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Before someone discusses pornography in counseling or in a private conversation, it is often addressed in the homily or confessional. For many, a homily or an experience in the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be the first place the faithful hear the whys behinds the whats of Catholic teaching, including why pornography consumption is wrong and harmful. This moves many to seek healing and reconciliation. 

It’s becoming more common for parishes and dioceses to address pornography, but it’s still not the norm. One priest I spoke with, who asked not to be named, explained why he thought this might be, “I would suspect from my generation (I’m 41) they are more comfortable. My age group was the first to receive extensive teaching in the area of the Theology of the Body. I always found older priests to steer away from sexual topics—maybe or maybe not out of fear, but out of not having a firm and total vision of how it all fits together in the Christian mindset and in modernity. Thank God for Saint [Pope] John Paul II’s Theology of the Body!”

Some dioceses and parishes like Father Kujawa’s have been proactive in raising awareness by offering Covenant Eyes to every family, facilitating the annual awareness weekend, Safe Haven Sunday, and hosting speakers like Matt Fradd, Audrey Assad, Christopher West, Father Thomas Loya, Chris Stefanick, Bill Donaghy, and countless others at men’s and women’s conferences and youth conferences to present on the overall topic. 

Father Kujawa explained, “The Church is trying to raise awareness in homes by encouraging people to use Covenant Eyes for accountability. These are great efforts, but they need to continue to grow.” 

What is holding the Church back? Often, priests face obstacles in addressing the subject of pornography from the ambo or in the confessional. Here are answers to a few common obstacles. 

“How do I awaken people to the evils of pornography?” 

For some people, anything concerning human sexuality, including lust and how they spend their time online is seen as a private matter or sometimes even an excusable vice. How can you effectively communicate the sinfulness of pornography?

Perhaps one of the best ways to communicate this is to talk about pornography as something exploitative. It is outwardly exploitative, contributing to the actual ill-treatment of women and men, and inwardly exploitative, training viewers to objectify others. 

The Gospels show a love that says, “This is my body given for you.” The antithesis of this love, pornography says, “This is your body taken by me.” 

Priests should highlight how pornography is in some situations another form of prostitution: the purchase of someone’s body for sexual purposes. It uses someone else’s powerlessness and forgotten dignity for pleasure. With this comes all the typical abuses that come with prostitution: drug abuse, manipulation, physical and emotional abuse, and in some cases, sex trafficking. 

This information helps wake listeners up to the reality that pornography is not merely a private sin with private consequences. 

In Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography, the USCCB refers to culture’s current use of pornography as a “structure of sin.”[i] They explain, “It is so pervasive in sectors of our society that it is difficult to avoid, challenging to remove, and has negative effects that go beyond any one person’s actions. At the same time, as with any sin, pornography’s prevalence in our society is rooted in the personal sins of individuals who make, disseminate, and view it, and by doing so further perpetuate it as a structure of sin.”[ii]

Pornography is inwardly exploitative. It encourages an attitude of objectification. Pornography rips sexual acts from the intimacy of marriage and puts them on display as a commodity to be consumed. Sex becomes something on-tap and made-to-order, warping the viewer’s standard of beauty around heavily edited and scripted photographs and films. Pornography doesn’t enhance our sexuality—it cheapens and dulls it. 

This needs to be contrasted with the beauty of God’s plan for life and love, including God’s plan for the union of the sexes. Sin turns sex into an idol—something to be worshipped and loved above all other pleasures. The answer to this is not repressing our sexual desires. The answer is to understand God’s design for sex as something wonderful and powerful, created by Him for intimacy within marriage and the creation of new life.

“I’ve never seen anyone address pornography in a parish before.” 

Before doing something new, people often want to see someone else do it first–especially when it’s something that feels awkward, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. Fortunately, there are resources available to help priests talk boldly and compassionately about pornography. 

1. Celebrate Safe Haven Sunday. Many diocese and parishes set aside a weekend to directly and appropriately address the harms of pornography. Within the context of the Mass, parishes provide teaching and resources to support individuals, marriages, and families in making all homes a safe haven. Download the Implementation Guide to get started.

2. Share a homily about the harms of pornography. This could either be as a part of your Safe Haven Sunday weekend or an ongoing effort to address pornography. The Safe Haven Sunday Implementation Guide contains a sample homily to help you, and there are also a few available through E-Priest.

3. Watch Father Sean Kilcawley’s video “How to Help People in the Confessional.” He gives guidance on what questions to ask penitents if they have confessed the sin of pornography consumption. 

4. Provide the Catholic Answers You are Loved booklet in the confessional. It comes with a 30-day free trial to Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability™.

“How do I preach about porn with children in the congregation?” 

Some parents may simply not be ready to let their children listen to a homily about pornography. There are different ways to address this concern: 

Allow for child-friendly language. One priest recommends using family-friendly language to talk about pornography without being offensive. We can use language like “impure images” or “images and videos that objectify people.” Father Kujawa speaks of it as “the dark side of the Internet.” He explained that children can hear this and won’t think anything of it. 

Equip the parents first. Before hosting a parish-wide initiative, consider holding a special parenting class on how to teach children about human sexuality and the Theology of the Body.

Explaining it to the parents doesn’t have to be difficult either. A parish priest could say something like, “Our Catholic faith holds beautiful teachings on sex and marriage, including teaching that explains the profound beauty of God’s reason for creating us male and female from the very beginning. 

It’s important we share these teachings with all ages. In the coming months, I plan to more intentionally preach about our identity as God’s children, human sexuality, and what culture says about sexuality. Your children will hear me talk about pornography and possibly other issues of our day that are connected to living a life of virtue. 

This class equips you, as the first and foremost educators of your children, to teach them at home, ‘the first school,’ about God’s design for sex and marriage. This is very needed for marriages and families, our parish community, and Church as a whole. I want us to be addressing hard topics like pornography head-on.” 

Provide resources to help parents understand these issues, including how to talk with their children about them. Also, encourage parents to talk to one another about how their families are processing and addressing the issues. The following resources are a great place for parents to start: 

  • Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture: Parenting in the digital age is a daily, intentional process. This Covenant Eyes e-book helps busy Catholic parents raise responsible digital natives. 
  • The Equipped 7-Day Challenge: A Digital Crash Course for Parents: This seven-day text-to-opt in program provides practical tips that adults can take to create safer digital environments for themselves and their families. Sign up on the challenge web page or by texting the word “secure” to 66866. This will automatically enroll you into seven days of emailed digital tips.

  • Protect Young Eyes: This site helps parents stay up-to-date on all the latest apps, devices, and social media trends.  

“How do I inspire people to true repentance?” 

You can’t do the work of the Holy Spirit, but you can, through your preaching and witness, put Christ on display in a manner that prompts the faithful to turn from things that keep us away from him. 

Talking about pornography as an objectively moral evil will not be the primary thing that turns people away from it. Rather, as Father Sean Kilcawley says, the change often comes from “Constantly preaching the Gospel as it has always been preached” and sharing how they “are beloved children of the Father—sons and daughters by adoption.” 

We need to talk about how Christ is better than pornography, and at the same time, call them away from that which does not lead to Jesus. Father Kilcawley explains, “The great commission is to proclaim the gospel to all nations. This proclamation is, at its core, the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and has come into the world to save us from our sins—to redeem us. 

This has always involved calling people to turn away from sin and renounce Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises (baptismal promises) so that we can place our faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and in the Church that Jesus started.  

In our time this means calling those who are enslaved to sexual sin to repentance, healing, and transformation. The Church should be making this proclamation regularly so that people realize that there is hope and healing in the Catholic Church. Programs that focus on the education of parents in their role of protecting their children from the sin of pornography provide a venue for this gospel proclamation.”   

“I have a habitual struggle with pornography, so how can I speak about it to my parishioners?”

You are not alone in asking this question. If you have hesitated to find help for your own struggle or addiction, maybe the time has come for you to begin your own journey of healing and recovery. “Be not afraid!”

The steps to pursue healing with a habitual struggle or even an addiction with pornography has become clearer. These steps include: 

Learn about the impact pornography has on the brain and a person’s patterns of behavior. Start with reading through The Porn Circuita free Covenant Eyes e-book on the brain science of pornography.

Get a spiritual director and have conversations with him about your struggle with pornography and/or other sexuality struggles you’ve experienced. Share about past abuses you’ve experienced, possibly as a child, and when you were first exposed to pornography. Use this time as an opportunity to acknowledge, maybe for the first time, that you are loved by God the Father and your identity is rooted in Him.

Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation and spend time in prayer. Approach Christ’s merciful love offered in this great Sacrament of Divine Mercy. Peace and openness to grace await you! Also, consider signing up for STRIVE or Exodus 90. Or pray the Novena for Purity, where you’ll ask God to strengthen you as you seek to live a life of chastity and purity.

Ask a trusted friend or your spiritual director to be your accountability partner. Sign up for Covenant Eyes and register your friend or mentor as your accountability partner who will receive your reports and have conversations with you about your internet activity. 

Find a therapist or support group. Contact your diocesan office for Marriage and Family Life for guidance or contact information for a spiritual director and/or therapist. Many recovering strugglers stop at just finding their accountability partner. But it often takes a team to encourage us to break free.

The Word of God is effective in the lives of the people by the power of the Holy Spirit. The priest is but an instrument of God’s truth, healing, justice and mercy. Your personal sins do not deprive the truth of its power. Be the first to hear the truth, cling to it, and let it change your life! 

 

 

[i] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography(2015, November 17), p. 8. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/pornography/upload/Create-in-Me-a-Clean-Heart-Statement-on-Pornography.pdf (accessed June 26, 2017).

[ii] Ibid.

Resource
The Novena for Purity

The Novena for Purity

Description

Join Covenant Eyes and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity for nine days of focused prayer with the Novena for Purity, where you’ll ask God to strengthen you in various ways as you seek to live a life of purity. 

Audience: Men and women 
Language: English 
Resource Type: 9-Day email challenge 
Cost: Free 

Amanda Zurface is the Catholic Campaign Coordinator for Covenant Eyes. Amanda holds a License and MA in Canon Law and a BA in Catholic Theology and Social Justice. Amanda has served in various roles within the Catholic Church both in the United States and internationally. She is the co-author of Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture and Transformed by Beauty. She resides in Pueblo, Colorado, where she also serves as the Vice-Chancellor for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pueblo.