Note: This article is part of the USCCB "Clean Heart" series and is a companion resource to the USCCB formal statement Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography; a printed pamphlet version of this article and others may be purchased at the USCCB online store.
In the statement "Create inMe a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography," the bishops of the
United States give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by
pornography and raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms. This abridged
version covers the statement's main points. Additional resources, including the
full statement text, can be found at www.usccb.org/cleanheart.
The Beauty and Vocation of the Human Person
From the beginning of creation,
God's beautiful plan for human love was inscribed on the human heart and in the
human body. All men and women are created in the image of God and called to
love. Jesus fully reveals our identity and vocation and shows us the way of
love as a gift of self. The human body speaks a language of gift and communion
and has great dignity. It should be treated with the greatest respect. As
persons, we are meant to be loved and not used.
The virtue of chastity allows us to gain self-mastery in the area of sexuality. It is opposed to lust (which uses a person)
and instead fosters genuine love for the other as a whole person. All of us are
called to chastity. In marriage, chastity takes the form of faithful and
fruitful love and includes the sexual expression of that love. While sin
damages our relationship with God, our own selves, and others, it does not have
the last word. Jesus redeemed us and makes it possible for us to live a life of
freedom in the Holy Spirit.
Why Is Pornography Wrong?
Sexual love is a gift meant for
marriage alone. "Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts
from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to
third parties" (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], no. 2354). All pornography
is immoral and harmful, and can never be justified, including within marriage.
Using and/or producing pornography is a sin against chastity and against human
dignity. It reduces the body to an erotic stimulant. It harms viewers and does
"grave injury" to those involved in its production (CCC, no. 2354).
The sin of pornography needs the
Lord's forgiveness and should be confessed in the Sacrament of Penance and
Reconciliation. Its use is also often linked with other sins, especially masturbation
but also adultery and the crime of human trafficking. Pornography objectifies
people and brings hurt and pain. It is an illusory substitute for real
relationships and intimacy, which in the end bring true joy.
Pornography in Our Culture Today
Pornography today is a structure of sin.1
While rooted in the personal sins of individuals, pornography is so pervasive
in society that it is difficult to avoid and challenging to remove. Several
factors are important to note when evaluating pornography's presence in our
″ Victims: The women
and men portrayed in pornography have their dignity abused for others' pleasure and profit. There is
also the heinous crime of child pornography and pornography's connections to
sex trafficking worldwide.
″ Visibility: Pornographic
and over-sexualized images are present in our culture as never before. It is
commonplace to see such images while going about one's daily life. Maintaining
purity in this environment is a challenge.
″ Acceptability: Pornography
is often misrepresented as a harmless pastime or even promoted as good, for
example to help marital intimacy. Many describe it as "normal" behavior,
especially for men.
″ Technology: The
Internet has made pornography accessible, anonymous, mostly free, and endlessly
novel. This potent combination continues to have devastating effects on many
″ Industry: Pornography
is a big, moneymaking business. The industry is aggressive and savvy,
constantly trying to entice new viewers. It is under-regulated and uses the
claim of "free speech" to counter legal charges.
″ Content: Pornographic
content available today is increasingly coarse, violent, and degrading. It
communicates the message that sex is devoid of love and relationship, and even
that sexual violence is acceptable.
Everyone is vulnerable to pornography. Many good people
struggle with this habit, including faithful Catholics, married and single
people, fathers and mothers, and so on.
Users and Effects: A Closer Look
Men are particularly susceptible to pornography because
their brains are strongly drawn to sexual images. But pornography is not just a
men's issue. A growing number of women use pornography. Men and women might
view pornography to soothe emotional wounds or for "recreation." Women users are often seeking a sense of
connection or romance and may feel isolated in their struggles.
Someone can start by occasionally
viewing pornography but later can become a compulsive or addicted viewer. Because pornography use, usually combined with masturbation, directly affects the brain, it can be an
extremely difficult habit to break. A person addicted to pornography may take
risks to view it and continue the behavior despite adverse consequences.
Sadly, first exposure to pornography
often occurs at young ages. Children may find images and videos by accident
online or may happen upon a family member's "stash." Many young people also
produce their own pornography in the form of sexual photographs and videos
shared with peers. Being exposed to pornography can be traumatic for children
and youth. It gives them a distorted image of sexuality, persons, and
relationships, which can then affect their behavior. Tragically, some children
are forced to participate in child pornography, a crime.
face increasing challenges in protecting their children's innocence and many
feel ill-equipped to monitor their children's devices. Pornography use within
the home has negative effects on a family's life. It can, for example,
undermine the credibility of the father and other role models who use
pornography, and if the breadwinner becomes preoccupied with pornography,
financial problems may result.
Pornography use within marriage
damages the spouses' trust and intimacy both because of the behavior itself and
because of the deception often involved in hiding it. Its use can lead to
affairs, requests for degrading sexual behavior, and even divorce. It decreases
spouses' sexual satisfaction and interest in marital sex. For the unmarried,
viewing pornography can make it more difficult to maintain a self-giving
relationship of mutual trust. Undoubtedly, pornography fuels the hook-up
culture and discourages young adults from undertaking the work of relationships
in the first place.
Mercy and Healing in Christ and Through the Church
The Church is called to be a "field hospital" for the
wounded of the world.2 No wound is out of the reach of Christ's
redeeming grace. Christ is our hope! The Church proclaims the truth about love,
sexuality, and the dignity of each person, and she seeks to provide the Lord's
mercy and healing for those harmed by pornography.
To those exploited by the
pornography industry, you are
beloved and cherished by God! The way you have been treated is deplorable, and
we will work for justice for all enslaved men, women, and children. Come to the
Lord and allow him to heal you.
To those guilty of exploiting
others through the production of pornography, the Lord in his justice and mercy is calling you to repentance.
No sin is too great to forgive, but we exhort you to repent, make amends for
the damage you have caused, and turn yourself over to civil authorities if you
have been involved in criminal exploitation.
To men and women who use
pornography, be not afraid
to approach the altar of mercy and ask for forgiveness. God is waiting to meet with joy those who repent. Counseling,
spiritual direction, and accountability groups can all help you to reach
freedom. Filtering software can help you avoid near occasions of sin.
Cultivating chastity takes work and is a daily choice. If you fall, seek the
Lord's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
To those who have been hurt
by their spouse's pornography use, you are not
to blame for your spouse's choice to view pornography. You may feel betrayed
and deceived and may have faced abuse. If you are in danger, seek safety. Find
solace in prayer and seek out a trusted spiritual director or counselor as you
work through powerful emotions. If your spouse desires to change, you can be a
great help to him/her. Set clear boundaries and take care of your own health.
To all parents, you are the
guardians of your children and should be their models for chaste love. It is
your responsibility to teach your children the true meaning of sexuality and to
protect them from pornography. Be vigilant about the technology you allow into
your home. Foster openness and trust with your children so they can talk to you
about images they have seen.
To all who work with children
and youth, parents have given you a
responsibility to protect their children. You can have a great influence on the children entrusted to your care. Create an environment suitable for learning
chastity and be vigilant over technological access.
To young people, Christ calls you to be strong, courageous witnesses of
chastity and hope. Be an example for your friends of the freedom and joy that
come from living a chaste life. Reject the pressure to treat sex as
recreational or to objectify your body or someone else's. If you have used
pornography, seek forgiveness from the Lord and ask for help from your parents
or a trusted adult.
To pastors and other clergy, we are
witnesses of the joy and freedom of chastity. Let us call the faithful to the
Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and make sure it is available. We too
must approach the fount of mercy if we sin in this area. Let us preach on
chastity and protect children from pornography.
people of good will, the Church is grateful to all who are working to acknowledge the
harmful nature of pornography and build a culture where chastity and authentic
love are esteemed and supported.
You Are Not Alone
Many good people struggle with the sin of pornography and
are striving to cultivate chastity. You are not alone. Jesus is with you, and
the Church offers you love and support. Trust in the Lord's mercy and his power
to free and heal you. For further resources and help, visit www.usccb.org/cleanheart.
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with
your merciful love;
your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions;
sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone have I sinned;
have done what is evil in your eyes
So that you are just in your word,
without reproach in your judgment.
Behold, I was born in guilt,
sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, you desire true sincerity;
secretly you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be
me, and I will be whiter than snow.
You will let me hear gladness and
bones you have crushed will rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins;
out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
within me a steadfast spirit.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.) (Washington, DC: Libreria
Editrice Vaticana [LEV]–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB],
2000), no. 1869; Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et
Spes (Dec. 7, 1965), no. 25, in The Documents of Vatican II, ed.
Walter M. Abbott (New York: Guild Press, 1966); and Pontifical Council for
Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
(Washington, DC: LEV–USCCB, 2004), no. 119.
2 See Antonio Spadaro, SJ,
"A Big Heart Open to God: The exclusive interview with Pope Francis," America (Sept. 30, 2013).
Create in Me a Clean Heart: A
Pastoral Response to Pornography, Abridged Version was developed as a resource and approved by Bishop
Richard J. Malone, Chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life
and Youth of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was
authorized for publication by the undersigned.
Msgr. J. Brian
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New
American Bible, Revised Edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine, Washington, DC.
and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved.
Quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016, United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.
For the full USCCB statement on pornography, Create in Me a Clean Heart, and additional resources, visit www.usccb.org/cleanheart.