The Nation's Pulse

An Industry of Mutual Degradation

A bishop confronts pornography's corrosive influence.

By 6.13.07

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Upon checking into a hotel -- a Marriott, say -- I often wonder if the owners of the establishment patronize the same kind of "adult" movies in their family homes which they routinely offer to the anonymous traveler.

I still find it incongruous that there, in a fine and well-appointed room, usually elegant and refined accommodations, one could, with just a few clicks of the television wand, access a running sewer of pornography. Thus, the hotel proprietor provides what was once commonly referred to as "a near occasion of sin" to his guest.

Such is the world in which we live. Protected by our courts, financed by ever-willing capital, enabled by digital technology, and sanctioned by our cultural elites (except for a few feminists), pornography has become as American as apple pie.

Who among us dares to object? As it turns out, an unassuming man, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has written a pastoral letter on the subject, Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God. The title is from St. Paul: "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (I Cor. 6:19-20)

It is an impassioned, eloquent, and courageous statement in defense of our common humanity and the dangers posed by the "plague" of pornography which has engulfed our culture. Says the Bishop:

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. It has been excused as an outlet for free expression, supported as a business venture, and condoned as just another form of entertainment. It is not widely recognized as a threat to life and happiness. It is not often treated as a destructive addiction. It changes the way men and women treat one another in sometimes dramatic often subtle ways. And it is not going away.

The bishop is moved by the testimony of the priests of his diocese who confront the realities of pornography in the confessional and the testimony of counselors and teachers who treat this affliction in social service agencies, schools, and youth ministries. He is also addressing the concerns of parents and the many religious leaders with whom he works in the Religious Alliance Against Pornography, an interfaith coalition.

Bought With a Price, a very substantive document, examines the current threat of pornography, confronts the numerous rationalizations offered as "cover" for pornographers, and provides specific counsel or guidance "to all Christians, young people, couples, and priests" on how to free themselves from "slavery" to pornography and seek God's forgiveness. While grounded in Catholic theology, its arguments are universal and appeal to anyone who values a well-ordered soul and commonwealth.

The pastoral letter concludes with a wonderful meditation on the gift of sight, conceived of literally and metaphorically, and its final end in seeing the vision of God Himself.

From Bishop Loverde's perspective, a perspective once common throughout Western culture but now almost totally obscured, pornography distorts the truth about human sexuality by reducing sex to a demeaning source of entertainment and profit. It leads to a host of other sexual transgressions.

Moreover, pornography offends against justice by doing injury to all its participants including actors, vendors, and the public. "Everyone involved in the production, distribution, sale, and use of pornography cooperates and, to some degree, makes possible this debasement of others," argues the Bishop. "Indeed, pornography has become a system and an industry of mutual degradation." Despite an ample supply of willing participants, those who produce, sell, and use pornography cannot escape culpability.

Bishop Loverde does not hesitate to characterize pornography as "gravely sinful" and, if engaged in with full knowledge and consent, a "mortal sin." Many churchmen have forgotten how to spell, much less say, these words; but Loverde stands up to the plate and communicates clearly and forthrightly to his flock and to all men and women of good will. He describes with precision the reasons for his strong position.

First, pornography damages the family, "the basic cell of society and the Church," because it tears at the marital bond. It immerses users of pornography in a fantasy world and thus turns a man's attention and affection away from his wife through the creation of "unrealistic and often immoral expectations" for a couple's intimate life. Thus, he approaches his wife "only as a means to his own gratification..."

Pornography also produces a consumerist and licentious view of sexuality, especially of women. Again, as a theological matter, it destroys our perception of reality and "the true vision of God and the beauty of His creation..."

The Bishop of Arlington does not view this as a strictly private matter at all. Given pornography's deleterious impact on women, families, and the character of the nation's citizenry, he does not hesitate to instruct political leaders on their duty:

Public officials have a responsibility to uphold and ennoble the standards of the communities which they serve. Protecting a billion dollar criminal enterprise which destroys the lives of both those depicted in pornography and those intended as audience through the excuse of protecting free speech is not service, but complicity.

Indeed, Bishop Loverde maintains that "Free citizens have the right and the responsibility to form a culture that supports the life and the dignity and nobility of every person." They should demand laws which place "reasonable restrictions" on the depiction of the human body and human intimacy.

In counseling prayer and repentance, as well as prudent steps to avoid temptation, the Bishop believes that every Christian must "live in conformity with the truth of Jesus Christ and to stand apart from those aspects of culture which are contrary to this truth."

Culture is formed by the choices of free people. It is important that we choose morally uplifting and life-affirming pursuits that contribute to the common good and the flourishing of all persons. Within one's capabilities, each person should make every effort to contribute healthy and chaste entertainments that can be shared by all. In the fields of art, literature and music, we must never compromise our own Christian dignity to suit the expectations of a decadent culture.

Displaying uncommon moral realism, Bishop Loverde observes that pornography "is largely, although certainly not exclusively, associated with males." With love and forgiveness, wives must, therefore, be "stern in calling the spouse to return to his true manly vocation of marriage." This same realism moves the Bishop to insist on strict and clear controls on children's use of the Internet. He also offers strong direction to his priests to seek constant spiritual guidance and support "lest we find ourselves being overwhelmed by the very elements we wish to banish."

Bishop Loverde's motto on his coat of arms is ENCOURAGE AND TEACH WITH PATIENCE (2 Tim. 4:2). Bought With a Price is evidence that this shepherd very much practices what he preaches.

Mr. Marriott, call your office.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.