That’s Men: What to do on a date; and other vintage values

I had forgotten about scruples until I saw the cover of an old Catholic Truth Society pamphlet, which read Scruples – how to avoid them. The pamphlet, by Rev William P O'Keeffe, CM, was first published in the 1940s.

The word referred to an exaggerated anxiety that one had committed or might commit sin.

Today it might well be seen as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Sufferers would go again and again to confession to seek absolution or reassurance. Very often, though, reassurance didn’t work and the torment went on.

But scruples were not all the Catholic Truth Society concerned itself with. Its publications were on sale in a rack inside the entrance of every Catholic church. There they offered advice to huge numbers of people, including myself. Nothing else in the line of self-help books was available to most of us.


Veritas has published a collection of the covers of these pamphlets, put together by Lir Mac Cárthaigh. Called Vintage Values, the collection gives a glimpse into the preoccupations and insecurities of an era.

Pamphlets such as Modesty and modernity by Mary de R Swanton, Divorce is a disease by Rev Martin J Scott, SJ, or The young lady says no! by Rev William P O'Keeffe, CM, seemed at the time to be laying down the line of a church that would go on ruling the roost forever.

Today, though, I get a sense from these titles of a church already on the defensive against the tide of modern influences. The Catholic Truth Society and its writers sought to counterbalance these influences.

One of the most prolific of writers was Rev Daniel A Lord, SJ. His pamphlets included such titles as Nobody loves a tease; What to do on a date?; The girl worth choosing – For the boy who chooses and the girl who wants to be chosen; Shall I be a nun?; Shall my daughter be a nun?; and A guide to fortune telling.

Escape into the movies

Of course there was more to life than Catholic Truth Society pamphlets. For example, you could escape into the movies.

Well, maybe not. Hollywood may have been run by Jews but their movies reflected Catholic values. This was done through a self-censorship system run by the Hays Office, which enforced a detailed set of standards on films.

And who do you suppose wrote that detailed set of standards? Why, none other than our old friend, the Rev Daniel A Lord, SJ.

Fr Lord's work may have been in every church porch in Ireland but he was a US priest who wrote pamphlets, songs and musicals, all promoting Catholic ideas.

He saw sound in films as a particularly dangerous influence, writing of the move from silent movies to talkies that “Silent smut had been bad. Vocal smut cried to the censors for vengeance.”

The Hays office had a stultifying effect on freedom of expression in the movies in the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

By the way, one of the rules Fr Lord included in the Hays Office code stipulated that the clergy must always be portrayed in a positive light. Small wonder that one commentator, Henry E Scott, has described Hollywood as “a Jewish-owned business selling Roman Catholic theology to Protestant America”.

For us in Ireland it was a little like living in a closed system: on the one side we had the Church teachings promulgated to us by our schools and clergy and by Fr Lord, et al. And if we ran to the movies for escape, what we were watching was shaped by Fr Lord.

And yet it failed. Television smashed it all apart and a new era came roaring in.

Today Fr Lord is largely forgotten, his system to protect young minds from modernity lies in pieces and we don’t hear much about scruples anymore.

And I, God forgive me, would give a lot to bring Fr Lord back from the grave for the few minutes required to sit him down in front of a TV to watch a Miley Cyrus video in Catholic Ireland.

Padraig O'Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is free by email.