Message to Matt McGuiness and Catholic News Agency: Sexual victimization is no laughing matter

I was viscerally distressed reading “A Second Look at Porn” by Matt McGuiness, a new columnist for Catholic News Agency.

The column begins with a laugh line from a Hollywood movie that makes light of a teenage girl’s being sodomized. We are supposed to find it funny that a boy “used her body.” Mr. McGuiness likes this ironic brand of humor because it serves his purpose, which is to shock the reader into thinking about how the desire for pornography is really a desire for God.

He goes on to propose a thought experiment: “If you are already an amateur pornographer, why not consider taking it up ‘professionally’ as it were and see how that makes you happy (or fails to)?”

In times past, I have responded to arguments such as these with articles, blog posts, and even a master’s thesis. I am not going to grace McGuiness’s column with such a carefully crafted theological response.

Instead, I would like to say to Mr. McGuiness, as well as his editors at Catholic News Agency that, being that I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse (which began a year before this photo of me was taken), his column took me back to past pain. It reminded me of when I grew up in a sexually porous environment, not protected from adult nudity, pornography, or graphic sex talk. The kind of household where my mother and her bohemian hipster friends played the original cast album of “Hair” and thought it was hilarious when eight-year-old me sang along with lyrics that went, “sodomy, fellatio … pederasty … Father, why do these words sound so nasty.” The kind of household where there were no boundaries. The kind of household where I was sneered at for being “modest” if I did not want to see a grown-up walk around naked. The kind of household where, at the age of nine, I was taken to see “Pretty Baby,” in which Brooke Shields played a prostitute three years older than I was. The kind of household where I was not treated with the reverence due a human being, let alone the reverence due a child.

As an adult, Mr. McGuiness, like many (though certainly not all) victims of childhood sexual abuse, I suffered from dissociation that led me to act out sexually in ways that harmed my own dignity and that of others. Although not a model or actress, I was immersed in a world in which people made both “amateur” and “professional” pornography. It was not a laughing matter.

I thought, upon receiving the gift of Catholic faith, that the Church would be a safe place, where people would treat me with the reverence I did not receive as a child. Instead, Mr. McGuiness, I encounter writers such as yourself and Christopher West, who, in straining to use language and imagery relevant to those embedded in the pornographic culture, aggravate the very real wounds left in me by that same culture.

It doesn’t have to be that way, Mr. McGuiness. You can reach secularists without treating the topic of human sexuality as cavalierly as they do. But it takes time, thought, effort, and sensitivity. Most of all, it takes learning what the Catholic Church has said, both about human sexuality and about the right ways of speaking about human sexuality (including the advice and admonitions in section 22 of Humanae Vitae).

Rather than join Father Angelo Mary Geiger and Kevin O’Brien in pointing out the flaws in your theological arguments, I will leave you with some quotations from Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate on things you won’t find in the article: the objective sinfulness of pornography, the dangers of desensitization to sin, the need to avoid occasions of sin, the grace offered to us when we encounter Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, and the necessity of growing in virtue.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

Pontifical Council for Social Communications, “Pornography and Violence in the Communications Media: A Pastoral Response“:

[One] of the clear effects of pornography is sin. Willing participation in the production or dissemination of these noxious products can only be judged a serious moral evil. Likewise, production and dissemination of these materials could not continue if there were not a market for them, so those who use such materials not only do moral harm to themselves but contribute to the continuation of a nefarious trade. …

Even so called “soft core” pornography can have a progressively desensitizing effect, gradually rendering individuals morally numb and personally insensitive to the rights and dignity of others. Exposure to pornography can also be – like exposure to narcotics – habit-forming and can lead individuals to seek increasingly “hard core” and perverse material.

Pontifical Council for the Family, “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality“:

“Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy”. Every person knows, by experience, that chastity requires rejecting certain thoughts, words and sinful actions, as Saint Paul was careful to clarify and point out (cf. Romans 1:18; 6: 12-14; 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11; 2 Corinthians 7: 1; Galatians 5: 16-23; Ephesians 4: 17-24; 5: 3-13; Colossians 3: 5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-18; 1 Timothy 1: 8-11; 4: 12). To achieve this requires ability and an attitude of self-mastery which are signs of inner freedom, of responsibility towards oneself and others. At the same time, these signs bear witness to a faithful conscience. Such self-mastery involves both avoiding occasions which might provoke or encourage sin as well as knowing how to overcome one’s own natural instinctive impulses.

Blessed John Paul II, “Reconciliation and Penance”:

From the very beginning, in fact, the church has recognized and used many and varying forms of penance. Some are liturgical or paraliturgical and include the penitential act in the Mass, services of atonement and pilgrimages; others are of an ascetical character, such as fasting. But of all such acts none is more significant, more divinely efficacious or more lofty and at the same time easily accessible as a rite than the sacrament of penance. …

But as it reflects on the function of this sacrament, the church’s consciousness discerns in it, over and above the character of judgment in the sense just mentioned, a healing of a medicinal character. And this is linked to the fact that the Gospel frequently presents Christ as healer, while his redemptive work is often called, from Christian antiquity, medicina salutis. “I wish to heal, not accuse,” St. Augustine said, referring to the exercise of the pastoral activity regarding penance.

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.

* * *
I discuss my journey of healing from childhood sexual abuse on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” and in my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

  • frangelo


    Thanks for the link.

    McGuiness’ piece is another example of the Catholic-Cool-Edgy-and-Sophisticated FAIL. He only succeeds in creating a misleading and offensive muddle.

    • Maggie Goff

      I agree. He should have published all three parts at once, so we know what he’s getting at.

  • Tony

    Dear Dawn — God bless you for your witness. Have the people at CNA lost their minds?

  • Scott W.

    God bless you Dawn. Keep up the good work.

  • Maggie Goff

    I really wish he had published all three parts of the article so we know EXACTLY what he is getting at. This way we are guessing at what is coming.

    God bless you, Dawn.

  • jvc

    Dawn, as a friend of Whittaker Chambers remarked to him after reading his magnus opus, you did not come back from hell empty handed. Thank you for your witness to the truth and for speaking out on behalf of victims of abuse.

  • frangelo


    The damage is done. There is no high-brow explanation for pornography that somehow provides redirection for an otherwise noble spirit. Men are hardwired in such a way that under the influence of original sin and without grace, they fall into the habit of objectifying women. Pornography fills a ready market that will always be there. The product, like a drug, tends to increase demand by its very existence and even more by its acceptance as normal. The pushers make billions of dollars by processing women and commodifying them. Pornography is a poison that sends souls to hell, corrupts men, humiliates and denigrates women, destroys marriage and virtue. It is an evil industry run by evil men for purely evil purposes.

    But, of course, you doubt none of this. McGuiness will be excused because his intention is to convert souls to God. But it does not make what he said any less asinine.

    • Oregon Catholic

      I don’t think the culture, or even a lot of Catholics for that matter, get the message they need to get when the Church talks about ‘human dignity’ in relation to sex and porn. Yes, porn is using the actors for someone else’s gain. Yes, casual sex usually objectifies the participants and leads to more of the same. But we forget how many other ways we ‘use’ people in socially acceptable ways – performers on stage and on screen, musicians making recordings or in live performances, models selling products. Those are just a few of the many ways that people are used and sold for the pleasure/gain of others that we consider acceptable. We need to make it clear why sex is different and in a category apart from all the other ways people are used and sold.

      We need to put less focus on the unitive/pleasure purpose (way too much of that even in NFP circles) and more on the procreative purpose. Not to diminish the unitive/pleasure aspect but because people already get that. What we have forgotten since birth control and the sexual revolution is that sex is first and foremost about procreation and the sex act is not to be rendered sterile of that purpose. That God has joined together a man and a woman with Himself in an image of the Trinity in order to carry out His work of bringing new souls into the world. Even the Church and many who write on theology, imo, are allowing sex to become too separated from procreation. For too many good couples who really are trying to do God’s will, NFP as it is taught so often is still in form and function really just Catholic contraception. I hear the howls already but it’s true. Ask yourself, without the verbal gymnastics of being ‘open’ to procreation, how long you can have regular planned sex every month, ‘religiously’ avoiding fertility, before your NFP becomes contraceptive? What did people do for millenia before we understood the reproductive cycle? They abstained when they didn’t want a child or they had loving, spontaneous intercourse and left the outcome in God’s hands. The purpose of sex didn’t change when we understood the science behind it that allowed us to monkey with it. We really need to be telling people that sex and marriage is first and foremost designed for bringing children into the world and raising them up.

      • Dawn Eden

        Great points, Oregon Catholic. Thanks!

      • Jon W

        Also, that the unitive aspect – as integral as it is to the act – is supposed to be uniting parents or potential parents, and it is from that relationship that it takes its fundamental form. It’s not properly unitive for just any set of lifelong friends lucky enough to have the right bits.

      • Alice

        NFP is never Contraceptive. there is no such thing as a contraceptive mentality–you are either contracepting or not. Read Humanae Vitae more closely.

        We are each called to be procreative with our spouse in a way which is just. We are called to chastity with our spouse if that is what is just for our family, too. True justice is not about material gain. And that chastity may be indefinite, or forever onward, but it requires self control and self giving love.

        • Oregon Catholic

          I suggest you look up the root meaning of contraception which includes sexual practice. Timing sexual relations, i.e., a sexual practice, with the intention of avoiding pregnancy is practicing contraception in it’s absolute definition. Contraception isn’t limited to what happens / doesn’t happen during a single sex act. A couple’s sexual practice can be contraceptive when looked at as a whole – the contraceptive mentality or intention. That’s why I think limiting the definition to each individual act (as NFP does) to the exclusion of the overall sexual practice is wrong, a technical loophole, if you will. But intention is always a factor in considering behavior and those who intend to separate sexual relations from fertility are contracepting, imo.

          • Izzy

            Yes but the Church allows a couple to intend to take advantage of a woman’s infertile periods for grave reasons, and they exist, including economic.

      • Izzy

        Well said. Enough about the unitive/pleasure purpose, we get that. Men and women don’t need the clergy and post Vatican II thinkers telling us about it, we never did. People like West are responding to a caricature of Catholic men and women as people who don’t understand sex, don’t enjoy it, don’t desire the opposite sex. It’s all anti-catholic propaganda. It stems from a resentment that we have some sexual standards while the world does not.

  • RSVS

    Dawn, thanks for the heads up on this. I will steer clear (read: boycott) the writings of McGuiness and West’s.

  • Mark

    You and the other comboxers have already responded substantively to the McGuiness article, and I can’t add anymore.
    I just want to say I really like your Girl Scout picture. You are beautiful.
    I’ll be praying for your continued success in your mission.

  • Lawrence King

    Dawn, as always, I am so happy you wrote this and so sad that it needed to be written.

  • Katheryn

    My first thought after reading McG’s first paragraph was “why on earth is he even WATCHING that kind of movie, and HOW MANY TIMES to be able to quote from it!?”
    It seems to me that this is a ploy to get women to stop freaking out about their husbands porn usage. He uses all kinds of hypothetical and soothing rhetoric, as well as an emphasis on FEELING- once he FEELS bad about it, he will know it was bad. That is some ladyspeak if I’ve ever heard any! “Don’t worry ladies, he will crawl through s*it and come out clean on the other side.. Promise! Jesus even said so…”
    This kind of rhetoric is reprehensible and needs to be stopped. Women also need to come to a deeper understanding between men’s vision and their feelings, and how the connections are much further apart than we would hope. We also need a better understanding of the biochemical effects that porn has on men.
    Rant over. Keep up the good and truthful work, Ms. Eden. Thank you!

  • Chris

    FYI- Alice Von Hildebrand has a piece on Catholic News Agency today. I don’t know if it is directly in reply to the McGuiness article, but it addresses some of the more basic errors under the idea that there is moral evil that is redeemable or has value, something propounded by McGuiness and also C. West:

  • Kevin

    I guess I never really cared that he tried to identify with pop culture. As a youngster myself, I get it. But he could have chosen something better, and he could have tried to actually make a point. He was trying to be provocative for the sake of being provocative.

    And Maggie, I agree he does need to release more, but I really don’t see what he could write that could sort of redeem what he wrote. Given the almost overwhelming negative reaction, it might be awhile before we see part two. Me thinks everyone involved will be a lot more careful before putting up round two.

    The debate landscape has really changed on this stuff. A couple of years ago this kind of stuff was mainly said and nobody really batted an eye. Partly due to Dawn’s research alongside the work of others, nowadays people speak up on this and there’s a lot more discussion. I think that’s good for everyone involved.

  • Daniel O’Connor

    Thank you so much for this.

    This root issue again has come to a head with some Catholics defending the graphic sexual displays in Les Mis. May I share a brief post I wrote on that?

    I am so saddened by the flippancy and irreverence of so many “good” Catholics today. I think it is easier for those who haven’t really seen the dark side of things to adopt such an unfortunate demeanor. Continue to speak up loud and clear.

    In Christ, through Mary,

    • Dawn Eden

      Daniel, thanks for your comment and for the thoughtful blog post you linked. I just saw “Les Miserables” yesterday and looked away during “Master of the House” on the advice of a friend. Then I went home and found two very different commentaries online. One from Deacon Greg Kendra raves about the director’s artistry in the way he staged the “fornicating Father Christmas.” I found it appalling enough that anyone, particularly a deacon of the Church (whose work I normally appreciate), would celebrate such a scene, particularly given Pope Paul VI’s words in Humanae Vitae, section 22:

      “We take this opportunity to address those who are engaged in education and all those whose right and duty it is to provide for the common good of human society. We would call their attention to the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded.

      “Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit. It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture (25) or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities.”

      Then I read Patrick Craine’s piece, in which he not only describes the Santa scene but shows how it contradicts the movie’s otherwise beautiful (and deeply Catholic) message. It’s a great article, and I recommend reading it in its entirety: .

    • Jonathan Fleischmann

      Thank you for this post/article, Dawn Eden, which must have been painful to write. As a father with a daughter of a similar age, the picture of you is particularly poignant. A comment on the following hopeful sentiment of Daniel O’Connor, who says “I think it is easier for those who haven’t really seen the dark side of things to adopt such an unfortunate demeanor”. While I understand Daniel O’Connor’s desire to hope this were true, in my own experience I have found that the demeanor of “good” Catholics who defend sex in movies and other media are more likely trying desperately to excuse/hold on to their own (often addictive) sexual behaviors… I believe that the only answer to pornography for men (and women) is to fix our eyes on our Blessed Mother, Ever-Virgin — the most beautiful Woman, and the prototype of all womankind in the mind of God the Father, even before the creation of the universe. Ave Maria!

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