The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently issued a letter addressing the plague of pornography. Entitled “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” it has been a long time coming. This is an important document that should be read by every family and discussed in all Catholic schools and universities.
The Bishops Conference makes it quite clear that pornography is an offense against chastity and human dignity and that it also is a link to other sins. Pornography has a range of victims and is pervasive; it is addictive, destroys marriages, and exploits both men and women. Pope Francis noted in 2014, “How much pain is caused in families because one of their members—often a young person—is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography!”
The bishops state in their letter: “Parents today face increasing challenges in protecting their children’s innocence . . . . The use of pornography by anyone in the home deprives the home of its role as a safe haven and has negative effects throughout a family’s life and across generations.” In response, they counsel the women and men who use pornography, “Be not afraid! Come to the Lord Jesus, whose mercy endures forever! The Lord never tires of forgiving.”
The bishops address the various groups harmed by pornography. To those pornography, they counsel:
Many good people struggle with this sin. You are not alone, there is always hope! Satan, the father of lies, uses shame and fear to keep souls from Jesus’ mercy, but God, the most loving of Fathers, is waiting to meet with joy those who repent and to give them the grace they need to combat future temptations. Receive the sacraments regularly to gain God’s help in your trials, especially the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, through which the Lord forgives a person of mortal sin so that he or she can receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist worthily. Do not let the obstacles of denial, shame, fear, despair, or pride keep you from relying on the Lord’s grace! . . . seek ongoing support such as counseling, spiritual direction, coaching, accountability groups, couple to couple group conferences, and retreats for men and women . . . . Cultivating chastity takes work, as does any growth in virtue. It is a lifelong task and a daily choice . . . . There is no shame in confessing repeated sins of this kind. Once you are free, helping others find their way out of pornography can be an effective way of staying committed and strong in your own faith. God can use your experience to touch the hearts and lives of others who are struggling.
The bishops also address those who have been hurt by their spouse’s pornography use:
You are greatly loved by God our Father! You are not alone, nor are you to blame for your spouse’s pornography use. The Church accompanies you with love and tenderness as you confront this sin and its effects on your marriage and family life. . . . You feel betrayed, deceived, and even traumatized at finding out about your spouse’s pornography use through their own disclosure or your discovery. If you are in a dangerous environment, remove yourself and your children from any danger and seek help. Christ can ultimately heal these wounds, and often it takes time. Seek solace in prayer, in receiving the sacraments and in eucharistic adoration. Anger at your spouse is natural and often justified, and it can be helpful to have a spiritual director or trained, trustworthy counselor to help you work through powerful emotions.
To parents and guardians, they advise:
. . . [P]rotect your home! Be vigilant about the technology you allow into your home and be sensitive to the prevalence of sexual content in even mainstream television and film and the ease by which it comes through the Internet and mobile devices. Educate yourself about filtering software . . . . Foster openness and trust with your children, so they know that they can come to you if they see a sexual image; by talking about it with them calmly, you can give them a healthy framework in which to interpret it. The Holy Spirit is your guide as you assess the situation of each. Rely on the Father’s mercy, especially if you face the difficult situation of a child who has seen or uses pornography.
They also take note of the role of other adults:
Grandparents, godparents, teachers, religious educators, youth ministers, and safe environment coordinators: parents have given you a responsibility to protect their children not only from physical dangers but also psychological, moral, and spiritual dangers . . . . Create an environment suitable for learning chastity by modeling and teaching the chaste life. Be vigilant over technological access, and monitor it in age-appropriate ways.
And to young people themselves, the bishops write:
Christ calls you to be strong, courageous witnesses of chastity and hope! Reject the lies of a culture that tells you that self-gratification is the road to happiness. . . . Refuse to objectify your body or someone else’s through sexual pictures or videos . . . the Church looks at you with compassion and love, no matter what others may think or say or do. . . . If you have already engaged in pornography use, choose now to turn away from that road and toward true relationships. Do not be afraid to ask for help or guidance from your mother and father or a trusted adult, family member, or pastoral minister, if you have grown up in an environment where pornography regularly occurred and if you were exposed to it at an early age.
This pastoral letter should be read by all parents and family members. The bishops have done a great service to us in having spent much time in putting it together; it may be found and downloaded from the website of the Catholic bishops of the United States (at www.usccb.org/cleanheart).Fr. C. J. McCloskey III, S.T.D. is a Church historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, DC. He is perhaps best known for guiding into the Church such luminaries as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Lawrence Kudlow, Robert Novak, Judge Robert Bork, and Senator Sam Brownback. His articles, reviews, and doctoral thesis have been published in major Catholic and secular periodicals. He is co-author (with Russell Shaw) of Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion, and the Crisis of Faith (Ignatius Press) and the co-editor of "The Essential Belloc" (St. Benedict's Press).
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