Moral/ethical question. Can't explain in this title

All impressions of “creepiness” aside, and social norms aside (which don’t define morality), is it morally wrong for a 28 year old man to date a 16 year old? How about to kiss a 16 year old on the lips? Our Blessed Mother Mary and St Joseph were likely in that kind of year range.

Please just answer if you have a reasonable, preferably theology-based answer to this. If you could, refrain from mere opinion.


What was morally or even legally wrong or right in those days may not be so now and vice versa so I am not sure what you are seeking here?

Cultures have varying norms about this, which means that an age difference that is appropriate and healthy and well-ordered in one situation, might be inappropriate and unhealthy and disordered in another.

In a culture where young people are raised in a tradition that strongly ties the bond of marriage with having a family, and sees sex as a combination of giving oneself to another and also to any potential offspring, AND where the whole community reinforces this idea, the “dating” that would go on between a young girl and an older man would be a preparation for that relationship. It would NOT be an experiment into the pleasures of erotic feelings.

But today’s western culture? The dating that goes on is a trip through a minefield of sexual possibilities, with a young girl who’s seen sex portrayed only as a sort of battle or game, and a man who’s been given every reason to see it as a taking thing rather than a giving thing.

Mary and Joseph were doing something very weighty and serious, within a culture that supported it. Such a relationship makes people better–maybe even more divine.

Such a relationship in twenty-first century America is likely to make the people less human–like animals. And it’s certainly likely to distort the girl’s understanding of what sex ought to be about.

John Ennis,

Very well thought out post. Thanks.

So to elaborate, something can be accepted in one culture and not accepted in another…but if a relationship of this sort in a healthy culture (which I agree America is not) can be morally acceptable, is it not still morally acceptable in a less hospitable culture? Albeit still a bad idea given the environment.

I’m asking because some time ago I got involved in such a relationship and it’s eating at me that i did a morally reprehensible thing…but more than one person (including 2 Priests) have told me it wasn’t wise, but it also was not evil.

It’s reasonable to think Joseph was quite a bit older than 28… Maybe 40+. Mary was young, maybe as young as 14.

On the other hand, people matured much more quickly in the days before microaggressions and safe spaces and trigger warnings.

And they died more quickly.

And there was the whole vowed celibacy thing on Mary’s part.

In Maine, it’s not acceptable. If it’s over, then it’s over - ask forgiveness, move on. The world still turns: God has moved on once He forgives you. :thumbsup:


Not to justify all kinds of illicit behavior, trust me, but in Maine the law states anyone above the age of 16 can legally be in a relationship (even sexual, which i know is immoral) with someone 21 or older. It’s in the law books. Now, I know legal does not mean moral. Which is why i’m asking here.

Certainly the attitudes that exist in a more hospitable culture can exist between two people in a less healthy culture. My high school English teacher is a man I respect more than any (except my own dad). He married late in life to a classmate of mine, both of them strong Catholics. There’s no question in my mind that their relationship from the very beginning, has been one to admire and emulate.

I’d add that even if the attitudes of both you and the girl weren’t of the quality we’re speaking of, your relationship wasn’t necessarily evil or sinful. I think you priests were right on.

Firstly, you should respect the just laws in your community and state, and age of consent is certainly not an unjust law.

Second, I agree with the others about cultural norms, not just about age of consent but also what is the norm in regards to dating and courtship and eventually marriage, and even regards with life preparation, maturation and education. Practices today are very much different than practices then.

I believe they were right on, too.

But given the fact that I’ve developed a sometimes absurd/severe case of scrupulosity, I’m always anxious about the fact that the parents of the young lady never knew. And I often feel like writing to them and telling them would get it off my chest, but also open up another world of problems, given the fact that i know them personally and the young lady still lives at home, is finishing highschool, etc.

I agree with the priests. Although IMO fornication is far more serious with a 16 year old, since they are not adults yet… but I get the impression from you that you were not doing that.

In many cultures it is perfectly acceptable for women to be topless in public. It would be sinful in western culture because of the risk of inducing lustful thoughts in men. But it is an example of a sin specific to a given culture.

Eh…it could depend on the culture…and the older person’s intentions. If a 30 year old man was sexually attracted to a 16 year old and gets off on her innocence, I’m pretty sure that is soooo wrong. If that man is genuinely in love with her, and the girl is not pressured to do anything she isn’t comfortable with, I can see why it isn’t wrong. (This so doesn’t apply in 2016 though. If you’re 28, and you like a 16 year old, something is way off and I would think that the 28 year old has some sort of issue, and the 16 year old is foolish or insecure. Don’t mean to offend, but if my little sister dates a guy that age when she’s like 16, that’s exactly what I would think)

So yes, a mixture of social norms and their intentions. And also both must be old enough to give proper consent and have adequate maturity. I would assume that an 8 year old married off to a 40 year old is definitely wrong, even if everybody is doing it, and the 8 year old is on her period. Period doesn’t equate to maturity people!

Marriage at the time was not really the same as now, wasn’t it? Love marriages weren’t really a thing, I assume? Got the impression that the parents set up marriages as that’s the way to ensure that their daughters are taken care of. Idk.

I also assume that Mary and Joseph didn’t have a romantic relationship. I don’t know why I think that, but I always assume that they were just friends at most. No romance or kisses or anything? Probably because they weren’t in love when they were engaged or something (wasn’t it arranged) Never really see them as a ‘couple in love’, more like 2 people raising up Jesus. Could be wrong though, lol.

Don’t worry. It’s over. Don’t bring it all up again :slight_smile: you’re not a pervert (I will have to admit it would be my first impression if I see a case like this, so I’m sorry if I offended you)

Just live your life, don’t get involved with people that young again. Trust that God isn’t glaring at you or something. It’s over!

Just from a purely universal canonical point of view, there are no issues. Leaving aside all civil and social laws and conventions, and given that there is a moral component to canon law, the minimum age is 14 for a woman to get married (CIC 1083.1, subject to adjustment by any local bishop for his diocese). Therefore, from this standpoint alone, it is permitted and moral.

Of course, with regards to the kissing thing, the same moral guidelines govern this action as much as they do for full adults: do nothing that would constitute an occasion of sin.

like others have said, not necessarily immoral, but probably not the best idea.

and also maybe illegal, depends where you are

I personally would have a hard time seeing a man who is much older or much younger. the generational divide would honestly make it feel a bit weird. they would seem more like an older brother or father or uncle, or younger brother or cousin or something

but that’s just my opinion, I have nothing against people who are that kind of relationship, if it is really a healthy one.

and it changes with age. there is more of a glaring difference between 16-30 then there is with 40-55, per say

The answer to: “is it morally wrong for a 28 year old man to date a 16 year old” is “it depends”.

However; the answer to: “is it **intrinsically **wrong for a 28 year old man to date a 16 year old” is “no”.

I think there has been confusion, because people have answered one or both of these questions without making the distinction.

The second question, asking whether it is intrinsically wrong, simply elucidates the fact that there is no strict moral boundary for two persons of such disparate age to have love together.

However, the first question, asking whether it is morally wrong, is more instructive, because it brings in real life. The fact is that in the vast majority of cases, this relationship would be, at least, highly inadvisable, and at most, sinful.
(Everything I say following this point assumes that the couple actually is acting morally and not kissing/having relations without getting married.)
The reason for this being unwise is that the 16 year old is so young that she is not matured. I don’t say “matured” just meaning maturity in behaving like an adult. I mean that her body **literally **has not yet reached maturity, and her hormones are going to continue to be changing drastically for about 8 more years. This means that feelings she has now, or chemistry she may have with the 28 year old man, may very easily change over the next few years. It is unwise for her to jump forward like this making such big decisions when she does not have the mental or physical maturity to do so with good judgement.

Scandal due to cultural norms is also a concern. Also, the fact that the man is so much older means that their relationship may have the attitude of father/child rather than two spouses shoulder-to-shoulder.

If this is troubling you, see your confessor.
Sounds like you’ve already done this.
Why do you doubt your absolution or confessor’s ability to advise you?
Let it go.
And don’t do it again.

Not to get nit-picky, but your question seems to imply that Mary & Joseph had a physically intimate relationship. I don’t think we can assume that there wasn’t any kissing prior to their marriage, and we know about the rest.


ftfy. :wink:

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