In November 2015 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a formal statement titled, Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography. This is a major statement on behalf of Catholic leaders in the United States about how widespread the problem of pornography has spread and what the Church’s response should be to that problem. I want to offer just four quick comments about the wisdom contained in this rich document.
Four Insights into the Bishops Letter
1. The central problem with pornography is that it is offensive to human dignity.
There’s a lot that can be said about the problems caused by pornography in the world today. There are the abuses women and men and even children suffer at the hands of those who make porn. Addiction to porn is growing, robbing us of our time, money, and cherished relationships. Pornography is literally warping the brains of its users. All these are problems, to be sure, but the Bishop’s letter hits the nail on the head when it says the human body should not be “unveiled or treated in a way that objectifies it sexually and reduces it to an erotic stimulant.”
You see our dignity as persons is bound to the fact that we are created in the image of God, and this includes our physical bodies. The Bishops write, “The human person is a unity of soul and body, and the body shares in the dignity of the image of God. The body reveals or ‘expresses the person.’ It expresses in a visible way one’s invisible soul and manifests one’s masculine or feminine identity.”
Deliberately looking at porn is a grave sin against that dignity because it takes those intimate parts of us, meant to communicate love, and it dehumanizes, it makes us into objects. This is the central reason why the production and consumption of pornography is wrong.
2. As a sin, pornography doesn’t travel alone.
The Bishops are very keen to recognize that pornography use is connected to all other kinds of sins, both personally and socially. It encourages lustful masturbation, which isn’t a self-giving and fruitful act of sexual love, but a selfish and addictive act. Over and over studies have shown that porn use is associated with adultery, domestic violence, child abuse, and even sex trafficking.
3. Pornography is an equal opportunity evil.
The Bishops see this problem not just impacting one sector of society, but something that is woven in and out of every sector. As the pastoral letter states, pornography has a range of victims.
- It exploits the visual magnetism of the male brain, offering men an escape into a world of narcissistic fantasy.
- It exploits the relational and romantic desires of females, offering women an endless stream of erotic media interactions.
- It preys upon childhood curiosities, warping the minds of children and youth.
- It has become a major catalyst for divorce.
- It’s a major obstacle to really discerning one’s vocation in life, whether that be marriage, the consecrated life, or the priesthood.
4. The church is to be a “field hospital” for healing.
The Bishops borrow the language of Pope Francis who reminds us of the Church’s calling to become a “field hospital” for the wounded. You know what a field hospital is: it’s the hospital that is set up in the trenches after the battle, as it were. It’s not the hospital of brick and stone that stays in one place, but one that comes to the wounded. And today, we are surrounded by the wounded: people wounded by Original Sin, people wounded by the sexual lies of our culture, people wounded by their own sexual sins, and people wounded by how others sexually abuse them.
The Church in America: “Be Not Afraid”
Pornography is not the root, but rather the fruit of the deeper sins and wounds of our modern world, and it is the Church’s mission to use God’s means to help others encounter Christ our Healer. The Church is the field hospital that gives the ointment of truth, spoken in love to each human person. It welcomes in pornographic exploiters and the exploited, offering forgiveness and restored dignity. It boldly proclaims that Jesus is the way to freedom for anyone who has been entrenched in pornography—saying, “Be not afraid” to approach the altar of mercy. It offers healing for broken marriages and families.
What You Can Do
I encourage you to read the Bishops’ letter, Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography. While the Church has always historically stood against pornography, this document is a landmark moment for the Church in America that will set our course for many years to come.
Secondly, are you a ministry leader? Take steps to educate your parish through Safe Haven Sunday.
Thirdly, are you a parent who is either concerned about protecting your child from pornography, or that your child may have already been exposed to pornography? Take steps and learn more by reading Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture.
Lastly, share about Clean Heart Online with others. This is not only an opportunity to protect your own children; it can offer your children’s friends protection as well. Remember, your children are only as safe as their friend’s devices. It’s startling to admit this, but many children’s first exposure to pornography is through a friend or neighbor.
Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography
Create in Me a Clean Heart offers a robust vision to help people heal from the negative effects of pornography and to protect young people from its dangers. It gives those who struggle with pornography hope that freedom from its grip is possible.
Audience: Adults and supervised minors
Language: English and Spanish
Resource Type: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement
Cost: Free download or $3 per printed copy