By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Recognizing the threat online pornography poses, especially to the young, the Office of Marriage and Family Life of the Diocese of Baton Rouge is taking a proactive approach to educating parents and offering tips on how to control what their children view on the internet.

A task force has been formed to implement a diocesan anti-pornography campaign, which will include the inaugural Safe Haven Sunday, scheduled for March 8, 2020. During Mass on that day, booklets equipping parents with information and strategies for preventing children from getting caught up in pornography will be available in the back of all diocesan churches. 

“It is a serious issue because pornography is highly addictive, particularly with children and teenagers whose brains are still in formation,” said Darryl Ducote, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life. “It actually modifies the brain chemistry because it excites the pleasure centers in the brain and literally changes the complexion of the brain.”

Ducote, who said young people are first exposed to pornography at the average age of 11 years old, said it can be as addictive as drugs. In fact, he said some mental health professionals are calling pornography the new drug.

A similar program was initially launched by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2015 in partnership with the internet mentoring service Covenant Eyes. Ducote said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans was receiving requests, primarily from schools, seeking advice on how to address the issue of children being exposed to pornography at such an early age. Ducote said the proliferation of electronic devices during the past decade has allowed easy accessibility to pornography not only for young people but adults as well.

The archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life contacted Covenant Eyes and together they collaborated on a program that eventually became Safe Sunday, inspired by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ formal statement “Create in Me a Clean Heart: a Personal Response to Pornography.” In the statement, the bishops wrote that the “use of pornography by anyone in the home deprives the home of its role as a safe haven and has negative effects throughout a family’s life and across generations.”

Safe Haven is a weekend set aside by dioceses and parishes to directly show the harms of pornography in an appropriate way. Within the context of the Mass, dioceses and parishes are able to provide teaching and resources that will support and protect individuals, marriages and families in a safe haven.

Materials developed for the archdiocese are now being produced nationally, and the Diocese of Lafayette held its first Save Haven Sunday earlier this year.

When Ducote and his staff learned of the three-year program, they met with Amy Cordon, director of Child Protection for the diocese, as well as Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. As a team, they requested permission from Bishop Michael G. Duca to implement a similar program in the diocese, which he agreed to, and designated the Second Sunday of Lent in 2020 as the first Safe Haven Sunday.

A link to follow-up videos providing additional guidance to parents will also be included in the booklets. Three different booklets, which will also be available in Spanish, will be distributed on three consecutive weekends.

The first booklet is titled “Equipped,” and is designed to help parents keep children from becoming addicted to pornography, which has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business.

The booklets and videos are also produced by Covenant Eyes, which has established a Catholic department within its organization to assist Catholic parishes throughout the United States in addressing the issue of pornography, Ducote said.

Covenant Eyes has also created a web page for the diocese titled Clean Heart Online that will eventually direct parents to additional resources geared toward parents, ministry leaders and others. 

STRIVE, a free 21-day detox program from pornography, is also on the Clean Heart Online website.

He acknowledged that he has received feedback from some school officials concerned about students viewing pornography on their electronic devices.

“Kids have smart phones and this stuff pops up all over the place,” Ducote said, adding that certain pleasure centers of the brain can be set off by drugs or alcohol but also visually, including viewing pornography.

“Young brains are still in formation so it overcharges those pleasure centers in the brain,” he added. “If (a young people) consistently do this, it’s like any drug, you start to adapt to the level where you then need greater stimulation to achieve the same effect. 

“It’s extremely dangerous because the other person becomes an object. They are no longer a person. They are just a means to satisfaction.”

Ducote emphasized that pornography, as some contend, is not a victimless activity. He noted that many of the people, especially the women involved in the industry, are victims of human trafficking, enslaved or involved with drugs.

Families are also victims because pornography is destructive to the family structure. 

He added that even those watching pornography are in a way victims because they are enslaved by the addiction. 

“Some say it’s no big deal but it is a big deal,” Ducote said. “Our goal is to make both parents and children aware of the devasting effects of pornography and provide them with tools to prevent it from taking over their lives.”