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Protesters target pornography in North Wales

A Jeep approached in the pelting rain, its wipers slapping, and sounded a honk-honk-honk at six drenched men outside Adult World in North Wales.

Dave DiNuzzo (left) and fellow King's Men members picket outside Adult World in North Wales. The group pickets monthly across the country. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)
Dave DiNuzzo (left) and fellow King's Men members picket outside Adult World in North Wales. The group pickets monthly across the country. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)Read more

A Jeep approached in the pelting rain, its wipers slapping, and sounded a honk-honk-honk at six drenched men outside Adult World in North Wales.

Mark Houck waved uncertainly at the passing driver, who seemed to be gesturing with his hand.

"I think that was a friendly honk," he said. "After a while, you sort of learn the difference."

Houck should know. For more than five years - on 85 occasions - he and other members of a group called the King's Men have picketed and prayed outside this "adult entertainment" shop near a busy Montgomery County intersection, and recently they defended their legal right to do so.

"We're here to minister to the patrons and employees and women and men in the pornography industry," explained Houck, 37, president and cofounder of King's Men, a national organization based in Oreland, 10 miles from the store.

On a narrow strip of mulch just beyond Adult World's parking lot, five other men stood with him on a recent afternoon bearing signs that read "Real Men Don't Exploit Women," "Pornography Destroys Marriages," and "You Deserve Better Than Porn."

Created in 2006, now with chapters in 14 states and about 500 active participants, the King's Men is composed mostly of Catholic men trying to rid American culture of what they see as the "blight of pornography," program director Dave DiNuzzo said.

Although founded and based within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it is not an entity of the archdiocese but rather a lay apostolate, or ministry.

The monthly pickets of pornography shops at a dozen sites around the country are just the public manifestation of the group's deeper goal of helping men "grow in holiness," said DiNuzzo, a bearded man of 30 whose blue nylon windbreaker was soaked long before the three-hour demonstration was over. He said that day's torrential rains did not bother him.

"Our main battle is fighting porn, which we think is pandemic among men and a foundational problem to many of our social ills," DiNuzzo said. He cited divorce, abortion, "contraceptive mentality," domestic abuse, rape, anger, and absentee fathers.

King's Men claims to have shut down seven pornography shops - four locally - with its picketing.

Judging by the frequent honks from passing cars, most of which the demonstrators construed as friendly, Montgomery County motorists seem to appreciate the group's efforts outside Adult World, a large, neatly maintained wood-frame building on Upper State Road near Route 309.

But the man watching the pickets through the rain from a gray sedan wanted very much to see the King's Men go away.

He was Joseph Diorio, a lawyer representing Quixote Enterprises Inc., the Luzerne County, Pa., firm that operates 13 Adult Worlds in Pennsylvania and five in New York. In September, Diorio went before a U.S. district judge seeking a temporary injunction against the demonstrators.

His filing alleged that pickets are creating a safety hazard, trespassing by sprinkling holy water and planting "miraculous medals" on the site, violating the First Amendment and federal antiracketeering laws, and engaging in a conspiracy to "limit and eliminate the business of sexually explicit material as a whole."

In late October, District Judge Petrese Tucker denied the injunction. She ruled that the protests, which are not on Adult World property, posed no likely danger to pedestrians or motorists, and that the store was unlikely to win any of its arguments at trial.

Diorio said last week that "the case is not over" and that Adult World was preparing to go before Tucker again to seek a permanent injunction.

Some of those preparations appeared to be in play at last week's demonstration. Diorio was not just watching from his car, but overseeing two men with video cameras recording the pickets' every move.

"They're trying to catch us in trespass," Houck said.

Diorio said he could not comment on the videographers or the pending legal action. He would not say how much the demonstrators had cost the shop over the last five years, and he asked a reporter not to enter the store "unless you want to buy something."

Immediately visible through the glass doors were a checkout counter and magazine racks showing women in short negligees. Adult World's website lists at least 30 categories of products at its stores, including "pleasure rings," "blowup dolls," "leather goods," and "bondage."

Outside the store, Houck and DiNuzzo pointed with apparent satisfaction to what they said was evidence their demonstrations had hurt business. A large sign in the parking lot advertised a "Protester Sale: 30 Percent Off." About a dozen patrons entered the shop every hour during the demonstration, which began at 1 p.m. and ended with a prayer at 4:15.

The protests are conducted during daylight on the first Wednesday of each month, according to Houck, but interrupting business or embarrassing patrons is not the goal.

"We're here to educate the community about the effects of pornography and prick their consciences as they drive by," he said.

A former youth correctional counselor, Houck cofounded the King's Men with Damian Wargo, once a theology teacher. Both are now full-time employees of the organization, along with DiNuzzo, who had been director of Catholic ministry at the Air Force Academy.

Besides its stand on pornography, the organization opposes same-sex marriage and abortion. Its revenue comes from donations, fund-raisers, retreats, speaking engagements, merchandising, and book sales.

The group grew out of Catholic antiabortion demonstrations, DiNuzzo said, where Houck and Wargo realized many of the men wanted to "hang out" together and work on other personal issues, including pornography addiction and "abusive relationships with women."

Members meet weekly, typically at parish halls, in groups ranging in size from 10 to 50, and often begin with a recitation of the rosary. Most are Catholic, but some are Protestants, evangelicals, and "even atheists," he said.

The men stand and pledge to work on a specific self-improvement task, and publicly "confess" their progress the next week. Other members may challenge or praise those efforts.

"Essentially, our mission is to build men into leaders, protectors, and providers," DiNuzzo said. "We believe that's the natural call for every man."