Although television can be a bit nasty at times, it is not a sin to watch it. It may be a bit painful, but not a sin. You are most certainly not going to Hell for watching television in general. (Pornography channels are very different. There are some very specific channels that show that kind of garbage.) One must make up one’s own mind about what “crosses the line,” and what does not, in standard television fare. One person’s judgment can easily be different from someone else’s.
No Catholic should torture her/himself for watching shows with some offensive material in them. Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus says, in response to a question whether watching certain films with graphic violence or nudity in them is “sinful”:
“In the wise words of a priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, “The Catholic Church teaches authoritatively, has always taught authoritatively, and will always teach authoritatively, that the visual arts … are a grey area.”” (No absolute judgment is possible in this area, unless it is very obvious, like outright pornography.)
(continued) “Catholic moral theology does not support the conclusion that all nudity (or profanity or violence) in art, including cinema, must always be considered morally wrong, or that Catholics must always avoid all art that includes such nudity (or profanity), even if that nudity is at times morally problematic.”
Here are links to Steven Greydanus’ official film review homepage. Read it thoroughly. Greydanus knows his theology, and has written for Catholic Answers in their Magazine, “This Rock.” His reasoning is well-balanced and non-threatening. It should answer all your questions.
And remember, even if this all seems a bit overwhelming, the visual arts are, no matter what, “a grey area.” God is not going to condemn you for watching, owning, or even selling films with problematic content in them. As long as they are not outright pornography or erotica, you have nothing to worry about.
Some Catholic ratings providers, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will issue certain ratings on films. Some films classified as “O” are regarded as “morally offensive.” Some people take this to mean that Catholics are forbidden to watch these films. This is absolutely wrong. Steven Greydanus weighs in here too, saying:
“The USCCB ratings are advisory, not authoritative. An O rating is certainly a good reason to be cautious about watching a given film. At the same time, it’s a factor informing your decision, not a dictate you are expected to follow. The USCCB review database is a useful resource with an enormous library of reviews — far more than I will ever cover — and it’s both appropriate and prudent that Catholics should make use of it, particularly regarding older films. But it’s a resource to be used, not a law to be followed.”
You can read his full explanation here: decentfilms.com/mail/mailbag-18/190
Greydanus elaborates further in his essay “No Movies, Please, We’re Catholic:”
“ (Like movies and television),…a lot of things (are grey areas) in this world. Not everything—pornography, for instance, or the Bible. But after a short list of black and whites, there are an awful lot of greys out there.”
(continued) “Some people are suspicious of all “grey areas,” but that’s a mistake. “Grey areas” range from Shakespeare to Dan Brown, Thomas Aquinas to Hans Küng, Benedict XVI to Christopher Hitchens—not to mention this website and every article in it, including this one.”
(continued) “Grey area” doesn’t mean that everything is equally worthy of suspicion, or that it makes no difference what we embrace or reject. It does mean that there’s no getting around the need to exercise prudential judgment, and that embracing or rejecting anything should be a qualified and critical act.”
(continued) “We speak of the “canon of Western literature,” but unlike the biblical canon, even classics of Western literature, from Aquinas to Shakespeare, aren’t above criticism. (That’s not to say that all criticisms are equally valid!) Conversely, even Küng or Hitchens may have a valid point now and then. (I don’t know if Dan Brown has ever had a valid point, but I wouldn’t dogmatically write off the possibility that he might.)”
(continued) “No critic can offer a one-size-fits-all approach for all committed Christians. I can’t, and have never tried to, tell anyone what to think or watch, or make definitive pronouncements about good or bad movies (or television). I’m not the Pope; I’m not even the pope of movies. There is no pope of movies. Even the Pope isn’t the pope of movies.”
Being afraid of going to Hell for watching films or television with sexual or violent content is utterly ridiculous. Greydanus makes the point that our understanding of what makes “good programming” may change over time, or be completely different than other people’s understandings. This is nothing to worry about. Put it out of your mind. Fear in this area is totally baseless, and a complete waste of time.