Freedom-from-pornography ministry is part of evangelization today, priests told

Father Sean Kilcawley speaks to priests of the Diocese of Peoria who gathered Oct. 23-24 for their annual Assembly Days at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Pornography is so prevalent in our culture that working to free Catholics from it should not be viewed as a “special ministry” but rather a “foundation for the evangelization work of the church.”

That was one message brought to priests of the Diocese of Peoria Oct. 23 by Father Sean Kilcawley, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, who is trained in treating sex addictions.

Father Kilcawley was the featured speaker on the opening day of Priest Assembly Days, a two-day gathering that brought about 100 priests to the Spalding Pastoral Center for prayer, study, and fraternity.

In the first minutes of his opening talk, titled “New Evangelization and the Hyper-Sexualized Culture,” Father Kilcawley outlined the scope of the problem, including that:

  • The average age of exposure to hard core pornography is now between 8 and 11;
  • One in four marriages end because of pornography or other forms of cybersexual behavior, and
  • 60 percent of Christian men and 40 percent of Christian women seek out pornography at least monthly.

“These are the people who are in our pews,” said Father Kilcawley, who is director of the Office of Family Life in the Lincoln Diocese. He is also theological advisor to Integrity Restored, a non-profit agency providing education, training, and resources to assist the church in bringing hope and healing to individuals, spouses, parents, and clergy who have been affected by pornography.


“Jesus says ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God,’ and he means it,” said Father Kilcawley. His experience, both personal and in counseling others, shows that the reverse is true — impurity keeps us from seeing God and true beauty.

Priests of the Diocese of Peoria gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria Oct. 23-24 for their annual Assembly Days. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

But keeping our hearts and thoughts pure is becoming more difficult in today’s “hyper-sexualized” culture.

“In 2009, the biggest distraction in our high school classrooms was kids texting during class,” Father Kilcawley recalled. “Today, they’re all carrying around phones that have screens that show videos, and also give them access to hard core pornography.

“How do I teach the truth, beauty, and goodness of the church’s teaching on human sexuality to a group of young people who are consuming the anti-message all the time?” he asked.


Father Kilcawley suggested several ways that priests can engage in freedom-from-pornography ministry.

In the sacrament of reconciliation, for example, priests should encourage those struggling with addiction to seek help.

“Confession is not counseling,” he acknowledged, “nor a place we can spend an hour with somebody. But it is a place where we can give somebody a very strong exhortation about getting help.”

Father Kilcawley also emphasized “accompaniment,” or taking the time and effort to lead those who are struggling to find hope and restored confidence.

The “wounded and troubled” are found throughout our churches, said Father Kilcawley. They include the woman abandoned by her husband, the child of divorce who goes from his mom’s house to his dad’s house and back again, the survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and “the 10-year-old who gets exposed to pornography on the iPod his Mom gave him for his birthday.”

And while ministry to couples in invalid second marriages continues to be debated among church leaders, “there are many more couples in our parishes who are validly married but are committing adultery in the heart,” said Father Kilcawley. “How are we calling them to conversion?”

He urged the priests to proclaim that Christ’s love and mercy are present even in our sinful states. Tell and show them, he said, that Jesus “gave his life to save you, and that he’s now living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.”

He also called the archangels the “patron saints” of freedom-from-pornography ministry.

“We are talking about spiritual warfare and a spiritual battle,” he said. Therefore he encouraged the priests to call on St. Michael to combat the evil; St. Gabriel to help them proclaim the Gospel; and St. Raphael to assist in healing.

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