Promoting honest conversation about pornography through panel discussion


As a much-anticipated Notre Dame women’s basketball game was beginning in the Joyce Athletic Center, hundreds of students and faculty instead filled the Hesburgh Library’s Carey Auditorium. People lined the back and sides of the packed room to hear four people talk about their experiences with pornography: a former pornography star, a former producer, a former addict and his wife.

The March 31 event was a product of the collaborative efforts of several individuals, the Institute for Church Life (ICL) and the Gender Relations Center (GRC).

While the GRC was not involved in planning the event, it was invited by the ICL to be a cosponsor. According to Dr. Christine Caron Gebhardt, GRC director, the Center has an interest in encouraging students to “be part of the discussion.”

“We are supporting the goal of the event as it relates to the mission of the GRC to create dialogue about how to support students in forming healthy relationships,” she said. “As the panelists will discuss, pornography harms relationships and the dignity of human persons ‘on both sides of the screen.’ It is our hope to raise awareness about pornography as a social justice issue—its links to unhealthy relationships, sex trafficking, sexual assault, body image distortion, etc.”

The panel discussion, which lasted over two hours, was taped, and a video of the panel discussion will be available online.

Leonard DeLorenzo, director of the ND Vision program within the ICL, the panel on pornography clearly falls under the auspices of the ICL said: “The heart of our mission is a commitment to evangelization and healing. There are wounds that people carry that relate to the phenomenon of pornography—these wounds are sometimes quite hidden. We care about this issue because we care about the people it affects. If we can play a small part in finding ways to offer healing, then we have a responsibility to do so. This isn’t a prerequisite for proclaiming the Gospel: this is part of the Gospel itself.”

Before the panel on Monday, DeLorenzo told the Rover how the project began:

“The original group that met to discuss the possibility of hosting a single program or series of events to treat the topic of pornography included myself, Michael Bradley ’14 [Editor’s note: Bradley is the Editor-In-Chief of the Rover], Msgr. Michael Heintz, Professor Gabriel Reynolds, Jessica Keating, and later Professor Miguel Romero.”

DeLorenzo went on to express his reasons for supporting the event—namely to “open up a space for a thoughtful, personal, and potentially healing conversation about the very real effects of pornography in people’s lives and in our culture more broadly.”

When asked what he hoped would be the result of the discussion, DeLorenzo did not have an agenda. Instead, he expressed of openness to whatever the panelists’ stories stirred up in the audience, along with a desire for conversation to follow: “[The event] provides some models for how to talk about pornography while also, incidentally and quite naturally, highlighting some of the other issues related to intimacy, consumerism, and human dignity.”

Like DeLorenzo, Gabriel Reynolds, Professor of Theology, told the Rover that he thinks students need to discuss pornography more openly:

“The time has come for students at Notre Dame to speak about porn without any embarrassment. They should recognize how the porn industry wants them to be addicted, understand how regular users of porn are victims of its addictive power, and learn how freeing it is to break that addiction.”

The panel on pornography also garnered support from the University Life Initiates (ULI) Program, which is connected to the Office of the President. ULI President Jess Keating communicated her hopes to the Rover as well and implied that there will be more events to follow:

“Because pornography can be such a difficult topic, for this initial event we’ve invited men and women who have been involved in and affected by the production and consumption of pornography to share their stories with students. These stories are incredibly important because they provide an encounter not only with the idea of pornography but with particular people who have been wounded by the ways in which pornography radically restructures human relationships by turning people on both sides of the screen into commodities.”

The objectification Keating mentioned is part of what Pope Francis called, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the “throwaway culture.” Too often, the Pope wrote, “human beings themselves are considered goods to be used and then discarded.” Pornography is perceived by many to be a part of that culture. The solution, according to Keating, is found in dialogue among the faithful: “The proclamation of the Gospel will be the basis for the restoration of the dignity of the human person.”

DeLorenzo, like Keating, referenced the connection between evangelization and healing that Pope Francis described. He said Notre Dame has a responsibility as an evangelizing community to work toward healing for individuals and the culture at large. The university’s Catholic mission, as Pope Francis put it, requires it to acknowledge threats to human dignity and to respond with the love of Christ, “standing by people at every step of the way.”

There is no doubt that students, faculty and staff of Notre Dame are affected by pornography every day. The panel Monday was an attempt to show the community that Notre Dame cares.

Becca Self is a sophomore studying political science and education. She’s never been to a more compelling panel or lecture at Notre Dame. Contact her at