Can you explain what went into your decision to bring together hundreds of people – priests, principals, religious catechists, school counselors, campus ministers and IT directors – last week to talk about the issue of pornography, especially as it affects children and teenagers?
This has been on my mind and my heart for more than a year. I can specifically recall last year when three days in a row, some aspect of the issue of pornography came to my attention, and this was something I felt compelled to bring to the Lord in prayer. I could see the effects pornography was having on young people and their families. As I reflected on this in prayer, I felt a sense of hopelessness and I felt somewhat directionless. The questions that kept coming up were: Where do we go? What do we do? Everyone’s talking about pornography, but what should we do? In prayer one morning, it was very clear. In my heart, God was saying, why don’t you do something? The local church must act. We can’t just talk about it – and there are many who aren’t even talking about it. So we initiated a team, headed by Dr. Michael Whitehouse of the Office of Religious Education, to discuss the issue and move us forward.
We know pornography is a universal problem. You’ve decided to first raise awareness at the elementary and secondary school levels. Why is that?
It’s been my experience that when I talk to parents about the issue of pornography, they will tell me, “My children are wonderful. They would never be involved.” Well, the reality is they are. There is hardly any family that is not affected by pornography. We know that children as young as 10 years old – and even younger – are exposed to pornography on the Internet, and some children can become addicted to pornography by the eighth grade. That’s why it’s critical to raise awareness in our schools and parish schools of religion. I think there are many faculties who have never discussed the issue. Some teachers have told me their kids may have problems like any other kids, but they don’t have a problem in this area. All the studies show that is just not the case. This is a serious problem in every school, in every parish religious education program and in parishes. It’s an epidemic in society, and that’s not an exaggeration. With God’s grace, we must move forward and address this issue in a very collaborative way. The fact that we had 600 people attend our seminars on this issue tells me it is very important.
How will you proceed?
The meetings last week were just the beginning – the first step. This was not designed to solve the problem of pornography, because that’s impossible, at this point. The workshops were designed to bring the issue out into the open and to talk about it. There is an elephant in the room, and most of the time families, parishes, schools and society are afraid to talk about it. The reality is pornography has become the norm, so we must enter into discussion. This is not a Catholic issue, but as Catholics, we need to make sure there is a Catholic response to the issue. As people involved in ministry, we have a responsibility to take a stand, to act and to speak. The archdiocese also has the responsibility to provide people with the resources to address this.
The archdiocese has decided to partner with a group called Covenant Eyes. Can you explain who Covenant Eyes is and how they will be a part of this process?
Covenant Eyes is a faith-based group that started in Michigan but has spread across the U.S. and has offered parents and institutions resources such as Internet filtering software and other strategies for parents to help protect their children from pornography. In the old days, pornography was available mainly at the corner newsstand. Now, laptops and smart phones make pornography readily available, and no one, especially a child, is safe, no matter how many filters we can put on devices. A major part of our task will be emphasizing the morality involved in Christian decision-making and promoting the sacredness of the human body and human relationships. I understand from Covenant Eyes that we are perhaps the first diocese in the U.S. to ask for help in developing a five-year strategic plan to combat pornography. Seminars and workshops are great, but I always believe you need that follow-up to make a plan truly effective. Ryan Foley, who is one of their team leaders, will be available to give workshops and help craft the strategic plan. We’ll be putting flesh on that plan in the coming months. A big part will be raising the issue with parents, who are the first and best teachers of their children. We will also be launching a comprehensive campaign involving social media, TV, radio and the Clarion Herald to let people know there is a place to turn and a hotline number to call if someone in their family is struggling with pornography.
You made a very interesting comment about schools needing to be compassionate when they discover students have been using pornography. Is that the age-old question of justice versus mercy?
In the past, if a child was found with pornography or if we knew about the use of pornography by someone in a religious education program, there are some schools and parishes that would ask that child to leave – and that’s not justifiable. That child needs love, acceptance and forgiveness. That child needs to be able to start his or her life over again, with our help and the love of God.
And, as you said, this is a universal problem among all ages and genders.
Yes, all the statistics show that this is no longer exclusively a problem for males. The rate of women addicted to pornography is rising every day. I know of many families where divorce has taken place because of this. We need to ask God for the mind and the heart of Jesus to enlighten us in forging a path forward. We pray that Lord will help young people and families grow in a deeper respect for the human body and the gift of sexuality. The Lord Jesus truly is our healer, and we ask him to bless and heal those who have become dependent on or addicted to pornography. May he help us bring hope and healing.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.