Create in Me a Clean Heart

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!”

prayThe 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

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).
Articles by Fr. McCloskey:

  • Chris L

    The bishops also need to include that a person that is addicted can not extricate themselves from the pit of pornography addiction by themselves. It takes a fellowship of others who have broken free to help others do the same. It takes an on going effort to be accountable to one another or one will return to muck & mire of the addiction. Open up the parishes to purity groups so those suffering can break free.

  • baffledlife

    This was an easy, safe, feel good, missive on a well known evil. It’s noncontoversial, and is a sort of blah, blah blah, from the bishops. If they really wanted to confront an evil, they should have presented to the faithful a letter outlining what measures they were taking to eradicate the homosexual influences in the American Roman Catholic Church. From the Cardinals to the universities to the parish priests, that is th

  • Bobby Murphy

    I will be reading the full Pastoral Letter from the bishops in the next few days, so I give this comment without fully reading it, nor does the comment warrant the need to read it.

    Bishop Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington wrote a Pastoral Letter, Bought with a Price, on pornography and actually laid out really good and sound practical and pastoral advice for all vocations, as well as articulated and clear cut problems with pornography and the typical corresponding sin of self-abuse. He wrote it in 2006, a full nine years before the USCCB put out a document. He put out a second edition of the same Pastoral Letter almost two years ago on the Feast of St. Joseph, 2014.

    By 2006 the issue of pornography was so prevalent in the homes of millions that even Bishop Loverde’s very good letter came rather late, although this is perhaps said in hindsight, looking back at the development of technology and pornography the past ten to twenty years. By 2015, when the Bishops wrote this letter, the coming of smart phones, smart watches, and all sorts of other technologies makes pornography even more accessible than in 2006, raising it to an epidemic (not to mention the rise of sexting and sending pornographic images by text messages to other people). The smart phone and the ability for a person to take essentially a pocket computer into a private room or bathroom to engage in pornographic viewing has allowed this endemic to be largely removed from seedy adult theaters to the privacy of one’s personal area (or daresay public areas where the innocent might be exposed). In short, this technology has allowed pornography to be accessed and viewed absolutely everywhere there is an internet connection.

    My basic point is this: all of the Catholic Bishops are priests of Jesus Christ, hearing confessions as a priest hears confessions. I have heard priests say that the most common sin confessed is the sin of viewing pornography and the subsequent sin of self-abuse. If the US Bishops knew this was a problem, 1. why didn’t they write this years ago to actually start addressing the problem, and 2. why didn’t more individual bishops write to their diocese in pastoral letters prior to this (I know of only Bishop Loverde)? It seems as though the Bishops of the Church and those of common resolve regarding pornography need to take more of a pro-active leadership role in this mission of saving souls from the clutches of a very powerful addiction and sin. When I read the full letter from the USCCB I will be looking for indications that they are willing to be leaders against the rising tide of pornography, and I hope I find it.

    Having said all of this, we do need to pray for our Bishops, that they may be heralds of truth and charity as they are called to be, and to lead their flocks with resolve and determination and the care to get each of their sheep to Heaven.

    Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.