by Joe Bollig
How bad is the corrosive effect of pornography? So bad that U.S. bishops have called it a “public health crisis” in a pastoral letter published on Nov. 17.
The letter, called “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” was written by the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
Pornography has been a problem for a long time, but has exploded in recent years thanks to the Internet and mobile technology. Never has pornography been so ubiquitous.
Nor have its effects — shame, addiction, spiritual desolation, despair, violence, exploitation, victimization and abuse — on both individuals and couples.
There is even a pornography connection to human trafficking.
“I was at a conference two months ago — the National Coalition on Sexual Exploitation,” said Sam Meier. Meier is director of My House, the archdiocesan anti-pornography and chastity program.
“There were several presentations that compared pornography to tobac- co,” he continued. “Really, until we start framing this as a public health issue as we did with tobacco, it will be hard to have change.”
Research has now demonstrated a link between pornography and the sexual abuse of children — even by other children.
In their pastoral letter, the U.S. bishops write that “data indicates that chil- dren repeatedly exposed to pornogra- phy are more likely to sexually harass or molest other children, imitating the behavior they have seen.”
“This is, in my opinion, the most im- portant part of the bishops’ teaching,” said Meier.
And it’s playing out on the local level.
Over the past seven years, Meier would get about one crisis call a year from a family in which one child acted out on a sibling after viewing pornography.
“In the last six months, I’ve had four of those calls, usually involving a 12- to 14-year-old child,” said Meier.
These calls have come from families that generally do a good job creating a safe environment in their homes, said Meier, but have neglected the electronic entry means of pornography.
The 28-page letter opens with the church’s teaching about the “beauty and vocation of the human person in Christ,” describes the scope and nature of the pornography crisis and offers help and hope for healing and restoration.
“I’m glad the bishops spent a good portion of the document on the positive nature of the church’s teaching on sexuality, love and chastity,” said Meier.
The letter also includes a great deal of information about what the latest research has discovered about pornography’s effect on the brain.
And it’s something written for the average Catholic in the pew, said Meier. It’s short, practical and helpful.
And it offers hope.
“Many good people struggle with this sin,” wrote the bishops. “You are not alone . . . but God, the most loving of fathers, is waiting to meet with joy those who repent and to give them the grace they need to combat future temptation.”
“There are a lot of practical applications to this document,” said Meier. “I want to send this to our pastors, directors of religious education and Catholic school principals.”
Interested individuals are encouraged to download a copy of the pasto- ral letter from the USCCB website.
But first and foremost, said Meier, “Create in Me a Clean Heart” is a call to act.
“It’s good that our bishops are taking a stand and calling our church to action to do something about this, and are providing the practical means to do so,” said Meier.
Tools for parents
In support of the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” the Catholic Mutual Group has developed a resource to help parents. The “CMG Connect: Parents” offers a website with resources and a free video, “A Safe Haven Starts at Home.”
The 18-minute video helps parents and other adults identify risk factors and behaviors leading to unhealthy Internet usage in children and teens.
Some of the greatest threats to children’s safety can be found online, through devices ranging from computers and tablets to mobile phones. This is especially frightening since many children and teens spend hours interacting with electronic devices beyond the eyes of even watchful parents.
People can sign up for a free account to participate in the program.