WASHINGTON — Students at Catholic colleges are leading the way in combating the porn epidemic on their campuses, calling on their respective administrations to block sexually explicit sites. Earlier this month, the student government association at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., approved a resolution asking the administration to block the top 200 pornography sites on the university’s wireless network. The CUA initiative comes after students at the University of Notre Dame last fall submitted a petition with 1,000 signatures to the administration, urging it to enforce a policy that prohibits students from using the campus internet to access pornography. The university has reportedly not acted on the request.
“If a Catholic college fulfills its mission to form students morally and spiritually, and it strives to build a truly Christian culture on campus, then a porn filter is a natural and easy solution,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. “Some people argue for a libertarian, anything-goes freedom in colleges, but true joy and freedom are found on the narrow path to heaven, and young people need a reasonable break from the temptations that our culture throws at them. What caring parent or educator doesn’t want to provide that?”
A number of colleges that are recommended in the Cardinal Newman Society's The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College already have anti-pornography measures, including Belmont Abbey College, Christendom College, Franciscan University and Northeast Catholic College, according to Reilly.
A similar effort is reportedly underway at Georgetown University and even on secular campuses like Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.
The CUA initiative got its start when senior Joseph Enzler read about how Notre Dame was not taking action on the anti-pornography petition but was covering up murals depicting the voyages of Christopher Columbus. “I thought that was crazy. What kind of a society do we live in?” Enzler said.
“The motivation with Notre Dame was not to be like, ‘Look at Catholic University: They can do something we can’t.’ It was more so to carry on the fight that they started,” Enzler added.
Officials at Notre Dame did not respond to requests for comment.
Common Good, Common Sense
Enzler decided to push for filtering sexually explicit sites as a way for him to give back to the university community. He met with the chief of staff for CUA President John Garvey, who said the administration wanted to see backing from students before acting.
Enzler turned to his friend and student senator Gerard McNair-Lewis, who sponsored a resolution asking the university to block the top 200 porn sites.
“Freedom is not the ability to do anything you’d like; rather, it is the ability to do what is good,” McNair-Lewis told the Register. “Laws and rules which promulgate the good do not force individuals to become virtuous or choose the right thing, but rather discourage vice and sin to allow the choosing of the good to be more easily chosen.”
Enzler said the proposal isn’t about censorship.
“I just think that the university … should remove itself as a means to access something that is deliberately against the Church’s teaching,” he said.
“I think this new generation of Catholics have grown up seeing nothing but the socially and personally destructive effects of lifestyle liberalism,” said Chad Pecknold, a theologian at CUA. “They have no memory of a sexual ‘liberation’; they only know a world of sexual bondage and degradation that calls itself ‘sex positive.’ They see the ‘fiction’ their elders tolerate; they see the human toll.”
Added Pecknold, “And they are doing something that’s extremely courageous and life-affirming, by calling the bluff that porn brings freedom. They know it’s a lie, and … they’re deciding to refuse the lie that porn is harmless.”
The administration has yet to make a decision, but a university spokeswoman praised students for seeing “pornography exactly for what it is: the systematic objectification of others.”
“While resolutions of the SGA [Student Government Association] are not binding on the administration, it is difficult to ignore the firm stance against pornography made by our student body,” said CUA spokeswoman Karna Lozoya.
Previously, she said the university had explored ways of blocking pornography and found that it would be “cost-prohibitive and ineffective.” But now, she said, technological advances have made it more affordable.
“It is true that individuals might try to work around such strictures. That said, the student resolution made a convincing argument that banning porn on the university network sends the right message to our student body. No decision has been made on the ban, but the university is grateful to the SGA for bringing to our attention their desire that we ban pornography on the university network,” Lozoya said.
The Porn Epidemic
Enzler and McNair-Lewis said they believe pornography usage on their campus is reflective of broader social trends.
It’s a problem that afflicts the general population, as well as Christians, according to Dan Armstrong, a spokesman for Covenant Eyes, an organization that offers accountability software as an alternative or addition to filtering software for those struggling with pornography.
“I think it’s the same issue among secular campuses as it is on Christian campuses. Porn doesn’t know a demographic. It is every demographic. It is old. It is young. It is every ethnicity. It’s every background. It’s rich. It’s poor. It’s professional. It’s blue-collar. There is no one the porn industry isn’t targeting,” Armstrong said. “I would say it is the No. 1 sin that Christianity is facing today.”
Within the general population, 12% of those aged 18 to 24 intentionally seek out pornography daily, and 26% do so weekly, according to a Barna Group survey that was commissioned by Covenant Eyes and Josh McDowell Ministries.
Just how widespread the problem is can be gauged by traffic on porn sites. For example, the world’s top site reported 28.5 billion visits in 2017, at a pace of 81 million a day, according to Psychology Today.
Pecknold says the problem is like “an epic public-health risk.” Porn, he said, “is not just a temptation — it’s an aggressive, pervasive force on the internet which is actually in direct competition with the liberating aims of the liberal arts. Porn is a catechism in every pocket which teaches that the image of God can be used and abused, that people are toys to be played for pleasure rather than eternal beings made for love. How is that not going to deform society over time?”
Armstrong said Covenant Eyes applauds “anyone being intentional about this,” but he remains skeptical that filters and blocking software are not the “ultimate solution.”
“Filters and blockers are like fences. What are fences good for? They’re good for keeping small children and small animals inside a contained space, but as those animals and kids group up, they start climbing the fence. They dig under the fence. They find the gate,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong emphasized the importance of building relationships with others to establish accountability.
Armstrong said: “With just filtering or blocking, it’s me against the machine, so no one knows I’m struggling; no one knows I’m looking for pornography, except when I bring the other person in.”
Register correspondent Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.