Bishop warns of pornography's assault on dignity
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Calling people to be single-hearted in their love, Bishop Robert W. Finn outlined steps and pledged the resources of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to help people overcome the evil and pervasiveness of pornography and reconcile themselves to God.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Bishop Robert W. Finn discusses "Blessed Are the Pure in Heart: A Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography," released on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 21.
In the first pastoral letter written by a Kansas City-St. Joseph bishop in nearly 22 years, Bishop Finn on Ash Wednesday released "Blessed Are the Pure in Heart: A Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography."
The last diocesan pastoral letter was Bishop John J. Sullivan's "The Eucharist - Bread of Life for the World," issued in August 1985.
"Blessed Are the Pure in Heart" is published in English in its entirety as a special section in this edition of The Catholic Key. It will also be published in Spanish and in Vietnamese.
Bishop Finn told The Catholic Key that he wrote his first pastoral at the request of the diocesan Anti-Pornography Task Force that he established in 2005.
"I have taken my lead from the efforts of a lot of faithful people in the diocese who have been building a multi-faceted strategy to help people in regards to pornography," Bishop Finn said.
He cautioned, however, against "reading too much" into the fact that his first pastoral focused on pornography, or that the entire focus is on the sin of pornography.
In fact, he said, the pastoral letter is part of a theme of his episcopacy to uphold human dignity, to reconcile people to God and to build holiness within the people of God.
"Pornography is a symptom of the loss of the dignity of the human person," he told The Key. "It is a mortal sin to look at pictures of other persons with the idea to give yourself sexual gratification. That is a serious misuse of our sexuality."
But rather than simply condemning the sin, Bishop Finn's 11,000-word pastoral also reaches out to those who use pornography. The pastoral lists ways for them to become reconciled and "pure of heart," building its themes from the "Theology of the Body" teachings of the late Pope John Paul II.
Bishop Finn closed the pastoral with words of hope to those addicted to pornography: "If you remember just one sentence from this letter let it be this: Never despair of God's mercy."
Bishop Finn noted that the Anti-Pornography Task Force has established a support group, modeled after 12-step programs, to assist men in breaking an addiction to pornography. The support group, which respects the confidentiality of those seeking help, can be reached toll free at (800) 246-1850, ext. 495.
Thus far, the group exists for men. There are plans to add a group for women.
The pastoral letter also urges Catholics to tap into the power of prayer and the sacraments, particularly frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist, in order to break the cycle of pornography use and build the spiritual graces and strength to resist future temptation.
"Use of pornography is a serious sin against chastity and the dignity of the human person," Bishop Finn wrote in "Blessed Are the Pure in Heart."
"It robs us of sanctifying grace, separates us from the vision of God and from the goodness of others, and leaves us spiritually empty," he wrote. "Attraction to pornography and its gratifications is a false 'love' that leads to increasing emotional isolation, loneliness and subsequent sexual acting-out with self and others.
"It depends on the exploitation of other persons: frequently, the desperate or poor, or the innocent young," he continued. "Use of pornography has cost persons their jobs, their marriages and their families. Traffickers in child pornography may end up in prison. It has often been associated with and has contributed to acts of sexual violence and abuse."
Bishop Finn told The Catholic Key that access to pornography has become easier with every advance in communications technology.
"It's so easy," he said. "At no extra cost, in 10 seconds anyone can find pornography on any computer. Anyone who has a connection to the Internet has a real connection to pornography."
Holding up his own cellular telephone with a viewing screen, Bishop Finn said that such hand-held devices also offer portable access to online pornography as well as the ability to make, distribute, receive and store sexually explicit images.
Bishop Finn said he doesn't condemn communications technology, only the misuse of it to degrade the human person.
He also told The Catholic Key that his pastoral does not focus on legislative remedies against pornography. Instead, he said, the pastoral responds to the multi-billion dollar worldwide pornography industry by seeking to build the virtues of chastity and purity within each person.
"You could do legislative initiatives and try to do away with pornography, and if that's somebody's expertise, they should use it," he said. "I am trying to teach chastity and purity so people won't be slaves to this addiction."
Bishop Finn said the encyclical "Blessed Are the Pure in Heart" took shape over four months in consultation with the members of the diocesan task force, priests and other experts including a friend who practices psychiatry.
He said that "God willing" it will not be the last pastoral letter he writes as bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
"The bishop has a role of teaching," he told The Catholic Key. "The pastoral letter provides an opportunity to do that in depth on a particular topic."
"In a world where we live in sound bites and headlines, I've tried to give an in-depth examination of this topic - what is the problem, how it is a problem and how it hurts us by separating us from where God intends us to be, and how it hurts our dignity."