“Ask a Priest: Is it a sin to watch an R-rated movie?”

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Q: Is it a sin to watch an R-rated movie? -S.W.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: If the very content of an R-rated movie poses as an occasion of sin for a particular person, and he is aware of that, then that person should not view the movie. By watching it he would be deliberately putting himself in a situation where he knows he has a tendency to fall into sin.

The Motion Picture Association of America defines an R-rated movie as one that “may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.”

Movies can thus earn an R rating for any of a range of reasons. The Passion of the Christ received an R rating for its graphic violence. Yet, the film won praise from many religious leaders, including the then prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy. The film also prompted a change of heart in some criminals.

Most R-rated movies, of course, aren’t known for deepening people’s faith. On the contrary, many films have prurient content that poses a great temptation to sin, including grave sin. Our Lord warned pointedly about sins of the heart. “I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

Sensitivities of viewers vary greatly, however. What scandalizes one person might barely raise the eyebrows of another. Here each person has to know himself well enough to know what presents a near occasion of sin.

The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines an occasion of sin as “Any person, place, or thing that of its nature or because of human frailty can lead one to do wrong, thereby committing sin. If the danger is certain and probable, the occasion is proximate [or near]; if the danger is slight, the occasion becomes remote.”

Nowadays, a conscientious person wouldn’t want to avoid just risqué R movies. Even PG-13 and PG movies can present occasions of sin. And then there is TV, not excluding the commercials. Moreover, one shouldn’t overlook the impact of violence in various media; studies abound that show the negative impact of violent video games, for instance, especially on young people.

For those who think they could simply fast-forward through bad scenes of movies, a further question might be worth considering: If by renting to a certain movie or subscribing to a certain cable TV station, am I in effect giving my financial support to a morally dubious enterprise?

The more immediate question should always be: Is this movie or TV show (or whatever) worth viewing it if it risks leading someone into serious sin? Indeed, could any film be worth that price?

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