The Pope, the Congressman, and Romance Novels

The Pope, the Congressman, and Romance Novels

Artwork By Cary Peterson, Sourced from Adobe Stock.

For some time in the late 20th Century through to the 21st Century, the debate of the moral nature of romance writings centered on if it was porn or not. Most literary experts of the time would object to such a classification, but a minority of Christian pundits and psychologists/coaches would say otherwise. The reality was the romance genre was a massive success in the publishing industry, because sex sells, and the industry would let no one stand in their way. Having armies of women authors willing to expound on the basic feminist social benefits these novels provided only made it harder for any opposition.

Pope Gregory XX
It would come to pass that Pope Gregory XX would issue a most controversial encyclical entitled, “Pure Corde” or “A Pure Heart” which restated the Catholic Church’s position on human sexuality, the concept that human sex was directed towards the goal of human reproduction and that the pleasure from it was the unitive benefit reserved for those in a state of marriage, that all are called to a chaste life, and lastly expanding upon the Church’s understandings of pornography to include the written word. The document did nothing but further divide an already shrinking Church membership, especially in the topics of sex, romance writings and women’s rights.

Congressman Richard Hays
The debate over the moral nature of romance writings would eventually end up on the U.S. House of Representatives, where one Congressman from South Carolina, Richard Hays, used the encyclical’s explicit verbiage about pornography as justification for expanding the federal government’s reach over “obscene matter” under chapter 18 of the U.S. Code.

While the U.S. Supreme Court decision under the Miller test clearly would find many published romance books as obscene by some Christian standards, the enforcement of this was lacking because what the “average person” thought as obscene had drifted away from Christian norms. This was something that Mr. Hays wanted to correct by strengthening the U.S. Code to make it harder for publishers to produce and distribute such materials by creating a specific section in the code. For example, he wanted to ban the distribution of such materials in all public libraries, including the Library of Congress.

Mr. Hays had included his “adjustments to chapter 18” in a government appropriations bill. This created a lively floor debate by several women representatives, many of which offered their own counter amendments. Votes after vote occurred on various amendments and in the end, the bill would pass with Mr. Hays’ adjustments and would move on to the Senate.

A cohort of publishers and women’s groups caused Mr. Hays’ “adjustments” to be struck over issues of constitutional free speech during the Senate debate on the appropriations bill and its amendments.

The lobbyists sealed the win when information came out that Mr. Hays had years ago been in therapy for an internet pornography addiction. Mr. Hays tried to explain this time of his life, and how his marriage was spinning out of control. The romance in their marriage had hit a dry spot and his wife turned to romance novels, and he invested himself in visual porn as a counter. In the end, the two broke up and he entered therapy. But it didn’t matter because his peers and wider society saw him as a hypocrite. Although various Christian groups did voice support for him, which helped his campaign funds for re-election.

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