‘Whispered in the Dark’ conference Nov. 10 at seminary to broach difficult subject with pastoral care

DETROIT — Pornography is a problem in the Church.
 
It’s a problem in Catholic schools. It’s a problem in Catholic workplaces. It’s a problem in Catholic parishes. It’s a problem in Catholic relationships.

But for how much of a problem it is in society — studies estimate 80 to 90 percent of men ages 18 to 34 have viewed pornography daily or weekly — it is a problem that is seldom talked about in the Church.

But its effects are all too real.

That’s why two Catholic women have come together to host “Whispered in the Dark,” a conference at Sacred Heart Major Seminary on Nov. 10, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., to discuss pornography addiction and its damaging effects.

“I just feel this is a conversation we as a Church don’t have,” said Patty Breen, one of the conference organizers. “There are limited resources, and people don’t know where to go or what to do when someone they know is addicted to pornography.”

Breen is a full-time lay minister working with divorced and separated Catholics and writes a blog called “A Modern Grace,” where she details the pain and struggles of being in a relationship with someone who is addicted to pornography.

“When I was married, I was frustrated with the Church that I didn’t see anything being done about the situation I was in,” Breen said. “So from doing our own research and talking with counselors, we’ve come across those who can speak in a way that is non-shaming on a sensitive topic and can speak with a pastoral sense.”

Even among Catholics, pornography is a significant issue that can damage healthy relationships and marriages, says Patty Breen, a co-organizer of the "Whispered in the Dark" conference.

“Whispered in the Dark” will feature speakers ranging from a behavioral therapist to lay ministers to people sharing their own personal testimonies on the damaging effects of pornography.

It is the second “Whispered in the Dark” conference, after Breen and co-organizer Danielle Center received positive feedback after the first conference last year and suggestions on how to improve its impact.

“Last year, it was a workshop with women, for women and by women, and we had these incredible presenters,” Center said. “The feedback we received was, ‘I wish my partner would have come,’ and ‘Why don’t you have resources to talk about this with children.’ The evolution of this is a little surprising. Patty and I were both in relationships with men who were addicted to pornography, and both relationships ended. These are things people tend to keep private, but this shows that if you are in this situation, you are not alone.”

The conference features Hope Ray, a licensed professional counselor and certified sex addiction therapist who will talk about the impact pornography has on the people who view it and the people in their lives.

Breen hopes the conference encourages people to confront the realities of pornography addiction in today’s world.

“There are so many obstacles to talking about pornography, from the fear and shame to the awkwardness of it,” Breen said. “We’re lucky enough as a Church to have good resources to talk about sexuality, but we struggle to talk about it in a healthy way.”

The conference will cover the psychological effects pornography has on the human brain and why the Church teaches it is immoral. Breen cited a Gallup Poll that stated 46 percent of Americans think pornography is acceptable, which is all the more reason the Church should be vocal on the issue and the harm it causes.
 
“If you look at the brains of people addicted to pornography, it is the same as people addicted to powerful drugs like heroin or crack,” Breen said. “It can rewire your brain for the negative. It’s the greatest killer of healthy relationships between men and women, when you start to treat people as an object to be used.”

Breen said part of the reason pornography is seen as more socially acceptable is that people don’t always recognize its victims.

Part of confronting pornography is confronting the reality that it is an addiction, just like drugs or alcohol, Breen says, that needs to be dealt with in order to move forward. 

“There is always a victim in pornography, especially the women in these videos,” Breen said. “Many times, it is a performance for them and they are victims of sexual abuse themselves.

“The victim is also yourself,” Breen continued. “Someone who semi-regularly watches pornography but says, ‘Oh, I’ll stop when I meet the right person,’ that’s ridiculous. You might not think you are hurting someone, but you are hurting yourself and your future marriage, your future husband or wife.”

Breen and Center hope this year’s conference will also attract clergy and lay ministers who can learn more about pornography addiction and better ways to minister to those who struggle.

“Our Church is hurting,” Center said. “Whether you yourself are struggling with pornography, or your spouse or partner is, or you are in a position to minister to someone dealing with pornographic addiction, this is something we as a Church need to confront.”

Whispered in the Dark costs $30 to register at whisperedinthedark.com. The website includes the day’s schedule and resources to understand sexual and pornographic addiction, from books and websites to counseling and recovery groups.
 
“This conference is looking at the reality of the world we are living in,” Breen said. “Whether people know it or not, they know someone who is struggling with pornography addiction. This conversation needs to happen. The most difficult, messy conversations are the ones we need to be having.”

Center and Breen both know pornography addiction is among the more embarrassing things to talk about in a Church setting. But Center said Jesus’ love and healing extends to all, regardless of the subject matter.

“There is this passage I love in the Gospel, where Jesus is doing stuff all day long, healing in the Temple, the neighborhoods, just going to town,” Center said. “And in reading the passage, he’s healing in the morning and the afternoon and there is a line that’s easy to miss. ‘After night had fallen, the whole town had assembled.’ I think everyone that was ashamed of things that have happened started to gather. In our culture, everything is supposed to be archived and ready as ‘Instagram perfect.’ But there is something honest, vulnerable about saying, ‘Things aren’t perfect.’ And there is something empowering about admitting you’re not perfect. It’s saying, ‘I’m not alone, and this is OK.’”

Attendees and those interested in learning more about pornography addiction and helping someone in need to fight pornography addiction are encouraged to visit whisperedinthedark.com for the full schedule or email whisperedministry@gmail.com.