Should Catholics Have to Pay for Anti-Catholic Bigotry?

Last year, the FX cable network debuted a new series by Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck, The New Normal) called American Horror Story, conceived as a number of season-long, self-contained mini-series.

The first season, which focused on a married couple who move into a “haunted house,” was marked by explicit sexual content, often tinged with violence.

The second season, “Asylum,” is set in the year 1964 in an institution for the criminally insane run by the Catholic Church. It contains some of the most bigoted, offensive, and depraved content you can imagine – all squarely aimed at the Catholic Church, its beliefs, and its institutions. And if you are Catholic and a cable subscriber, you helped make this content possible.

From the opening sequence – in which creepy music, graphic surgery, and copulation are interspersed with images of the Virgin Mary – American Horror Story: Asylum is virulent anti-Catholic propaganda from beginning to end.

Among the program’s catalogue of anti-Catholic canards are: 

•     Nuns are abusive and sadistic. Sister Jude brutally canes a serial killer known as “Bloodyface,” allows him to be attacked by other inmates, then orders the asylum’s orderlies to beat him. The episode ends with Jude strapping another character to a table and threatening her with torture.
•     Catholic clergy are motivated solely by ambition. Monsignor Howard rhapsodizes at length about how success in running the asylum will cause him to be promoted to cardinal, and eventually “the first Anglo-American Pope!” He offers to share his power with Jude, whom “thousands of sisters will call ‘Reverend Mother!’” Admittedly, this does take place in Sister Jude’s fantasy. But this is only natural, since…
•     Catholic clergy are sexual perverts and hypocrites. Before dinner with Monsignor Howard, Sister Jude is shown fondling her cleavage and donning lacy red lingerie as religious music soars. Her fantasy concludes with the nun stripping off her habit and straddling the priest’s crotch.
•     Catholic piety is phony, and Catholics are secretly bigots. Sister Jude is shown praying the “Hail Mary” – after which, she proceeds to abuse her patients and Sister Mary Eunice. Instead of leading to compassion, Sister Jude’s prayers are shown only to engender a shrill hatred of everyone and everything that does not meet her limited worldview, and actually cause her to exhibit only brutality and sadism toward others. Sister Jude is also a bigot; while taunting “Bloodyface” (who killed his African-American wife), she sneers, “Did her dark meat slide off the bone any easier than your other victims?”
•     Catholics are ignorant and substitute irrational dogma for science. Sister Jude snarls that one inmate was committed by a doctor who “compared her to a wood nymph.” “You mean nymphomania?,” Lana asks. “Just more nonsense from the charlatans,” Jude replies. “That young woman is a victim of her own lust! Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for SIN!” Sister Jude also persistently criticizes Dr. Arden’s treatment of the patients. That a nun with such beliefs would have been put in charge of a mental institution in the pro-science, pro-psychology Vatican II era of 1964 Catholicism is ridiculous.
•     Catholics use their influence solely to oppress others. In addition to her blatant abuse of the charges under her keeping, Sister Jude wrongfully imprisons Lana – a woman she knows to be sane – then bullies Lana’s lesbian lover Wendy into signing commitment papers by threatening to expose their liaison, which in 1964 would result in Wendy’s disgrace and dismissal from her job as a schoolteacher. 

There is an audience, apparently, for this kind of anti-Catholic invective. At least three million viewers tuned in for the second season premiere. But that also means another 87 million cable subscribers who chose not to watch, presumably including many faithful Catholics and non-Catholics who are offended by this content, paid for this program to come into their homes, whether they wanted it or not.

Murphy may have his reasons for disliking the Catholic Church, and he is entitled to his opinion; but it is unconscionable that every cable and satellite subscriber in America (including many Roman Catholics, who comprise the single largest religious denomination in the country) is forced by the entertainment industry to subsidize Murphy’s bigoted attacks on their faith.

The reverse is also true, by the way. Is it fair to make a committed atheist pay for religious programming? Is it fair to make a childless bachelor pay for children’s programming, or a person with no interest in sports pay for ESPN?

According to a recent survey, 92 percent of respondents said they would prefer to pay for cable channels à la carte. Variety reports that: “U.S. consumers would overwhelmingly prefer to pay for just 19 TV channels at $1.50 a pop than their current multichannel packages.”

Unbundling cable channels is only fair, and it is the only way to set right a distorted market that forces people to subsidize content that assaults their deepest beliefs and attacks their very faith.

Father Val J. Peter was Executive Director from 1985 to 2005 and is now Executive Director Emeritus of Girls and Boys Town, the original Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home. He has served on the boards or committees of more than twenty national and local organizations, including the Parents Television Council, and has published eleven books and more than fifty scholarly articles. He holds doctorate degrees in canon law and theology.