Pornography, like contraception, is an “elephant in the room” in many Catholic parishes. We know its there, but few people want to talk about it. Again, our ability to speak on pornography will come from true conviction about the gravity of the evil and a solid grasp of the Catholic response.
Pornography – regardless of the consent of the parties involved – makes of the body an object, a thing, instead of a subject, the revelation of a person. The naked body is to be a sign and instrument of the communion of persons. Pornography, while deceptively promising some kind of inter-personal satisfaction, can never bring about communion. It is a counterfeit and anti-sign.
An excellent overview resource on pornography is Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia: “Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God”. It is a must-read.
Bishop Loverde is frank about the grave threat posed by pornography and proceeds to address the false arguments often put forward in favour of it. Finally, he proposes a plan of action for young people, priests, married couples and all Christians. You can download the pdf version here:
Another resource is a booklet produced by the Couple to Couple League in the U.S. entitled Eyes Wide Open. It is an edited version of a six-part series on pornography which also provides steps to help protect families. It can be ordered from CCLI at: http://ccli.org/shop/onlineshopping.php?criteria=category&f_cat=catholic&catpr=30&order_by=name
As with contraception, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is an excellent comprehensive resource for addressing pornography. Popular American author and speaker Christopher West has numerous resources that distill and apply the Pope’s teaching to areas of sexual morality.
Excerpts from “Bought with a Price”
- If the person is not master of self-through the virtues and, in a concrete way, through chastity-he or she lacks that self-possession which makes self-giving possible. Chastity is the spiritual power which frees love from selfishness and aggression.
- The first to feel the violence of pornographic use is the spouse. If pornography is a sin against the human dignity of those whose images are used, how much more so is it a sin against the human dignity of the one who was promised the exclusivity of affection? The use of pornography is a violation of the commitment of marriage. Even if tolerated by the spouse, how can one possibly not feel rejection and betrayal when one’s committed partner turns to illusion and fleeting happiness in pornographic images? This rejection, if left unhealed, will often lead to the permanent destruction of the marital commitment.
- The same persons who portray the meeting of biological needs as intimacy also portray faithfulness as a sacrifice too onerous for fulfillment. All married couples will face times when marital intimacy is not possible. For some, these times may be prolonged. To pose such deprivation as an excuse for the use of the pornographic is to cheapen the promise of faithfulness upon which any marriage is founded. To embrace pornography as a substitute for marital intimacy is a tacit admission that the spouse is a means to meet biological “needs” rather than a partner in the communion of human love.
- Perhaps worst of all, however, is the damage that pornography does to man’s “template” for the supernatural. Our natural vision in this world is the model for supernatural vision in the next. Once we have distorted or damaged that template, how will we understand the reality? Our Lord has given us the gift of sight with the intention that we ultimately may see Him. The sinful use of this faculty both warps our understanding of it and – worse still – cripples our ability to realize its fulfillment in heaven. What man should use for receiving the true vision of God and the beauty of His creation, he uses instead to consume false images of others in pornography. How can we understand the supernatural sight God desires for us – i.e. the contemplation of God in the beatific vision – once our natural sight has been damaged and distorted?
- This ability “to see” spiritually has implications for the moral life: it enables us to see according to God, to accept others as ‘neighbors’; it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbor’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of divine beauty (CCC 2519). Our sight, more than just a physical ability, also serves as an important means for understanding faith, heaven and salvation. Indeed, its proper end and fulfillment is the vision of God Himself. Man’s final purpose is caught up with his ability to see. With this profound truth in mind, we can better appreciate the grave threat pornography presents to the human soul, to the family and to society.
Humanae Vitae: On the Regulation of Birth, Pope Paul VI, 1968 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html
Fr. Tom Lynch, National Director of Priests for Life Canada provides an overview of Humanae Vitae (Video, 47 minutes plus Q & A).
The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Pontifical Council for the Family 1995 http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/family/documents/ rc_pc_family_doc_08121995_human-sexuality_en.html
Familiaris Consortio: On The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, Pope John Paul II, 1981 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio_en.html
Church Document Excerpts
The Holy Bible
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
2523 There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.
2396 Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.
Offenses Against Women’s Dignity
24. Unfortunately the Christian message about the dignity of women is contradicted by that persistent mentality which considers the human being not as a person but as a thing, as an object of trade, at the service of selfish interest and mere pleasure: the first victims of this mentality are women.
This mentality produces very bitter fruits, such as contempt for men and for women, slavery, oppression of the weak, pornography, prostitution-especially in an organized form-and all those various forms of discrimination that exist in the fields of education, employment, wages, etc.
The Charter of Family Rights
46. …For this reason, the Church openly and strongly defends the rights of the family against the intolerable usurpations of society and the State. In particular, the Synod Fathers mentioned the following rights of the family:
the right to protect minors by adequate institutions and legislation from harmful drugs, pornography, alcoholism, etc.;
Pornography and Violence in the Commercial Media: A Pastoral Response
EFFECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY AND VIOLENCE
6. As reflections of the dark side of a human nature marred by sin, pornography and the exaltation of violence are age-old realities of the human condition. In the past quarter century, however, they have taken on new dimensions and have become serious social problems. At a time of widespread and unfortunate confusion about moral norms, the communications media have made pornography and violence accessible to a vastly expanded audience, including young people and even children, and a problem which at one time was confined mainly to wealthy countries has now begun, via the communications media, to corrupt moral values in developing nations.
9. Ordinary experience confirmed by studies conducted around the world has recognized the evil effects of pornography and violence in the media.5 Pornography in the media is understood as a violation, through the use of audiovisual techniques, of the right to privacy of the human body in its male or female nature, a violation which reduces the human person and human body to an anonymous object of misuse for the purpose of gratifying concupiscence …
10. While no one can consider himself or herself immune to the corrupting effects of pornography and violence or safe from injury at the hands of those acting under their influence, the young and the immature are especially vulnerable and the most likely to be victimized. Pornography and sadistic violence debase sexuality, corrode human relationships, exploit individuals – especially women and young people, undermine marriage and family life, foster anti-social behaviour and weaken the moral fibre of society itself.
11. Thus, one of the clear effects of pornography is sin. Willing participation in the production or dissemination of these noxious products can only be judged a serious moral evil. Likewise, production and dissemination of these materials could not continue if there were not a market for them, so those who use such materials not only do moral harm to themselves but contribute to the continuation of a nefarious trade.
13. It has even been said that there can be a psychological link between pornography and sadistic violence, and some pornography is itself overtly violent in theme and content. Those who view or read such material run the risk of carrying over such attitudes and behaviour into their own relationships and can come to lack reverence and respect for others as precious children of God and as brothers and sisters in the same human family. Such a link between pornography and sadistic violence has particular implications for those suffering from certain forms of mental illness.
14. Even so called “soft core” pornography can have a progressively desensitizing effect, gradually rendering individuals morally numb and personally insensitive to the rights and dignity of others. Exposure to pornography can also be – like exposure to narcotics – habit-forming and can lead individuals to seek increasingly “hard core” and perverse material. The likelihood of anti-social behaviour can grow as this process continues.
15. Pornography can foster unhealthy preoccupations in fantasy and behaviour. It can interfere with personal moral growth and the development of healthy and mature relationships, especially in marriage and family life, where mutual trust and openness and personal moral integrity in thought and in action are so important.
16. Indeed, pornography can militate against the family character of true human sexual expression. The more sexual activity is considered as a continuing frenzied search for personal gratification rather than as an expression of enduring love in marriage, the more pornography can be considered as a factor contributing to the undermining of wholesome family life.
17. In the worst cases, pornography can act as an inciting or reinforcing agent, a kind of accomplice, in the behaviour of dangerous sex offenders – child molesters, rapists and killers.
18. A fundamental message of pornography and violence is disdain, the consideration of others as objects rather than as persons. Thus, pornography and violence can eat away at tenderness and compassion and can foster insensitivity and even brutality.
RESPONSES TO THE PROBLEM
29. THE CHURCH AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS. For the Church, the first responsibility is the constant, clear teaching of the faith and, therefore, of objective moral truth, including the truth about sexual morality. In an era of permissiveness and moral confusion, this requires that the Church be a prophetic voice and, often, a sign of contradiction. The so-called “ethic” of immediate personal gratification is fundamentally opposed to integral human growth and fulfillment. Education for family life and indeed for responsible life in society requires formation in chastity and self-discipline. By contrast, pornography and wanton violence can blind individuals to the divine image in the human person, can weaken marriage and family life and can do serious harm to individuals and to society itself. Wherever possible, the Church must join with other churches, denominations and religious groups in teaching and fostering this message. It must also make the best possible use of its own institutions and personnel to give education and formation concerning the media of social communications and their proper role in individual and social life. Special attention should be given to assisting parents in their efforts. Thus, media education belongs in Catholic schools and other educational programs, in seminaries,8 in formation programs of religious and secular institutes, in the continuing formation of priests and in parish programs for youth and adults. Priests and Religious in pastoral and educational work should themselves be discrimating consumers of media who give good example in what they read and view.
30. Finally, a merely censorious attitude on the part of the Church toward the media is neither sufficient nor appropriate. Instead, the Church should be engaged in continued conversation with responsibile communicators to encourage them in their work and to provide assistance where it is needed or requested. …
The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality
45. Today this task encounters a particular difficulty with regard to the dissemination of pornography, through the means of social communication, instigated by commercial motives and breaking down adolescent sensitivity. This must call for two forms of concerned action on the part of parents: preventive and critical education with regard to their children, and courageous denunciation to the appropriate authorities. Parents, as individuals or in associations, have the right and duty to promote the good of their children and demand from the authorities laws that prevent and eliminate the exploitation of the sensitivity of children and adolescents.
“Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belong to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (#2337, CCC).
“To those who are engaged in education and all those whose right and duty it is to provide for the common good of human society: we call their attention to the need to create an atmosphere favourable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded” (HV, # 22).
“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life (Cf. Titus 2:1-6). The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence” (CCC, #2342).
“Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort (Cf. Gal 5:22). The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ” (Cf. 1 Jn 3:3, CCC, #2345).
“All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27), the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity” (CCC, #2348).
“People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single (CDF, Persona Humana 11). Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence” (CCC, #2349).
“Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity” (CCC, #2350).
“Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament” (CCC, #2360).
“Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death” (CCC, #2361, Familiaris Consortio, #11).
St. Alphonsus Liguori
“In temptations against chastity, the spiritual masters advise us, not so much to contend with the bad thought, as to turn the mind to some spiritual, or, at least, indifferent object. It is useful to combat other bad thoughts face to face, but not thoughts of impurity.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
“As soon as you willfully allow a dialogue with temptation to begin, the soul is robbed of peace, just as consent to impurity destroys grace.”
“Don’t say, ‘That’s the way I am-its my character.’ It’s your lack of character. Esto vir!-Be a man!”
“To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thornbush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond . . . You . . . what have you done?”
“When you have sought the company of a sensual satisfaction, what loneliness afterward!”
“Don’t be such a coward as to be ‘brave.’ Flee!”
“There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast. And that crusade is your work.”
Our Lady of Fatima
“More souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason”
“Lust indulged became habit, and habit unresisted became necessity.”