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Pornography and the Catholic Church
If you are reading this page, you may be aware that the Church warns against the use of pornography, but not know why. If you’re wondering what the church has to say about pornography and why, read on.
The church has much to say about pornography. This is because porn injures the dignity of everyone involved – producers and consumers. Sexuality is a wonderful gift from God! It is meant to be shared by a husband and wife as an expression of their love which is unitive and can lead to procreation.
Pornography reduces sex to nothing more than a recreational activity where people are simply used for personal pleasure. With pornography, there is no relationship, love, intimacy, responsibility, unity or openness to new life. People are simply treated as objects. It is a disordered use of sexuality, which can hurt people physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Use of pornography is a grave sin. It wounds our relationship with God, which can threaten our eternal salvation.
For married people, pornography use is a form of adultery. For single people, pornography use is a form of fornication. Both of these are serious sins. Pornography offends against chastity, and there are no reasons to justify its use.
It’s important to remember that the Church’s sanction against pornography is not meant to be a way of controlling people or preventing them from enjoying life. Quite to the contrary, it is meant to protect people so they can enjoy a healthy life and live it to the fullest!
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, pornography is an offense against chastity:
- “Pornography consists in removing real of simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants, since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involves in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.” CCC 2354.
Masturbation most often accompanies pornography use. This is also an offense against chastity:
- “Masturbation is the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” 138 “The deliberate use of sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.” 139 CCC 3528.
The Pontifical Council for Social Communications has commented widely on the dangers of pornography use:
- Pornography in the media is a "violation, through the use of audiovisual techniques, of the right to privacy of the human body." (Pontifical Council for Social Communications, 1989)
- You are aiding a billion-dollar criminal enterprise "Production and dissemination of these materials could not continue if there were not a market for them, so those who use such materials not only do moral harm to themselves but contribute to the continuation of a nefarious trade" (11, Pontifical Council for Social Communications)
- You run the risk of carrying over the attitudes and behavior presented in pornography into your own relationships and may begin to lack reverence and respect for others (13, Pontifical Council for Social Communications)
- Even so called "soft porn" can have a progressively desensitizing effect, gradually rendering you morally numb and personally insensitive to the rights and dignity of others. Exposure to pornography can be habit forming and lead you to seek increasingly "hard core" and perverse material (14, Pontifical Council for Social Communications).
- It can interfere with personal moral growth and the development of healthy and mature relationships, especially in marriage and family life, where mutual trust and openness and personal moral integrity are so important. (15, Pontifical Council for Social Communications).
- When sexual activity and/or pornography is used for personal gratification rather than as an expression of enduring love in marriage, it becomes a factor contributing to the undermining of wholesome family life (16, Pontifical Council for Social Communications).
- In the worst cases, pornography can act as an inciting or reinforcing agent, a kind of accomplice, in the behavior of dangerous sex offenders - child molesters, rapists and killers (17, Pontifical Council for Social Communications).
Bishops have also warned against the dangers of pornography:
- "The problem with pornography is not that it reveals too much of the person (exposed in the image), but that it reveals too little of the person. The person in the image is reduced to their sexual organs and sexual faculties and is thereby de-personalized." Bishop Robert Finn. Blessed Are The Pure In Heart: A Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography, February 21, 2007.
- "This plague stalks the souls of men, women and children, ravages the bonds of marriage and victimizes the most innocent among us. 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. Those who engage in such activity deprive themselves of sanctifying grace and destroy the life of Christ in their souls.” Bishop Paul S. Loverde. Bought With A Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God, November 30, 2006.
The church understands that many people are wounded by pornography addiction. She knows how damaging it is to marriages and families. Moreover, she has much compassion for such people and wants to help them experience God’s love and healing. Because this is such an important issue, in 2015 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement on pornography entitled Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography. The purpose of the document is to educate Catholics on the dangers of pornography and to give hope to those who are addicted, or affected by the addiction. It presents the Church as a field hospital ready to serve those hurt by pornography. It describes God’s great love and mercy for those wounded by pornography, and His desire to bring healing to all who are afflicted. The document states:
As pastors of the Catholic Church, we offer this statement to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms. In the confessional and in our daily ministry and work with families, we have seen the corrosive damage caused by pornography—children whose innocence is stolen; men and women who feel great guilt and shame for viewing pornography occasionally or habitually; spouses who feel betrayed and traumatized; and men, women and children exploited by the pornography industry. While the production and use of pornography has always been a problem, in recent years its impact has grown exponentially, in large part due to the Internet and mobile technology. Some have even described it as a public health crisis. Everyone, in some way, is affected by increased pornography use in society. We all suffer negative consequences from its distorted view of the human person and sexuality. As bishops, we are called to proclaim anew the abundant mercy and healing of God found in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and through his Church (USCCB, 2015).
God and His Church are ready to help those who struggle with pornography addiction or are affected by it. No individual or couple needs to fear seeking help from clergy and church personnel. They can help through support, prayer, sacraments, and spiritual direction. They may also be able to direct you to needed resources, such as counselors and recovery groups. The Church truly is a field hospital for those who are hurting!
The Church in her infinite wisdom has always viewed sexuality as a beautiful gift that is reserved for marriage. To use sex in any other way corrupts God’s plan and can only lead to heartache. To learn more about God’s plan for healthy relationships and sexuality, I recommend reading Christopher West’s Theology of the Body. Once you understand the beauty of God’s plan, you won’t want to ever misuse sex!
If you are tired of hurting your relationship with God through repeated pornography use, and you’re ready to get help, click here.