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Support available for men struggling with pornography

Men struggling with an addiction to pornography have avenues for addressing the problem and seeking God’s healing and mercy.

The archdiocese’s P.A.T.H. (Pornography Awareness Truth and Healing) Task Force is implementing a five-year plan that includes support groups and pastoral care with trained clergy and counselors.

"The goal of this new initiative is to help men be free of the lies that pornography promotes by experiencing the truth of God’s mercy," said Mary Beth Hanus, manager of the Office of Victim Outreach and Prevention and coordinator of the effort.

The programs are the first phase of several P.A.T.H. initiatives, Hanus said. "We hope to provide similar services to all populations, including women and youth, who struggle with pornography."

One support group for men began in May, said Father Scott Hastings, judicial vicar and auditor of the tribunal that handles annulment cases for the archdiocese, a task force member and support group leader. Another support group is in the planning stages.

"We want to assist men by means of group support and accountability to joyfully live out the virtue of chastity," Father Hastings said. "Most people, when they struggle with pornography addiction, find that isolation or shame make them feel alone in their struggle. This group allows them a means to encourage and lean on one another."

Pornography has a two-fold effect, Father Hastings said. "First, it distorts our approach to other people and teaches one to consume, or objectify others, and decreases intimacy. In the context of marriage, it can cause small to incredibly serious effects.

"Second, from a medical point of view, it manifests itself like an addiction to alcohol or narcotics. It has the same kind of chemical effect on the brain."

The meetings share similarities with 12-step programs for other addictions, where there is open sharing in an environment of complete confidentiality, he said.

"We’re not a therapy group, but there may be men who could benefit from therapy or marriage counseling, so the P.A.T.H. Task Force is in the process of connecting those kinds of resources," Father Hastings said.

Participants don’t have to be Catholic, but the group’s approach is based on the church’s understanding of the human person, he said.

"What’s really beautiful is that addictions don’t define who we are," Father Hastings said. "There’s an inherent dignity we have by virtue of being created by almighty God, and that dignity is not destroyed by sinfulness or addictions."

The route to a support group often begins in the confessional, which is one reason the P.A.T.H. Task Force is working to train priests on how to handle the issue of pornography addiction.

Father Thomas Bauwens, pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, and a task force member, is heading the training effort.

"My job is to help them understand how to handle it in the confessional, by giving them the tools to counsel and work with men to the point where they would be comfortable joining the support group that can help them further," he said.

During the training, Dr. Todd Bowman also will speak about the science and signs of pornography addiction, Father Bauwens said. Bowman is associate professor of counseling at Indiana Wesleyan University and director of the Comprehensive Christian Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider Program (SATP) Institute.

Five priests already have been trained and more one-day training sessions are planned for June 15 and 16 in Omaha. Space is limited.

From the training sessions, a list of clergy willing to meet with people struggling with pornography will be developed, Father Bauwens said. Written guidelines for priests to help them in the confessional and pastoral support sessions will be developed.

While priests can work with the spiritual aspects, they are not trained counselors, he said, so a list of counselors for those who may need one-on-one counseling also is being developed.

SUPPORT GROUPS

Men interested in attending a support group can call a dedicated, confidential number: 402-557-5664. Messages will be returned within 48 hours.

TRAINING

June 15 or 16. Clergy and counselors can contact Mary Beth Hanus at 402-827-3798 or mbhanus@archomaha.org.

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