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How can priests combat pornography epidemic?

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Clergy can get training to help those who are addicted
By Mary Rezac


Photo: Father Sean Kilcawley.

Online pornography is one of the fastest growing addictions in the United States, on par with cocaine and gambling.

That’s why Father Sean Kilcawley, the program directory and theological adviser for pornography ministry Integrity Restored, has started offering intensive training for clergy, providing them resources and practical tips for how to address the growing crisis of pornography addiction.

For intensive training, Father Kilcawley takes a dozen or so priests for 3 to 4 days and immerses them in resources and training for the porn-addicted in their fold. He also facilitates shorter, one-day conferences.

“We try to equip the priest to get that person to come talk to them outside of confession, just to bring that into the light, so that the priest can then become the first responder in the field hospital of the church,” Father Kilcawley told CNA.

Father Kilcawley tackles the subject from an anthropological and theological standpoint, while Dr. Todd Bowman, a Christian psychologist and director of the SATP Institute, addresses the issue from a psychological viewpoint. The institute offers a sexual addiction treatment certificate from a Christian perspective for clergy and therapists.

Preventative action
Practical things priests can do to address pornography addiction generally fall into two categories: preventative and interventional, Father Kilcawley noted.

One of the key things is to ensure that parents in the parish are provided with education and resources they need for pornography prevention in the home.

“We’ve always said that it’s the parent’s job to educate their children, but as a Church we haven’t done a great job teaching the parents how to educate their children,” Father Kilcawley said.

Studies show the average age of first exposure to pornography is 8 years old. “We now live in a world where it's no longer optional to have those conversations.”

He recommends parishes hold mandatory meetings for parents of children who are either receiving the sacraments or religious education at the parish, where they can give parents an overview of Theology of the Body, as well as tips and resources for Internet safety and how to address pornography.

It can be especially difficult to know how to talk about such a mature topic with such a young age group. However, several books have been written in the past several years to help parents know where to begin, Father Kilcawley said, and some parishes hand them out during meetings with parents.

When someone confesses viewing porn, Father Kilcawley said one of the best things a priest can do is to ask a few guiding questions to help them make a good confession.

“Ask questions like, ‘How frequently do you fall into porn and masturbation in general?’” Father Kilcawley said. The question is not meant to pry – it helps determine whether the person needs additional help.

It’s also helpful to ask when the problem started, since it commonly begins before puberty. “Almost everyone who started before puberty is going to need extra help stopping; they might need counseling or group support, and spiritual direction,” he said.

A third question to ask would be if they’ve tried to remove porn from their life.

Finally, Father Kilcawley advised priests in the confessional, ask them if they want to stop.
“Just to help them make a good firm purpose of amendment,” he said, adding that when they answer yes, that’s a good opportunity to offer them more resources.

But it’s important that the help be personal. Simply handing the person a flyer and telling them to call a therapist or a group typically doesn’t work, he noted.

The don’ts
A mistake often made by untrained clergy in pornography addiction ministry is that they may suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that a pornography addiction is the fault of the spouse.

“It’s not the spouse’s lack of sexual interest that’s to blame for her husband’s sexual addiction,” Dr. Bowman said. Addicted persons will often try “blame shifting,” he added, which creates “a spiritual crisis that compounds the betrayal trauma” of the spouse.

The next mistake clergy could make would be to minimize the impact of the addiction on the spouse. Most people who find out their spouse has a sex addiction will experience varying levels of feelings of betrayal, Dr. Bowman said.

Not on the fringe
The biggest cardinal mistake that clergy can make in regards to pornography addiction ministry is never mentioning it, Dr. Bowman said.

It may be helpful for priests to view this as part of evangelization, and not as a fringe ministry, Father Kilcawley said, because very likely, someone who is stuck in addiction is unable to have a good relationship with the Lord.

“We live in a culture where statistically, about half of Christians report looking at porn at least monthly,” Father Kilcawley said.

“So if that’s the case then, yeah we need a lot more (pornography ministry). It’s not a ministry for a few people, it’s more of a ministry for everyone.”

Some of Father Kilcawley's recommended books can be found online. One of Father Kilcawley’s recommended books is Good Pictures Bad Pictures, a read-aloud picture book that helps parents address the issue with very young children. Starting at the Grade 4 level, Father Kilcawley recommends the book Wonderfully Made! Babies, which puts the content within the context of Theology of the Body and the sacrament of marriage.

For junior high and high school levels, he recommends Plunging Pornography, a book to leave in the bathroom for teens to find that can serve as a conversation starter. Father Kilcawley said in some parishes groups like the Knights of Columbus have paid for some of these books to be handed out to every parent.

He also recommends Internet filters like Covenant Eyes, which sponsors a special service for parents, parishes and schools.


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