Recently computer hackers managed to break into the personal iCloud accounts of various female celebrities. These hackers stole digital photographs, including pictures of the celebrities naked.
The hackers committed a crime. Thou shall not steal.
Secular media (prompted by some of the celebrities themselves) states that “empathy” for victims is required because the “Right to Privacy” was violated, and that this violation is tantamount to sexual assault.
I don’t empathize with stupid. I pray for it. I ask for God’s mercy in connection with it. But I don’t empathize with it. The notion that I must have empathy is repellent to me, especially when many of these celebrities have already put themselves in the gutter by being filmed or photographed immodestly, earning a considerable amount of money and notoriety doing so.
To “empathize” in this instance is really euphemism: what’s demanded is that we condone and affirm poor choices and terrible conduct.
In Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II states that in our secular culture, the human body is no longer perceived as “…a properly personal reality, a sign and place of relations with others, with God and with the world.” Rather, “it is reduced to pure materiality: it is simply a complex of organs, functions and energies to be used according to the sole criteria of pleasure and efficiency. Consequently, sexuality too is depersonalized and exploited…. it increasingly becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts.” (para. 23).
The penetrating influence of the media results in “…..an extremely serious and mortal danger: that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life. A large part of contemporary society looks sadly like that humanity which Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. It is composed ‘of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth’ (1:18)…. when conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls ‘evil good and good evil’ (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness.” (para. 24).
Citing to a fundamental “Right of Privacy” as the basis to generate “personal” pornography places society in an extremely serious and mortal danger that confuses good and evil. But since we’ve developed such a tolerance (and perhaps even appetite for) public pornography, the point is almost lost on us.
Creating pornography is not an exercise of freedom. JPII cites St. Augustine who writes, “the beginning of freedom is to be free from crimes… like murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. Only when one stops committing these crimes (and no Christian should commit them), one begins to lift up one’s head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom”. (para. 75).
Practically speaking (from the standpoint of this curmudgeonly Catholic), none of the images stolen by the hackers should exist. There should have been nothing to steal. Taking naked pictures for the purpose of depicting oneself as a sexual object is a sin. It denies the human dignity of the one objectified in the image, and it creates an occasion for sin in the one who sees it. Neither the viewer nor the producer is doing anything that advances them toward salvation.
We are called to live, dress, and act modestly, and this calling does not magically disappear as soon as we find ourselves behind closed doors.
The Catholic Church respects and supports the notion that individuals enjoy an expectation of privacy that must be respected by all. The Church teaches that “In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person… such as “the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard… privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion.” (CCC 1907).
But the purported “Right to Privacy” assumed to exist in culture today was not explicitly set down as one of the enumerated constitutional rights in our American jurisprudence. Rather, the Right to Privacy is a manufactured legal fiction adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court to provide a basis for legalized abortion. It is the product of a carving out of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was originally intended only to secure one’s privacy against state action.
This is not to say that privacy rights don’t exist; a right to privacy does exist, and under the section of the Catechism that discusses the Eighth Commandment, the Church teaches that “Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives. Those in charge of communications should maintain a fair balance between the requirements of the common good and respect for individual rights. Interference by the media in the private lives of persons engaged in political or public activity is to be condemned to the extent that it infringes upon their privacy and freedom.” (CCC 2492).
However, it is an abuse of the Right to Privacy to legitimize immoral and illicit behavior, including a variety of forms of deviant sexual activity (like the creation of pornography) or the products of such behavior, including abortion, contraception use, and so on. The Right to Privacy, properly articulated, does not mean that there exists a right to do things which violate the natural law simply because they are done in private.
There is a nuance here that is frequently missed by most, especially those in secular culture: freedom and rights are not synonymous. I may well have freedom, because God gives me freedom so that I might choose the good, but that does not mean that since I also possess the freedom to choose the bad, I also have the right to do so.
The exercise of a right presumes that the right exists, and we as moral actors do not ever possess the right to do evil, even when the law does not criminalize the evil in question. God may permit such actions, but he does not accept them or agree that they are a just use of our freedom. Legality — in civil terms — has the disastrous quality of eventually being equated with morality, which is why Catholics are called to participate in legislative activity and resist the creation or execution of unjust laws.
The Right to Privacy does not give license to behave however one likes so long as one does so privately. In Evangelium Vitae, St. Pope John Paul II cites to Aquinas on the question of the natural law and its relationship to the civil law: “human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence”. And again: “Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law“. (para. 72).
Inasmuch as no person may permissibly make use of pornography under the natural law, likewise, no person – even the one depicted – enjoys a privacy right in its creation. Both the viewing and production of images for the purposes of sexual gratification are morally reprehensible acts. Any “Right to Privacy” that protects something which otherwise violates the natural law is not an authentic right, but a corruption of it.
Likewise, any demand for empathy toward the victims whose Right to Privacy has been violated is a corruption of the law as well, for one simple reason: no one should make oneself a pornographic object, even a “personal” or “private” one. Empathy — as much as creating a pornographic image, viewing it, or stealing it — makes one just another participant in the sin.