Rape has been shown to be proportionately higher in U.S. states with higher porn sales and lower in states with lower sales, said Sister Weber, which should propel educators, especially those involved in religious formation, to prioritize the understanding of its addictive nature.
“Addictions are often accompanied by feelings of restlessness, depression, loneliness, and low self-worth. Pornography can be an easy fix because it can mask distressing thoughts. It may seem a pleasure-seeking behaviour, but it really stems from a need to suppress or avoid emotional pain.
“Addiction is an escape from reality, from something that is either too full of sadness such as an abusive relationship, or too devoid of joy, like an emotionally empty life. Users become desensitized to on-line sex and heightened sexual intensity is needed to achieve the desired level of arousal.
“Computer-enabled fantasies are highly reinforcing. The association of the Internet with sexual arousal can be so potent that going on the Internet for any reason triggers it. The habit develops into a compulsion.”
At this stage, said Sister Weber, users don’t even care they are jeopardizing careers or relationships.
“This online fantasy life produces an altered state of consciousness associated with tension reduction and relieved feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression. Compulsive Internet pornographic behaviour is driven largely by tension and agitation, much like an alcoholic is driven to drink at a moment of excessive stress. The downward spiral only ends, often, when the activity is discovered.”
Like everyone else, said Sister Weber, clergy can be addicted to pornography to avoid life’s complications and responsibilities.
“The addiction experience feels overwhelming and stronger than the will power necessary to stop,” she said.
In a pastoral letter entitled Blessed are the Pure in Heart, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City – St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote, “Pornography violates truth. It leads people into a world of unreality, a world of fantasy that isolates them from other people and the commitment and respect which should govern our relationships.”
Since 2004, Bishop Finn has involved his diocese in a comprehensive anti-porn educational strategy including founding groups where men can foster the chaste development of themselves and their families. It’s important to have a support system, he said, “for people struggling with this temptation which, in some cases, is a serious addiction.” The groups are also there to be a help to the pastor “because we want each pastor to have a go-to person.”
Educational programs are crucial, said Sister Weber, to helping priests and religious avoid spiritual dissipation and vocational distress and to fortify them to live chastely.
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Both Bishop Finn and Bishop Paul Loverde, of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, have offered ways to empower people, including clergy, to embrace health and a chaste lifestyle. This includes frequently participating in the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and reconciliation and committing to daily prayer and exercising virtue, said Sister Weber.
“We also must recognize the impact of worldly thinking, especially attitudes about sexuality. We must study examples of holy and virtuous men and women, pray, and receive the sacraments frequently.”
Teaching human communication skills builds fraternity, Sister Weber added, and human formation programs should be available even before a candidate enters a seminary.
“Studies show that most religious and priestly vocations encounter crises within the first five years, and 10 to 15 per cent of priests leave ministry before their fifth anniversary. New priests need mature priests willing to mentor and accompany them through the times of doubt and distress so they can continue an effective, healthy ministry. Make sure the spiritual formation of priests is ongoing,” said Sister Weber.
Electronic media addiction, she pointed out, is a threat to the spiritual life because it limits the amount of time for the reflection and prayer needed to strengthen it.
“Think of the hours spent talking on cell phones, listening to and answering voice mail, responding to pagers, Blackberries, and palm pilots, and plugged into iPods. The need to respond to all these messages can ratchet up our anxiety response, saturate the senses, and make us want to back away from the things of the spiritual life.