By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
According to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls are exposed to internet pornography before age 18.
“It’s no longer if they are exposed anymore, it’s when,” said Marianne Agnoli, marriage and family life coordinator for the Diocese of Davenport.
The diocese hosted a presentation, “Don’t Look Now: How to Help Individuals and Families Combat Pornography,” Oct. 22 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Participants included Bishop Thomas Zinkula, clergy, school administrators, and parish and diocesan lay ministers.
“This is tough to think about and talk about, but that’s why we’re here,” said Deacon Chris Kabat, a member of the diocesan Marriage and Family Life Advisory Committee. Deacon Kabat led the presentation alongside Agnoli.
After opening prayer, participants viewed “Over 18,” a documentary film about pornography and how it affects kids, youths, parents and porn stars. The non-religious film featured personal testimonies. Some of the interviewees were in support of the industry as a whole, while others spoke about the negative effects pornography had on their lives, from depression to a condition known as Pornography Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED).
Afterward, Deacon Kabat asked participants for their thoughts on the documentary. Observing the somber expressions in the crowd, he acknowledged, “It’s tough to watch.”
Kent Ferris, director of the diocesan Social Action Office, said pornography “is clearly an extreme, direct violation of human dignity.”
Agnoli and Deacon Kabat explained that it is relatively easy to develop an addiction to pornography due to its effect on dopamine levels in the brain. The effects of heroin and pornography on the brain are similar. Deacon Kabat explained that both “give you that high, then the crash. It takes harder stuff to get that high.”
The approach to combating pornography is multifaceted. The first step is to start a conversation, whether at home or in the parish environment. It’s important for youths to know why pornography is dangerous; it isn’t enough to tell them not to view it. Resources are available for men and women in a variety of formats. A list of recommended resources is available at www.davenportdiocese.org/pornography-awareness.
The presenters said that because children are generally first exposed to internet pornography before puberty, it is never too early to start addressing it. The book “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” is written specifically for younger children to help them understand. Two versions of the book are available, for younger and for older children. Spanish versions are also available.
In addition to the educational element, families can take steps to reduce temptation in the household by setting ground rules and using filtering software.
Deacon Kabat, who has three sons, suggested setting rules for electronic device usage in the home. Although children and teens might not like it, “It’s just like any rule in the house. Parents need to know that it’s okay for them to be mad at you, especially if it’s saving them from something like (porn).”
Families can block pornographic websites from select devices through the software program “Covenant Eyes.” This software keeps logs of internet usage, so if something slips through it can be identified. A monthly fee is involved but Covenant Eyes allows families who cannot afford the fee to use the software for free.
Concluding the presentation, Deacon Kabat emphasized the importance of acknowledging God’s grace when dealing with people who struggle with pornography.
Julia Camilletti, youth minister of St. Wenceslaus Parish-Iowa City, attended the presentation with her 2-month-old son in tow. At times she became emotional, thinking about the temptations her son will face as he grows up and her responsibility to help him deal with these temptations.
“I’m thankful that this workshop gave so many practical ways to approach the topic of pornography with kids and the youths we minister to. I think that if we have open conversations with our kids from a young age, once we all get over the initial awkwardness, they’ll feel a sense of safety knowing they can come to a parent to say ‘I saw a bad picture at my friend’s house’ or ‘I was online and a bad picture popped up.’ The truth is, I don’t want Google to teach my son about sex. If I let that happen, he will have an utterly distorted version of the beauty that it is. We have to talk about it.”
Father Jim Betzen, C.PP.S., pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish-Ottumwa, attended the presentation with Lisa Canny, one of the parish’s religious education directors. “In my 37 years of priesthood, parishioners have come to me for counseling about addiction to pornography or being married to someone who is addicted to pornography. With pornography available on all devices that use the internet, there are many people addicted to pornography. … The strong message in the workshop is that all are victims to pornography, the ones who produce it, the ones who consume it and those who live with pornography addicts.”
Father Dan Dorau, parochial vicar of Divine Mercy Parish-Burlington, attended the presentation. “When you consider the obvious consequences to a person’s life by the use of pornography —physically, socially and especially spiritually — it is a travesty that so few think this is a problem. I appreciate that the diocese is willing to help us learn about this cultural plague that continues to spread under the cover of ‘acceptable behavior.’ I pray we can wake up before it is too late.”