Pornography and Anti-Catholicism

To dismiss pornography is to ignore what the smut merchants have already pro-claimed: the Church is their enemy.

Standard fare pornography, often referred to as “adult material” or “erotica” by the morally unconscious, has been produced over centuries for the express purpose of aiding masturbation. Thousands of sexual underachievers make use of pornography daily, never heeding the advice of either Church or competent psychoanalysis that such continued, habitual activity is destructive of personality and that it replaces normal sexual interest with a perverted mindset.

Pornographers, whose moral values reside in their bank accounts, have perennially been wary of institutions or individuals who argue that their wares serve demonstrably harmful ends. Indeed, most pornographers claim that masturbation as a primary sexual activity with the aid of pornography is healthy, and that since masturbation is a universal activity anyway, pornographic magazines and tabloids serve to avoid the natural inclination to guilt most normal people sense when engaging in odd forms of sexual endeavor.

Screw, a sixteen-year-old forerunner of the current tastelessness, often claims in its editorial pages that masturbation is healthy and that it is churches and organized religion which have created the problem:

When did this all start? With the early Christian saints, like Augustine and Jerome, who excoriated themselves by taking joy from life while not giving anything back? I doubt it. The Hebrew Talmudists also took the perfectly realistic Mosaic code and turned it into a bafflement of rules and laws that had to be broken even to be allowed to take a piss on Saturday. The old reasonable laws were boiled down to one commandment: “Jewish liberals shall feel guilty, because only one who ever lived had a mother who was a virgin.”

Such an editorial outlook, common in the pages of Screw (which ran a contest during Cardinal Cooke’s final weeks offering prizes for correctly guessing the date and hour of his death), replaces generally accepted moral principles with allegedly “Catholic-only” beliefs, something found in other arguments on other issues in other levels of media. For Screw, however, and for most pornographers, the enemy is a clearly defined, highly structured Roman Catholic Church:

I oftentimes attack the evils of hypocrisy I see around me. But what is the root cause of the world’s self-deception? Simply put, it is the Catholic Church. This is a group of superstitious celibates who feel that all pleasure is loathsome. This is an organization that intends to enslave us with its rhetoric…. Whatever makes sense the Church is opposed to.

Al Goldstein, Screw’s editor and publisher, regularly attacks Church leaders by name, including Cardinals Cody, Cooke, and Spellman, as well as Pope John Paul II. Some of his attacks are based on his own disordered “principles”; one, at least, was a clearly personal vendetta, resulting from his arrest on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1983 while attempting to film a segment for his pornographic cable television program, Midnight Blue.

Roman Catholics did not have to see Al Goldstein arrested on the steps of St. Patrick’s to know that they were targets of pornographers. In his address at a Conference on the Illegal Sex Industry, sponsored by New York-based Morality in Media last June, John Cardinal Krol recognized that “pornography is not limited to sexy pictures,” for:

. . the merchants of pornography today are directly attacking religious authority and teaching. Today, some of the porno-magazines try to discredit Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, priests, ministers, rabbis, religious nuns, etc. Blasphemous pictures are common. Even the Holy Father was featured on the front page of one such magazine.5

Cardinal Krol probably here refers to Hustler, the June 1984 issue of which features the Pope holding a copy of the May 1984 issue. The May issue ran a ten-page photo layout of nude women, plexiglass crucifixes, a plexiglass “Last Supper” table, and Marjoe Gortner. The front cover featured a nude woman resting on a plexiglass crucifix. In the June issue, below the photograph of the Holy Father, the magazine asks:

What sort of man reads Hustler? The kind of man with mass appeal. He’s a leader among men who isn’t afraid to cross those who don’t agree with him. And when he’s ready to turn the other cheek, he turns to Hustler. As a matter of fact, he finds Hustler such a blessing after a hard day, he’s willing to kiss the ground its sold on. And that’s no papal bull. It’s divine.

The July 1984 issue features a drunken crucified Jesus, and a crass attack on clerics — part of what would seem a nearly organized effort by pornographers to discredit organized religion. That the Catholic Church is most often and most directly attacked is the reasonable result of its being so highly structured and so highly visible. Hustler’s publisher, Larry Flynt, has long been perfectly willing to be seen as blasphemous. His magazine lists “Jesus H. Christ, Esq., publisher, Larry Flynt, copublisher and editor.”

Flynt and Goldstein may be two of the more visible anti-Catholic pornographers, but the number of anonymous writers is legion. Star Distributors in Manhattan published a series called “Monk’s Secret Library,” which promised to be “First person accounts of lewd, unnatural desires and blasphemous debauchery inside the monasteries and convents of Europe. These are the stories of the real saints and martyrs…. the ones the church refuses to canonize.”

Such sleazy accusations occasionally surface in at-tacks against religious leaders, especially religious leaders known for making demands upon the continually decaying public morality. Screw magazine’s regular attacks on Church leaders are relentlessly tasteless. Soon after Cardinal Cooke’s death, its editorial pages proclaimed:

Cooke was hounded out of this life by a vengeful god, a god furious at the church for disallowing birth control when there are hungry and unwanted children by the millions.

This seems to be the appeal of pornographers as they continue to attack the Church. By appealing to a “higher” morality, whereby poor people’s worries are taken care of (by abortion) or avoided (by birth control), unlimited sex becomes a right for all. The concept of dignified life-giving sexual activity is far beyond anything the pornographer has in mind. In a recent editorial, publisher Goldstein argues that “There’s a massive negative sexual imprinting on all of us as children in public school and even more so in parochial school.” While he says he objects to “snuff films” and child pornography, he claims that pornography is not abusive to women. It has probably never occurred to him that it debases both men and women, and that a healthy sexuality avoids pornography.

Similarly, Hustler publisher Flynt, proud of the fact that his was the first magazine to show female genitalia, claims that Hustler’s major accomplishment has been “Enlightening people about their own sexuality.” His magazine, a glossy and plainly dirty imitation of Robert Guccione’s Penthouse imitation of Hugh Heffner’s Playboy, often contains irreligious cartoons as well as blatant blasphemy. One such depicts two Neanderthal-like video game players at a gallery game called “El Salvador Death Squad.” “Get the nuns” one proclaims, “they’re worth 5,000 points.” Flynt seems to see his publication as performing a public service, since he says, “Society hasn’t reached the point where we can depend on our educational institutions or the Church to provide meaningful sex education for them.”

What is becoming more and more apparent, as pornographers make more and more attacks upon Church institutions and leaders, is the parallel between the Church as upholder of the public morality in this arena and the Church as upholder of the public morality in other arenas as well — specifically as regards defense of innocent life, opposition to capital punishment, adherence to the value of family life, and a plethora of other public policy issues, each rooted in a clearly identifiable insistence on the essential dignity of the human person. To dismiss pornography or the aims of pornographers with a slight smile and a “boys will be boys” attitude is to ignore that which the smut merchants have already proclaimed: the Church is their enemy.


  • Phyllis Zagano

    When Crisis was originally published in 1982, Phyllis Zagano was Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications at Fordham University.

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