Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Legion of Decency

One of the great benefits of having had Fr. Hoevel in residence at Rome City was the opportunity to pick his brain over dinner (every night at 6 pm SHARP!). During these conversations, a wealth of history was passed on to all who were there.

One night I commented about the state of morality in our media and entertainment programming. Father Hoevel quickly lit up and said "What we need is the Legion of Decency!" "The Legion of Decency?" I asked, "sounds like a bunch of superheroes in capes". Father replied, "They didn't wear capes, they wore cassocks". He then went on to tell us about how things used to be .

The Legion of Decency was formed in 1934 under the Most Rev. John Timothy McNicholas, Archbishop of Cincinnati to combat immoral movies. People took a pledge, in church, against bad movies. They pledged not only never to go to any morally objectionable movie, but never even to go to any movie theater that had ever shown a morally objectionable film!

This was very effective in discouraging Hollywood from making movies which would earn the disapproval of the Legion of Decency. And the Legion of Decency's ratings were very strict, much more strict than the modern Catholic Bishops' movie rating system (which has been sadly ineffective in influencing the making of movies).

Catholics used to be united, strong and strict, and then they were a powerful force to be reckoned with by the movie industry!

Around the end of the 1950's, things began to change. The emphasis was taken off condemning bad movies, and a deliberate effort was made to make The Legion of Decency more `positive'. The pledge gradually faded out of use, until it was finally completely forgotten.

One of the 4 Bishops who headed the Legion of Decency was our very own Bishop John Noll. It seems when he passed away in 1956, the teeth of this once-revered and respected organization lost their bite on Hollywood and the screenwriters.

In 1957, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical called Miranda prorsus. It not only vigorously condemns bad movies, but also immoral TV shows and radio programs. However, without a cadre of strong Bishops ready to continue Archbishop Noll's fight for morality under this banner, the Legion was displaced in our culture by Hollywood's own self-imposed and self-serving rating system. Sounds like a fox in the henhouse.

Our Lady of America has been trying to warn us about these things since 1956. We don't need high definition to see that the picture is getting clearer.