A group of Notre Dame Prep parents and alumnae has appealed directly to Cardinal William H. Keeler to prevent the showing of a video to high school seniors that contains hard-core pornography.
A spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic girls preparatory school in Towson said its board of trustees convened an extraordinary "special session" March 7 to consider the escalating complaints.
The board backed the administration's decision to continue to show the film to high school seniors with their parents' permission, said Lynn McKain, the school's director of public relations.
The film has been part of a workshop exploring "the link between pornography and sexual violence against women" for about 10 years, with no complaints until recently, Ms. McKain said. "We're not trying to hide anything," she added.
Ms. McKain said the film will be shown at the school again May 4.
Paul K. Van Sant, a 46-year-old investment counselor with a daughter completing the eighth grade at Notre Dame, said he and his wife had decided to send her to another school next year because of concerns he shares with other parents about the religion instruction.
Mr. Van Sant said he obtained a copy of the video last week and FTC was astounded at what it contained.
Women in a small group of parents and alumnae who reviewed it together were so disturbed by the vulgarity, explicitness and sexual violence of some of the scenes that they were reduced to tears, Mr. Van Sant said.
He also said that at least one student became ill after watching the film at school last year. This student had been invited by a faculty member to bring her boyfriend to the showing without any effort to secure the permission of the boy's parents, Mr. Van Sant said.
A Catholic archdiocesan spokesman said that Cardinal Keeler was "distressed" on hearing yesterday for the first time that any sexually explicit material had been used to teach teen-agers at Notre Dame Prep.
Although parents' more general concerns about allegedly "deteriorating support" at the school for traditional moral values had been expressed earlier to archdiocesan officials, the cardinal was not previously aware of the showing of a 68-minute video, "Not A Love Story: A Film About Pornography," said William Blaul, the cardinal's spokesman.
One complaint by parents was that the parental-permission form for their signatures did not suggest the graphic nature of the scenes and the language in the film, omitting a warning in the video itself that it "contains sexually explicit material that may disturb some people."
As described by the Canadian distributors of the video, it is "a thought-provoking chronicle of two women, Bonnie Klein, the director of the film, and Linda Lee Tracey, a stripper, as they explore the world of XXX-rated peep shows, strip joints and sex supermarkets.
"Both are motivated by the desire to know more about pornography -- why it exists, the forms it takes, and how it affects relations between men and women."
The advertisement for the film says it "offers insights and perspectives from men and women who earn their living in the skin trade, and from some of the industry's most outspoken critics."
What prompted the most recent controversy over methods and content of religion teaching at Notre Dame Prep was a Feb. 20 letter from the mother of two alumnae.
It was mailed to all the parents of the school's nearly 600 students.
In it, Lucy M. Plowden, a Homeland resident, wrote: "For some time now, a growing number of Notre Dame parents and students have been concerned with the deteriorating support by certain faculty at the school for traditional, strong, moral and Christian values.
"A number of alarming situations have now become public and we are committed to identifying the problem and finding some immediate solutions."
This letter led Sister Helen Marie, the headmistress, to write to the parents that "no clear concerns were defined" by Mrs. Plowden, adding that "the administration at Notre Dame is, as it has always been, available to any parent who would like to confer with us."
Sister Christine Mulcahy, who chairs the school's 24-person board of trustees, wrote another letter to parents March 9.
It said in part: "At a special board meeting, we met with some members of the religion department to discuss rumored allegations. We felt that they were both reverent and professional in their response to the issues that were raised."
Sister Christine told the parents: "All of us are confused by what has occurred. Be assured that Notre Dame is unwavering in its mission, continues to act in the best interest of your daughters and is dedicated, as always, to academic excellence and spiritual growth."