National Catholic Register


German Bishops Publish Porn?

BY Jimmy Akin

| Posted 11/8/11 at 10:20 AM


According to The Independent,

Germany’s biggest Catholic-owned publishing house has been rocked by disclosures that it has been selling thousands of pornographic novels with titles such as Sluts Boarding School and Lawyer’s Whore with the full assent of the country’s leading bishops.

The revelations made in the publishing-industry newsletter Buchreport concern Weltbild, a company with an annual €1.7bn (£1.5bn) turnover and 6,400 employees. It is Germany’s largest bookseller after Amazon and wholly owned by the Catholic Church.

Buchreport revealed that Weltbild’s massive assortment of titles available to customers online includes some 2,500 “erotic” books with unmistakably lewd titles including Call Me Slut!, Take Me Here, Take Me Now! and Lawyer’s Whore, to name a few. The publisher’s website also pictures the titles’ lascivious dust jackets that feature colour photographs of scantily clad women in high heels and erotic underwear.

Hmmm. So what’s the company have to say for itself?

Yesterday, Carel Haff, Weltbild’s managing director, was quoted as saying that the revelations had provoked “a very intense and critical dialogue” within the company. He said discussions were under way about possibly limiting the assortment of titles that would be available in future.

“Dialogue” and “possibility limiting” in the future? Doesn’t sound like an adequate response to me. Wonder what their bosses have to say.

Catholic bishops responded with a statement claiming that “a filtering system failure” at the publishing house had allowed the books to stray on to the market. “We will put a stop to the distribution of possibly pornographic content in future,” they said.

Well, that’s good. Although: “Possibly pornographic”? Could be a translation issue. Perhaps they mean it’ll be stopped whether it is actually pornographic or on the fringe of outright porn. If so, problem solved, then, right?

But Bernhard Müller, editor of the Catholic magazine PUR, dismissed the clerics’ reaction as grossly hypocritical. He alleged that the pornography scandal at Weltbild had been going on for at least a decade with the Church’s full knowledge. Mr Müller said that in 2008, a group of concerned Catholics had sent bishops a 70-page document containing irrefutable evidence that Weltbild published books that promoted pornography, Satanism and magic. They demanded that the publisher withdraw the titles.

But their protests appear to have been completely ignored. Writing in the Die Welt newspaper, Mr Müller said most of the bishops refused to respond to the charges. “The sudden proclaimed astonishment of many church leaders that pornographic material is being distributed by their publishing house, is play acting – bad play acting,” Mr Müller said. “Believers have been complaining to their bishops about this for years.”

Maybe we need a little more background on this situation.

The Catholic Church bought Weltbild more than 30 years ago. The publisher has gradually transformed itself into one of Germany’s largest media companies with the help of some €182m of Catholic Church tax levied on believers. To increase its profits, in 1998 the company merged with five other publishing houses that market pornographic titles. One of them is Droemer Knaur, which is 50 per cent church-owned. Another is Blue Panther Books, which was excluded from the list of participating publishers at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair allegedly because of the pornographic content of is titles.

Okay, and so have the bishops tried to take any action in the past?

It emerged yesterday that in an attempt to clear itself of potential embarrassment over the sale of porn, the Catholic Church tried to sell Weltbild in 2009. But the bishops apparently abandoned the idea after they failed to get the price they were asking.

I have to say that I find this story disturbing on multiple levels. Obviously, the first is the idea that a business owned by Catholic bishops is selling smut. That’s like a Really Bad Thing—a Thing That Must Not Be.

I’m frustrated, though, by the way the story is written. It’s not clear enough about what the facts are.

For example, is Weltbild publishing smut or merely distributing smut? Either way, it’s horrible. But it’s worse if they’re publishing it. Publishing a book requires much more intensive involvement than simply carrying it. It’s one thing to say, “This is a filtering problem; our purchasing agent stocked stuff that shouldn’t have been stocked,” and it’s another thing to say, “This goes way beyond a failure on the part of our purchasing agents; our whole editorial process is compromised to the point that we have a porn-production subdivision operating under our auspices.”

So I’m not clear from The Independent’s article which of these horrors is the case. As best I can tell the firm both publishes books and distributes other publishers’ books, and I don’t know which is in play here. Bad reporting from The Independent.

Then there’s Mr. Muller’s criticism of the German bishops. If his allegations are true then things are much more serious. If the German bishops knowingly allowed their company to publish or distribute porn then there is a whole additional layer of culpability here.

But is that automatically the case? Not all criticisms of bishops groups are accurate, nor do they all tell the whole story. Just who got the 2008 document? Did any bishops see it and read it? Was it round-filed by the office staff? Was it written in such a way that it provided the “irrefutable proof” that Mr. Muller claims? Or was it done in a way that would guarantee problems. If as proof of selling books “promoting pornography, Satanism and magic” all they cited was some romance novels and Harry Potter then one might understand why prior action wasn’t taken.

On the other hand, if the problem is as blatant as Mr. Muller makes out then one would think that at least some German bishops were aware of what was being sold in their own retail outlets or on their own website. Surely some of the bishops occasionally wandered into a store or bought a book of of the Weltbild website and saw what was being offered for sale.

How about the 2009 attempt to sell Weltbild? The story says that this was “in an attempt to clear itself of potential embarrassment over the sale of porn,” but is that Mr. Muller’s interpretation of the event? How do we know that was the motive.

I can think of another and rather obvious motive: What is a bishop’s conference doing running non-religious book and media service to begin with? It would be one thing for them to have a Catholic publishing house or a chain of Catholic bookstores, but Weltbild apparently functions as a secular business, and I don’t see why a bishops conference should be the sole owner of a business that functions in that manner.

I can thus see why some German bishops might want to get rid of it for that reason alone.

Both before and after his time as pope, Papa Ratzinger has emphasized the need of the Church to eliminate or re-focus institutions it’s operating so that the Church is not spending its energies on running things that operate in a purely secular manner. There may have been Vatican influence on this point.

On the other hand, if Mr. Muller is right and it was an attempt to get shed of the thing because it was distributing porn then that strikes me as shameful. The thing to do would be shut down the porn aspect of the thing. (And then sell it.)

My problem is that The Independent’s story is so poorly written that I can’t tell what the actual facts are.

I certainly don’t trust the reporter’s representation of them. The British press has it in for the Catholic Church in spades and must be expected to slant, distort, or even make up things with an eye to harming the Church. (Notice how the very first sentence tells us this was done with “with the full assent of the country’s leading bishops” and we don’t get to the bishop’s statement apparently contradicting this until paragraph five?)

So I don’t know what to think. The situation appears bad, but just how bad I cannot tell because of the bad journalism of The Independent.

What do you think?