Recently I have been hearing a lot about pornography.
The mail I have received on this issue from Catholics and others around the country gives me hope, even as it confirms the gravity of the threat this scourge poses to us all.
Here is what one high school senior wrote in response to my recent pastoral letter, “Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God”: “This degradation of society has been so gradual that I had become numb to the immorality that currently surrounds the teenage person. The letter allowed me to realize that I had already grown so accustomed to the material that I no longer viewed it as pornography.”
Dozens of letters like this — responding to the subtle yet aggressive rise in our culture’s permissiveness with regard to pornography — have arrived from around the country since I wrote “Bought With a Price.” Some letters have brought me to tears; others have filled me with anger at the pornography industry and sorrow at our own human condition, so prone to sin, with the result that we unfortunately even tolerate this evil.
Still other letters have brought hope, as I have learned of the resolve of many to seek real change, the sacrament of confession, accountability and professional healing.
Jesus taught in the Temple as a young man, and in the following excerpted letters, you will hear the voices of our youth and young adults teaching us today. Their words — at once humbling, shocking, and hopeful — merit our attention.Protection and Care
Many among our youth crave protection from pornography, not access to it.
“I think an effective way to convince young people that pornography is evil is by explaining in detail how self-detrimental it is,” wrote one 12th-grade girl. “It is just as bad (or worse, since a person’s soul is at risk) as smoking. ‘Bought With a Price’ was comforting in that I knew it was written for my well-being; I felt a sense of protection and care, like when a mother warns her child not to go near the neighbor’s large dog.”
“As a teenager today,” wrote another teen, “I am bombarded at every corner with images of pornography. … My parents were never really strict about what I watched on TV. And it wasn’t until I read your letter that I realized how that had an effect on me.”
Parents are the true guardians of the home. They protect the flourishing of the family by being examples of self-giving love and by exercising parental controls over media available to their children. Our children deserve our utmost protection.The Opposite of Maturity
“So many teens, probably adults too,” wrote one high schooler, “think they are more mature because they have seen porn. Or they are on a quest to find pornography, thinking that that will make them grow up. Your letter helped me see that is the opposite of what really happens.”
Another teen wrote, “I used to think that pornography was only dangerous to me because I was ruining my image of women and clouding my mind. However, now I am aware of its effects on not only myself, but also others around me.”
So many have accepted the false expectation that youth cannot control their natural desires and practice the virtue of chaste intimacy — the truly more mature behavior. We can and must expect more from our young people.
In my encounters with them, in youth groups, schools, as altar servers and in other settings, as well as in reading these letters, I find them to be courageous witnesses of our faith, and I hope they seek the guidance and strength from our Church to overcome the temptations that exist in our society today.
In this way, true maturity will be realized by growing in virtue.Current and Future Families
“How can loving marriages exist,” wrote one teenage girl, “to raise good families if children are being taught to objectify one another at such tender ages?”
One young man wrote, “I never before realized how much pornography can affect a father in his relationship with his spouse and children. … I now have the knowledge on how to take care of my future family against the dangers of pornography.”
Love is realized within the family. Within this domestic church, we can and must speak to our youth — with prudence, of course — about the dangers of pornography.
If we do, they will learn that their worth is highly valued and that God has destined for them a true and human love.Forgiveness and Compassion
“Proving that it [pornography] is wrong is only half the battle,” wrote another 12th grader. “Forgiveness and compassion are two of the most needed virtues in today’s world.”
Those who use or have used pornography can restore their sight — with the goal of reaching the vision of God — by regularly seeking the sacrament of penance. The ultimate reward for the pure of heart is being able to see God when we reach his Kingdom in heaven.
Many of my brother priests and bishops are using “Bought With a Price” and recent teaching documents from several of my brother bishops in small group settings, retreats or the classroom. I am humbled that requests for my letter, and for the abbreviated pamphlet versions for youth and couples, have come from dioceses, schools and organizations around the country, and beyond.
Each of my brother bishops received a copy, and I believe it is the responsibility of all Catholics to bring this issue out of the darkness into the light.
The scourge of pornography is an immense multi-billion dollar industry that annually pulls untold numbers of men, women and youth down in its undertow. Our first line of attack can and must be prayer. For this reason, I incorporated the image of St. Joseph, the perfect example of purity, throughout the letter.
This is first and foremost a spiritual battle, and so should be treated like one. I ask all the faithful to examine their own lives in the light of the exemplar of all fathers, and to join in prayer for his assistance in this struggle.Going Forward
In more than 40 years as a priest, I have witnessed the relentless spread of pornography. Feedback from priests, counselors, school teachers, youth ministers and religious education instructors reinforced the need for a letter that addressed the evils of pornography. Our youth also cry out for help, protection and healing.
Our Savior is adamant: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
My hope is that this generation of youth will find in us — their parents, teachers, clergy and other adults — not passivity and permissiveness, but rather an all-consuming love that leads us to be proactive in our protection and defense of them.
Bishop Paul Loverde is bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. “Bought With a Price” is available online at Arlington Diocese.org under “Homilies and Letters.”