The following are extracts from 'A Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography' by Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph, on Ash Wednesday, 21 February 2007.
Pornography is not new, but it has become a kind of plague in our society, reaching epidemic proportions. It is being propagated more widely than ever. Well beyond magazines, it is widespread on the internet, television, movies and videos, and now on cell phones and other handheld devices, many of which are marketed to children and youth.
Use of pornography is a serious sin against chastity and the dignity of the human person. It robs us of sanctifying grace, separates us from the vision of God and from the goodness of others, and leaves us spiritually empty.
As human beings we are created in the image and likeness of God. The dignity and respect due to every human person is not assigned by any group of people, nor granted by a government. Our dignity is not contingent on what we own, or even on what we do. We cannot buy it or sell it. This dignity and worth come from God as a complete and inestimable gift.
This dignity of the human person includes our sexuality. Our sexuality is more than our gender. It is part of our person. It gives us the ability to connect and give ourselves in love to another person. Our human sexuality is an important means by which we can share in the love and creativity of God.
In marriage, a man and a woman are invited to establish a complete, exclusive and life-long union of two individuals as one. This union is the proper relationship by which it is possible for them to become co-creators with God and to let their love for one another become fruitful in bringing another human life into the world.
In the misuse of our sexuality human weakness and selfishness can manifest themselves, sometimes in terrible ways. Human sexuality is a gift but not a toy. It is a gift to be respected and directed toward its proper end: loving and personal communion with others.
Chastity is necessary for all Christians, regardless of their state in life, whether they are single, married, or celibate. All are called to respect human dignity. All are called to love.
Our human sexuality is created as something good by God. It is a gift. It also suffers from the effects of original sin and so can manifest not only good but evil.Pornography is one such evil. It assaults human dignity and commodifies people and human sexuality. It starves the human soul which has a spiritual dimension which must be nurtured by giving and receiving a personal love.
While pornography is not a new problem, the development of the mass media and recent technological advances have made it much easier to access this deceptive evil.
Pornography violates modesty, chastity and truth. Human sexuality involves modesty which protects the privacy of individuals regarding what is most personal and intimate.
Pornography violates truth. It leads people into a world of unreality, a world of fantasy that isolates them from other people and the commitments and respect which should govern our relationships. Some persons seek pornography out of loneliness and a low self esteem. It is a painful irony that their use of pornography serves only to isolate them more and more from other people.
The more invested people are in this fantasy world, the more detached they become from real people, real issues and real life around them. Lust isolates. Love unites. Pornography leads people away from the truth. Chastity helps people to grow in truth.
Pornography inevitably leads to other grave sins. For example, the use of pornography is frequently coupled with masturbation, another disordered sexual activity that further turns a person in on himself, isolating him from others.
Pornography is a real problem and the statistics concerning it are frightening.
* The Internet accounted for US$2.5 billion of the adult industry's revenues. (Dirty Downloads Ready to Go on iPods, Ron Harris, www.macnewsworld.com, 2005.)
* According to a March 2004 figure, there were 800 million rentals each year of adult videos and DVDs. (Overdosing on Porn, Rebecca Hagelin. www.worldandi.com)
* Current estimates are that $20 billion is spent annually on adult videos (sales and rentals).
* In 2004, there were 4.2 million pornographic websites; 372 million pornographic pages.
* Daily there were 68 million pornographic search engine requests (25% of requests). 2003.
* Daily there are 2.5 billion pornographic emails (8% of total emails). 2004.
* There are 100,000 websites offering illegal child pornography (US Customs Service estimate).
Adult Internet Pornography Statistics:
* 70% of 18 to 24 year old men visit pornographic sites in a typical month. 66% of men in their 20s and 30s also report being regular users of pornography.
* There are 40 million US adults who regularly visit internet pornography websites.
* 90% of 8-16 year olds using the Internet have viewed pornography on line (most while doing homework). 2004.
* Eleven years old is the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography. 2004.
The statistics are staggering. But behind all this there are not just numbers, there are people whose lives are harmed, and whose eternal salvation is jeopardised.There are those exploited by pornography, those who use it and then the family and associates of both groups. Pornography affects lives, moral strength, relationships, marriages, the lives of children, community life, and even such things as property value and community safety.
Within the person, pornography wreaks harm physically, emotionally and spiritually. Pornography can become as physically and chemically addictive as alcohol, drugs or gambling. The graphic images of pornography burn themselves into our sense imagination.
Viewing pornography for this distorted venereal pleasure is, objectively, a mortal sin. It is seriously contrary to the life God intends for others and ourselves. It kills the life of sanctifying grace. If we are in serious sin we must not approach Holy Communion until we have received sacramental confession.
Often we are too ashamed to come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and we wander further away from the life of God. Our ability to function as a living member of the Body of Christ is impaired. Because this scenario is so widespread today, we must be concerned about the state of our parishes and families.
The culture around us that so readily provides an environment and market for these kinds of evils is a significant contributing factor to the problem of pornography and other sins. The technology itself is not evil. The problem lies in the abuse of technology and its use in evil ways.
We live in a culture that is increasingly dark and death-dealing. We can easily begin to absorb these negative influences - taking them in like a plant absorbs, through its roots, what is in the soil or 'culture' in which it is planted. We become numb and we don't even realise that we are slowly being poisoned. This problem is serious and it demands our response.
We have spoken about the first and necessary step in our spiritual battle against the lies and entanglements of pornography. Sincere repentance turns our sight again toward God and the Sacrament of Reconciliation renews within us the grace and life of Christ.
In order to persevere we must develop a plan to 'stay sober' and avoid the intoxication of pornography. We will not succeed if we think we can easily put aside the temptations to use pornography. We must avoid the occasions of sin, that is, anything that leads us toward it. What are our particular weaknesses in regard to these attractions?
We must be careful and plan out what we do when we are in private. Away from others we must be on our guard, mindful of our weakness. Can we invite someone to monitor our computer? Random monitoring is a practice in many business offices. Sometimes the danger of this keeps people from some instances of viewing pornography. The engagement of an accountability partner who receives a report of websites we have visited may help us stay honest in this regard. At home, a computer should be located in the open rather in the private room.
Similarly, we must avoid situations where the company of certain people might unduly pressure us to partake in the use of materials, such as pornographic videos or magazines. We must try to cultivate healthy and supportive friendships.
We must remove any pornography that is readily available. Eliminate your access as quickly as possible. Destroy the videos, throw out the photos and magazines, cancel the problematic cable or satellite channels.
Bring in the good
At home, more and more families are using blocking devices on their television sets, or using the TV only occasionally to watch a family-friendly movie or a sports event together.
The Beatitudes and the rest of Christ's Sermon on the Mount express a model for conscientious and faithful discipleship. It is not enough to remove the bad. We must bring in the good.
Meditation, vivid reflection on the mysteries, life and activity of Christ, and the use of religious pictures, statues, etc, provide positive images in the sense imagination and memory. These can begin to supplant images and visual fantasies that are occasions of sin for us.
For us as Catholics the Mass and the worthy reception of the Eucharist are the font from which we draw our spiritual strength and the highest expression of our worship and thanks to God. Here Jesus literally makes a gift of Himself to us. Here we enter into the hour of His sacrifice. To share in the Eucharist every Sunday and holy day of obligation strengthens us, and keeps us in the communion of the Church.
Developing a plan for growing in holiness will be more complete as we begin to generously exercise an apostolic Christian love. We must go 'beyond our self,' reaching out to others out of love for Christ. This active charity expressed in an unselfish and generous love is the antidote to pornography and other sexually-expressed symptoms of selfishness.
Temperance in the exercise of our sexual appetites, necessary for succeeding against the lures of pornography, can be strengthened when we exercise temperance in the use of food and drink. The more we learn to strengthen our will by occasionally denying ourselves licit enjoyments, the more we will likely succeed in the temperance which supports chastity.
At appropriate moments parents have the responsibility to teach their children about the beauties of our God-given sexuality and the truth of sexual morality. This calls for study of the Church's teaching, and right living on the part of the parents.
It must be admitted that the widespread use of artificial contraceptives has had a devastating and systemic effect on the family and the culture. Parents who have not yet come to grips with the responsible use of their own married sexuality will find it more difficult to communicate effectively to their children about the right ordering of these vital human powers - powers which have their most significant expression in life-long love directed toward the procreation of life.
Pray together as a family. Go to Mass and to Confession together. Have meals together. Set rules and regulations about the use of the phone, TV, video games, and the Internet. Parents, teach your children about the blessedness of pure, chaste love, and help them find good reading.
You cannot keep them from all of the dangers they will eventually face, but you can equip them to deal with such dangers.
This problem of pornography affects all of us. It involves not only our spiritual life and our moral health but the health of our nation and our world. It assaults our human dignity rooted in the image and likeness of God and further ennobled by the Incarnation.
If you remember just one sentence from this letter let it be this: Never despair of God's mercy.