Breaking Pornography's Corrosive Chains

US bishops to focus on pastoral response to smut at fall assembly next week.

(photo: Shutterstock/Peter Denovo)

WASHINGTON — Seeking to address the epidemic of widespread and readily available pornography, the U.S. bishops will vote on a proposed formal statement at their annual Fall General Assembly, Nov. 16-19, in Baltimore.

“Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography” will be the first formal statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) focused exclusively on a pastoral response to pornography’s production and use. The statement will require a two-thirds affirmative vote from the conference membership to be approved.

“It’s to raise awareness of the negative effects of pornography on men, women, children, youth, marriage and families,” said Bethany Meola, the assistant director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family and Youth.

Meola told the Register that the statement, which had not been released as of press time, will also aim to give a word of mercy, hope and healing to those who have been hurt by pornography, including individuals addicted to it, their spouses and children harmed by its production.

“All of that is within the Church’s rich teaching of the human person, the human body, sexuality, chastity and redemption,” Meola said.

The statistics surrounding pornography are staggering. According to Covenant Eyes, an Internet anti-pornography filtering and accountability program, there have been more than 1.8 billion online searches for pornography since the start of 2015. One in five mobile searches is for pornography, which generates $13 billion in revenue each year.

Whereas in the past, someone had to go to a store or theater to rent, buy or watch pornographic films, explicit and free pornography can now be accessed online within seconds. The American Psychological Association says 40 million Americans visit pornographic sites each year, and the average age of first exposure to pornography for men is 12 years old.

“People ask me why this is such a drug of choice. … It’s affordable, accessible, anonymous, accepted and aggressive,” said Peter Kleponis, a licensed clinical therapist and the assistant director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in Conshohocken, Pa.

Kleponis, author of Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography, told the Register that he proofread the U.S. bishops’ formal statement on pornography, which he described as short, fewer than 50 paragraphs. Kleponis said the document offers a basic overview of the dangers of pornography, such as how it harms the brain, its addictiveness and the negative effects on family relationships and friendships, and it offers help for people seeking resources, including therapy, support groups and literature.

“I think it’s very good. It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed,” Kleponis said. “Anything we can do to get this conversation started, I think, is excellent. That is what I see this document really doing: getting people to start talking about it.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has addressed pornography in some resources, including a 1998 statement, “Renewing the Mind of the Media: Statement on Overcoming the Exploitation of Sex and Violence in Communications,” and in a 2009 pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.”

Some individual bishops have also issued pastoral letters, including former Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, with “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart” ; and Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul Loverde, with “Bought With a Price.”

Several bishops have also instituted programs in their dioceses aimed at assisting and educating the faithful about how to protect themselves and their families from pornography’s snares and steps to overcome its addiction. One such program is “My House”  in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.

“An important part of overcoming the epidemic of pornography in our country and all its negative effects upon so many people in our culture is awareness,” said Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who is a member of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography.

Archbishop Naumann told the Register that he is “delighted” that the bishops’ conference will be releasing a formal statement on pornography, which he said dehumanizes and objectifies its participants and undermines authentic love by creating a counterfeit.

“I think the fact that the bishops of the United States are holding this up as an important moral and social issue for our country is significant and will itself raise awareness, particularly within the Catholic community, of the need to address the evil which is pornography, which attacks individuals, marriages and families,” Archbishop Naumann said.

Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., also told the Register that he is “very pleased” with the upcoming pastoral statement.

Said Bishop Hoeppner: “Pornography traps so many people. … I hope that [the document] sheds clear light on the problems — on the harm that pornography does. I hope it gives clear direction as to how people might be helped. I hope that supplemental resources can be developed and provided for people to use. I hope to specifically see clarity to the problem that is pornography and to see a hand of help to those who are affected by it.”

The Diocese of Crookston recently entered into a partnership with Covenant Eyes to provide comprehensive resources, including a Web-based training program, to help parents strengthen their families and protect their children from pornography. Bishop Hoeppner said the partnership offers “concrete steps to fight pornography and to promote chastity.”

Amanda Zurface, the coordinator of justice, marriage and family life in the Diocese of Crookston’s Office of the New Evangelization, told the Register that the diocese has chosen to be proactive in the battle against pornography and equip the faithful with the appropriate tools for healing and protection.

Said Zurface: “I am convinced that, in our culture, a culture that is so overcome and overwhelmed by pornography, if we don’t address the negative effects of pornography, along with what the Church teaches regarding pornography, and if we don’t shine Our Lord’s mercy onto the many issues that surround pornography, nothing else will be effective in our evangelization and catechetical efforts.”

Meola, of the bishops’ conference, said the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth spearheaded the statement’s development, in consultation with other USCCB committees and offices and lay experts.

“It grew out of the committee’s concerns over the effects of pornography, specifically on marriages and families,” Meola said. “Through its development, it became clear that the statement needed to address other aspects of pornography as well, including on those who are not married, so other committees became involved as collaborators on the project.”

In a prepared statement, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., the chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said the document “is directed primarily at Catholic leaders and parents, though with an eye to all who struggle with or are affected by pornography.”

Meola also said the statement is meant to be a foundation and touchstone for future resources, including guidelines to help priests address the issue and for parents to protect their families and children.

Said Meola, “Hopefully, it will be a strong addition to the work that is already ongoing.”

Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from

Fall River, Massachusetts.

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