Moral Theologian OKs Porn for Celibates

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 15, 2022   

Priest shoots down Pope Francis' anti-porn warning to nuns and priests

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MÜNSTER, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - A moral theologian is endorsing pornography for celibate clergy and religious, provided it does not become an addiction. 

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Richard Sipe, expert on clergy sex abuse

Father Hermann Backhaus, who runs Centro — a psychological support center for priests, religious and pastoral workers in Münster — insists that "consumption of explicit sexual depictions" can have a "relieving effect" for celibates. 

In a Tuesday interview with Katholische.de, the media portal for the German Catholic bishops' conference, Fr. Backhaus says that pornography is "relatively normal" for many clerics. 

Because porn is directly and easily accessible through the internet, "clergy, religious and other people in Church service usually have experience with pornography — I know that from my work in our counseling center," Backhaus, who is also a psychologist, observes.

"As a psychologist, I neither judge nor condemn porn consumption [by clergy]. I see my task in perceiving reality and working with it," the priest notes. "We should be careful with the term 'pornographic' because it always has a bit of a dirty connotation to it."

"A certain explicit representation of sexuality in relationships can lead to love life becoming more lively," Backhaus maintains. "Moreover, there are definitely positive effects of explicit sexuality in relation to partnership and lived sexuality [celibacy]."

"In the Church, celibates have long avoided recognizing that they are beings with a sexuality. Almost everyone has sexual needs, but as priests and religious, we are used to not recognizing them, or at least not talking about them. This is a great danger," he warns. 

Associating the Devil with pornography is a very strong statement. 

Backhaus states that "sexuality and pornography are not exceptional phenomena," and he reveals that at the pastoral center "we can talk about them normally here." He adds, "I would like the Church to de-sensationalize these issues. They are normal in our society."

The priest, who also serves on the pastoral team of St. Petronilla in Münster, expresses his disagreement with Pope Francis' recent warning to priests and religions on consuming pornography. 


 

"The Devil enters from there [watching porn]. … It weakens the priestly heart," Francis told seminarians and priests studying in Rome last month.

"Dear brothers, pay attention to this," the pontiff pleaded. "And if you can delete this from your mobile phone, delete it, so you won't have the temptation in hand."

And if you can delete this from your mobile phone, delete it.

"Associating the Devil with pornography is a very strong statement. I don't know if Francis isn't counteracting his intention rather than promoting it," Backhaus observes when asked about the pope's remarks.

"I will not say, 'raise your hand if you have had at least one experience of this,'" Francis added, asking clergy and seminarians to reflect on the dangers of porn. 

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Karin Iten, diocese of Chur, Switzerland

But Backhaus agrees that "there are also priests and religious for whom their porn consumption has become a problem ... [but] I can say that that is not often the case."

Porn addiction can become problematic because clergy addicted to porn "can't sleep at night since they spend hours surfing the internet looking for gratification. The next day, they have not slept well and can only carry out their tasks to a limited extent," he concedes.

When asked to comment on pornography as a moral theologian, Backhaus insists on starting from "life" and from "reality" and talks about masturbation noting that "around 95% of men and 90% of women, admit during counseling that they have had experience with masturbation."

"It is important to see the context here. If, for example, I have trouble in the parish and then masturbate particularly often, this is relevant feedback in order to possibly change my own behavior and deal with stress better," he explains. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2354) condemns porn as a "grave offense" that "does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others" and "immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world."

"Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other," the catechism teaches. 

What expertise does the pope have on this?

Following Francis' admonition on porn, sexual abuse prevention officer Karin Iten of the diocese of Chur, Switzerland, insisted that "legal pornography" consumed with an "individually healthy approach" in "good moderation" should not be "blanketly demonized."

"I refer to the sex therapist Ursina Brun del Re, who has done research on porn consumption. So unlike the Pope, she is a proven expert. What expertise does the pope have on this?" Iten told the Catholic news site kath.ch

Quoted in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review journal, Fr. Anthony Bannon, provincial of the Legionaries of Christ, revealed that over half of the order's "best prospects" had to be rejected as postulants because they had serious problems in the area of pornography.

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Porn is highly addictive

Bp. Victor Galeone, the former bishop of the diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, warned that porn is so highly addictive that even if a priestly candidate's viewing patterns are as infrequent as one "binge" a month, it may be a sign that he is hooked on porn.

In his groundbreaking book Celibacy in Crisis: A Secret World Revisited, former Benedictine monk and Catholic priest Richard Sipe, an expert on the sex abuse crisis, revealed that "many priests report exploring both visual and literary pornography."

"Priests deprived of a sexual outlet can turn to pornography and, in that broad sense, exhibit voyeurism — behavior limited to men, encouraged by deficient heterosocial skills, and usually associated with masturbation," Sipe wrote.  

"The use of pornography is often accompanied or followed by masturbation. Sometimes it is a prelude to or reinforcement of other sexual activities, including homosexuality and pedophilia," Sipe observed. 

Sipe concluded that while only "2% of vowed clergy can be said to have achieved celibacy," at least "5% of priests are involved with problematic sexual behaviors — transvestitism, exhibitionism, pornography or compulsive masturbation."

Around "40% of priests do practice celibacy, but their practice is not established enough to mark it as either consolidated or achieved. And indeed, these priests are open to sexual reversals and experimentation as well as progress," he noted. 

While 8% of priests had "consolidated celibate practice beyond the point of expectable reversal in spite of some past failures," 30% were involved in heterosexual relationships, and 15% were engaged in homosexual relationships, experimentation or behaviors.

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