By Cardinal Justin Rigali
A particular scourge of our time is that of pornography. Since it has such devastating effects, we address this topic, once again, this week.
Temptations in every age of history
We can say that there are many “defining experiences” in the history of God’s relationship with the human race. A number of them involve a great temptation at a given moment, which God allows in order to show forth virtue on the part of the one tempted or to bring about a greater good. We think of the temptation of our first parents in the Garden; the envy of Cain that led him to kill his brother, Abel; the doubting of Moses, which led to his not being allowed to enter the Promised Land; the lost opportunity of Saint Peter to proclaim his faith in Jesus and the weakness shown by Pilate in condemning our Lord, although he knew Jesus was innocent. These, obviously, are just a few examples of temptations that have been permitted at different times in salvation history.
I mention this concept because it is important to remember that every age, and every inspanidual, has his or her particular temptation. In fact, in the spiritual life, we speak of what is called the “dominant fault” of a person. This is that particular area of weakness in a person which can result in great holiness if it is overcome with the help of God’s grace and the good intention of the inspanidual. Likewise, different times in history have had their great moments of temptation for a people or a country.
The ancient phrase used among the Romans: “O tempora, o mores,” which means: “Oh, the times. Oh, the customs (of people),” reminds us that societies have lamented the unfortunate aspects of their own times for centuries. However, this never means accepting, as inspaniduals with our dominant faults or as societies, with the particular challenges of our times, what is evil just because “that’s how things are.”
This week, I would like to address a topic which I have written about before but which bears repeating because it is one of the principal evils of our own times: the terrible scourge of pornography.
What makes pornography particularly deadly in our own time?
We know that the unfortunate reality of pornographic images is nothing new. They have been found among the graffiti of ancient civilizations and have been known up to the present. What makes pornography the particular scourge of our own time is its availability. In the past, we can say that there was a natural, built-in control in obtaining this form of images. The necessity of going to a particular, somewhat public, place; purchasing an item; bringing it home; viewing it and then secreting it somewhere, made for a healthy complication that often allowed the person tempted to overcome the temptation. With the advent of the computer, all this has changed. The public act of purchase has been replaced by the privacy of one’s own home; what had to be purchased is often free or can be purchased somewhat anonymously and a physical book or magazine is no longer necessary. The temptation has not changed but its availability has changed drastically.
We may ask the question: Who is harmed by pornography? First, we think of the men and women who are often made use of in order to produce pornographic images. While it is true that they may do so with their consent and even be paid well for what they are doing, are they not being exploited for the gain or illicit pleasure of others? What will the ultimate result be on their own sense of dignity and self-worth? Most unspeakable is the actual use of children for these horrible purposes.
There is also a devastating effect upon those who view pornography on a regular basis and often become addicted to it. It can be devastating to the possibility of true, fulfilling human relationships because a “virtual” experience takes the place of genuine human interaction. It is also destructive to a person’s view of the dignity and worth of the members of the opposite sex. In many ways, it is the ultimate “using” of a person while giving nothing of oneself in return.
In a society where relationships in general are said to be in crisis, pornography is another means of destroying the possibility of healthy, fulfilling, genuine interpersonal relationships. Studies show that pornography also has a very harmful effect upon marriages. Many women feel that their husbands are being unfaithful to them in some way by constantly viewing pornography, even if they are honest about doing so.
Pornography and its effect on children
During his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI said this about the responsibility of adults to protect children from pornography: “Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading mani-festations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. Children have a right to be educated in authentic moral values that are based on the dignity of the human person. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” (Address to the Bishops of the United States, 18 April 2008).
Caring about our children is a challenge with many levels. The values that society puts forth and encourages; the removal of morality from schools and public settings; the desire of those who profit from the multi-billion dollar pornography industry to make money; and the collapse of the traditional family with its security and support system all combine to leave children in a very vulnerable state when it comes to pornography. The statistics of the numbers of children and young people who view pornography and the ease with which they do so is truly shocking.
What to do?
There are many groups and organizations which have banded together to fight pornography and its devastating effects. “Morality in Media” (www.moralityinmedia.org) is one organization which has recently published a thorough study of the pornography industry and its effects. An organization called “The King’s Men” (www.thekingsmen.org) has recently asked me to endorse a national initiative of theirs to raise awareness of this terrible scourge. Their effort is being sponsored by a number of community and religious organizations to enlist the help of all people of good will in combating this spreading in our communities.
Recognizing the damage that has been done to marriages, families and inspaniduals as a result of the widespread dissemination of pornography in recent times, I have recently written to all of our priests enlisting their support of these efforts. A very helpful pamphlet has also been written for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled: “Pornography: What’s the problem?”
Do not become discouraged!
I would like to conclude with a very important message to those who may be addicted to pornography or who find themselves having recourse to it. My message is: Do not become discouraged! Do not think that you are a horrible person or that God will not forgive you.
The ease with which these materials are available have taken a weakness that has always been present and has always needed to be fought and has made it into an almost superhuman battle. However, we have supernatural means at our disposal! This is what prayer and the sacraments are. They bring us help from heaven for our human weaknesses. Say your prayers. Go to Confession. Go to Mass and receive holy Communion. These are all the means that God has given us for our battles.
As Jesus told Saint Paul when Paul asked that a weakness of his be taken away: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9), so Jesus says the same thing to us. Remember that, in this battle the devil uses one of his oldest tricks. When we are being tempted, he tries to convince us that “it’s not so bad.” Once we have fallen, he tempts us into thinking that it’s so bad that God will not ever forgive us. Neither is true. Pornography is very bad, but forgiveness is always available.
The ease with which pornography is available is the great temptation of our time but we have not been left defenseless because God’s grace is sufficient for us as well.
19 November 2009