At their November fall general assembly, the U.S. bishops approved Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography, the body’s first statement on the issue. The document discusses the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, the sinfulness of pornography and its effects, and provides encouragement and resources to help the addicted.
Regarding human sexuality, the bishops wrote, “All of us are called to live a chaste life ... The good of sexual pleasure finds its proper place within the embrace of husband and wife.”
The statement was crafted with Catholic parents and leaders in mind, said Bethany Meola, assistant director of the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who participated in the development of the document. The intention of the statement, she said, is “to offer a response to the pastoral crisis brought about by pornography use and production.” The bishops, she said, want “to encourage and energize the good efforts already underway by Catholic leaders and others to proactively resist the spread of pornography and help those who have been harmed by it.”
The bishops write that porn use can destroy the ability to have healthy relationships and successful marriages. Porn is connected to “adultery, domestic violence, the abuse of children in child pornography, and sex trafficking. It also can be implicated in contraception use and abortion, given that it promotes and even celebrates promiscuity and a view of sexuality devoid of love or openness to new life,” according to the text.
“Now is an opportune time for the U.S. Church leadership to shine a light on this dark practice and provide those who have been wounded by it mercy, hope and healing,” Meola said.
Father Sean Kilcawley is director of Family Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. In his work as a high school religion teacher, he got involved in efforts to combat pornography after he saw that it was an impediment to living a Christian life.
“With modern technology, all high school students have immediate access to pornography,” Father Kilcawley said. “Regularly viewing it leads to a distortion in how they see themselves and each other and is an obstacle to embracing Christ.”
He, therefore, sees anti-pornography apostolates as “the first stage of evangelization.”
Father Kilcawley noted that many have shared with him their struggles with porn. They mostly include young males, but “I’ve met with people from an addicted second-grader to a grandmother in her 50s sending erotic photos to a man to whom she was not married. These are not bad people ... . Pornography is a cancer in the Church that affects everyone.”
Statistics on pornography vary, but they all point to its widespread use. Covenant Eyes, for example, which produces filtering software, noted in its 2015 annual report that 55 percent of married men admit to watching porn at least once a month, and 70 percent of unmarried men (along with 25 percent of married women and 16 percent of unmarried women).
“Sex,” “porn,” “nude” and related terms consistently are among the most searched-for terms online, with a disturbing number of viewers looking for child pornography.
Peter Kleponis, a Catholic therapist living in Pennsylvania who regularly speaks against pornography, is author of “Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography” (Emmaus Road, $17.95). Kleponis also served as a proofreader for Create in Me a Clean Heart.
He noted that the largest population of porn users is tech-savvy children ages 12-17. Pornographers are aware of this — and that porn is addictive — and therefore they target the young “to get as many addicted as possible so they’ll have customers for life.”
He “fell into” helping patients recover from pornography additions after an increasing number of men and their wives came to him for treatment.
“It’s a major epidemic in our society, but no one is talking about it,” he said.
In his practice, Kleponis regularly sees the effect of porn addiction, including broken marriages, lost jobs (as employees are fired for looking at porn on work time and using work technology), promiscuity, STDs and unwanted pregnancies. As a tolerance develops, viewers seek more intensive experiences, such as deviant sexuality, fetish and violent porn and child pornography, even though they often are not interested in sex with children.
Porn users can find themselves “trapped in a cycle of fantasy, ritual, acting out, and despair,” according to the document. However, the Church is a “field hospital,” and has much to offer to help. These include spiritual tools such as prayer and the sacraments. The bishops also encourage individuals to seek “ongoing support such as counseling, spiritual direction, coaching, accountability groups, couple to couple groups, conferences and retreats for men and women.”
The Dominican Fathers promote the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, a popular devotion in which members are “dedicated to pursuing and promoting chastity” under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Mother, according to their website (angelicwarfareconfraternity.org). Elements of the confraternity include enrollment by a Dominican priest, wearing a blessed cord or medal in imitation of St. Thomas, and daily prayers.
“Our time is one in which sins against purity are more prevalent than ever,” said Dominican Father Ambrose Mary Little of Providence, Rhode Island. “Our confraternity can help counteract these unfortunate and major sins which enslave so many.”
But while a healthy spirituality is a start, Father Kilcawley believes the addicted must also employ action such as going to a qualified counselor and a spiritual director, participating in a support group and using filtering software.
Kleponis, too, recommended getting involved in a recovery program, just as an alcoholic or drug addict would enter a program to overcome their addictions. He advises priests to treat porn addiction not as a moral failing but as a disease, and to refer the addicted to counselors trained in combatting sexual addictions.
“The addicted need to let go of their shame and reach out for help,” Kleponis said.
While it’s a tough battle, Father Kilcawley said, those who are successful achieve a spiritual rebirth and “become excited about what Jesus is doing in their lives.” Whereas porn causes a spiritual malaise, those freed of it “are on fire and want to go out and spread the Gospel.”
Father Kilcawley emphasized that while Create in Me a Clean Heart is for everyone, parents should pay it special attention.
“Moms and dads need to protect their children and bring them up practicing the virtue of chastity.”
Jim Graves writes from California.