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Churches confront an 'elephant in the pews'

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Douglas Weiss, a counselor with divinity and psychology degrees, speaks at churches of many denominations on sexuality issues. "Wherever I am ... and no matter what the denomination, at least half of the men in the church admit to being sexually addicted," he says. Based on his experience, "The clergy don't differ that much from the general population - between a third to half."

Many men have been trying on their own for years to get free, Dr. Weiss adds.

Some denominations encourage local congregations to educate members and to install filtering software in church and home computers. Evangelicals have responded most vigorously.

Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based Evangelical group, was alerted a few years ago when its toll-free clergy-care line began lighting up with calls from ministers - and 25 percent were porn-related. "We've been working hard to alleviate the addiction, and are seeing some improvement," says the Rev. H.B. London, vice president of ministry outreach.

Still, their experience shows that "probably about 20 percent of pastors have a pornography issue," and "many, many every year have to leave the ministry."

Some churches are devastated when they learn of their pastors' problem. Families are torn apart.

In the book, "Pastors at Greater Risk," Mr. London tells of one minister who began frequenting pornographic websites after being asked to join a community action committee to block child access to sexually explicit materials on the Internet. Some pastors become hooked when they are asked to help men in their congregation confront the problem. But most often, counselors say, it's unresolved issues related to the challenges of clergy life and to marriage difficulties that contribute to their habit.

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