About a year ago, Father Kyle Berens was at a conference with college students. One of the speakers, Father Sean Kilcawley, who works with Integrity Restored, urged the clergy in attendance to shed light on a topic often heard in the confessional, but rarely spoken about from the pulpit: pornography. “Pornography is a physical and spiritual battle,” said Father Berens, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Junction City. “You can’t fight one with out the other or you will never win.” For those struggling with pornography use or addiction, he said a good first step is to go to the sacrament of Reconciliation. “Hopefully the priest can get them in contact with more help,” Father Berens said.
One spiritual aid in the battle against pornography is making some small sacrifice of food or other activities a person enjoys. “You give up something to train your body and your will,” Father Berens said. “You learn to say no to something. You learn that you do not have to have what you want the moment you want it.” Frequent confession is also helpful. “I tell people it doesn’t matter if for a period of time you need to come in daily or weekly,” he said when dealing with a pornography addiction. “Sin is like cancer. The longer it sits on your soul, the weaker you become.”
The next step is to seek help. For some, this involves professional counseling. For others, it involves finding an accountability partner. “Is there someone you trust that you can talk to about this outside of the confessional? That’s a good source of stopping pornography use,” Father Berens said. “With minors, I ask if they can talk to their parents. This is often the best thing for them to do.”
A common concern he hears from children is ‘Dad’s going to hate me’ or ‘Mom’s going to kill me.’ Fear of rejection or being shunned or shamed by family is common. “I ask them ‘Will they really do that, or do you think they’ll be sad because you’re hurting?’ ” he said. “I offer to be present as part of the conversation because I am committed to their recovery and their healing.” Another aspect of moving forward is to seek appropriate filters or software for electronic devices.
With sexual images so prevalent in culture, it is difficult to avoid them. Father Berens said some parents are hesitant to talk about sex with children and teens. “As Catholics, we’ve become so prudish and don’t want to talk about sex,” he said. “Kids are talking about sex and show each other things. If we act like nothing is happening, we’re feeding the naivete.”
Approaching a sexuality discussion should be done with prudence, and age appropriately, he quickly added. He often recommends the book “Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids” by Kristen A Jenson, MA, and Gail Poyner to help parents introduce the topic of pornography to grade school aged children.
Father Berens cautions parents that YouTube is a large source of first exposure to pornography for children. “If they have electronics that are not monitored, there is no secret that the pornography industry is seeking out children,” he said. Often, innocent games or videos that look like popular children’s shows will begin innocently, but introduce nudity or inappropriate content. Likewise, some pornography sites have names similar to those children would type in the Internet, or search for.
“If you slightly mistake a letter on a keyboard, instead of being a toy place, it’s pornography,” Father Berens said, and added parents need to be up-front and direct, asking questions such as ‘Did you see something online that you wouldn’t want mom or dad to see?’ For married couples, the person struggling with pornography use or addiction may want to talk with their spouse. “It can be good to tell your spouse about the struggle,” Father Berens said, but cautioned, “do so prudently. It involves a lot of conversation between the couple. There can be a lot of betrayal and self doubt. Your spouse could feel cheated on.” The website IntegrityRestored.com has a variety of resources, including information about seeking professional counseling.
One aspect of dealing with a pornography habit or addiction is that it can seem embarrassing, he said. Often, someone wants to avoid the sacraments out of shame or embarrassment. “The biggest danger with unconfessed sin is that it leads to despair,” Father Berens said. “We think our sin is irredeemable. That we are broken and unlovable. We start to buy into those lies the longer we give into the habit. Despair is the last straw. Once Satan convinces you of despair, you don’t come to the sacraments, you don’t come to Christ.”
While a struggle with pornography can seem bleak, he is quick to point out there is hope. “It’s a degrading or embarrassing sin that people don’t want to seek help for, then they lose hope,” Father Berens said. “We can help someone find freedom from pornography. No one is alone in this battle.”