“Henry seemed to have it all–a loving marriage, four young children, and a solid middle-management position with a local financial corporation. He and his family lived in a good suburban neighborhood and were active in their local parish, where Henry was involved in the music ministry. At 35, he was poised for a promotion to a more lucrative upper-management post.
He always worked long hours, both at the office and at home, but in recent months he had shown signs of wearing down. To his wife and children, he seemed distant, irritable and gloomy, and he was spending longer and longer hours at the computer. He often missed out on family outings, saying he needed to work. Even his co-workers noticed a change for the worse in his mood, efficiency and productivity. He simply wasn’t himself anymore.
Everything came crashing down late one evening when Henry’s 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, walked in on him as he watched an Internet video of men and women engaging in sexual acts. Horrified, Hannah ran and told her mother, and this now-disillusioned family suddenly had some very serious issues to face.
Tragically, Henry’s situation is not unique. While pornography has been around for centuries, the problem of addiction to pornography has increased dramatically in recent years largely due to its vast presence on the Internet.”*
What’s the Big Deal?
People sometimes think of pornography as “harmless,” and wonder what the big deal is with something you do in private. The reality is that pornography is deeply harmful - to the men, women and children who view it - and to all of society. Viewing pornography actually can “rewire one’s brain,” causing neurochemical changes in the brain.
Pornography usage is anything BUT harmless. The damage to men, women, young people, children and families is staggering. Porn addiction has reached epidemic proportions, and is becoming considered a public health crisis. Here are some of the effects of pornography usage on marriages:
- It destroys the trust and intimacy between husbands and wives
- It leads to the end of marriages
- It creates obstacles to real communication and personal interaction between spouses and family members
- It stimulates a distorted view of sexuality that can lead to riskier behaviors
- It draws focus away from family life, and from God, and sets a destructive example for children.
What does the Church Say about Pornography, and Why?
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), recently released the document, Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2015). Offering a word of hope and healing, our pastors remind us:
From the beginning of all time, God’s beautiful plan for each of us has been inscribed into our hearts and into our bodies. Our Church continues to hand on what we received from Christ Jesus. Each of us – male and female – is created in the image and likeness of God. Each of us is a gift, with inviolable dignity. Each one of us is a beloved child of God.
“Men and women discover the call to love written in their very bodies. The human person is the unity of a body and soul, and the body shares in the dignity of the image of God.
St. John Paul II often referred to the “spousal meaning of the body.” He taught that the body, in its masculinity and femininity, is inscribed with its own language – a language of gift and of communion of persons. Our bodies tell us we come from one another. We are not self-made or fundamentally isolated. Instead, we are each a son or daughter. We are in relation to others from the beginning of our existence, first to our mother and father, and through them to the entire human family. Our bodies also tell us we are for another, that we have the capacity for fruitful communion with one another, in particular with a person of the opposite sex if called to marriage. Written in to our bodies is a call to spousal, fruitful love.
Because of the beautiful meaning and dignity communicated by our bodies – which communicate our very selves – our bodies should be treated with greatest respect. We, and therefore our bodies, are not meant to be used, but loved.
One of the key virtues, to which all of us are called, is chastity. Chastity is a virtue that allows us to do what is right, good and truly loving in the areas of relationship and sexuality. Chastity integrates our own internal desires for sexual pleasure into our overall pursuit of holiness. Chastity is opposed to lust, which is an inordinate desire for sexual pleasure apart from the true meaning of sexuality and marital love. Chastity calls us to rely on God’s grace and to persevere with fortitude in order to resist temptation and make the right decision in challenging circumstances.
The Church’s teaching on the great harm and sinfulness of pornography comes from our greater understanding of the dignity and beauty of the human person as revealed by Christ Jesus, and the gift of human sexuality and marriage in God’s plan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines pornography in this way:
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world.
From this passage, the moral status of pornography is clear: producing or using pornography is gravely wrong. It is a moral sin if it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. The sin needs the Lord’s forgiveness and should be confessed within the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The damage it does to oneself, one’s relationships, society and the Body of Christ needs healing. Pornography can never be justified, and is always wrong.
Does This Sound Like You?
Porn addiction is an epidemic that has been grown in the Internet age. Some estimates put porn use among churchgoing men at 50 percent, a figure that differs little from use among the adult male population at large.
It’s hard to know when you have a pornography addiction, and it’s even more difficult to admit you have one, and get help. It might start out innocently enough – you run across an image on the internet – and you keep going back. You may not even realize how much power pornography has over you. Does this sound like you, or someone you love?
- Each time I use pornography, I promise myself it will be the last time. And yet, it never is.
- It’s hard to stop thinking about pornography
- I spend more time and/or money on pornography than I realize
- I choose viewing porn over my family, my friends, or even my work
- I feel like I can’t stop viewing pornography
- I feel ashamed, guilty and depressed
- Pornography is hurting my marriage, my family or my job
- I’m scared someone’s going to find out
We Can Help!
The first step in overcoming pornography usage is to admit that what you are doing is wrong, and that you want and need to change. This takes courage! Breaking free of pornography isn’t an event, but a process. We can help!
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Realize you are not alone—millions of men and women struggle with pornography usage.
2. Let go of the shame—People who struggle with pornography often feel guilt and shame. Guilt can help us lead better lives, but shame makes us want to hide. Shame is not from God.
3. Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation—When we receive God’s forgiveness, we take our addiction out of the darkness and into the light. Your priest can help you seek help for your addiction.
4. Seek professional help— there are many excellent recovery programs. The Office for Marriage and Family Life can help you seek the best one for you.
5. Realize that God still loves you! God loves you deeply, and is drawing you into His mercy!
6. Take courage—God has a special plan for you. By taking charge of your pornography usage and committing to help, you will become the person God created you to be!
The Catholic Church loves you and cares for you.
We can help you break free of pornography addiction.
If you, or someone you love, uses pornography, or has an addiction to pornography, you can:
- Find a therapist who can help you. Contact the Office for Marriage and Family Life. The office maintains a list of recommended counselors in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and can help you find someone in your area within your health insurance network. Additionally, we have the names of counselors who offer counseling services on a sliding scale, or even for no cost, for those who are uninsured or underinsured. Your inquiry will be kept confidential, and you will encounter only non-judgmental support.
- Locate a priest to pastoral support you, and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with you. In addition to our parish priests, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is blessed to have many religious communities present and ministering within it. During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, many of the religious order priests are making their houses, friaries, monasteries and churches available for access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These sites are “Havens of Mercy,” where you can seek pastoral support. Even if you have been away from the sacrament for many years, these priests stand ready and eager to welcome you home! To find a priest, you may:
- Find Catholic Support and Recovery Programs
- Find help for parents, and internet filtering tools
A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit. Psalm 51:12