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Attendees watched Pope Francis on a screen during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin Aug. 21. The pope will visit Ireland Aug. 25-26.
Attendees watched Pope Francis on a screen during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin Aug. 21. The pope will visit Ireland Aug. 25-26.
Photo Credit: John McElroy | World Meeting of Families

Opening session of World Meeting of Families focused on safety in a digital world

Panelists urge families to come up with media plan to help protect minors from online threats

DUBLIN — Behavioral scientists and cybercrime experts talked to families about how digital distraction, pornography and the “online echo chamber” impact their lives, during one of the first panels at the international World Meeting of Families.

Pornography in particular has emerged as a threat to individual and family life, said panelist Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland.

Lickona cited numerous academic studies that document the widespread use and long-term effects of online pornography. One study observed that the average age at which boys in the U.S. and the U.K. begin to view internet pornography is now 11.

The normalization of pornography, combined with its “ubiquitous” distribution on social media platforms, leads to depression, anxiety, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, sexual assault and dysfunction, as well as marital infidelity, said Lickona. He listed several resources for combating pornography, the most important of which is a “family media plan.”

“We need to make it clear that the use of the internet is a privilege, not a right,” Lickona said. “Usage should require parental permission and be managed in a way consistent with the family’s values.”

Lickona’s son Matthew, a San Diego-based journalist, shared his personal experiences of managing digital media as a parent, while reflecting on the often-damaging ways that social media reshapes self-perception and identity. Although it may begin as a form of self-expression, social media can quickly “trap us in an echo chamber” where we only listen to like-minded people and “unfriend” or ignore those with whom we disagree.

Jayden Keaveney, an altar server from Dublin, held a candle during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin Aug. 21. Pope Francis will visit Dublin and Knock Aug. 25-26, mainly for the World Meeting of Families
Photo Credits: John McElroy | World Meeting of Families
Mary Aiken, a cyberpsychologist at University College Dublin and an academic adviser to Europol, the European Union’s largest law enforcement agency, moderated the panel. Noting that technology is neither good nor bad, Aiken stressed the need to use digital devices and social media with restraint.

“If you are a parent or caregiver to a young infant, and if you are consumed by your devices, then the infant is losing out,” Aiken said, adding that the average person looks at a cellphone 200 times, while touching it about 2,500 times, in a given day.

Aiken said digital media presents serious security concerns for children and families. Prior to the widespread availability of social media, sexual predators had far less direct access to child victims. Now, as young children gain increasing access to smartphones, “we’re giving a global audience access to the child,” Aiken said.

The panelists agreed that meeting the challenge social media presents to family life can involve “simple but difficult” solutions, such as committing to a regular meal together — something Pope Francis has endorsed as a “fundamental experience.”

An estimated 37,000 attendees from 116 countries are at the World Meeting of Family’s Aug. 22-24 pastoral congress, which features 290 speakers as well as dozens of workshops and discussions.

After the pastoral congress, the international gathering will conclude with a Festival of Families. Pope Francis arrives for that Aug. 25, followed by a papal visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock and a final Mass Aug. 26 in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

- Gina Christian, Catholic News Service

Roundup

Cardinal Farrell tells media church needs God to help it build bridges

DUBLIN -- Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, said the Church needs God to help it build bridges, to communicate and to help it understand that "we need to speak to each other and accept each other as children of God." Speaking to media Aug. 22, the first full day of the World Meeting of Families, the U.S. cardinal said that was the message international gathering was hoping to achieve. In a wide-ranging news conference that touched on many issues, the cardinal said the fundamental message of the Gospel was the same for all of God's creation. "It is extremely important that all Catholics understand that we are all created in the likeness and image of God," he said. - Catholic News Service

U.S. Jesuit urges Catholics to examine attitudes toward gay community

DUBLIN -- U.S. Jesuit Father James Martin set out a series of ways in which parishes can show welcome and respect to gay and lesbian Catholics. Addressing a packed 1,000-seat auditorium, from which organizers of the World Meeting of Families were forced to turn people away Aug. 23, the theologian said gays have often been treated like "lepers" by the Church. Father Martin, who has written about building a bridge between the gay community and the church, said most gay Catholics have been deeply wounded by the Church. "They may have been mocked, insulted, excluded, condemned or singled out for critique, either privately or from the pulpit," he said. At a news conference the same day at the Royal Dublin Society, which is hosting the international gathering, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich backed Father Martin's stance, warning that "to stigmatize one group over another can be very damaging," particularly to teenagers. Ahead of Father Martin's talk, the Irish branch of Tradition, Family and Property presented a petition with more than 10,000 signatures calling for Father Martin to be disinvited from the meeting.  - Catholic News Service

Irish bishops combat drug addiction through parish life, partnerships

DUBLIN -- Parish life, peer education and public-private partnerships are needed to combat addiction, said Darren Butler, national coordinator of the Irish Bishops' Drugs Initiative during an Aug. 22 presentation at the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin. More than 140 people listened Aug. 22 as Butler described the multifaceted pastoral response developed by the initiative, established in 1997 to address the issue of substance abuse in Irish society. Since then, the initiative has worked with numerous local and national agencies to provide resources for recovery. Parish and diocesan structures are key to the initiative's mission, said Butler, as they enable his team "to reach areas many other programs miss." Since young people are vulnerable to drug and alcohol experimentation when transitioning to secondary school, the initiative invites students preparing for confirmation to pledge themselves to a healthy lifestyle. As part of their "confirmation commitment," they attend a ceremony at which their sponsors promise to serve as positive role models. Students are then presented with commemorative wristbands and bookmarks listing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. - Catholic News Service

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