Guarding eyes, minds and hearts
Atlanta Legate’s anti-porn remedy helps men, women, families, seminarians . . .
Never before has the “private” act of viewing pornography had such public consequences. With the advent of the Internet, porn is pandemic. With gross annual income well over $14 billion in the US alone, the insidious industry is destroying marriages and families, darkening intellects, and deadening hearts by corrupting how we perceive and relate to the opposite sex.
Rather than simply lamenting the darkness, Ryan Foley is lighting a bright light. A member of Legatus’ Atlanta Chapter, Foley is vice president of business development for Covenant Eyes, a company offering Internet filtering and accountability software. Complementing the software are educational tools, freely available on their website, that teach good Internet use and expose the dangers of porn.
“I’m applying my apostolic passion, my love for souls, to this initiative,” says Foley, 40. It’s a fatherly passion, too. He and his wife Melissa have children — Kyle, 15; Molly, 6 and Clare, 5— who are growing up in a porn-soaked culture. Indeed, the largest consumer of Internet porn is the 12- to 17-year-old demographic. With so many young men’s perception of women being twisted by porn, Foley is concerned about his own daughters’ future marriage prospects.
Foley is one of six children brought up in a devout Catholic family. His father was an FBI agent, “so from a young age we were always discussing issues of justice, morality, virtues,” he explained. Service in the Air Force gave Foley a background in electronics and integrated systems that he later applied in the private sector in the field of high-tech security systems.
As a member of Regnum Christi, however, he later felt called to apostolic work and became executive director of Mission Network, an umbrella organization for all of the movement’s North American virtue-based programs. Later he started his own company, Faith Interactive, to teach parishes and faith-based organizations to “build software-based tools that would allow members to share ideas, conversations and opportunities.” He also helped start ePriest.com, an online resource for clergy of which he remains executive director.
He joined Covenant Eyes last year, applying his passion for security in support of families, working to protect them from Internet pornography.
Covenant Eyes has two components. The filtering software lets adults set time limits and block websites based on a young person’s level of maturity. Used in tandem or separately is the company’s accountability software. It monitors how the Internet is used, rating sites according to maturity level and sending a report to an “accountability partner” whom the user selects, such as a spouse, friend or mentor. Today more than 110,000 people use it.
If no filtering/blocking settings are employed, says Foley, “Covenant Eyes users can roam wherever they want in the World Wide Web.” But because they know they will be held accountable to someone they esteem, “they might rethink which ‘countries’ they want to visit and ask why they would want to do go there in the first place.”
Any “bad trips” can occasion a conversation with one’s accountability partner. Foley is his son’s.
“Kyle is applying his own filter and learning to make good judgments,” he explained. “It’s a method of maintaining your online integrity that seems more in line with the Catholic notion of responsibility. I can’t always be blocking you. At a certain point you have to develop good habits and virtues that carry on through life.”
These habits and virtues are essential for boys and men specifically because they are online pornography’s main audience. “It’s a tool for the devil to steal our integrity,” Foley said. “Even seminarians aren’t immune nowadays. They’re good men, but affected by a bad culture.”
The largest Catholic seminary in the United States has been using Covenant Eyes for seven years. Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., houses 178 men in formation.
“The problem of Internet pornography gets worse each year as potential baggage that we might encounter in any kind of new seminarian,” said seminary rector Monsignor Steven A. Rohlfs.
If a young man comes in with a mild attachment to porn, Monsignor Rohlfs says they can work with him. “Usually they’re very eager to be free of it. It’s refreshing for them to hear they’re not going to be kicked out, but that I will help and I don’t have a shorter fuse than God does.”
Usually within a year of starting to work with a young man on this problem, “he has his freedom. That’s the operative thing, because when you’re addicted you don’t have your freedom,” he said.
Monsignor Rohlfs likes Covenant Eyes because it “treats the men as adults,” allowing them to go wherever they want on the Internet but with the knowledge that they will be held accountable. Each seminarian has two accountability partners. The first is his spiritual director, a priest, with whom he can discuss anything in confidence.
A report also goes to his formation advisor “who acts in the external forum,” meaning that troubling patterns in the Covenant Eyes reports — any problems a seminarian discusses with him in general — will be reported to the rector and figure into the seminarian’s evaluation, which is sent to the faculty and his bishop.
The upshot is that if these young men are ordained they will be better equipped to help boys and men struggling with porn as well as other dependencies. “If they have experienced the benefits of this sort of safety net themselves, one that encourages virtue and good habits, then they can recommend with confidence this remedy to other people,” said Monsignor Rohlfs. “It will make them better confessors.”
Covenant Eyes includes everyone at Mount St. Mary’s — students as well as faculty and administration — monitoring all Internet-accessible devices. Everyone has an accountability partner, making it what Foley calls a “Covenant Eyes campus,” something he is working to promote among Catholic schools from the elementary to college-level. “The men have to know we’re not asking them to be accountable in a way we aren’t,” Monsignor Rohlfs said.
A 50-year fix?
“I talk about the five A’s of Internet porn,” said Dr. Peter C. Kleponis, a counseling psychologist specializing in pornography addiction. “It’s affordable, accessible, anonymous, acceptable (especially among young people, who joke about it), and aggressive, a highly addictive substance that effects changes in the brain.”
The situation is dark, with over half of marriages ending in divorce because one party has an obsessive interest in Internet porn. But Kleponis is realistically hopeful.
“It will take 50 years to quell this epidemic,” he explained. “I compare it to tobacco. Decades ago doctors knew smoking was bad, but everybody was doing it. It was acceptable. It took 50 years of intense education and millions dying before we finally got the message. We haven’t gotten rid of cigarettes, but generally our culture has accepted the fact that smoking bad. We’ve been educated. Porn is the same. We need to educate people.”
MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.
For more information, visit CovenantEyes.com