Bishops: Protect children from pornography

EXPOSURE to pornography harms children to such an extent it should be considered child abuse, Australia’s Catholic bishops said in a recent call for action.

“Children have a right to be children, away from the pressures applied by advertising and other images on television and the internet for them to dress and act as mini-adults. Bombarding children with sexualised images can hurt their normal development,” a commission of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a statement to the Australian Senate committee submitted in March.

The committee was making an inquiry into the harm of internet pornography.

Australia’s Catholic bishops said there is an obligation to protect families from pornography. They said pornography has become mainstream and is now “the wallpaper of young people’s lives”. They lamented sexualised images in advertising, music videos and computer games.

“Allowing children to be exposed to pornography is a form of abuse,” the bishops said. “The Church has its own shameful history of child abuse and, particularly because of that terrible experience for victims, does not want to see other forms of abuse of children such as the harms from the increased availability of pornography.”

They cited a link between children’s exposure to pornography and their likelihood of becoming victims of sexual violence.

Allowing children to be exposed to pornography is a form of abuse, say Australia’s Catholic bishops. PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK

Allowing children to be exposed to pornography is a form of abuse, say Australia’s Catholic bishops. PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK

Many children are first exposed to pornography before the age of 13, according to the studies the bishops cited.

Children exposed to pornography are more likely to agree with sexual relations before marriage, more likely to have sexual relations before their peers, and more likely to adopt risky sexual behaviour. They are more likely to regard women as sex objects and to molest other children.

“There is compelling evidence of the need for the Australian community to act to save children from this harm, but also to save the broader community from the harms of adults damaged in their childhood,” the bishops said.

They also noted the Christian case against pornography, citing Jesus’s words: “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” (Matthew 5:28).

The bishops said pornography “harms the fabric of our community” and makes it more difficult for men and women to relate to each other in a mutually respectful and loving way. Pornography “objectifies people as less than real persons and offers a distorted view of relationships”.

Where parents can’t or won’t act to protect children, the community has a duty to do so, they said.

The bishops suggested an internet filtering system, with an opt-out for adults, possibly inspired by the model in the UK. They advocated research on parental awareness of pornography’s dangers for children and a public education program for parents on how to prevent pornography exposure.

The bishops’ statement to Parliament was prepared by the Bishops Commission for Family, Youth and Life and signed by the commission’s acting chair, Bishop Peter Comensoli of Broken Bay Diocese.