Practical Moral Principles
by Fr. Gerald Kelly
Are engaged people allowed any special liberties? Is it a sin to go to a somewhat objectionable or suggestive movie? When is kissing sinful? These are but a few of an almost endless stream, of questions proposed to priests at various times. The questioners always ask them with the hope of as brief, definite answer, and they perhaps seldom advert to the fact that these are among the most difficult questions to answer. The preceding chapters of this book should have indicated that such questions cannot be answered without taking into account a large number of factors. In the present chapter we are going to indicate as briefly, yet as adequately, as possible the main points that a priest always has to consider before he can answer such questions, In doing this we shall formulate certain practical principles that must be applied to these various cases. This should help the reader to appreciate some of the difficulty the priest faces, and at the same time it should be of some service in the solution of one's own problems.
Directly Venereal Actions
In answering any question concerning chastity, the first point to be determined concerns the action itself. In this respect, it should already be clear to our readers that there are two quite distinct classes of actions. In the first class are those actions which of their very nature are so closely connected with the sexual appetite that they serve the single purpose of stimulating or promoting the generative function. Such are the actions spoken of in the last chapter: sexual intercourse; intimate, passionate kissing and embracing which form the natural preliminary to intercourse; unnatural acts such as self-abuse or sexual intimacies with a person of the same sex. We may call these acts directly venereal, because their one direct and exclusive effect is to stimulate or further venereal passion.
These directly venereal actions are always unchaste for unmarried people. No "good intention" can make them right; for instance, a girl may not indulge in unchaste intimacies to avoid leading a lonely life or losing a man she loves, and so forth. The law of God in this matter is absolute, and to do such things for some so-called good purpose is simply to do evil in order to obtain some good. With these unequivocal notions in mind, we can formulate our first practical principle of extra-marital chastity:
First Practical Principle
"Every directly venereal action is against the law of God, and a serious sin of impurity."
NOTE: When we say that such things are mortal sins, we mean that they are objectively serious sins. That is, the matter is serious. As we know from our catechism, for a person to commit a full-fledged mortal sin, three things are necessary: a) serious matter; b) sufficient reflection; c) full consent of the will. It happens now and then that an impure action is performed in a sudden burst of passion, or without forethought, or through ignorance of the real evil of the action, or when one is only half-awake, and so forth. In such cases, the second or third element for a subjective mortal sin is lacking, and one may incur little or no guilt before God. But such subjective excuses do not change the nature of the action.
Besides the actions that we have called directly venereal, there are almost countless other actions and situations in life which do frequently stimulate the sexual appetite, but which also serve another purpose entirely distinct from venereal stimulation. We are referring to such things as the following: the study of physiology or medicine; decent dancing; modest kissing and embracing; motion pictures, plays, and books containing an occasional suggestive scene or description; and so forth. Now, it is true that (as we said) these things often do arouse venereal passion to a greater or less degree; but they also and primarily serve another distinct purpose. The study of physiology or medicine provides useful or even necessary information; dancing, plays, and motion pictures provide recreation for the mind; the modest kiss or embrace is a sign of affection; and so on. The venereal passion aroused by, these things may be called a by-product, and for this reason we label them indirectly venereal.
The moral problem involved in these indirectly venereal actions may present itself in these two ways:
In deciding whether such actions may be began or continued, one must keep in mind that they are not like directly venereal actions; they are not necessarily wrong. They will be sinful or not sinful according to certain circumstances, and these circumstances may be reduced to three.
- Before doing something, one is conscious that it will very likely be a source of sexual passion. For instance, a boy may know that if he dances, or embraces a girl he loves, his passions will be aroused; a girl may know that if she reads a certain book or magazine or thinks about her future married life, she will be sexually disturbed; a young medical student (or a nurse) way realize that his studies win have a stimulating effect on him. The question that each must answer before acting is: May I dance, embrace, read, study, etc., without violating chastity?
- While doing something one becomes conscious that the action is sexually stimulating. He may not have thought of it before, but now he must answer the question: May I continue to dance, read, study, etc., without violating chastity?
1. Impure Intention
Everyone will readily see that if a boy kisses a girl in order to arouse his passion, or in order to prepare the way for some directly venereal action, his act is against chastity. Even though the kiss be externally quite modest he is really turning it into an impure act. And so of other things, to read a book, to look at pictures, to attend plays in order to arouse or further venereal passion is to turn them into violations of chastity. This would hold whether the action is begun for that purpose or continued for that purpose; hence we come naturally to our Second Practical Principle:
"Any action is a serious min against chastity when it to performed with the intention of stimulating or promoting venereal pleasure."
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Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.