By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald
Last week you hosted a workshop for priests on the impact of pornography on our culture. Can you talk about why you addressed this topic with priests?
This grows out of our plan in the archdiocese to address the widespread use of and addiction to pornography and how we can help heal individuals and families who are affected by this. This is a much larger problem than most people realize. It’s estimated that around the world, $97 billion is spent on pornography every year, and the U.S. accounts for $13 billion. We had a presentation from Father Sean Kilcawley, the director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, and a nationally recognized speaker on Theology of the Body and pornography addiction. He currently serves as a theological advisor for IntegrityRestored.com, which is a non-profit organization that seeks to restore the integrity of families affected by pornography by providing education and resources to individuals, spouses, parents and clergy. His message is one of hope. We must talk about this because we need to both heal and prevent wounds inflicted by our hypersexualized culture. Pornography addiction doesn’t affect only the person using it. It affects interpersonal relationships, marriages and entire families. Father Sean also offered a shorter session for the seminarians at Notre Dame Seminary.
What did he tell the priests?
Many people don’t realize that children are exposed to some form of pornography by the third or fourth grade, and some are addicted by the time they finish seventh or eighth grade. Teenagers sometimes text indecent photographs of themselves – sexting – to someone they are getting to know as they begin “dating.” Father Sean says it’s no surprise, because we are living in a hypersexualized culture. It’s estimated that kids spend more time at home now than ever before and are talking less to the family members in their homes because of their constant attachment to technology.
What is the archdiocese trying to do about this?
Our efforts right now involve trying to educate parents, teachers, priests, deacons, religious and anyone else interested in understanding and dealing with the problem of pornography, the addictive nature of pornography and seeing how we can walk with those who are being affected by it. We have to start with the parents and the teachers, both in Catholic schools and religious education programs, to help them become aware of the seriousness of this issue and to give them the tools to help the young church address these temptations in their lives. In the archdiocese, we have two chapters of an anonymous support and accountability group to help men deal with their addiction to pornography. The program is called My House Men’s Fellowship (504-430-3060). We’re hoping to start at least two more chapters. We also have a support group for women whose marriages have been affected by their husbands’ use of pornography. And, I must say, all the experts indicate women are increasingly addicted to pornography, so this is not just a men’s issue. We also offer Safe Haven Sunday on the first Sunday of Lent each year to give parents material to help them talk to their children about this issue and keep them safe. We’re doing a lot. We had over 80 priests who attended the workshop.
Priests probably hear about this a lot as they minister to people in their parishes.
Yes. Father Sean offered them resources on how to accompany those who come to them for help. He gave some very practical suggestions we can use in pastoral counseling, spiritual direction and confession. We really need to break the silence about this scourge on our culture. We have no true idea of the number of people involved or affected, but we know it is enormous. It is beyond our comprehension. We’re living in hypersexualized culture. He mentioned that 1 in 5 female high school students reports being sexually abused by a dating partner. Twenty-two percent of women between the ages of 13 and 19 and 36% of women between the ages of 20 and 26 have sent nude photos of themselves to someone else. It’s a huge problem.
What can we do?
We’re asking people to pray for those who are tempted by or addicted to pornography, and we’re asking parents to be attentive. Many parents might say, “Oh, I’m sure my child is not dealing with that problem,” but they really don’t know what their child is doing on the computer behind closed doors. We have internet filters at schools, and some parents have filters at home, but young people now how to use their cell phones and get around the filters. We want people to know that no one chooses an addiction. God is a forgiving God, and God is the one who calls us to new life. As priests and confessors, we must be able to communicate that care of Christ to the person who is addicted.