The decision by Canada’s leading telecommunications company came, appropriately, as Lent began. Telus planned to sell pornography via cell phones and other products.
Fortunately, after a two-week campaign spearheaded by Vancouver Archbishop Raymond Roussin, the company backed off.
This successful effort teaches us that the advance of evil isn’t inevitable. We can win. And it also teaches us how.
The Church’s voice counts. Some seem to expect our bishops to be so cowed by the recent scandals that they will stay silent about issues of this kind. Catholics know better. We know that the story of the Church has been filled with sin — and heinous sin, judging from the letters of St. Paul — from the start. To say that the Church has always been guilty of having sinners in it is like saying that hospitals have always been guilty of having sick people in them.
In fact, we only recognize the Church’s sins, to start with, because the Church taught us that they are sins. To sin is to violate moral laws of which the Church is the chief custodian. So, no, scandals shouldn’t keep the Church from calling the world to account for its sins. They should compel the Church to do so.
Bishops such as Archbishop Roussin are doing what the Church has always done: call the world to account on the moral law.
In a growing number of U.S. dioceses, bishops have begun to address the real-world moral problems that Catholics face every day with bold and creative initiatives.
Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Ore., is the latest in Tim Drake’s series on bishops who are finding innovative new ways to fulfill their teaching ministry. Bishop Vasa teaches a regularly scheduled class, and gives seminars on theology and Scripture. In another recent article, we reported on Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul Loverde’s own campaign against pornography.
They can look to Vancouver as proof that their efforts won’t be in vain.
Customers’ voices count. Janet Yale of Telus spelled out our second lesson when she told the Globe and Mail newspaper why the telecommunications giant did what it did. “We heard from a broad range of customers … who made it clear they were not supportive of this initiative,” she said. “We listened to our customers.”
We can take her word for it. If a lot of customers hadn’t contacted Telus, the company probably wouldn’t have given up the enormous revenue source that pornography represents. But a lot of customers did contact Telus. And, judging by those cited in the Canadian media, they were customers of all ages and from many different places.
This actually poses a challenge to us: What pornography is present in our own communities simply because, in cases close to our own homes, no one has complained?
Think what a difference it would make if each of us put sellers on the spot wherever we saw pornography for sale. The direct approach works best. “I notice you sell pornography here,” one could say. “I wish you wouldn’t. It drags down the whole community and it makes you into a pornographer.”
Better yet, we could organize a number of people in our parish or apostolic groups to make the same complaint — and remember that the greater the diversity of the voices, the more convincing they are to businesspeople. We can invite young-adult and youth groups to join us, along with elder groups, women’s groups and mother’s groups.
We also need to switch to offense. It is heartening to know that it’s still possible to stop egregiously offensive material from being sent out to mass audiences. But this is only a crucial first step. We can’t think of it as our whole effort.
Imagine if, instead of celebrating our ability to convince one company not to join the pornography free-for-all, we could celebrate our ability to convince one company to fund primetime anti-pornography ads and informational shorts promoting the dignity of women and the strength of self-control?
The culture war pits the new morality of “me and my desires” — the cult of radical individualism — versus the timeless morality of “my life for my family” — the culture of love. So far, this war has looked like the second movie in the popular Lord of the Rings series, in which hordes of monsters pour over the castle walls as families cower in a bunker and hopelessly outnumbered defenders achieve only fleeting rebuffs.
Too often, promoters of the new morality relentlessly press forward using the most effective means possible and slowly but surely wear us down.
But we can win. We have weapons that they don’t know about. Through prayer, we can offer ourselves to God as his instruments. And, by following where his primary instrument, the Church, leads us, we can participate in a power much greater than our numbers — the power of the One who has already overcome the world.