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‘We strive to develop a sense of chastity’: how Catholic colleges are fighting porn

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Administrators are blocking pornography - but also helping students discover the meaning of healthy relationships

Pornography shouldn’t be part of a Catholic college experience. That’s obvious to many Catholic parents: in an age when even Starbucks, McDonald’s and Tumblr have moved to block wi-fi access to pornography, you would hope the country’s more than 200 Catholic colleges would be leading the way. It’s not clear how many colleges have installed a web filter: at Notre Dame, students petitioned for one, but administrators are still making up their minds. Nevertheless, according to The Cardinal Newman Society’s evaluation of faithful Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide, several not only block pornography but work hard to encourage chastity on campus.

Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, has installed a filter on the campus network; not only that, but students have many opportunities to meet for lectures, small group sessions and one-on-one meetings on topics like chastity, modesty, dating and vocation. “Through both policy and formation, we strive to develop students’ sense of chastity and respect for the distinction and dignity of the genders,” explained Amanda Graf, Christendom’s vice president for student affairs.

Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, NC, also blocks pornography on its campus network and last year launched its own website teaching students how to live chastely, with tips for healthy dating and statistics about the bad effects of pornography. A new men’s group focused on virtue and discernment is also being launched under the leadership of the Benedictine monastery on campus. “Our hope is that students build true, virtuous friendships and have fulfilling, chaste and joyful dating relationships if they choose,” said Rolando Rivas, executive director for college marketing and communications.

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio blocks pornography and hosts a popular “Gift of Human Sexuality” symposium series after classes at 9pm. Last month’s presentation was by Matt Fradd on his book The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography. Many students at Steubenville live in “households,” which are “groups of men or women who support each other in their academic, moral, and spiritual lives,” according to University spokesman Tom Sofio. These households help “set the tone for Christian living,” including appropriate relationships.

In addition to blocking porn on its campus network, Northeast Catholic College in Warner, New Hampshire reserves the Blessed Sacrament in chapels in each of the residence halls – yet another powerful means of reminding students to remain faithful and helping them grow in virtue by God’s grace. The College’s curriculum and student groups like the Confraternity of St. Joseph for men and Sodality of Mary for women also guide students in the virtues.

Not all colleges have taken such a strong stance, however. Reports indicate that the University of Notre Dame may be considering students’ petition for a pornography filter on campus, but Paul Browne, Notre Dame’s vice president for public affairs and communications, told the National Catholic Register that he hopes students will be “self-censors”. Students themselves have criticised Browne’s attitude. “Students may have the free will to choose whether or not to use pornography, but the University must not be an enabler of this immorality,” one wrote in the Irish Rover, Notre Dame’s student newspaper. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly states that those in authority have an obligation to prevent the distribution of pornography”.

By both blocking pornography and finding ways to help students grow in virtue, Catholic colleges have the unique ability to help form students into leaders for our Church and our world. Already we see admirable leadership at several of the most faithful Catholic colleges.

Kelly Salomon is director of Newman Guide programs for The Cardinal Newman Society