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Page One Story - National Catholic Register (14-March-04)

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by WAYNE LAUGESEN Register Correspondent

MAPLE FALLS, Wash. ó Paul Rasavage is one of those professional, suit-and-tie-wearing family men who never misses Mass.

He raised his children Catholic and his oldest daughter is a Carmelite. As a successful oil refinery engineer, heís long been a pillar of his small community and the San Joachim and Ann Catholic Church in nearby Alder Grove, British Columbia.

But Rasavage, 49, has lived with a secret few in his parish know about to this day. In his mid-40s, this seemingly perfect Catholic family man was helplessly addicted to pornography, an addiction, he said, that began in early adolescence.

"I remain an addict, but Iím no longer indulging my addiction," Rasavage said. "Anyone who is addicted to pornography will remain addicted for life. Itís an addiction just like drug or alcohol abuse, and it never goes away."

Rasavage said heís far from alone among Catholic men. He said an alarming number of those upstanding pillars of the parish secretly view Internet pornography on a regular basis, which he fears will harm most of their marriages and possibly land them in hell.

Father Mark Bautista agrees. As pastor of several major parishes during his 11 years as a priest, Father Bautista said he has noticed a staggering increase in porn addiction among Catholic men, women and children.

Based on confessions heís heard throughout North America, Father Bautista said itís safe to assume that up to 30% of men in any given parish are regular viewers of pornography, mostly via the Internet.

Furthermore, Father Bautista said it appears that up to 3% of Catholic women are regular consumers of porn, and he routinely hears porn confessions of girls and boys as young as 13.

"I began seeing a dramatic increase that seemed to correlate with the growth of the Internet," said Father Bautista, who recently took over as pastor of San Joachim and Ann Parish and volunteers as spiritual adviser to a porn-addict support group launched recently by Rasavage. "Porn ó which used to be the forbidden fruit of men who were willing to risk being seen walking into an adult bookstore ó is now open to all, and people get caught up in it by accident while theyíre surfing the Web."

Chemical Reaction

Though Father Bautistaís estimate of the scope of Catholic porn addiction might be alarming, itís an underestimate by other accounts.

Christopher West, a Catholic scholar and apologist of Pope John Paul IIís teachings on sex and marriage, said at least 80% of Catholic adults "have indulged" in pornography. He believes up to 40% of Catholic adults engage in compulsive or addictive viewing of porn.

Jeff Cavins, a Catholic radio talk show host on Relevant Radio, said at least 40% of Catholic men and teen-age boys are regular porn consumers.

"Adult men are becoming more savvy at deleting the evidence from their computers, and they get into a cycle of purging their computer-history files, then going to confession and purging their souls," Cavins told the Register. "The problem is, theyíre getting caught up in a cycle of binging and purging both their computers and their souls."

Cavins, who has studied porn addiction and held conferences on the topic, said the brain reacts chemically to pornographic stimulation. Doctors explain that the brain of a person stimulated by porn releases "endogenous" chemicals ó substances produced within the human body.

"Doctors have compared this to the narcotic effect of cocaine," Cavins said. "If you view pornography, you may go through a physiological change and it wonít be a matter of ĎIím sick of this and Iím going to stop now.í Most people who use porn are sick of it and want to quit but theyíre caught up in an addiction cycle thatís causing them to commit mortal sin."

Cavins and West both argue that porn users suffer from a yearning of the heart that can only be satisfied by the love of God. Pornography tricks the user into thinking the void has been filled, but the trick leads the user down a path thatís destructive to himself and others.

Laurie Branch, a licensed addictions counselor and psychotherapist who counsels Catholics in Denver, also said Catholics appear to be struggling with porn addiction just as much as non-Catholics. Addictions, she explained, do not respect religious boundaries.

"Like any addiction, however, itís a spiritual issue," said Branch, a Catholic. "We all have a wanting of God, and addictions come in when we try to fill that need for God with anything other than God."

Internet Helps

Branch said the Internet has resulted in millions of new porn addicts in the United States. She frequently hears from women seeking counseling after discovering their husbands are viewing Internet porn.

"Porn prevents healthy intimacy between a husband and wife," Branch explained. "It does that for a number of reasons, and one of the reasons is that someone is keeping a secret because porn is almost always viewed in secret. Secrets are not okay in marriage."

Although Father Bautista said porn addiction is relatively new to hordes of Catholics who use the Internet at home or at work, Rasavage began his addiction after finding issues of Playboy and Penthouse that belonged to an uncle. The magazines, he said, were hidden away at his grandmotherís house and nobody knew he was looking at them.

"Iíve fought with this, secretly, most of my life," Rasavage said. "But when the Internet came along it just became too much. I got sick of it to the point I had to do something. One day I just said Ďenough,í and I decided to come clean with my family."

Rasavage got up from the computer and called a family meeting. He stood before three children and a wife he loved, ready to bare his soul with a story that would certainly shock and hurt them all. He told them heíd been secretly viewing porn on the Internet and that heíd been hiding magazines most of his life. He expressed his love for them all and explained a desperate desire to quit viewing porn.

"Iím a fortunate man, because they were very understanding and forgiving," Rasavage said. "My wife has been very supportive and nurturing. She happens to be a trained psychologist, so she knows about addictions."

Support Group

Rasavage vowed to stop looking at porn, and he took his confession to a priest. Then he began taking practical steps to keep himself away from porn.

He put filtering software on his computer so his browser would forbid the viewing of anything that might be sexually explicit. He began avoiding grocery and convenience stores and gas stations that sell adult publications. He joined Sexaholics Anonymous, an organization Branch said can help some porn addicts, as can Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

"A big part of my recovery involves staying busy," Rasavage said. "The most dangerous time for any addict is when youíre alone and bored."

As part of his sustained recovery and his concern about other Catholic porn addicts, Rasavage started a support group known as The Serenellians ó named after Alessandro Serenelli, a former Catholic porn addict and alcoholic.

As a young man, Serenelli attempted to rape 11-year-old Maria Goretti, and stabbed her to death when she fought him. On her deathbed, Goretti told a priest she forgave Serenelli and planned to see him in paradise one day. Eight years into Serenelliís sentence, Serenelli saw St. Maria Goretti in a dream, and she helped lead him to a conversion of heart.

"If someone as corrupt and degenerate as Alessandro Serenelli can be converted and saved," Rasavage said, "so can any of us."

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.



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