Women religious and clergymen applaud Nov. 16 during the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.

CNS PHOTO | BOB ROLLER

Women religious and clergymen applaud Nov. 16 during the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.

December 7, 2015
MARK PATTISON
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Pornography is "an industry of sin," the U.S. bishops say in a statement maintaining that both producing and using pornography is "gravely wrong."

"It is a mortal sin if it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent," says the statement, Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography, approved at the bishops' meeting in Baltimore Nov. 17.

"This sin needs the Lord's forgiveness and should be confessed within the sacrament of penance and reconciliation," it says.

Not only is pornography sinful, it is also a big business. "Estimates of revenue stretch easily into the billions of dollars every year. The pornography industry is aggressive, savvy and regulated only sporadically," the statement said.

"Other businesses, such as hotel chains, cable companies and drugstores, profit greatly from the widespread use of pornography and contribute to its accessibility."

That pervasiveness leads to negative effects on people and society, says the statement. "Those who produce and distribute pornography harm the common good by encouraging and even causing others to sin."

Create in Me a Clean Heart says, "There are many victims of pornography. Every person portrayed in it is beloved by God our Father and is someone's daughter or son.

"All child pornography is automatically trafficking and a crime, because it involves the sexual exploitation of a minor for commercial gain and it is against the child's will due to the inability to give consent."

The statement, prepared by the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, was approved at the bishops' fall general meeting.

It noted, "Many people struggle with pornography use, including faithful Catholics, people of faith, people of no faith, married and single people, fathers and mothers, the young and the old, clergy and those in consecrated life."

In presenting the document to the bishops, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the committee that prepared it, described pornography as a "dark shadow in our world today."

SINISTER CONSUMPTION

It is a "particularly sinister instance of consumption" whereby men, women and children "are consumed for the pleasure of others, "Malone said.

Using the penitential Psalm 51 for the title, the statement says: "In the confessional and in our daily ministry, 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."

It notes pornography has "always been a problem" but over the years its impact has grown "exponentially."

The statement borrows from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to define it: "Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties.

"It offends against chastity. . . . It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants."

The bishops said the so-called divide between soft and hard-core pornography is artificial. "All pornography is harmful and wrong, while the effects on a person may vary on the intensity of the content. Pornography is not art."

It adds, "Pornography can never be justified and it is always wrong."

The statement also links pornography to other sins, "especially masturbation. Masturbation, which is deliberate, erotic stimulation often to the point of orgasm, commonly occurs together with pornography use.

"While popular culture largely sees it as acceptable, masturbation is always gravely contrary to chastity and the dignity of one's body."

It notes pornography's pervasiveness: "Erotic, oversexualized, and pornographic images are more present in American society than ever before. . . .

"Mainstream entertainment itself has become hypersexualized. Novels that at one time would have been classified as 'erotica' are mainstream, to say nothing of the overtly sexual romance novel genre."

Video games, music lyrics, music videos and clothing are also oversexualized, it adds.

THE MALE BRAIN

"Men are particularly susceptible to pornography because the male brain is strongly drawn to sexual images, a kind of 'visual magnetism' aggressively exploited by the pornography industry," it says, adding it can lead to addiction.

Women "use pornography for similar reasons as men," it says, and are told wrongly that "using pornography is liberating for them."

Pornography filters down to younger people, accounting for the rise of "sexting," sexually explicit text messages "associated with other risky sexual behaviours."

Such behaviours include "greater risk of getting pregnant as a teenager - or impregnating someone - or contracting an STI," a sexually transmitted infection.

In one section of the 32-page text, those who use pornography are urged to turn away from it and to recommit their lives to Christ.

TURN AWAY FROM SIN

To those who produce pornography, the statement says, "The Lord, in his great mercy and justice, is calling you to turn away from your sins and follow him.

"If you are also - or have been - engaged in criminal exploitation, we urge you to report your action and to hand yourself over to civil authorities. God can use your previous mistakes to help others."

It tells men and women who use pornography to "ask for forgiveness. Many good people struggle with this sin. You are not alone; there is always hope!"

The statement advises those harmed by their spouse's pornography use to "seek solace in prayer, in receiving the sacraments, and in eucharistic adoration."

While "anger at your spouse is natural and often justified," it makes a suggestion to "set clear boundaries if possible, such as installing an online monitoring program, clearing the home of any pornography, taking care of your own health, and refusing to be used as an excuse for your spouse's pornography use."