HOLLYWOOD -- In an unusual pastoral letter, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, has challenged the entertainment industry to adopt general guidelines for the depiction of violence, sex, family life and the treatment of women.
Implicitly criticizing the movie industry for an avalanche of films that "pander to baser instincts," Cardinal Mahony, who leads the largest archdiocese in the nation, went out of his way to insist that he rejects censorship or a return to the kind of production code, specifically governing how film makers deal with sex and other issues, that dominated the movie industry for decades.
Instead, the 56-year-old Hollywood-born cleric said yesterday the movie industry should voluntarily arrive at a way to assume its social and artistic responsibilities. In doing so, film executives should adhere to "general criteria" on such subjects as sex and violence, he said.
"The golden rule applies here," said Cardinal Mahony. "Responsible film makers will not do to their audiences what they would not want done to themselves -- or to their own teen-age sons or daughters."
There was no advance notice of the contents of Cardinal Mahony's message, but the reaction of a number of people in the film industry was one of relief that the message was not marked by more drastic proposals.
Cardinal Mahony has a reputation for outspokenness, controversy and activism. And in the wake of recent comments about "family values" by Vice President Dan Quayle and other Republicans, the movie industry has been especially edgy.
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, the industry's lobbying group, commented: "What the cardinal said is wise, reasonable and thoughtful. He's not calling for a censorship board. What he wants to do is lift the level of quality in motion pictures. Who can argue with that?"
Other executives said privately, however, that while Cardinal Mahony's points might be instructive, they could not be expected to have a major impact on an industry driven by a need for blockbuster hits.
Specifically, Cardinal Mahony said that movie makers should adhere to "specific criteria" in certain subjects.
In dealing with a movie's portrayal of women, for example, he asked: "How are the women in the story portrayed? Are they persons possessing the same intrinsic dignity as their male counterparts and, at the deepest level, facing the same soul wrenching challenges to grow and become aware. Is the unique vocation of motherhood given its proper due? Are the agonizing pressures and tensions of working mothers, especially those who must educate, nurture, and support their children, alone explored with sensitivity, candor and compassion?"