KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A growing number of U.S. bishops are going head-to-head with the multi-billion dollar pornography industry and successfully breaking porn’s hold on men and women across the country in the process.
Philip, a 53-year-old Missourian, joined a Catholic support group established by Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn a year ago when he realized that he couldn’t fight his porn addiction on his own.
“It would be so much easier for me to go back to my old ways,” he said, “but the Good Lord has put it on my heart that this addiction is so pervasive in our world today that if I don’t change, I’m not going to impact God’s design not only for me, but for children.”
Although he doesn’t have a family of his own, Philip came to realize that women and boys are the fastest growing demographic of porn consumers. After years of working with an accountability partner — one of several strategies to break porn’s addictive hold — Philip found success in a weekly support group for men who struggle with impurity.
The group is one component of a multi-pronged strategy Bishop Finn drew up with his anti-pornography task force established in 2004. On Ash Wednesday, the bishop issued a pastoral letter calling Catholics of his diocese to take a fresh look at the virtues of purity and chastity — and giving them tools to help break porn’s hold.
The support groups, Bishop Finn told the Register, “are to ensure that men are supported and fortified by each other to grow in their awareness and responsibility for the spiritual and chaste development of themselves and their families — and to be a help to the pastor because we want each pastor to have a go-to person.
“We need to raise awareness on this issue and instill an understanding of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person and human sexuality, especially by way of the theology of the body,” he said. “We also saw the need to have a support system for people who are struggling with this temptation, a serious addiction in some cases.”
His pastoral letter — “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart” — follows the efforts of several bishops, including Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Va., who issued a letter on this subject last year.
Bishop Finn’s efforts piggyback those of his neighboring Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., where Archbishop Joseph Naumann set up a similar task force at the suggestion of his predecessor, Archbishop James Keleher.
More than ever, Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders are organizing to help porn addicts, said Bob Peters, president of Morality in Media, a national interfaith organization founded by Jesuit Father Morton Hill in 1962 to combat obscenity and uphold decency standards in the media.
“Clearly, there’s a spiritual dimension to this pornography problem that the churches are uniquely qualified to address,” he said. “Another issue in the evangelical community is the large number of pastors struggling with this problem. I’ve seen statistics that say a third to a half have looked at [porn] and have struggled to not go back, which shows the power of it.”
The porn industry brings in $57 billion a year worldwide. Porn is larger than the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises. In the United States, porn revenue ($12 billion a year) exceeds the combined revenues of the three major television networks — ABC, CBS and NBC ($6.2 billion).
In addition to the devastation porn wreaks on families, Peters said it is also becoming increasingly dangerous for those in the porn industry, which has been linked to human trafficking.
“A lot of the most vile and violent pornography is no longer simulated,” he said. “It’s actually sexual torture and abuse of women who’ve been trapped into slavery.”
Philip, who has struggled to break free from porn for the past 30 years, said he has seen countless lives shattered by this addiction.
“When men get to this place, they’ve forgotten about the sacraments,” he said. “They’ve forgotten about God. They’ve forgotten about their wives and they’ve forgotten about their children. Unfortunately, it’s usually trauma that snaps them back into reality — loss of job, loss of family.”
Claude Fasso, vice chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City, is a member of Bishop Finn’s task force. The reason porn has become so pervasive, he said, is because of easy access on the Internet, cell phones and portable media players.
“We plan to do some Internet awareness in the parishes and well beyond that because there are so many people addicted to pornography,” he said.
Support groups are a key element in the diocese’s plan, he said.
“The first part of the effort is to get them into discussion, recognize the problem and need for a spiritual solution,” Fasso said. “Once they get beyond that and want to do something about it, we get them into an accountability program.
“Once you burn 10,000 bad images into your brain, they don’t go away,” he explained. “You have to have a strong network in the long-term battle. I spoke to a man who was in an accountability group for eight years before he felt like he had beaten the addiction.”
Philip, who recently came back to the Church, is now helping lead one of the diocesan support groups.
“There’s not a man who can walk through that door with a story that doesn’t rattle me,” he said, “because I’ve been there.”
Patrick Novecosky is based in