Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. What is a Catholic’s obligation regarding the movie ratings issued by the Catholic News Service? Are they binding? For example, is it a sin to see films rated “O–Morally Offensive”? Not that any good Catholic would want to see most of these films, but on occasion there is an “O” film where the rating seems unwarranted. Or what if a parent allows a teen to see a movie rated “A-III–For Adults”? (Columbus, Ohio)

A. The ratings are meant as guidelines. They do not bind in conscience. At the same time, they offer a valuable resource, particularly for parents in choosing what is appropriate for their children. The ratings and reviews evaluate a film from a spiritual, moral and artistic point of view against the background of the church’s teachings and of Judeo-Christian values. So, I don’t believe that a faithful Catholic should take them lightly.

After you have read a review, I would recommend deciding whether to attend based on what you know of yourself, avoiding what might be troublesome morally.

Films are classified as “O” or “morally offensive” when they “feature excessive violence, gratuitous sexuality or are laden, for no artistically valid reason, with non-stop vulgarity,” according to the ratings page of Catholic News Service. Films that directly contradict church teaching on such matters as suicide, adultery, euthanasia, abortion or violent revenge also get this rating, “no matter how lauded some of them may be by the secular press.”

Such a rating is not given lightly, so I would agree with you that rarely would seeing a film rated “O” be justified.

As for whether to allow your teenager to see a film rated as acceptable only for adults, if it were my child I would want to first see the film to make a safe and informed judgment as to how he or she might receive it and react.

Q. When are priests going to tell parents to leave the children’s toys at home? I see tractors and cars roaming across pews, little soldiers conducting wars and even monster figures. We are just a couple of ticks away from every child’s being there with iPads and movies. We used to believe that children could learn self-control by sitting quietly at Mass and not needing to be entertained. (La Crosse, Wis.)

A. Topics like this are always chancy, because people have a range of opinions, often strongly held. But I’ll run the risk and give you my take.

It depends a lot on age. By the time a kid is 4, I would hope that he or she were starting to pay some attention in church, or at least sitting quietly. But when the child is 2, let’s say, I have no problem with bringing toys — depending on the toys.

My least favorite are trucks and Super Balls. We have a sloped church, and more than once I’ve been “attacked” at the altar by a rumbling 18-wheeler toy truck or a high-bouncing spheroid.

Though not a toy, Cheerios are on my “non-preferred” list. (I’d rather not spend Sunday afternoons picking cereal out of seat cushions.) Coloring books would be fine, except that they involve crayons, which leave reminders of their presence.

Bringing stuffed animals is fine, and books with the thick pages are acceptable (although even they can become noisemakers should the toddler decide to throw them).

Having said all that, I’m just delighted to see little children in church, and I admire and applaud parents with the patience to bring them.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.