The Problem of Pornography: Are Bishops Talking About It?

While Western media may have overlooked it, within the synod halls, the bishops were earnestly discussing how to deal with a problem that is a scourge to families and the Church.


VATICAN CITY — It has not received much media coverage so far, but the rampant effects of pornography on families worldwide have sparked concern and dialogue among the synod’s bishops, particularly among the Americans.

“[Pornography] demeans the best in the male spirit. It addicts them to a kind of cheap junk food, when real women, with minds and hearts, beliefs and hopes, are much more interesting,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia told CNA.

“Happiness is built on reality, with all of its warts and joys — not on illusions,” he said. “Pornography is nothing but illusions.”

So far, at this year’s synod on the family, discussion has tended to be reduced in Western secular media to two issues: Communion for divorced-and-civilly remarried persons and Church teaching and pastoral care regarding homosexuality.

However, actual topics brought up during meetings have been much broader, with synod fathers touching on themes such as domestic violence, violence against women, incest and abuse within families, marriage preparation and pornography.

Archbishop Chaput is a member of the synod’s English-speaking “D” small group, which has been one of the most vocal about the need to include greater reference to the harm done to families by the use of pornography.

Other members of the group include Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, who serves as moderator for the group, Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, as well as a number of African and Asian prelates.


A Scourge to Women, Men and Clergy

In his comments to CNA, Archbishop Chaput said that although pornography has typically been a largely male problem, it’s something that many women struggle with as well.

Pornography, he said, “does huge damage to families. It isolates individual family members by creating private sexual obsessions. And it wrecks the intimacy between husbands and wives with notions of ‘perfect’ sex that bear no relation to real human beings.”

“It’s a terrible cheat,” he said, adding that it robs husbands and wives of “the richness of a long-term, mutually rewarding sexual friendship … and substitutes a shabby replacement that can never really feed the human heart.”

And the damage is not just isolated to individual families; it affects the larger family of the Church, he noted.

“The number of our Catholic clergy who struggle with this problem is very unsettling, and it has nothing to do with celibacy,” the archbishop said, noting that Protestant ministers and Jewish rabbis contend with the same issue.

“Pornography’s always been a problem. Ancient Rome was famous for it. Sex is powerful and fascinating, and people have always abused its appeal. … It’s an epidemic, or more accurately, a pandemic. Anyone with an Internet connection anywhere in the world can find all the [pornography] he or she wants,” he said.


A Web of Darkness

Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo backed the concern in an interview with CNA, saying that no matter where a person lives, pornography is still a major issue, due to the easy access provided by the Internet and social media.

“The problem came up with all the bishops,” he said, referring to the synod. But in the United States the problem is such a major issue that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is currently drafting a statement to address it, he said.

Pornography “represents the dark side of what can happen, in terms of the Internet and so many forms of social media, that this also becomes a breeding ground for so many distortions of human sexuality,” the cardinal said.

Whether the person using pornography is young, middle-aged or older, it’s “a major issue for families nowadays.”

Cardinal Di Nardo noted that he often hears from the priests in his diocese that when families who are in difficulty come to them for help, frequently “you find out that part of the issue started with someone in pornography.”

“We worry about our young people, but this even happens in terms of married couples. It’s so pervasive, that’s the problem. It’s very pervasive. So we think it’s an important issue to deal with,” he said.


No ‘Victimless’ Activity

Archbishop Jose Gomez also spoke to CNA about the issue, reflecting that the phenomenon of pornography is not “a victimless or private activity,” but is “truly a social sin.”

“Pornography is a scourge in every country; it is being fueled by globalization through the Internet and global travel,” the archbishop said. “Everyone knows there are links between the [pornography] industry and prostitution and human trafficking and child abuse.”

Another important point the archbishop stressed is the fact that pornography is a corporate phenomenon with large, big-name companies across the globe both promoting the use of pornography and profiting from it.

“Obviously, there are cable television companies and the cable networks and global hotel chains — many of them are making pornography available in every room,” he said.

One example of those companies had been the Hyatt Hotel chain, which recently decided to cut off access to on-demand video pornography in all locations across the globe.

Archbishop Gomes stressed that “there are a lot of other companies involved in this. We need to start a conversation with the business community and get them thinking about ‘divesting’ from pornography as a dimension of their corporate responsibility.”

Many of these companies have policies not to support environmental pollution or discrimination, so “we have to help them to see how pornography promotes injustice and cruelty against women and children and how it is polluting the human ecology, the moral ecology,” he said.


Chastity Witness Needed

Married Brazilian auditors in the synod, Pedro and Ketty de Rezende, also spoke to CNA, sharing their concerns surrounding pornography as both a married couple and as parents.

Ketty affirmed that pornography “was definitely a topic” in the synod discussion, and voiced her concern that “with the easy access kids have to all of the media, they can very easily access pornography.”

She and her husband noted that the problem with pornography is not just its harmful effects, but that it “goes way beyond that” to the need to make the commitment to live in chastity that every baptized person makes.

“When we are baptized we assume a commitment to chastity, because that’s the only way you can entirely participate in the communion of the Church,” Pedro said.

“Any form that involves the person in a context that’s against the morals taught by the Church is not just negative for the person, but also negative as in what that person can bring to society,” he said. “Pornography is just one of the forms.”

Ketty emphasized the importance of educating one’s family on chastity. Quoting Blessed Pope Paul VI, she said that “contemporary man values more witness than teachers, and if he listens to teachers, it’s because they’re witnesses.”

“The whole family has to witness virtues, they all have to live it, and when they all live it, the children naturally pick it up. … That’s one of the virtues we really have to make clear in the world today,” she said.

“So what I really think is one of the major issues in the synod is a call to chastity.”


Family Scripture and Accompaniment

The couple also shared some of the ways they have found to be effective in terms of teaching their children about chastity, naming the use of Scripture and just being with their children and being aware of what they are exposed to as two key points.

“First we live our faith by reading the word of God. I think the word of God is one of the first to call us to chastity, right? Only the pure will actually see God,” Ketty said.

She emphasized the need to remember that “our faith is a meeting with a Person; it’s meeting Jesus. And that’s the first call to a chaste life.”

Other than that, “it’s being with our kids, warning them also, ‘Look, maybe this book isn’t something that’s good for you to read; this film isn’t really appropriate,’” she said, adding that it’s also helpful to show kids other options that “don’t harm their souls or their minds with unchaste things.”