Special Feature

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Conquering Pornography

Deacon Ralph Poyo tells about his own former addiction to porn and offers hope for men seeking to avoid this vice.


 

No More Porn in ‘My House’

Dioceses help men fight pornography addiction

By Gerald Korson

The dark secret of pornography addiction is out, and the Church is doing something about it.

In the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, a comprehensive program to combat and raise awareness of the problem of pornography viewing among men has born fruit locally and is attracting attention nationally in the two years since it began.

The program, called My House, takes a bold approach to a topic that was rarely talked about a decade or two ago: Men whose attraction to pornographic images not only draws them into more serious sexual sins but also leads them to addiction, sometimes to the point of destroying marriages, family life, and personal relationships along the way.

A number of other dioceses have taken the My House model and become leaders in combating porn.

“Pornography isolates and separates couples,” says Sam Meier, coordinator of the My House initiative.

Meier knows firsthand. His own porn addiction nearly ended his marriage before he sought help from a Christian counselor in 2004. Now a licensed therapist himself, Meier joined the Kansas City archdiocesan staff in 2007. Today he offers one-on-one counseling and leads several support groups for men who struggle to break themselves free from the cycle of porn addiction.

“When I was involved in pornography, I had no friends, and I was very distant from my wife,” Meier told Fathers for Good. “I was kind of an isolated loser. It was sad, but that’s how I was living.”

Now porn-free for more than four years, Meier said he is “pretty open” about his own past with the men he counsels and “the hope there is for change and healing.” He and his wife, Beth, an associate consultant in the archdiocese’s Family Life Office, still attend marriage counseling every three weeks, but “mainly for maintenance now,” he said.

A holistic approach

My House was rolled out in 2007 after two years of consultation and preparatory work by a multidisciplinary archdiocesan task force called together by Archbishop Joseph Naumann. A video and an 82-page “My House User’s Manual” were sent to all 111 parishes in the Kansas City Archdiocese and to every Catholic diocese in the United States.

To date, five other dioceses have implemented the program, including the archdiocese’s neighbor, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. The head of the latter diocese, Bishop Robert Finn, had earlier established his own task force and support system for men struggling with porn addiction.

In fact, Bishop Finn’s 2007 pastoral letter, “Blessed are the Pure of Heart,” and a 2006 pastoral by Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, are two other striking examples of how Catholic bishops have targeted this issue in recent years.

To participate in the My House initiative, each parish is asked to appoint a parish coordinator to prepare, implement and evaluate the program in the parish. The program is introduced with Awareness Sunday, during which a video produced by the archdiocese is screened after the Gospel. The homilist for each Mass is asked to speak on the pornography issue, and printed materials may be made available to educate the faithful and offer resources to help men overcome the addiction. Due to the sensitive subject matter, pastors have the option of asking parents to dismiss smaller children to a separate location.

Progress in the parishes

Meier said that 90% of parishes in the archdiocese have shown the DVD at Mass, and anecdotal evidence suggests that raising the topic of pornography has had an immediate impact.

“I’ve met with close to 40 of our priests, and nearly all of them say they noticed a large spike in confessions on this particular subject after they show the video,” Meier said. “Our counseling service also receives a lot more calls after a parish views the DVD for the first time.”

Father Mark Goldasich, editor of the diocesan newspaper, hosted Awareness Sunday for his 450-family parish soon after the program was launched in 2007. He dismissed younger children from the church and permitted only adults and older children to view the video.

“I would say there was an ‘uncomfortable silence’ when the video was shown, partially due to the subject matter and partially because it may have struck close to home or may have caused people to reflect on their own sexuality in an honest way,” Father Goldasich told Fathers for Good. “No one came up to object to the video.”

A battle to fight

Pornography addiction has escalated as an issue in large part to the broader, easier availability of sexual images and content on the Internet. Much expert advice for avoiding or dealing with the problem centers on establishing controls and oversight on computer use through filtering software, access blockers, and accountability programs.

While the My House initiative provides many measures for preventing pornography from becoming an issue within the family, in some families the damage has already begun before affected couples seek counseling.

“Unfortunately, with recovery groups we typically only see crisis situations, where there is a potential loss of marriage or other relationships, or job loss,” Meier said. “I would say 80 percent of clients are in such a crisis already.”

On the upside, he said, dozens of men are receiving help now, and 14 have already achieved a year of freedom from pornography — and that’s progress.

Wives of porn addicts, too, are receiving help through a women’s group facilitated by Sam’s wife, Beth. Although very few women come forward with porn addictions of their own, the archdiocese may eventually offer support groups for them as well.

The fight against pornography addiction is rightly compared to a war, and Sam Meier uses combat imagery to emphasize the need for men to support one another in that conflict.

“I compare it to having a platoon,” he said. “If we were drafted today and had to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, we would want a platoon of soldiers to fight alongside us.”

Regarding porn addiction, he added, “It’s an intense battle, and we need other men to be open and honest with, to be accountable so that we don’t have to go that road to recovery alone.”

For more information on the My House program, visit myhouse.archkck.org or contact Sam Meier at smeier@archkck.org or 913-647-0378.