put the issue in another light, let’s propose this: We have limited time in this world and can do only so much each day. How will we spend our time and energy?

We could expose ourselves to bad news round the clock. Is that a good use of time? Will it help us to know the latest gossip from Hollywood or Washington?

This isn’t to say we have to live disconnected from the world. But it would be good to dedicate our time to worthwhile things.

Here we need to ask ourselves how much of the world we can change each day. Can we fix the problems in Washington or London or Sydney or Johannesburg or wherever we live?

Taking in too much bad news can sour us and leave us feeling cynical or overwhelmed. So we want to be careful.

Also, it might be good to look for healthy alternatives to viewing the news. Religious programming is abundant. And there is no shortage of good books to spend one’s time on.

Perhaps you might want to take some of this to prayer and see where the Spirit is leading you. Life is short. You want to make the best of it.

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  1. Yesterday was Mother’s Day, a bittersweet time for me as I had lost my Alexandra two weeks before her due date. I truly believe I have not only her waiting for me in heaven, but another child I had lost just before her but it was too early to tell gender. My point is this: I still talk to grieving mothers who have been told, by well-meaning Catholics, that their child is in limbo, purgatory or worse, hell. Actually, somebody told me about limbo years after it happened, and it still raised my dander. I wish those old myths would stop circulating. Even limbo was never a doctrine of the church!

  2. Dear Mary, I am sorry to read about your loss.
    God is loving.
    Your Children will be in his care now.
    Have faith in him, he does what is right and honest and loving.
    He created this beautiful Earth, and he created us all.
    He never stops loving us all.

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