Pastors, parish workers are often the first people addicts look to for help, so archdiocese is offering training on how they can do that

DETROIT — It’s a conversation that needs to happen, but nobody wants to have it.

An estimated 80 to 90 percent of men ages 18 to 34 view pornography daily or weekly. This includes Catholics, whether parishioners and pastors want to admit it or not.

Understanding the magnitude of the problem, pastors and pastoral associates will gather June 13 for a one-day conference to learn how they can discuss, minister and offer tools to help Catholics break free of the addiction.

“The Porn Problem for Marriages and Families” is a one-day workshop at Sacred Heart Major Seminary for priests, deacons, pastoral associates, directors of religious education, principals and teachers. 

The workshop is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Marriage and Family Life, which will feature Hope Ray, a Christian-based certified sex addiction therapist, and Ryan Foley, vice president of business development for Covenant Eyes, an Owosso-based company that develops software to encourage internet search accountability and other online protections.

The conference will focus on how pastors and pastoral associates can prevent children and dissuade adults from viewing pornography and how to minister to those struggling with porn addiction.

“Clergy and lay ministers are often the first face on the battle lines against pornography,” Rey told Detroit Catholic in an interview. “They are the boots on the ground when the person is hurting or their partner is hurting because they know a person struggling with this issue.”

“Clergy and lay ministers are often the first face on the battle lines against pornography,” Ray told Detroit Catholic in an interview. “They are the boots on the ground when the person is hurting or their partner is hurting because they know a person struggling with this issue.”

Ray will talk about how addiction to pornography causes severe psychological harm and will help pastors recognize when viewing pornography evolves into addiction where further psychological care is necessary.

“There are psychological changes that take place in a person when viewing pornography is habitualized. It constitutes a more addictive or compulsive situation,” Ray said. “Those situations often require therapeutic treatment along with spiritual support or guidance from clergy.

“Clergy are the first face of the crisis for people,” Ray continued. “They are the ones people who are struggling go to first. There are resources out there for people who need further assessment, if it becomes a deeper addiction.”

Pornography use affects an estimated 80 to 90 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 34, including Catholics, yet many pastors and confessors lack the knowledge or resources to offer effective help, says Ryan Foley, vice president of Covenant Eyes, which offers internet accountability resources for families and individuals.

Pornography is more than a sin of the flesh, but a true psychological threat to the mental well-being of parishioners, a threat that must be addressed with mercy, compassion and treatment, Ray said.

“Our culture today wants to downplay pornography, but research tell us it has the same impact on people as drugs,” Ray said. “When culture downplays these effects, the attitude around pornography changes, so pastors need to have the tools necessary to care for someone struggling with addiction.”

Just as it is important for pastors to care for those struggling with pornography addiction, getting out ahead of the problem is also critical. During the conference, Foley will present on measures to prevent addiction in the first place.

Covenant Eyes is a software that blocks websites with pornographic material and creates reports on user internet usage to dissuade individuals from viewing harmful material. The reports are sent to a user-chosen friend, family member or partner to create a culture of accountability.

Foley said 23 dioceses around the country already have sponsored “Safe Haven Sundays,” when pastors preach on pornography and parishioners can sign up for Covenant Eyes after Mass to create a culture of accountability in their own families.

“My talk will be on the impact pornography has on children and the family, the impact it has on marriage and ways that Covenant Eyes can help the Church,” Foley said. “The conference is an opportunity for priests to come and learn about making an investment in Covenant Eyes on behalf of the Church, a chance to consolidate resources on pornography and solutions to better educate people.”

It's up to pastors and parents to educate young people on the dangers of pornography — because if they don’t, society will, Foley said.

“The reality is that pornography is altering people’s view of sex,” Foley said. “Sex is more than enjoying self-expression or personal fulfillment, but it is about reproducing and expressing intimacy. That is a view that is diminished through pornography. We are in a time when pornography is becoming a steward for sexuality.”

“The reality is that pornography is altering people’s view of sex,” Foley said. “Sex is more than enjoying self-expression or personal fulfillment, but it is about reproducing and expressing intimacy. That is a view that is diminished through pornography. We are in a time when pornography is becoming a steward for sexuality. As a Church, all the issues of annulments, adultery and abuse are really downstream of this problem. And as a Church, we’re not suited to do the preventive side of things.”

Foley will propose ways for pastors and associates to approach Church teachings on sexuality and when it is appropriate to discuss topics that might seem uncomfortable at first.

“It’s about early education, introducing people to the truth about their bodies, teaching them what they are not being taught from secular society,” Foley said. “The intimacy that is involved with sex, the idea of your body being a gift, these are issues we can discuss during sacramental prep time, along with the idea that we are becoming holy and getting closer to God.

“Ultimately, the silver bullet is the relationships in the family, the conversations that take place in the family,” Foley continued. “The more kids feel considered in the family, the more they share about their struggles, their ideas, the more families can heal. That is how we break down the shame involved. It’s how we hold people accountable: sharing our struggles and being there to support one another.”

If you go

  • Title: The Porn Problem for Marriages and Families: Understanding, Safeguarding and Helping
  • Where: Sacred Heart Major Seminary, 2701 Chicago Blvd., Detroit
  • When: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, June 13
  • For whom: Priests, deacons, pastoral associates, directors of religious education, youth and young adult ministers, Christian service coordinators, administrative staff, Catholic school principals and teachers
  • Cost: $15, includes lunch
  • Register: https://thepornproblem.eventbrite.com 

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