ARLINGTON, Va. — The leader of one of the nation’s fastest-growing dioceses has issued a stern warning about pornography. In doing so he has joined a national Catholic effort to counter pornography’s growing prevalance.
Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde’s newest pastoral letter excoriates pornography and urges his flock to adopt a heightened state of vigilance.
Calling pornography an evil plague that is ravaging society, Bishop Loverde uses strong and unambiguous language in his 20-page teaching titled “Bought with a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God” to rebuke oft-repeated defenses of pornography.
Bishop Loverde then goes on to speak to the youth, married and engaged couples, and even priests of the diocese to provide advice and counsel to guard against addiction or to break free of its grip.
“I believe it is the responsibility of all Catholics to bring this issue out of the darkness and into the light,” Bishop Loverde said in an interview. “It is certainly something that needs to be discussed, as it is only becoming more common and accepted with the passing of time.”
Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney issued a pastoral letter on pornography and sex addiction titled “Sexual Sickness” this past July. Bishop Loverde’s pastoral letter is the first one dedicated exclusively to this issue in the United States.
Bishop Loverde, who is active with the Religious Alliance Against Pornography, said he felt compelled to write the letter after hearing from priests, counselors, teachers, youth ministers and other diocesan officials about the extent of pornography’s damage.
“The threat of pornography is always a necessary and timely issue. It is pervasive and constant in our society,” Bishop Loverde said.
Ken Henderson knows what it’s like to be trapped in the vice of pornography.
Addicted for more than 25 years, Henderson would go on to defeat his dependence, embrace Catholicism and found the apostolate True Knights, which is dedicated to helping men fight such addictions.
Founded in September 2004, the apostolate recently received approval and blessing from Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Okla.
“I am thankful that our leadership is taking a closer look at this problem. I’m encouraged when I see our bishops, archbishops and cardinals taking a closer look at this issue that is so prevalent in society and the Church,” Henderson said in reaction to Bishop Loverde’s letter.
True Knights works with men ages 18 to 70 and has been receiving an increasing number of contacts. Yet still greater public awareness about the evils of pornography is needed going forward.
“We should not be afraid to raise this topic,’ he said. “This problem is not going to go away by sticking our heads in the sand. It’s here to stay. The Internet has made it an enormous problem for so many people because of easy access to pornography.”
According to Henderson, the majority of men who turn to the True Knights for assistance understand their faith and agree with Church teachings, yet still become addicted.
He sees greater acceptance of sexual immorality in society as a chief culprit as it has led to much greater acceptance of pornographic images. “Things on prime time television today would have been R- rated or X-rated in the 1950s.”
Dioceses Take Action
True Knights is not alone in its work. A quick Internet search for “pornography” and “addiction” unveils scores of sites offering assistance, and dioceses throughout the country are taking concrete actions.
Last month, the Colorado Catholic Herald, the diocesan paper of Colorado Springs, Colo., ran a special 12-page supplement on pornography and sex addiction.
In late October, Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore urged Catholics to mark Pornography Awareness Week by donning white ribbons.
The Diocese of Austin, Texas, has formed an Anti-Pornography Task Force and just launched a website titled “Pornography Isn’t Pretty” that posts news reports and studies to make the case that “pornography is not a harmless product but a tumor that needs to be removed in its entirety from the face of the human community.”
Helen Osman, director of communications for the diocese and a task force member, said the idea was born from priests who were being inundated with requests for help from parishioners addicted to pornography.
The site is accessible via the diocese’s website, but was purposely designed to have a different look so as not to discourage visitors.
“We wanted the site to be friendly for those who might be intimidated in going to a ‘church’ site,” Osman said.
Other anti-pornography projects in the works include panel discussions, a speakers’ bureau, and formation of support groups for addicts and their families, Osman said. The diocese, which covers 25 counties in central Texas, is also working to translate the site into Spanish.
Bishop Loverde begins his letter by recounting pornography’s evolution from “what was once the shameful and occasional vice of the few” to “mainstream entertainment for the many.”
“There has been a seismic shift in the public perception of pornography over the last 20 years,” he said. “This debasement of our daily experience not only coarsens our understanding of each other, but serves as a ‘gateway’ to pornographic defilement.”
Bishop Loverde articulates how pornography, far from being a victimless crime, exploits its subjects, dehumanizes its viewers, and inflicts significant damages on families, especially spouses and children.
“This plague stalks the souls of men, women and children, ravages the bonds of marriage and victimizes the most innocent among us. It obscures and destroys people’s ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God’s creation, instead darkening their vision, causing them to view others as objects to be used and manipulated,” he wrote.
In his letter, Bishop Loverde provides specific points of counsel that can be used by all of the faithful struggling to attain a state of purity in a world where pornography is gaining acceptance.
Young people are urged to dress with modesty and to avoid impure speech and entertainment. Husbands are directed to honor their wedding vows. Parents are cautioned to strictly monitor their children’s use of the Internet and other media, and priests are directed to engage in frequent and open spiritual direction and to seek assistance from fellow priests as needed.
To help combat pornography, Bishop Loverde plans to send his letter to his brother bishops. At the same time, he sees the war against pornography as a spiritual battle and, after much reflection, included frequent calls for prayer to St. Joseph in his letter.
As we near Christmas and the time of year in which Catholics increasingly turn their eyes toward Christ’s father on earth, Bishop Loverde hopes Catholics will offer St. Joseph prayers to win this fight.
“It was with a great deal of reflection that I decided to tie this initiative to St. Joseph, the perfect example of purity,” he said. “This is a spiritual battle and so should be treated like one from the outset. I ask all of the faithful to examine their own lives in the light of the exemplar of all fathers and to join in prayer for assistance in this struggle.”
Nick Manetto is
based in Reston, Virginia.
— Sex is the No. 1 searched for topic on the Internet.
— 60% of all website visits are sexual in nature.
— There are 1.3 million pornographic websites — 20 times more than there were 5 years ago. More than 32 million unique individuals visited a porn site in Sept. of 2003.
— The total porn industry generates approximately $4 billion to $10 billion every year.
— Only 3% of pornographic websites require adult verification.
— The Kaiser Family Foundation found that among teens online, 70% have accidentally come across pornography on the Web.
— Pornographers disguise their sites (i.e. “stealth” sites) with common brand names, including Disney, Barbie, ESPN, etc., to entrap children.
— The majority of teenagers’ online use occurs at home, right after school, when working parents are not at home.