In the news: Are office romances still allowed?

December 10, 2017
by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In recent days, news reports have been filled with stories about accusations of sexual harassment involving powerful figures in the entertainment and media industries such as Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., political journalist Mark Halperin, veteran TV talk-show host Charlie Rose, Today Show co-host Matt Lauer, and the author and radio personality Garrison Keillor. Politicians such as Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Congressman John Conyers of Michigan have also been accused of sexual misconduct. In light of these scandals alleging abuse of power to coerce sexual favors, some commentators have been asking questions such as: Is office romance still allowed? Are new rules needed for the workplace?

My short answer to these questions is: yes to the first question and no to the second, as long as one old rule is diligently and conscientiously followed. My longer answer will explain why.

To the first question, I answer yes, office romance is still allowed. One basic reason for saying so is that office romance will naturally happen no matter what rules or regulations may be put into place. Human nature being what it is, it should not be surprising that romantic relationships will emerge from time to time among workplace colleagues spending long hours interacting with each other during the bulk of their daytime and sometimes also evening hours. In fact, some people actively look for romance at work.

Writing in the Dec. 2-3, 2017 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Cathy Young reports that “there is ample evidence that many Americans continue to find love (or sex) at work. In a survey of 500 single, divorced, and widowed adults released last February by the data company ReportLinker, 27 percent mentioned work as a way to meet partners, while only 20 percent said they used a dating app or website. Millennials were actually more likely than older singles (33 percent) to view the workplace as a dating pool. In another informal survey of 2,373 Americans ages 18 to 34, conducted by the online magazine Mic in 2015, nearly one in five said they had met their current spouse or partner through work.”

If office romances are still going to happen, then some would argue that more rules are needed to govern them. When it comes to romantic relationships, however, most people are not likely to be thinking their way through a complex set of rules to guide their interactions. I would argue that new rules are not needed, as long as one old rule is diligently and conscientiously followed. That “old rule” can be found in the Old Testament of the Bible in what we call the Ten Commandments, the sixth of which says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Adultery is defined in its narrowest sense as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.

In the New Testament, Jesus expanded the understanding of what constitutes adultery when he said that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Following this understanding, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2331-2391) teaches that all sexual activity outside of marriage offends against the sixth Commandment.

Some might think that it is utterly old-fashioned and entirely outdated to urge people to follow the Ten Commandments’ prohibition on adultery and related sexual activities outside of marriage. But there is divine wisdom in the 10 basic rules that God handed down to Moses for the sake of the community. The first three Commandments speak of our relationship to God, but the other seven address how people are to interact with others for the sake of the common good by prohibiting murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and lusting after the spouse or property of other people. If people would keep these simple but fundamental principles in mind when dealing with each other, a lot of pain, suffering and strife could be avoided and the world would be a much more agreeable place to live.

In the Second Letter of the Apostle St. Peter, we read: “What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to his promise, the justice of God will reside. So, beloved, while waiting for this, make every effort to be found without stain or defilement, and at peace in his sight. Consider that our Lord’s patience is directed toward salvation” (2 Peter 3:13-15).

May God give us this grace. Amen.

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