Bishops Concerned Over Effects on Society and Marriage

By Father John Flynn

ARLINGTON, Virginia, DEC. 10, 2006 ( Pornography is like a plague ravaging the souls of people and destroying marriages. So warned Bishop Paul Loverde in a pastoral letter entitled “Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God.”

In the document, published Nov. 30, the bishop of Arlington explained that the arrival of new communications technologies such as the Internet, satellite television and cell phones, is allowing pornography to reach more and more people.

“Today perhaps more so than at any time previously, man finds his gift of sight and therefore his vision of God distorted by the evil of pornography,” he wrote. “It obscures and destroys people’s ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God’s creation, instead darkening their vision, causing them to view others as objects to be used and manipulated.”

Bishop Loverde also noted that the experience of pornography “changes the way men and women treat one another in sometimes dramatic but often subtle ways.”

Today’s culture, he continued, often considers pornography as merely a private weakness, or even as a legitimate pleasure. In fact, it is a grave offense, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in No. 2354.

Its immorality stems from the distortion of the truth about human sexuality. Thus, what should be the expression of a married couple’s intimate union of life and love, “is reduced to a demeaning source of entertainment and even profit for others.”

In addition, the pastoral letter continued, pornography violates chastity because it introduces impure thoughts into the viewer’s mind and often leads to unchaste acts, such as masturbation or adultery.

It is also an offense against justice. This is so because of the grave injury to the dignity of its participants, each one of whom becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others.

“Everyone involved in the production, distribution, sale, and use of pornography cooperates and, to some degree, makes possible this debasement of others,” Bishop Loverde warned.

Family harm

The letter also warned of pornography’s harm to the family and marriage: “Since it immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world, a man’s use of pornography turns his attention and affection away from his wife.”

Moreover, the consumerist view of sexuality promoted by pornography damages women and makes it difficult for both men and women to prepare for married fidelity.

Within marriage the use of pornography “is a violation of the commitment of marriage,” the prelate noted. Its use by one of the partners in a marriage will lead to feelings of rejection and betrayal, which, if not healed, will often lead to the permanent destruction of the marital commitment.

Bishop Loverde also rebutted the argument commonly used to defend pornography, that there are no victims. In fact, he argued, the pornography industry frequently preys on the vulnerable and the needy, enticing them into dangerous behavior.

As well, the nature itself of pornography amounts to violence against the dignity of the human person. “By taking an essential aspect of the person — human sexuality — and making it a commodity to be bartered and sold, to be used and discarded by unknown others, the pornography industry commits a most violent attack on the dignity of these victims,” the pastoral letter commented.


The bishop’s concerns are well founded. Last May 28 the British newspaper Independent published the results of a study on the use of the Internet to access pornography. According to a survey carried out by Nielsen NetRatings, almost 40% of the male population in Britain used pornographic Web sites in the last year.

The survey also found that more than half of all children have encountered pornography on the Internet “while looking for something else.”

Meanwhile, in Australia, the Melbourne-based Age newspaper warned in a June 4 article that Internet affairs have replaced the office romance as a main cause of marriage breakups.

The article cited marriage counselors as saying they are seeing “more relationships shattered by secret cyber love trysts than ever, while lawyers report a rise in Internet-related divorces.”

The potential for betrayals was evident in comments made to the Age by a Swinburne University clinical psychologist, Simone Buzwell. She is the co-author of the study “Finding Love Online” that involved interviews with more than 1,000 people. Buzwell found that half of those who had found romance online were already in a relationship at the time.

Back in the United States, an article in the Christian Science Monitor of Aug. 16 dealt with the role pornography can play in fomenting criminal behavior. It is clear that not everyone with an addiction to pornography becomes violent or commits sexual crimes. But, warned Corydon Hammond, co-director of the Sex and Marital Therapy Clinic at the University of Utah: “I don’t think I’ve ever yet seen an adult sex offender who was not involved with pornography.”

These concerns over pornography were also dealt with in a special section of the Colorado Catholic Herald newspaper, published Nov. 10. When pornography use reaches the level of an addiction, “[i]nstead of being directed toward a loving relationship, sex becomes primarily a chemical experience,” a high, explained one of those interviewed, Dan Spadaro of Imago Dei Counseling in Colorado Springs.

This means that for the addict, most other important relationships fall by the wayside. Addicts also tend to deny the problem, and, instead, blame and criticize others. There are reportedly a large number of addicts who struggle with depression, Spadaro noted.

He also commented that the use of pornography by husbands has a very negative effect on their wives. The spouse can be affected by feelings of inadequacy, thinking that they are not interesting enough for the husband. Moreover, as pornography use often involves concealment on the part of the husband, the wives often feel betrayed because they have been lied to.

Another counselor interviewed, Rob Jackson, added that recent studies suggest that wives often suffer signs of post-traumatic stress. “In my experience, most will suffer a mixed range of emotions, including anger, sadness, depression,” he said.

A cancer

Justifiably, then, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia described pornography as “a cancer upon contemporary culture.” In the June 8 issue of the Catholic Standard and Times, the archdiocesan newspaper, he wrote: “Violence, sexual abuse, psychological trauma and ruptured relationships are the fruit of pornography.”

The cardinal warned of the dangers of pornographic Web sites and asked that parents take steps to ensure that such material is not freely available to their children.

He also encouraged all to go beyond the superficial attractions of pornography, to what is the true beauty of marital love, “a love that is both unitive and procreative, a love that mirrors the sacrificial love of Christ for his Church.”

Adding his voice to the list of bishops speaking out on the issue, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida, addressed parents now making lists of Christmas presents. Be careful about buying gadgets that will give children access to pornography, he warned.

Writing in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper on Nov. 26, he explained that with mobile devices such as phones, PDAs, and video iPods, “your child will be able to access all the pornography available on the Internet.” And if adults and marriages can be harmed by pornography, then children are more vulnerable still. Sobering considerations in the midst of festive preparations.

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