Seven years into his addiction to online porn, John wrote to tell me of his struggles. His addiction began when he misspelled a word in an online search and was taken to a hardcore porn site. When I received his letter, he was nineteen. If anything, his exposure to pornography at the age of twelve was later than some: studies reveal our children’s first exposure is even younger.

With the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wonder what we are saying to John and his female peers. I wonder what our decision to objectify women in situations of sexual violence—and to support the industry which fuels it—says about us and about our society? Though by the entertainment industry’s standards this movie is not classified as pornographic, it normalizes the intertwining of sex and violence, that old pornographic standby.

I have not had the privilege of a sheltered life. As a young priest and campus minister in the ’70s, I saw the early fruit of the sexual revolution: broken relationships, devaluation of sexual union, and rising divorce rates. In the lives of those I served, I saw prolonged adolescence, rising numbers of fatherless children, more addictions, and isolation. I listened, counseled, and tried to listen some more.

With the dawn of the Internet, we awoke almost overnight to new dangers. Men began to chase online fantasies through progressively more explicit images, ones in which men were violent and controlling of female subjects. Virtual fantasies now broke apart real marriages, careers, and families. Wives stumbled upon their husband’s online history. Young adults lost their jobs viewing porn online at work. Children imitated what they saw in adults and began “sexting” one another—the end result of which was suicide in several cases.

By the mid-2000s, I was fed up with the silence surrounding this issue. In 2006, I wrote Bought with a Price, a pastoral letter aimed at empowering men and women to protect themselves and their children from porn. Since publishing that letter, I have been welcomed into many lives. Victims and addicts often share their stories with me—through letters and conversations. So too, many have confided their stories of hard-won freedom in overcoming addiction.

With each new victim’s face, name and story, I find the $97-billion-a-year global porn industry less anonymous. The Internet and cable TV providers—the “white collar pornographers” who guarantee 24/7 access to porn in our homes—strike me as more culpable.

It troubles me that many adults will watch Fifty Shades of Grey. My greater concern, though, is for the children like John whose entire moral ecosystem will be marred by the cultural mainstreaming of porn. I suppose we have the option of shrugging our shoulders, ignoring it, or cracking a joke. But I challenge every adult to reflect on this cultural moment from the perspective of a father or mother of young children.

Anyone listening to Pope Francis has heard his call to resist unjust social conditions and go to the margins: to the poor, weak, and defenseless in our “throwaway culture” marked by a “globalization of indifference.”

At the margins, I see twelve-year-old John fighting an addiction he did not seek. I see our daughters and sisters and wives viewed as objects for pleasure, victimized, and even trafficked. And I see a predatory porn industry that is nothing short of euphoric over these developments.

“There’s a greater sense of optimism,” a leader in the porn industry was quoted as saying earlier this year. “I believe the companies that have stood the test of time . . . have figured out a way to stay viable. I would say it’s a new era for the industry.”

It is most certainly a new era. The time has come to join our children at the margins and to defund the industries that prey so viciously and unjustly upon them.

The choice before us is stark. It is anything but grey.

Paul S. Loverde is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. His pastoral letter on pornography, Bought with a Price, is available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity.

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Articles by Paul S. Loverde

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