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Breaking Porn’s Power

New book outlines how sacraments and virtue can break addiction

Msgr. Brian Bransfield, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has his finger on the culture’s pulse. He has written in the past about the Theology of the Body as an antidote to the hyper-sexualization of our media, and now he offers wise counsel on how to overcome addiction to pornography.

His new book, Overcoming Pornography Addiction: A Spiritual Solution, presents a sobering look at this widespread problem that is too often hidden and unaddressed. The internet has made porn accessible to everyone, and even good people get hooked, he notes.

There is a solution, however, that the Church is uniquely qualified to offer, he says. Fathers for Good spoke about these solutions with Msgr. Bransfield, who is associate general secretary for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Fathers for Good: What was your reason for writing this book?

Msgr. Bransfield: I wrote Overcoming Pornography Addiction: A Spiritual Solution for two reasons. First, because there are clear signals that pornography use, especially in the world of the internet, is escalating at an unprecedented rate. Many good people are caught and trapped in the painful world of internet pornography. They want to do good and be good, but they struggle with this sin.

Second, I wrote to demonstrate that though the wounds may be deep, Christ conquers all. A personal encounter with Jesus is not reserved for the few, the “already holy” or those who seem to have it all together. This is the heart of the pastoral work of the priest. A relationship with Jesus is not the reward for those who have crossed some imaginary finish line of perfection. Jesus is with us all the more in our pain and our attempt to turn away from sin. Those who feel frustrated, who have all but given up, who see themselves as very weak do not remain beyond the grace of Jesus Christ. Sin is and can be overcome by Christ. Vice does not have the final word and one can be free of it. One is not fated to use pornography. Jesus longs to walk with us and free us from sin. He heals our wounds and bestows on us the real, down-to-earth strength of humility necessary to live a life of virtue. Virtue is not a dusty old theme for bygone days. Virtue is as young and possible as the very next moment. The world tells us we cannot be strong in Christ, but the Gospel shows us how his power is made perfect in weakness.

FFG: You talk about the “new technology” porn exciting our “oldest appetites” of lust.

Msgr. Bransfield: Human sexuality is created by God, blessed and good. The unchaste use of sexual desire through lust is sinful, and sin always harms the person and offends God. The internet and emergent technologies are meant to be used for good purposes. Sadly, these technologies are often distorted. Internet pornography lures men who otherwise would not even think about buying a pornographic magazine or watching a pornographic video. This is because of the ease of access, the financial affordability, and the perceived anonymity and privacy when online.

Men are enticed to think that they can access a seemingly endless array of pornographic images with no cost to themselves, their relationship with their wife or their relationship to God. They think no one will ever know. But they are wrong. They themselves know. Often, their wives and perhaps their children find out. And God also knows. Like anything else, technology without virtue will cause a great deal of pain.

FFG: What are the basics of “A Spiritual Solution” to the problem?

Msgr. Bransfield: Pornography use is a serious matter and for forgiveness one must turn to the Sacrament of Penance. We see its seriousness in that men know that pornography offends against human dignity and chastity. Pornography treats the body of the other and the self as a thing to be used. But the human body is not a thing. It is a gift. This is why men feel the pain of guilt and are perhaps even ashamed by its use. Since pornography offends against human dignity and chastity, frequent confession is essential to healing. Confession is a school of humility and honesty in which we regularly profess our utter dependence upon God. His grace truly transforms us such that our new actions, by which we turn from sin, are truly ours.

Confession is not magic; it is infinitely more. It is the moment in which the Holy Spirit introduces us to Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection such that our sins are forgiven and we are joined to Christ ever more securely. The life-giving moment of the sacrament of penance leads us, then, to natural strengths for the growth of virtue. These can include prudent engagement of the Twelve Steps, as well as perceptive and sound counseling on changing behavior for the continued healing of past pain and indulgent patterns. Very often, early, painful experiences from childhood can affect our present day patterns and behavior. There are prudent ways to access and heal these hurts. They all begin with and lead to the sacrament of penance.

FFG: What should we as a Church be doing better in this area?

Msgr. Bransfield: The sacraments are the principal source of healing for the world and every sin, so the Church is the first responder to the onslaught of pornography that afflicts our culture and challenges men. The sacraments are not simply obligations or “things” we “should do.” The sacraments are moments in which we infallibly meet Jesus Christ. So often we keep our real lives isolated from God.

As a Church, we are continuously called to open new ways in which to approach the sacraments, enhance preaching, and engage in prayer and love of neighbor. Sin blocks these and distracts us by focusing our attention on ourselves. Grace heals us and restores us to the life God has intended for us.

Overcoming Pornography Addiction is published by Paulist Press.