If you think the spread of pornography is a contemporary problem, you’re right — and wrong.
Thanks to the Internet and modern social media, the reach of pornography today is ubiquitous.
No longer must one furtively visit an out-of-the-way store in a seedy part of town.
As Detective Elliott Stabler remarked in a Law and Order episode, “They’re not out there; they’re right in here,” as he pointed to his daughter’s computer.
On the other hand, concern about pornography is nothing new, as the late Jesuit Father Morton Hill could have told you.
Father Hill was serving in a Manhattan Jesuit parish back in 1962 when his superior told him he’d “better look into” the problem of some inappropriate magazines a mother had found circulating among the parochial school’s sixth-grade boys.
That episode would lead to his 23-year long career fighting porn, one of the lasting fruits of which was Morality in Media, a national organization Father Hill founded that still fights the good fight against smut.
Recently, Washington was incensed over the latest iteration of sex-abuse scandals in the military. While lots of pundits offered many views about why sex abuse still remains a problem, MiM pointed out just how much sexually exploitive porn is sold in the nation’s military commissaries. On June 13, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus issued a ban on sexually exploitive material; MiM asks: Will Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel follow suit across all the services?
Father Hill knew that pornography was a social problem and, as such, could not be solved without social involvement. President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to a federal commission charged to study pornography. The group, stacked with those who saw no issues with porn, recommended no restrictions.
Father Hill and fellow member Rev. Winfrey Link filed a minority report.
Subsequent events vindicated their position. The Senate voted against the commission’s recommendations 60-5 (34 abstentions). President Richard Nixon rejected it. And the Supreme Court, in the 1973 case of Miller v. California, established a practical, three-pronged approach to help cities and towns control the dissemination of porn.
Nor did it stop there. Father Hill knew that the pedigree of a federal commission — even one whose findings were so roundly rejected —gave a certain imprimatur to pornographers, so, under his leadership, a successful effort to get the Reagan administration to revisit the question took place.
Among its fruits was making the purveyance of obscenity a federal RICO (Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations) crime, giving the Justice Department real teeth to take a bite out of pornography.
Alas, according to MiM’s current president, Patrick Trueman (who had been chief of the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Division from 1988-93), the current Justice Department doesn’t seem interested in prosecuting pornographers.
Recently, MiM published its “Dirty Dozen” list of individuals and institutions who “facilitate” the pornography trade. MiM included Attorney General Eric Holder alongside companies like Comcast, LodgeNet and Hilton for “facilitating” the spread of smut.
Law, Trueman insists, is a powerful teacher. As commentator Pamela Paul has observed, America has become “pornified,” pervasively infiltrated by pornography that many in our culture would like us to regard as perfectly normal.
It’s not just a question of how widespread pornography is; pornography has become significantly raunchier, significantly edgier, significantly more bizarre and perverted.
“The most important thing to do to change this is to enforce federal laws on illegal pornography,” Trueman insists. “It is against federal law to distribute obscene pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV, in retail shops and through the mail or by common character. So … if these laws were vigorously enforced, there would be little porn available to access.”
In response to the claim that young people today are more tolerant of pornography, Trueman notes that “political correctness is responsible for much of this. … They need to know about harm from porn.”
And, like Father Hill, he just doesn’t wring his hands, but moves to action. Just check out MiM’s site PornHarms.com, which serves as a clearinghouse of information on the damage pornography wreaks. That’s MiM’s clear message: “The message is harm.” (MiM also sponsors a parallel organizational effort, the “War on Illegal Pornography”).
Laypeople can take action through MiM’s efforts — but what can clergy do? Father Hill was, after all, a Jesuit priest who studied law on his own to fight the growing tide of porn — and that was before modern media made such information universally accessible.
MiM’s Trueman urges priests to recognize that they are “on the front line.” Priests need to help men who confess to involvement with porn, knowing where to refer them for effective help. Priests also need to help break the silence about porn, he said, because it’s the “800-pound gorilla in the room” that nobody wants to mention.
Maybe it’s time to “take a look into this” — like Father Hill did 51 years ago.
John M. Grondelski writes from Taipei, Taiwan.