By Tommy O'Donnell
In their recent pastoral letter, "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography Use," the U.S. Catholic bishops present authentic love as being rooted in generosity, and they explain how a society that knows how to love authentically is built on chastity and mercy.
The sin of pornography turns the user inward on the self. He or she pursues self-gratification rather than generous or self-giving actions. Those who are trapped by pornography start to lose their capacity for healthy human relationships of all kinds. Many even become addicted. In an increasingly individualistic and fragmented society, pornography use increases isolation between individuals and degrades communities. The bishops note that no one can avoid the ripple effect of this sin: "We all suffer negative consequences from its distorted view of the human person and sexuality" (1).
"The Church as a field hospital is called to proclaim the truth of the human person in love" (19). Pornography clashes against this truth. As the bishops emphasize, pornography endangers souls and threatens the fabric of relationships. A society turned inward is a society that forgets how to love. A society that has forgotten how to love struggles to be able or willing to care for the most vulnerable among us: the hungry, the sick, the unborn, the elderly.
Since pornography "promotes and even celebrates promiscuity and a view of sexuality devoid of love or openness to new life," it is "implicated in contraception use and abortion" (9). As the bishops note, it also has links with sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, which harm the dignity and lives of countless men, women, and children around the world (11). Cultivating the virtue of chastity means learning to love others with a clean heart, one that refuses to objectify or use them in any way. It is "long and exacting work," but it is a powerful antidote to self-centeredness, individualism, and a throw-away society that objectifies and exploits others, especially the weak (5).
To all who are harmed by pornography, the bishops proclaim: "Jesus is with you, and the Church offers you love and support. Trust in and be led by the Holy Spirit. The Lord's mercy and forgiveness are abundant!" (26). We receive God's merciful gift of himself in Jesus Christ, the face of the Father's mercy. Jesus is "the way of freedom" who restores our ability to love with a clean heart (20).
As Pope Francis writes: "In mercy, we find proof of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing in return. … He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us. Day after day, touched by his compassion, we also can become compassionate towards others" (Misericordiae Vultus, 14). This Lent, may we turn outward, away from all selfishness and self-gratification. May we open ourselves to God's mercy. May we love others with a clean heart, caring first, not last, for the hungry and the sick, the unborn and the elderly, the afflicted and the doubtful—all those in need of love and mercy.
Be sure to read the words of mercy that the bishops offer to all people affected by pornography at www.usccb.org/cleanheart.
Tommy O'Donnell is a Staff Assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops' pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.