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What Does Adultery Encompass?

Jim Blackburn explains what constitutes an adulterous action, how it can go beyond mere physical actions, and what we might call adultery in today’s world of online dating.


Host: Go now to Alison in Pittsburg, Kansas listening on 93.1. Alison, is Pittsburgh, Kansas anywhere near Benedictine College?

Caller: Yeah, a couple hours away.

Host: Oh, that’s near in Kansas. Oh wow, you guys…we call that far away here in California.

Jim: I don’t know, here in Southern California that could be 10 miles.

Host: Yeah, that’s a 10 mile drive here. All right, well that’s just because our guest Sara yesterday was from Benedictine College. Alison, your question for Jim Blackburn.

Caller: Well, I know that committing adultery is a mortal sin but what I didn’t know is what exactly that was. Does that mean making love to somebody who’s not your spouse, or is an online affair adultery, or…what exactly does it encompass?

Jim: Well, in the technical sense, adultery is when a person is married and has an intimate relationship with someone else, and that generally means, you know, physically intimate, although I suppose in our minds, in our souls, we can commit adultery as Jesus said. You know, a man who looks at another woman with lust in his eyes has already committed adultery. So we could commit adultery in our will, I guess I should say, and by entertaining the idea of entering into say a sexual relationship with someone who’s not our spouses. So that could be the sin of adultery. It might not be the traditional definition of adultery in the strict sense, but it certainly could be the sin of adultery.

To commit a mortal sin–you mentioned that adultery is a mortal sin, and it is a grave sin, and if someone commits adultery knowing that they’re committing adultery, knowing that it’s a grave sin, and they freely are entering into that, then that is indeed a mortal sin. Okay Alison?

Caller: I think so. So like an online affair, if they’re doing it, and they know they’re doing it, they know it’s wrong, then it’s adultery and it’s mortal sin?

Jim: Yes, I would say it certainly could rise to that level, if your will is engaged in this relationship to cheat on your husband, and your, you know, your will is there, then you’ve already committed adultery in your heart, in Jesus’ words. That’s–you know, we can sin in our minds. We can sin just by engaging our will in something that is sinful. So if you’re at that level, then I would say yes, you are committing adultery and, you know, if you knew it at the time that you did it, and you’re freely choosing to do it, then it’s a mortal sin, it’s something you should talk to your confessor about, something you should confess.

If you want to take, say, a particular example, maybe something that you’ve gone through yourself, I recommend seeking spiritual direction. Talk to a spiritual director about it. A spiritual director can spend more time with you, talk about some things that we might not want to get into on the radio, and give you some advice and help you determine, is this something that has risen to the level of a mortal sin, is it something that you need to confess? Even if it’s not, even if it hasn’t come to the level of a mortal sin, it would seem that it’s at least venially sinful. And that’s something the Church–the Church recommends that we confess even our venial sins. Okay Allison?

Caller: Yeah, that makes more sense when you talk about the will being engaged. Okay. You don’t actually have to be physically engaged, necessarily. So thank you very much.

Jim: Sure, and read Matthew in chapter 5, verses 27 to 28 and the surrounding verses there, and see how Jesus talks about this, how he talks about sin and that, you know, “You’ve heard it said this, but I say this,” he’s showing us that sin can be much more broad than just simply, you know, a strictly speaking, breaking one of the 10 Commandments in the most strict sense. We can commit sins in other ways. So read that, chapter 5 of Matthew, and I think that might be helpful to you.

Host: Thank you very much, Allison, for that call.

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