Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pornography, electronic media and priestly formation

This article in the April issue of the Homiletics and Pastoral Review by Sr. Marysa Weber (a physician certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology) is well worth the read. Sr. Weber details the ways in which pornographic addiction on the Internet develops, the harm it causes, and also brings in St. Thomas Aquinas in a discussion of sloth. Her contention is that the ultimate result of addiction to pornography is sloth (which might seem counterintuitive, but is not. See also the discussion of sloth that I posted in Lent from Dorothy Sayer's treatment of the Seven Deadly Sins).
While electronic media can provide useful information, media used solely for pleasure or the reception of information can foster a posture of passivity. When passive reception of sensual material is the norm, men and women experience a barrage of images that indiscriminately fill their minds. Further, passive reception of sensual images can arouse in the receiver an urge for sensual pleasure. Frequent exposure to sexually explicit images contributes to inciting persons to act out in sexual ways. We need to address this problem in a direct manner as a hindrance to human growth and development, and especially to a prayer life.

Indiscriminate reception of images also dulls the mind and moves the will to the emotional reactivity of the sensual appetites. If passive reception predominates, emotions may overcome the capacity to reason and the imagination becomes uncontrolled. Spiritually, this is called sloth. Simply defined, sloth is a sluggishness of the mind that neglects to begin a good action. Saturation of the senses promotes an aversion for the things of the spiritual life. The person who suffers from sloth may no longer even strive to live a life of virtue.
How widespread a problem is this?
Statistics regarding the numbers of priests who suffer untoward effects from pornography use or inordinate media viewing are unavailable. However, gleaning information from the available statistics regarding Internet pornography use in the general population and reviewing information from interviews with priests and seminarians about their use of pornography and electronic media substantiates the conclusion that the use of Internet pornography and the inordinate use of electronic media are common among priests and religious and are important issues that the Church needs to address.
Seminarians and priests are very human, and prone to temptation and concupiscence just like anyone else. Striving for holiness is required of all -- there is nothing about the status of seminarian or priest that automatically changes anything.
In the end, the fundamental safeguard against sin and temptation is a deep and abiding relationship with God that is rooted in love. As priests, seminarians and faithful Catholics invoke God's help in their daily lives, they must ultimately rely on God's grace to provide strength and anchor virtue. Further, Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes the importance of maintaining a depth in our prayer and supplications so that we keep clear focus. "Our petition must not sink into superficiality…the central point is still 'that we be freed from sins.' That we recognize 'evil' as the quintessence of 'evils,' and that our gaze may never be diverted from the living God." (22) Motivating seminarians and priests to develop virtue, elevate the intellect and will in communion with Jesus, and participate in his mission is essential in the life of the Church and requires faith-filled human formation.

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