Diocesan News

Diocese seeks to protect kids, individuals from pornography Covenant Eyes software company presents to Diocese of Lincoln

(SNR) - Thanks to an alliance with software company Covenant Eyes, anyone in the diocese can receive a free 30-day trial of a program that addresses online pornography. Parents also have access to a video workshop that will equip them to protect their children.

Recently, representatives from Covenant Eyes came to the Diocese of Lincoln to introduce the program to religious educators and pastors.

Father Sean Kilcawley, director of the office of religious education, is spearheading this effort. As he approached his task of chastity education, he realized he had a big challenge due to the potential of early exposure to pornography, including videos of violent acts.

That is now true for even young children. Most studies find the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is 11 years old.

"If kids are being exposed to pornography, this can become a great obstacle to receiving the message of what love is," Father Kilcawley stated.

He stressed that protecting children from exposure to pornography is just as important as teaching kids ‘stranger danger.’ However, he recognizes how difficult it is for parents to monitor every image they see online.

Case in point: Father Kilcawley recently visited the sixth- through eighth-graders at a Catholic grade school and had them answer a short page of questions anonymously. He asked how many had access to the internet on a mobile device. Almost all of them had.

Father Kilcawley also asked how many of the students had seen something that goes against human dignity on the mobile devices. Almost all of them had.

"Then I asked how many had kept that a secret from their parents," Father Kilcawley said, "and again, almost all had."

At any age, exposure to pornography results in a series of involuntary emotions that mix anxiety and stress with pleasure and relief, culminating in a sense of guilt. Young people obviously do not want to share this with their parents… whether the exposure was accidental or intentional.

Quoting Covenant Eyes speaker Matt Fradd, well known from his previous work on "Catholic Answers," Father Kilcawley said, "Even if you aren’t looking for porn, porn is looking for you."

He paused for a second to reflect on Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of Luke: "What father among you, if his son asked for a fish, would hand him a snake?"

"I now understood that verse in a new way," Father Kilcawley said. "Smart phones are the potential to have an X-rated movie theatre in your child’s pocket."

It’s a frightening reality, but the answer isn’t eliminating technology. Computers, smart phones and other web-accessing mobile devices can all be used for good.

"You can read the Bible on it," Father Kilcawley pointed out. "Many priests pray the Liturgy of the Hours on their phones.... I can see my sister’s face from halfway around the world when I talk to her…. It’s a matter of recognizing what we have."

Changing the settings on your family’s computer and mobile devices to filter out potentially pornographic content is a good first step, but it’s not enough.

As Father Kilcawley was researching solutions to offer the people of the Diocese of Lincoln, he discovered Covenant Eyes. This software is unique because it fosters self-control, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

"It gives you more freedom to explore, but you are held accountable for what you do," Father Kilcawley said.

Covenant Eyes software can be downloaded to any device that accesses the Internet. Currently, there is a main subscription rate and then additional user names and filtering features can be added for low fees. An even more affordable "family rate" is coming soon.

Each user within a family can have their account set to different age-appropriate levels, "Youth," "Teen," "Mature," or "Highly Mature." Covenant Eyes maintains a constant review of the Internet to determine what rating each web site deserves.

"If you visit a site we’ve never rated, we send a spider (algorithm) out and give it a rating," explained Ryan Foley, vice president of business development for Covenant Eyes. "That all happens in a fraction of a second."

The software keeps a detailed log of every website each user visits. A daily report is then sent to the user’s accountability partner – a parent, a spouse, a trusted friend, your spiritual director, or a combination of people.

"What happens is that you begin to filter yourself," Foley explained. "I have to think, ‘My accountability partner is going to see this. Somebody who cares about me is walking with me.’ "

Father Kilcawley emphasized that Covenant Eyes software is for everyone in the family, no matter how young.

"The thing that is important is to educate parents and to encourage parents to have regular conversations about with kids about what they do online," he said.

The idea is to equip parents to notice when their children start to show an interest about things that could have sexual nature – such as lingering on a sports magazine site when they are featuring women in swimsuits. That way, parents can provide guidance before the child is exposed to something more intense.

Foley encourages parents to use the "Unfiltered" training video and workshop to learn more about the effects of pornography. It is available through every parish in the diocese for free viewing.

"This is a cancer, and we are treating it like the common cold," Foley stressed.

The video explains the brain chemistry of exposure to pornography and incorporates teaching from Theology of the Body to set parents up to protect their children.

"I’m passionate about helping families," Father Kilcawley said. "So many people’s lives are crushed because of pornography.

To borrow the "Unfiltered" video workshop or to set up a screening for parents in your parish, consult your pastor.

Tips for Parents

 Start monitoring your child’s web browser activity as soon as they are old enough to use the computer, and talk to them about the sites they have visited. "This develops a habit, and they will always know that the Internet is not a private or anonymous place," Father Kilcawley said. If you have older children, it’s not too late to start having those conversations now.

 Change the settings on your family computer and all family mobile devices using the parent control feature to filter potentially harmful content. This is not fail-safe, but it helps.

 Get facts about pornography from the "Unfiltered" video workshop, available from every pastor in the diocese. Watch it on your own, or better yet, organize a group viewing and discussion with other parents at your parish, in your parish school or in your neighborhood.

 Equip your family with accountability software by taking advantage of the 30-day free trial of Covenant Eyes. The monthly fee is small. "If you can afford your smart phone fee, how much more can you afford to make sure your kids are safe?" Father Kilcawley reasoned. Use the promo code "Lincoln" at CovenantEyes.com or click on the link at the diocesan website, dioceseoflincoln.org. Furthermore, 20 percent of the fee will be returned to the Diocese of Lincoln for chastity education and freedom from pornography resources.

 Initiate conversations about chastity. When kids are curious about something they don’t want to talk to their parents about – like love and sex - they are quick to use the Internet for research. That can lead to accidental exposure to pornography.

 Don’t panic if you discover your child has already been exposed to pornography. He or she wants and needs parental help in dealing with the spiritual and emotional effects.

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