Last February, Cardinal Roger Mahony hailed an updated Motion Picture Code, or "Hays Code," as "one fruitful way" to solve the problem of motion pictures that glorify evil. Thousands of parents, filled with hope that he might clean up the movies, wrote and telephoned him. But by April, under pressure from Hollywood, he was telling Catholics in the industry that reviving the decency code was "the last thing I wish to do."
As the father of three daughters, I am saddened that the cardinal seems to worry more about what is acceptable to Hollywood than about what the Catholic Church teaches about movies and television.
The "Hays Code" (1933-1966) that embarrasses the cardinal so much came from the Pope and Mahony's predecessors, the Catholic Bishops of the United States. In 1936, Pope Pius XI praised the American hierarchy for its efforts to ensure that "no film which lowers the moral standards of the spectators, which casts discredit upon natural or human law or arouses sympathy for their violation will be produced.
"There must be no weariness in combatting whatever contributes to the lessening of the people's sense of decency," he said. "This is an obligation which binds . . . the bishops." Pope Pius XII not only blessed such a code, but also called on public officials to enforce such rules and safeguards.
Pope Paul VI, in his decree on communications issued as part of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, endorsed "a code . . . of sound moral practice" and agreed that public authority is "obliged to use laws" to protect "public morals" from "the base use of the media."
Past popes are not the cardinal's only problem. Pope John Paul II's Council for Social Communications has called for "ethical codes . . . which respect the common good and promote sound human development . . . (particularly) for television."
Last January, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pope's Council for the Family, wrote to me expressing "great interest" in bringing back the film code as updated in 1956. "This code should also be extended to the production of TV shows and videos," he said. Yet whom did Mahony consult when creating his pastoral letter? Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America; the presidents of the writers and directors guilds, and Lew Wasserman, whose Universal Studios produced the blasphemous "Last Temptation of Christ"--and who gave $1 million to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
In 1987, during his visit to Los Angeles, Pope John Paul II begged Hollywood to clean up its act. Tinseltown's response has been to continue its almost unbroken parade of films featuring nudity, promiscuity, perversion, filthy language, rape, butchery, blasphemy and anti-religious bigotry.
Pius XI warned that "bad motion pictures . . . seduce young people along the ways of evil." Mahony, who now accepts "violence demanded by the story" and "sexual relations" portrayed with "taste," has surrendered to the wealthy pagans who dominate Hollywood. They will continue to seduce the children of the world.