Alliance Gears Up to Fight Pornography

Article excerpt

America has more outlets for hard-core pornography than it has McDonald's restaurants, according to experts who see such availability as an indication of a growing problem worldwide. The United States, they say, is among the top producers and exporters of hard-core pornography.

So serious has the problem become throughout the world that it has captured the attention and resolve of four Catholic cardinals from four corners of Christendom: Jaime Sin of Manila, Philippines; Joseph Bernardin of Chicago; Emmanuel Wamala of Kampala, Uganda; and Nicholas Lopez-Rodriguez of Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic.

They met -- along with Philippines President Fidel Ramos and some 165 others from 37 nations and 50 faith groups -- in Manila Jan. 17-20 for the first international conference of the Cincinnati-based Religious Alliance Against Pornography, RAAP.

The characterization of the United States as a leader in the pornography trade is taken, in part, from FBI estimates that pornography here is an $8 billion to $10 billion a year enterprise. The bureau ranks it as organized crime's No. 3 racket after narcotics and gambling.

Numerous respected studies strongly suggest that hard-core and child pornography contribute significantly to the global epidemic of sexual violence and crime and play a role in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Bernardin, who helped found RAAP in 1986 in Cardinal John O'Connor's New York living room, said he was "very impressed" to have met at the conference with the head of the National Council of Churches, with leaders of Protestant, Orthodox, Pentecostal, evangelical and Mormon churches and the Salvation Army.

"On so many issues we might not be so united, but there was a real unity to our concern about pornography and its deep and scarring effect on the family and on healthy human relations," Bernardin told NCR upon his return.

While the cardinal said that he and most church leaders oppose all forms of pornography, he stressed that RAAP's focus was on hard-core and child pornography, which are illegal and unprotected by the First Amendment. The conference cited 11 Supreme Court antiobscenity decisions, but noted that violators are prosecuted infrequently.

Bernardin felt that the churches' relative silence about pornography stems from a "lack of understanding of its real impact." He admitted that he, like millions of other Americans, thought that pornography meant Playboy centerfolds or nighttime skin flicks on cable TV.

He quickly changed his mind, he said, when Justice Department officials invited him to a briefing in Washington eight years ago. "I was sickened by what I saw. I had never been exposed to this kind of vile stuff. It made me sit up."

Since that awakening, Bernardin and the 22 other church men and women who comprise RAAP's executive committee, have sponsored national conferences, met with and gained the support of two presidents and three attorneys general, and helped to pass the federal Child Exploitation and Obscenity Act of 1988 and the Child Sexual Abuse Protection Act of 1994 that makes it illegal for Americans to travel abroad for the purpose of sex tourism.

As a religious coalition, the alliance finds its theological basis for opposing pornography in the sacredness and dignity of each person, Bernardin said. …