Archdiocese redoubles its anti-pornography efforts

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

The pornography industry in the United States, according to Fight the New Drug nonprofit organization, is a $12 billion business. If that figure isn’t startling enough, let this sink in – the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is 10 years old. Access is so easy now on the internet that it usually happens while doing homework online. 

That’s what David Dawson Jr., director of the archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life, discovered while researching this societal plague’s threat to children and marriage. 

To help parents combat pornography and “learn how to respond to online exposure with love,” the Archdiocese of New Orleans is hosting its second annual Safe Haven Sunday March 9-10.

Book will be available

Most archdiocesan Catholic parishes will provide the book “Confident: Helping Parents Navigate Online Exposure,” created through a collaboration between the archdiocese and the anti-pornography leader CovenantEyes.

“The archdiocese, the archbishop, the Office of Marriage and Family Life and a committee (formed by the archbishop) have had a hand in influencing all materials – including a new website – available for Safe Haven Sunday,” Dawson said. 

“I think these materials have been designed to equip parents to be able to respond appropriately,” said Sam Pitre, Marriage and Family Life associate director. “When that exposure happens, how do you talk to kids? The book details how parents can help them process that experience and help (kids) move forward and not fall into a trap that leads to addictive or compulsive behavior.”

In 2015, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote a statement on pornography, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography” as a guide to help Catholic leaders address it.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond was attuned to the growing crisis, having heard from individuals and pastors about pornography’s effects on local Catholics. In prayer, he resolved to do something about it, Dawson said, and charged a committee to find a solution.

Breaking new ground 

The committee, Dawson said, discovered Covenant Eyes. The nonprofit already had cooperated with the USCCB on creating a “Diocesan and Parish Implementation Guide” to help clergy follow recommendations outlined in the bishops’ 2015 statement. Safe Haven Sunday was one suggestion in the guide.

“We were the first archdiocese to have Safe Haven Sunday (held in February 2018),” Dawson said.

The joint initiative brought CovenantEyes’ speakers Ryan Foley and Australian-born speaker Matt Fradd to schools, faculties and parishes, and there was an administrators’ workshop in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. And, close to 65 parishes distributed the first book, “Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture” to create an awareness, among parents, of pornography’s prevalence.

Dawson said parents appreciated the book, many using it as a tool to talk to their children once they realized their exposure to pornography. Fradd’s talk opened many parents’ eyes to “the reality of the situation.”

This year’s follow-up book, “Confident: Helping Parents Navigate Online Exposure” expands on last year’s message and details how parents can set parameters to protect children. Talks to students and teams of counselors and those versed in pornography also will be available in 2019. The Office of Marriage Family Life received a $20,000 grant from the Catholic Foundation’s Women’s Giving Circle to bring Fradd back this year.

To provide even more resources, the archdiocese and CovenantEyes collaborated on a new Catholic anti-pornography website – cleanhearts.online/nola – with resources (including online workshops) launching at Lent’s start. In addition, there’s a seven-day, opt-in email challenge – instructing how to make a home into a “safe haven” using the latest apps, Google Safe Search Kids, YouTube Restricted Mode, etc. – accompanying this effort by texting SECURE to 66866. 

“The whole focus is equipping parents,” Pitre said. “How do parents recognize this and have this discussion with their children.”

Dawson recognized early on that many parents don’t realize the prevalence of pornography on the internet and think, “I trust my kid.”

“The problem is, they can trust their kids, but they cannot trust the pornography industry because they are utilizing everything in their power to get it in front of the kids’ face,” Dawson said. “Pornography today is very graphic. It is 80 percent violent,” so when young children view pornography, it is sexual trauma. 

“The impulse control needed to say no to something like that, especially of a sexual nature, is not there until the early 20s,” Dawson said. “To give a child access (at their hands) is too much.”

The archdiocese’s efforts have encouraged more than 25 other dioceses nationwide to join the anti-pornography bandwagon during Lent 2019, using the first book to create the awareness of the problem and how to address it with children. The archdiocese will use the second book. 

“We’re staying ahead of everybody else,” Dawson said. “The first creates an awareness of pornography, how to address it with kids and make homes a safe haven. This (second book) is helping parents become confident in dealing with online exposure. This year’s book is deeper. It builds off last year’s book.”

Creating an awareness of pornography’s prevalence for parents is important because of how easy children can access it online. “If we don’t talk about it, we do a disservice and leave people to fight it alone,” Dawson said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

 

SAFE HAVEN SUNDAY

→ What: Safe Haven Sunday, a weekend focused on helping parents, clergy, school administrators and educators address pornography by handing out the free book, “Confident: Helping Parents Navigate Online Exposure,” created by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in collaboration with anti-pornography leader CovenantEyes

→ When: March 9-10 at all Masses

→ Other events throughout month: Internationally known speaker Matt Fradd will speak from 6:30-8 p.m., March 27, CYO Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office, 2241 Mendez St., New Orleans; and March 28, Our Lady of the Lake Chotin Center, 312 Lafitte St., Mandeville. 

→ Other speakers: Available to church and school groups.

→ Details: Call the Marriage and Family Life Office at 861-6243 or email mfl@arch-no.org. You can also visit the new website at cleanhearts.online/nola.64% of young people, ages 13–24, actively seek out pornography weekly or more often.

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