Scourge of pornography needs to be addressed

You convened a group last year to examine the scourge of pornography in society and the harmful effects it has had on the family. Has this problem been on your heart for a long time?

 It has. Like so many other people, I’m concerned that pornography has become pervasive in our society. It’s the greatest addiction in the world at this point, and I’ve often said to myself, “That’s a real problem.” Then, one day in prayer, what I heard in my heart was, “What are you going to do about it?” We have started some initiatives to address this within the archdiocese.

What steps have you taken?
For the past year, a committee we formed, headed up by Dr. Michael Whitehouse of the Office of Religious Education, has been looking at initiatives that might help us address the issue of pornography. We realize that some people are using it casually; some people are addicted. We also believe that people are looking for help in this regard, and it’s become epidemic. We shouldn’t be surprised, for example, that people in the fourth grade have been exposed to pornography. The average age of first exposure to pornography is between 8 and 11. The largest group that uses pornography ranges in age from 12 to 17. Sometimes, these kids are addicted by the time they’re in eighth grade. And we know many adults struggle with this. We’re simply saying that this is a problem in our society, and we would like to help be part of the solution and address it in a Christian way that brings healing. We’re not throwing any stones; we are simply offering to help. It is not surprising that pornography has become such a problem today. The media offer sexual stimuli constantly.

What will the first step be?
The first thing is to make people more aware how incredibly available pornography is and how it affects even young children. At the end of March, we will host hundreds of people for a two-hour workshop on the issue of pornography. We are inviting all priests, school presidents and principals, counselors, parish and school catechetical leaders, youth ministers, campus ministers, IT directors and technology coordinators. When we figured out how many people that entails – nearly 800 people – we decided to offer the workshop twice. We will offer it once on Monday night, March 27, and a second time on Tuesday morning, March 28. That will allow everyone to reserve a spot to attend, and their attendance is very important to me. A major goal of the initial workshop will be to raise awareness of how pervasive pornography is and why this is an issue that must be addressed. Ryan Foley, who is an internet safety consultant and vice president of business development for Covenant Eyes, will be our keynote speaker. We will discuss what we can do to provide help for those who are struggling with pornography. Another goal would be to provide some healing for people who 
have been emotionally hurt by pornography. We already have within the archdiocese a group called the My House Men’s Group that gives support to men who are addicted to pornography. We also want to reach out to family members who have been affected by a loved one’s addiction to pornography. Ultimately, we would like to form other groups where people could come anonymously to pray and talk about this in a private way and get the help and support they need. One of our hopes is that this presentation will help normalize the conversation about pornography so that we can address the “elephant in the room” that this is something acceptable to talk about. We want to pull the veil off and say “no.” Pornography is a public health crisis.

Why has this become such a huge problem?

Years ago, you would have to go to the drugstore or some other store to buy a magazine. But now, everybody has it available. It’s on laptops and phones and television sets. We’re worried about our kids. I know we can put up all kind of firewalls to help prevent kids from accessing pornography, but the fact is there’s no 100 percent way of protecting kids from this. Also, we don’t want to just keep them from accessing pornography –  more importantly, we have to teach them morality so that when they are exposed to it, now or later, they will be able to make good, moral choices. We have the moral responsibility of forming our children and having them understand the true meaning of God’s plan for their lives, for their bodies and for human sexuality. They need to hear the true voice of God.

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