Pornography addiction - can it be overcome?

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MAPLE FALLS, WASH. - (NCR) - 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, he has 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 I'm no longer indulging my addiction," Rasavage said. "Anyone who is addicted to pornography will remain addicted for life. It's an addiction just like drug or alcohol abuse, and it never goes away."

Rasavage said he's 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 he's heard throughout North America, Father Bautista said it's safe to assume that up to 30 percent of men in any given parish areregular viewers of pornography, mostly via the Internet.

Furthermore, Father Bautista said it appears that up to three percent 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 - which used to be the forbidden fruit of men who were willing to risk being seen walking into an adult bookstore - is now open to all, and people get caught up in it by accident while they're surfing the Web."

Though Father Bautista's estimate of the scope of Catholic porn addiction might be alarming, it's an underestimate by other accounts.

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

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

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Internet

Branch said the Internet has resulted in millions of new porn addicts in the United States. She frequently hears from women seeking counselling 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 grandmother's house and nobody knew he was looking at them.

"I've 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 'enough', 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 he had been secretly viewing porn on the Internet and that he had been hiding magazines most of his life. He expressed his love for them all and explained a desperate desire to quit viewing porn.

"I'm 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."

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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 that 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 you're 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 - 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 todeath 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 Serenelli's 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."

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Where you can get help

Family Life Society

Website: www.familylife.sg

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: 6488 0278

Family Life Society offers counselling and care services, educational programmes and resources to families and individuals. Family Life Society strives to promote understanding and respect for marriage, family and human life. Family Life Society counsellors are qualified to advise on addiction problems.

Centre for Ignatian Spirituality and Counselling

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: 6467 6072

The Centre for Ignatian Spirituality and Counselling offers general spiritual guidance and accompaniment. Jesuit Father Paul Goh, the director of the centre, also offers psychological help to recover from various addictions, including addiction to pornography.

Morning Star Community Services

Website: www.morningstar.org.sg

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: Hougang Centre (6285 1377); Sengkang Centre (6315 8812)

Morning Star Community Services counsellors help addicts, including pornography addicts, to understand more about their addiction and the options for recovery.

Community Addiction Management Programme (CAMP) @ Institute of Mental Health

Website: www.camp.org.sg

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: 6389 2200

CAMP has a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, psychologists, and counsellors who provide treatment for individuals with various addictions. CAMP also works with numerous government and community-based agencies to provide consultation and referral services.

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