BALTIMORE, November 13, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The bishops of the United States have overwhelmingly agreed to draft a new pastoral letter addressing the growing “epidemic” of pornography.

At their annual General Assembly in Baltimore this week, the body of bishops voted 226-5 to adopt the proposal by Bishop Richard J. Malone, head of the Diocese of Buffalo and chair-elect of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

The bishop said pornography is “a great temptation that ravages men, women, and children,” and "continues to pose serious pastoral challenges for clergy and for the faithful."

“It can leave devastating effects on the home, particularly the trust and intimacy between husband and wife, the happiness of the family, the innocence of childhood,” he said.

The bishop cited an estimate that pornography addiction is a “significant factor” in close to 60% of divorce cases, and noted “the average age of first exposure to pornography is between 10 and 11 years of age."

Malone said the letter would be "pastoral in nature," and would have a particular focus on marriage and family life.

“Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. High speed internet and mobile wireless devices have made pornography exponentially more accessible than in the past, affecting younger and younger ages,” he said. “It is well documented that the more pornography spreads, the more violent and debased it becomes and the more it exploits the men and the women who are part of the industry."

"With this growing awareness of pornography's grave impact, we have an opportunity to educate and to shine light on the mercy and freedom that is found in Christ,” said Malone.

The bishop noted that the conference has never issued a statement focused on pornography. His committee, he said, "feels the time is ripe for such a statement from the body in order to encourage in a unified way more pastoral attention to this pressing issue and to do so in the key of the New Evangelization."

"We have an opportunity to offer healing and hope to those who have been wounded,” he added.

During the question and answer period after Malone’s presentation, seven bishops rose to speak in favour of the proposal, prompting USCCB President Cardinal Timothy Dolan to remark on the body’s obvious support for the letter. "It's clear you and your committee have tapped into a genuine need that the brethren as pastors feel,” he said.

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, noted that while “there are great advantages to the advances in social media,” pornography “is the dark side of all of that.”

“It captures younger and younger people. It's destroying marriages and families at a very rapid rate and I think for us to make a statement and to assist our people in overcoming and avoiding these addictions to begin with would be very, very important,” he said.

He also suggested that taking on the issue is an important way of reaching out to the “margins.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City said he had been surprised to learn from the director of Catholic Charities in his Archdiocese that over 50% of those who came for counselling as a result of family breakdown had issues with pornography.

He encouraged promoting "awareness [of the issue] at the Sunday Mass," noting that while it would be "challenging," when carried out with lay witness it "can be very powerful and help people to really address an issue that is epidemic."

According to a USCCB press release, the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth will lead the drafting process, and the initial timeline would see a final statement ready by the end of 2015.