Pastoral Letter on Pornography

Doug Culp

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a formal statement, entitled “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” on Nov. 17, 2015, at its annual Fall General Assembly in Baltimore. The statement, which was developed under the direction of Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, was approved by the full body of bishops 230 to 4, with one abstention.

According to press releases from the USCCB, the statement represents a response to what Bishop Malone describes as “the pastoral crisis brought about by the production and use of pornography.” Bishop Malone said, “virtually everyone is affected by pornography in some way. So many people – including within the Church – are in need of Christ’s abundant mercy and healing. My hope is that the statement can serve as a foundation and catalyst for increased pastoral attention to this challenge at the national and local level.”

The Basics

The primary purpose of “Create in Me a Clean Heart” is to both provide words of “hope and healing” to the victims of pornography, and raise awareness about pornography’s all-encompassing reach and negative impact. The statement is addressed primarily to parents, clergy, diocesan and parish leaders, educators, mental health professionals and everyone else in a position to “help protect children from pornography and heal the men, women and young people who have been harmed by its use.”

The statement is organized according to the following topics:

  • An overview of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, the human person and chastity
  • An explanation of why pornography is sinful and harmful
  • A survey of the wide-reaching effects of pornography in our culture
  • An examination of the effects of pornography on men, women, young people and children
  • A word of hope and healing to those harmed by pornography
  • An appendix with a link to targeted resources for particular audiences

The complete text of the statement is available at www.usccb.org/cleanheart. This page also includes the list of resources referenced by the appendix of the statement, including resources for support groups and recovery programs; advice for those dealing with family members struggling with pornography; and Internet filtering tools to block pornographic content.

The Highlights

While everyone should take the time to read the statement in its entirety (it is only 28 pages with the footnotes), here are some of the highlights:

The human person and her/his vocation:

“God created the human person, male and female, in his image and likeness, as the crown of creation. Every one of us is a gift, with the inviolable dignity of a person.”

“We, and therefore our bodies, are not meant to be used but loved.”

The moral reality of pornography:

“Pornography can never be justified and is always wrong.”

“Pornography participates in and furthers what Pope Francis has condemned as a ‘throwaway culture’ where things and people are used and discarded.”

“All pornography exploits both the persons portrayed and the viewer and is devoid of love and relationship.”

The role of the Church and the “Way of Freedom”:

“The Church as a field hospital is called to proclaim the truth of the human person in love, to protect people – especially children – from pornography, and to provide the Lord’s mercy and healing for those wounded by pornography.”


The Definition

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2354) defines pornography in this way:

“Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world.”

Pervasiveness of Pornography

64% of men view pornography monthly*

12.5% of all searches online are for erotic content**

20% of all searches on mobile devices are for pornography**

93% of boys are exposed to pornography before 18 years of age**

62% of girls are exposed to pornography before 18 years of age**

* ProvenMen.org Pornography Addiction Survey (2014) conducted by Barna Group (cf. footnote 62 of bishops’ statement)

** Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/