Struggle With Pornography? The Church Can Help You, US Bishops Say

The U.S. Catholic bishops have created a list of resources to help families struggling with pornography, but say that treating addiction needs more help than just confession and spiritual direction.


WASHINGTON — For the first time, the U.S. bishops have issued a historic pastoral letter specifically addressing the global crisis of pornography, looking at how the industry is affecting the parishioners in their pews and what the Church can do to offer mercy, healing and hope to recovering pornography users.

“We offer this statement to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms,” the statement reads, saying the Church wants to offer healing to the families destroyed by pornography and to the individuals who have been exploited by it.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) officially approved the pastoral letter created by the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth called “Create in Me a Clean Heart“ on Nov. 17. The letter addresses the crisis of pornography and how the Church is reaching out with mercy to those who fall prey to the thriving billion-dollar pornography industry, which creates an increasing slew of victims and perpetrators every year.

Pornography’s wide acceptance, and even at times promotion, in today’s global culture has prompted the U.S. bishops to address the crux of the issue: the failure to recognize every human’s innate call to love.

According to the pastoral letter, “every man and woman, whether called to marriage or not, has a fundamental vocation of self-giving, fruitful love in imitation of the Lord.”


The Destroyer of Human Love

The bishops describe pornography, however, as the opposite of love — the love for which every individual is created. Instead, pornography creates “a disordered view of the person, because it is ordered toward use, as of a thing, rather than love, which pertains to persons.”

Pornography also “rejects the equal dignity and complementarity between man and woman and strikes at the heart of God’s plan for communion between persons,” the letter stated.

The bishops also linked pornography as a gateway to other problems, such as: masturbation, addiction, adultery, prostitution, domestic violence, abuse and sex trafficking. It also leads to a distorted view of human sexuality and, in some cases, damages the capacity for healthy, human intimacy.

Engaging in pornography might appear to some like a harmless, private affair, but the bishops pointed to multiple victims who are involved in the making. Many individuals and children portrayed in pornography are victims of human trafficking and also forced into prostitution, the bishops wrote, citing a study by former litigation attorney and anti-pornography advocacy leader Noel Bouche.

The crisis of pornography inflicts deep wounds on many individuals, spouses and families — including faithful Catholics, they said. Recognizing this danger and the reach of pornography within their own pastoral corners, the U.S. bishops were quick to point out that the Church is waiting to welcome those who are hurting.

“No wound is so deep, however, as to be out of the reach of Christ’s redeeming grace. The Church, as a field hospital, is called to proclaim the truth of the human person in love,” the letter stated.

“You are beloved sons and daughters of the Father. Be not afraid to approach the altar of mercy and ask for forgiveness. Many good people struggle with this sin. You are not alone,” the bishops said.


Recognizing the Addiction

For many, use of pornography has become an addiction or, at the very least, desensitizing. Because of this, many individuals will have to seek other help in addition to confession or spiritual direction.

“We wish to specifically address Catholics in a range of circumstances and present opportunities for guidance, healing and grace,” the statement continued.

The bishops recommended counseling, coaching, accountability groups, conferences and retreats as good options for recovering pornography users. Other tools like online monitoring software, couples therapy and chastity education are also good resources.

“Freedom from pornography is a daily choice and calls for ongoing formation,” the pastoral letter noted.

Parents also have a responsibility to protect their sons and daughters from the modern-day scourge of pornography. The bishops noted that the average age of children who are exposed to pornography is 11, meaning that there are many children who are even younger.

“Parents and guardians, protect your home! Be vigilant about the technology you allow into your home, and be sensitive to the prevalence of sexual content in even mainstream television and film and ease by which it comes through the Internet and mobile devices,” the letter stated.

In addition, the bishops encouraged intensified seminary and priestly formation on pastoral care to treat those involved with pornography. Priests, they noted, have a crucial role to play in creating authentic relationships and fraternal support with individuals who want to defeat their struggle with pornography.

“God’s grace and concrete help are always available. Healing is always possible,” the bishops noted.

“Trust in and be led by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s mercy and forgiveness are abundant!”

A full list of USCCB-approved resources on recovering from pornography is available here.