A Clean Heart
An interview about the U.S. bishops’ new pastoral statement on pornography
In November 2015, the U.S. bishops approved a statement titled Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography. Andrew Lichtenwalner, executive director of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke with Fathers for Good editor Brian Caulfield about the statement, which outlines the harms pornography inflicts on individuals, families and culture, and which offers guidance and hope. Lichtenwalner is a member of Sacred Heart Council 2577 in Bowie, Md. For more information, visit usccb.org/cleanheart.
Columbia: Why have the U.S. bishops issued this statement now?
Lichtenwalner: Pornography has always been a challenge, but at no time in history has it been so pervasive and damaging. The Internet and mobile technology make pornography readily available not only at home and at work, but virtually anywhere. It reaches young people and even children in ways never before possible, and some experts have documented its addictive nature. The bishops recognized the serious challenge facing marriages and families, as well as the need for a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ and his mercy.
Columbia: What does the term “pastoral response” mean?
Lichtenwalner: Clean Heart is “pastoral” because the bishops, as pastors (shepherds), wanted the statement “to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms.” It is primarily addressed to Catholic leaders and parents but also seeks to encourage all who need support. Jesus Christ is at the center of the statement, which seeks to point people to his mercy and healing, through his Church, and to the many resources available to help people cultivate the virtue of chastity.
Columbia: How should Catholic families use this statement?
Lichtenwalner: All Catholic parents should read it and take practical steps to protect their home and family. Clean Heart encourages parents to make the home a safe place and an environment of chastity by being vigilant about the use of media and technology, educating themselves about filtering software, and fostering openness and trust with their children. For men who struggle with pornography use, Clean Heart is an encouragement to seek the Lord’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation and get the help they need to fight and win this battle. As the bishops state, “You are not alone in your struggle. ... God’s grace and concrete help are always available. Healing is always possible.”
Columbia: How should pastors introduce the statement to their flocks?
Lichtenwalner: In addition to reading and praying about it themselves, a great way for pastors to introduce the statement is to share it with all their parish ministry leaders, and with the pastoral council, perhaps organizing a time to discuss it together and think about ways the parish can assist those affected by pornography. The statement could be advertised in the bulletin, copies could be made available in the church along with other resources, and prayers for those struggling with pornography could be included in the Prayers of the Faithful during Mass. Priests also should have information that can be shared in the confessional with those facing habitual pornography use or addiction.
Columbia: Given the pervasiveness of pornography, what practical effect will the letter have?
Lichtenwalner: As a statement from the body of bishops, Clean Heart is a decisive reference point and an encouragement for all those battling pornography and seeking freedom from its chains. It is a rallying cry that joins a growing number of religious leaders as well as nonbelievers who agree that pornography hurts women, children and men, damages relationships, and enslaves hearts and minds. Freedom and healing are really possible — one heart, one marriage, one family, one parish at a time. Mercy and healing are available in Christ and through his Church. There are many good initiatives already underway that deserve ongoing support, and Clean Heart is a foundation for further efforts by the USCCB.