The University should bear witness to the truth

The use of pornography is one of the most widespread and pernicious sins that plagues contemporary university students. As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame has a unique duty and special opportunity to contribute to the formation of its students, and to present an example of true Christian behavior for those entrusted to its education. By blocking pornography on its officially-provided Wi-Fi networks, the University would end its facilitation of this morally-evil material, empowering students to lead holier lives.

Last month, 150 Notre Dame students published two open letters in the Observer calling on the University administration to implement a filter on pornography on the University Wi-Fi networks. The letters publicized a petition signed by over 1,000 Notre Dame faculty, alumni, and students in favor of a filter on pornography.

The letters provoked seven response letters in the Observer and received national attention from the National Review, the Washington Examiner, and the National Catholic Register, among other publications. Since the letters were published, the petition requesting the filter has generated an additional 400 signatures from the Notre Dame community.

The use of pornography is a sin “gravely contrary to chastity,” because it “perverts the conjugal act” and “does grave injury to the dignity of its participants” (CCC 2523). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops condemn pornography use as a mortal sin when done with “full knowledge and deliberate consent.” In their pastoral letter “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” the American bishops call pornography “a widespread and pernicious, though often overlooked evil.”

Currently, pornography is not filtered in any way on Notre Dame’s Wi-Fi networks. The only effort to prevent students from using the University Wi-Fi to access pornography exists in the unenforced rule: “Never use University resources to post, view, print, store, or send obscene, pornographic, sexually explicit, or offensive material.” An informal survey conducted in 2013 demonstrated this rule is entirely disregarded by many students. The survey showed that 63 percent of male Notre Dame students and 18 percent of female Notre Dame students have used the University Wi-Fi networks to view pornography.

The belief that blocking pornography at Notre Dame would have no effect is incorrect. The availability of pornography misleads students and all who look to Notre Dame as a moral example. Notre Dame is complicit in the furtherance of human rights abuses by virtue of refraining from blocking porn. The administration offers the University’s servers to be used to drive demand for an industry that abuses women and children, and fosters an environment amenable to sexual assault. Moreover, the availability of pornography enables the immorality of Notre Dame students.

Despite the filter campaign, the Notre Dame administration has signaled they do not wish to discontinue the availability of pornography on University Wi-Fi.

John Gohsman, Notre Dame’s Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, responded that implementing a pornography filter “would be neither technologically difficult nor costly.” Despite the ease of implementing a filter, Gohsman told the Observer that a filter is unnecessary because students can easily find pornography on their own, saying that, “the University has little incentive to implement a filter because it would be easy to circumvent.”

Gohsman’s reasoning is not in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. It does not follow that there is no need to block pornography on the University Wi-Fi networks because pornography can be found elsewhere. As a Catholic University, it is wrong for Notre Dame to facilitate the immoral behavior of its students even when that immoral behavior is widespread. For example, even though condoms are easily available, the University does not sell them in the Huddle.

Paul Browne, Notre Dame’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications, also spoke to the Observer regarding the filter. He explained that a pornography filter is unnecessary because the University should simply trust the students to not watch pornography. He said,  “I would hope and expect that the standards are such at the University that the people within our Wi-Fi capabilities would be self-censors,” adding, “God’s given us the choice of whether we’re going to be sinners or not, you know?”

Browne’s notion that Notre Dame should not intervene in moral matters because students possess free will is not in line with Church teaching. 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. Our faith tells us that “we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so” (CCC 1868).  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly states that those in authority have a obligation to prevent the distribution of pornography. It reads, “Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials” (CCC 2354). Notre Dame’s decision to not filter pornography puts it directly at odds with this obligation of the Church.

The University’s failure to block pornography when it could very easily do the opposite constitutes scandal. According to the Catechism, “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil…they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals…that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible” (CCC 2284-6). Pornography usage is a grave offense, and the provision of pornography through Notre Dame’s Wi-Fi networks is a structure that results in many occasions of sin.

When Pope Francis met with University President Father John Jenkins and members of his administration in 2014, he called on them to “bear uncompromising witness…to the Church’s moral teaching.” The University of Notre Dame would bear uncompromising witness by taking the simple, yet powerful step of filtering pornography on the University Wi-Fi networks.

Ellie Gardey is the Vice-President of Students for Child-Oriented Policy, and was involved in writing the pornography filter letters and collecting the signatures. You can reach her at