In this new weekly feature the Editor and other members of THE CATHOLIC HERALD staff will discuss difficulties submit:ed by readers. It should be unde:stood that there can be no undertaking to deal with all difficulties sent in. The purpose of the featu ' is rather to discuss difficulties aria problems selected because of their general interest to readers. The writers also wish to make it clear that they write as Catholic friends of some experience, in no sense as theologians or moralists. What is written is intended to stimulate discussion and reflection; it does not presume to solve the problem finally A reader is puzzled because so much fuss seems to be made about Sixth Commandment immorality in fiction, drama, cinema and social life generally, while apparently none whatever is made about immorality concerned with the other Commandments. In particular, in novels why should we worry so about certain sins and not at all about the sin of murder and theft which is the basis of all detective stories?
THE main reason for all this is quite simple. Probably in Confession (though only priests could confirm it) grave sins against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments far surpass in number all other grave sins—though no doubt. if all cases of missing Mass on Sundays without sufficient excuse were confessed, this sin might prove a good runner-up. It is hardly necessary to go into detail about the reason. The fact is that human beings have been given by God an immensely powerful urge so that the many temptations not to propagate the human race will always be overcome. We do not need a very strong appetite for food since there is little that would suggest to us the desirability of not eating and much that suggests the fatal results of not eating. But having children always entails very heavy responsibilities and inconveniences which very many would refuse to face unless they were driven by a tremendously strong instinct. Now we all share that instinct — and especially in our younger and stronger years — whether we are in a position to exercise it for the purpose for which God gave it to us, or not. Therefore we are all very strongly tempted to indulge it in some way or other not connected with its proper end. And to do this, with full deliberation and consent, is a grave sin.
Therefore it is not surprising that the Church always does all it possibly can to warn us against temptations in this matter — temptations with which 'the world inevitably abounds, precisely because of the strength of the instinct in us and everyone else,--and urges every kind of supernatural and natural precaution against this danger. In regard to all this. the Sixth and Ninth Commandments are unique. They deal with something immensely strong, something always pretty clear, something relatively easy to fall into in one way or another, some thing where temptation and occasion of sin are more or less continuous, unless special precautions are taken and a habit of virtue created--and yet something mortally grave when we fall.
None of this, of course, means that sins of this class are the intrinsically worst sins—still less, that because of this situation we have a right to overlook temptations to other sins. But—to mention the contrast adduced in the question—we should probably all agree that we are not habitually tempted to murder our neighbour or even to steal his goods, especially with violence. Therefore, while it would be wrong to let ourselves think that murder and theft are not very serious sins— and this danger certainty arises from one type of gangster fiction, especially among younger readers,—we must admit that the reading of detection fiction is for the most part a perfectly harmless recreation.
But while we should never underrate the danger of demoralisation through the presenting of temptations against purity, we should not overlook the very extensive failure, even among Catholics themselves, to recognise the existence of grave temptations in the world around us to sus against the other Commandments, not least against Faith, Charity and the demands of Justice. But here the problem is not so much to avoid the temp:allow which we can easily recognise as to recognise as temptations what so often we take to be innocent.