Confronting the Pornography Epidemic: A Major Goal for the US Bishops

The bishops have issued their first formal statement specifically addressing pornography use and production and the resources the Church has to fight it and heal its victims.

(photo: CNA)

BALTIMORE — In an historic statement outlining the challenges pornography poses to the family and individuals, and also the tools available within the Church and society to combat its negative effects, the U.S. bishops say they have created a resource for healing and mercy.

“Our statement is not meant to just be a condemnation of pornography,” explained Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., “but an outreach and a welcome in the spirit of Pope Francis’ call: that God is merciful.”  

Bishop Malone serves as chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which created the document.

“The statement is really meant to raise the consciousness of our people, both on the problems of pornography, but also of the ways the Church offers for people to be healed of it. It’s our plan, then, to develop resources and make those known to people,” Bishop Malone elaborated.  

The bishops passed the statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” with 98% approval on Nov. 17, during the bishops’ annual November meeting in Baltimore. The document is the first formal statement the bishops have issued specifically addressing pornography use and production.

The document is available online in both Spanish and English and addresses both the challenges pornography presents as well as suggested resources and practices to help families and individuals impacted by pornography use. The bishops also are investigating creating an abridged version that can be distributed as a pamphlet.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who served on the committee that created the document, explained that the call to address the issue of pornography grew out of an increasing need they were finding in their dioceses.

“We, as priests and pastors, are coming across it increasingly in the confessional, for example,” he explained, adding that many people “are dealing with a lot of guilt, and they bring it to the confessional.” In addition, “pornography is breaking up marriages; breaking up relationships.”

Bishop Malone said that while technological advances like Internet access and smartphones should not be condemned and are good in and of themselves, they “can also be an instrument for bad things like pornography.”

“It has just become so pervasive and so easily accessed by people, including children,” he continued.

Additionally, he said, “as Catholics, we would say that the use and the production of pornography is seriously sinful, so there’s that aspect as well.”

However, the bishops’ statement does not only speak out on the effects of pornography on society and the soul, but also tries “to see that there are ways to find healing and freedom.”

“Especially for us, as Christians, as Catholics, we see that in Christ there’s tremendous grace of freedom from pornography, and from other bad things that catch hold of us, and healing,” Bishop Malone said. He pointed specifically to the sacrament of reconciliation to address “the sinful dimension of it.”  

“One of the ways the Church wants to reach out in mercy is to say that if you’re caught up in this use of pornography, God’s mercy is there for you, beckoning you to come and receive that mercy and become free,” he stated.

The bishop also noted other resources, such as counseling and “support groups for people who struggle with pornographic addictions,” as ways for individuals and families to seek healing from pornography’s effects.

The document also offers other practical solutions for “parents and others to protect our kids” from pornography use and involvement with the industry, Archbishop Wenski added. He suggested that because parents “can’t presume the children are protected,” they should monitor children’s computer use and other activities.

In focusing on what can be done to address pornography use, the Church offers a plan of action and a way forward, Archbishop Wenski said.

He added, “I think our statement is also trying to be a message of hope, saying, ‘Listen, let’s get better and treat ourselves.’”