By Tommy O'Donnell
February 12, 2016
In theirrecent pastoral letter, "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to
Pornography Use," the U.S. Catholic bishops present authentic love as being rooted
in generosity, and they explain how a society that knows how to love
authentically is built on chastity and mercy.
The sin of
pornography turns the user inward on the self. He or she pursues
self-gratification rather than generous or self-giving actions. Those who are
trapped by pornography start to lose their capacity for healthy human
relationships of all kinds. Many even become addicted. In an increasingly
individualistic and fragmented society, pornography use increases isolation
between individuals and degrades communities. The bishops note that no one can
avoid the ripple effect of this sin: "We
all suffer negative consequences from its distorted view of the human person
and sexuality" (1).
as a field hospital is called to proclaim the truth of the human person in
love" (19). Pornography clashes against this truth. As the bishops emphasize,
pornography endangers souls and threatens the fabric of relationships. A
society turned inward is a society that forgets how to love. A society that has
forgotten how to love struggles to be able or willing to care for the most
vulnerable among us: the hungry, the sick, the unborn, the elderly.
pornography "promotes and even celebrates promiscuity and a view of sexuality
devoid of love or openness to new life," it is "implicated in contraception use
and abortion" (9). As the bishops note, it also has links with sex trafficking
and commercial sexual exploitation, which harm the dignity and lives of
countless men, women, and children around the world (11). Cultivating the
virtue of chastity means learning to love others with a clean heart, one that
refuses to objectify or use them in any way. It is "long and exacting work,"
but it is a powerful antidote to self-centeredness, individualism, and a
throw-away society that objectifies and exploits others, especially the weak
To all who
are harmed by pornography, the bishops proclaim: "Jesus is with you, and the
Church offers you love and support. Trust in and be led by the Holy Spirit. The
Lord's mercy and forgiveness are abundant!" (26). We receive God's merciful
gift of himself in Jesus Christ, the face of the Father's mercy. Jesus is "the
way of freedom" who restores our ability to love with a clean heart (20).
As Pope Francis writes: "In mercy, we find proof
of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing
in return. … He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in
helping us accept his presence and closeness to us. Day after day, touched by
his compassion, we also can become compassionate towards others" (Misericordiae Vultus, 14). This Lent,
may we turn outward, away from all selfishness and self-gratification. May we
open ourselves to God's mercy. May we love others with a clean heart, caring
first, not last, for the hungry and the sick, the unborn and the elderly, the
afflicted and the doubtful—all those in need of love and mercy.
Be sure to read the words of mercy that the
bishops offer to all people affected by pornography at www.usccb.org/cleanheart.
Tommy O'Donnell is a
Staff Assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops' pro-life activities, please