Purity of heart and pornography on the Internet

Porn is a problem. Our Lord Jesus promised us that “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8), and that “anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5:28). The Sixth Commandment, which Jesus clearly endorsed, tells us, “You shall not commit adultery,” which is understood broadly to forbid all sexual gratification outside of the committed conjugal relations of husband and wife. The Ninth Commandment, which says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” tells us to not even think about doing it, which is come to think of it what Jesus was telling us.

In our sex-crazed culture, many politicians and celebrities have a problem with marital fidelity. But I think it’s fair to say that many an average Joe have a problem with Internet porn. Yet, as Psalm 24 says, “Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false” (Ps 24:3-4).

Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph wrote a Pastoral Letter for Lent three years ago entitled “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart,” on internet porn, which is no less pertinent today. He documents “the steady increase of pornography in our culture,” to the point of a plague or “epidemic attacking human dignity.” “Well beyond magazines, [pornography] is widespread on the internet, television, movies and videos, and now on cell phones and other handheld devices, many of which are marketed to children and youth.” “Use of internet pornography is perhaps the fastest growing addiction in the world.”

The purity pastoral, available on the internet at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=7438andrepos=1andsubrepos=0andsearchid=586180, explains how “use of pornography is a serious sin against chastity and the dignity of the human person” because it treats others as objects to use or enjoy rather than as persons to love.

“Attraction to pornography and its gratifications,” Bishop Finn writes, “is a false ‘love’ that leads to increasing emotional isolation, loneliness and sexual acting-out with self and others. It depends on the exploitation of other persons: Frequently the desperate or poor, or the innocent young. Use of pornography has cost persons their jobs, their marriages and families. Traffickers in Child Pornography may end up in prison. It has often been associated with, and has contributed to, acts of sexual violence and abuse.”

In addition to documenting the problem with porn, and its exponential growth on the Internet, the pastoral letter contains a number of practical suggestions for people struggling with exposure and even addiction to pornography. He recommends recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, because it is a source of spiritual healing. Use of pornography is, objectively considered, gravely sinful and damages people, relationships, families, and careers.

He urges “avoiding secretive or enticing environments,” inviting someone to monitor our computer, installing a filter. “At home, a computer should be located in the open rather than in the private room.” He urges “eliminating pornographic materials: Destroy the videos, throw out the photos and magazines, cancel the problematic cable or satellite channels.”

He also recommends good advice for everyone in striving for virtue: “Being good stewards of our time, knowing our weaknesses, developing a plan to grow holy as a disciple.” This latter involves committing to daily prayer, more frequent Mass and Holy Communion, daily examination of conscience and frequent confession, spiritual reading, and awareness of the presence of God.

Bishop Finn ends his timely and important pastoral by quoting St. Benedict, who in his Rule wrote, “Never despair of God’s mercy.” “The most serious temptation anyone can face is to doubt the reality of God’s love and mercy. While we can never presume on that mercy, we must never let go of that most powerful and life-giving hope....If you remember just one sentence from this letter let it be this: ‘Never despair of God’s mercy.’” God, have mercy on us. “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10).

Dwight G. Duncan is a professor at Southern New England School of Law. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.