Rome Speaks on Modern Media
Miranda Prorsus (Pius XII, Sept 8, 1957)
Just as very great advantages can arise from the wonderful advances which have been made in our day, in technical knowledge concerning Motion Pictures, Radio and Television, so too can very great dangers.
For these new possessions and new instruments which are within almost everyone’s grasp, introduce a most powerful influence into men’s minds, both because they can flood them with light, raise them to nobility, adorn them with beauty, and because they can disfigure them by dimming their luster, dishonor them by a process of corruption, and make them subject to uncontrolled passions, according as the subjects presented to the senses in these shows are praiseworthy or reprehensible.1
In the past century, advancing technical skill in the field of business frequently had this result: machines, which ought to serve men, when brought into use, rather reduced them to a state of slavery and caused grievous harm. Likewise today, unless the mounting development of technical skill, applied to the diffusion of pictures, sounds, and ideas, is subjected to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ,2 it can be the source of countless evils, which appear to be all the more serious, because not only material forces but also the minds are unhappily enslaved, and man’s inventions are, to that extent, deprived of those advantages which, in the design of God’s Providence, ought to be their primary purpose.3
Errors Concerning Freedom of Communication
The Church encourages and supports everything which truly concerns a fuller enrichment of the mind—for She is the patron and fostermother of human knowledge and the noble arts; therefore She cannot permit the violation of those principles and laws which direct and govern man in his path to God, his final end. Let no one, then, be surprised if, in this matter, where many reservations are necessary, the Church acts with due thought and discretion, according to that saying of the Apostle: “But prove all things: hold fast that which is good. From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves.”4
Those, therefore, are certainly to be blamed who openly declare that public communication of matters which impede, or are directly opposed to, principles of morality, should be encouraged and carried out so long as the method is in accord with the laws of the liberal or technical arts. In a short discourse, on the occasion of the fifth centenary of the death of Fra Angelico, We recalled to the minds of Our hearers that “it is true that an explicitly moral or religious function is not demanded of art as art”; but “if artistic expression gives publicity to false, empty and confused forms, those not in harmony with the Creator’s design; if, rather than lifting mind and heart to noble sentiments, it stirs the baser passions, it might, perhaps, find welcome among some people, but only by nature of its novelty, a quality not always of value and with but slight content of that reality which is possessed by every type of human expression. But such an art would degrade itself, denying its primary and essential element: it would not be universal and perennial as is the human spirit to which it is addressed.”5
Entertainments for Youth
Yet it must be noticed that, in exercising control in this matter, the right training and education of the spectators, of which We have spoken, is not in itself sufficient. Each of the shows must be suited and adapted to the degree of intelligence of each age, the strength of their emotional and imaginative response, and the condition of their morals.
This, indeed, assumes a very great importance because sound radio and television shows, since they easily penetrate right into the domestic circle, threaten to undermine the protective barriers by which the education of the young must be kept safe and sound until such time as advancing age gives the necessary strength to enable them to overcome the buffetings of the world. For this reason, three years ago, We wrote thus to the Bishops of Italy: “Should we not shudder if we reflect attentively that by means of television shows, even within home surroundings all can inhale that poisoned air of “materialistic” doctrines which diffuse notions of empty pleasures and desires of all kinds, in the same way as they did over and over again in cinema halls?”6
Duty of the Listener
Parish priests should warn their flocks that they are forbidden by divine law to listen to radio programs which are dangerous to their Faith or morals, and they should exhort those engaged in the training of youth, to be on the watch and to instill religious principles with regard to the use of radio sets installed in the home.
Moreover, it is the duty of the Bishops to call on the faithful to refrain from listening to stations which are known to broadcast a defence of matter formally opposed to the Catholic Faith.
Special Problems on Television
But Television, besides the common element which it shares with the other two inventions for spreading information, of which We have already spoken, has a power and efficacy of its own. For, by the art of Television, it is possible for the spectators to grasp by the eye and the ear, events happening far away at the very moment at which they are taking place, and thus to be drawn on, as it were, to take an active part in them; and this sense of immediacy is increased very much by the home surroundings.
This special power which Television enjoys, of giving pleasure within the family circle, is to be reckoned of very great importance, since it can contribute a great deal to the religious life, the intellectual development, and the habits of those who make up the family; of the sons, especially, whom the more modern invention will certainly influence and captivate. But if that saying, “a little leaven corrupteth the whole mass”7 corresponds at all to the truth, and if physical growth in youths can be prevented, by some infectious germ, from reaching full maturity, much more can some base element of education steal its way into the fibers of the religious life, and check the due shaping of morals. Everyone knows well that, very often, children can avoid the transient attack of a disease outside their own home, but cannot escape it when it lurks within the home itself.
... In this matter, then, prudence and watchful care are especially demanded of those who make use of Television. Due moderation in its use, prudence in admitting the children to viewing according to their different ages, a balanced judgment based on what has been seen before, and finally, exclusion of children from what are in any sense improper spectacles: all these are the duties which weigh heavily on parents and on all engaged in education.
The Church and Internet 8
While emphasizing what is positive about the Internet, it is important to be clear about what is not. At a very deep level, “the world of the media can sometimes seem indifferent and even hostile to Christian faith and morality. This is partly because media culture is so deeply imbued with a typically postmodern sense that the only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths or that, if there were, they would be inaccessible to human reason and therefore irrelevant.”9
Among the specific problems presented by the Internet is the presence of hate sites devoted to defaming and attacking religious and ethnic groups. Some of these target the Catholic Church. Like pornography and violence in the media, Internet hate sites are “reflections of the dark side of a human nature marred by sin”10
One area for research concerns the suggestion that the wide range of choices regarding consumer products and services available on the Internet may have a spillover effect in regard to religion and encourage a ‘consumer’ approach to matters of faith. Data suggest that some visitors to religious web sites may be on a sort of shopping spree, picking and choosing elements of customized religious packages to suit their personal tastes. The “tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence” to the Church’s teaching is a recognized problem in other contexts;11 more information is needed about whether and to what extent the problem is exacerbated by the Internet.
A special aspect of the Internet, as we have seen, concerns the sometimes confusing proliferation of unofficial web sites labeled ‘Catholic.’ A system of voluntary certification at the local and national levels under the supervision of representatives of the Magisterium might be helpful in regard to material of a specifically doctrinal or catechetical nature.
Parental supervision should include making sure that filtering technology is used in computers available to children when that is financially and technically feasible, in order to protect them as much as possible from pornography, sexual predators, and other threats. Unsupervised exposure to the Internet should not be allowed.
To children and young people. The Internet is a door opening on a glamorous and exciting world with a powerful formative influence; but not everything on the other side of the door is safe and wholesome and true. “Children and young people should be open to formation regarding media, resisting the easy path of uncritical passivity, peer pressure, and commercial exploitation.”12 The young owe it to themselves—and to their parents and families and friends, their pastors and teachers, and ultimately to God—to use the Internet well.
The Internet places in the grasp of young people at an unusually early age an immense capacity for doing good and doing harm, to themselves and others. It can enrich their lives beyond the dreams of earlier generations and empower them to enrich others’ lives in turn. It also can plunge them into consumerism, pornographic and violent fantasy, and pathological isolation.
1 Cfr. Sermo ad cultores cinematographicae artis ex Italia Romae congregatos, d. 21 Iunii, a. 1955: A. A S., vol. XLVII, 1955, p. 504.
2 Cfr. Matth., XI, 30
3 Cfr. Sermo ad radiophonicae artis cultorum coetum, d. 5 Maii, a. 1950 ex omnibus Nationibus Romae habitum: Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di S. S. Pio XII, vol. XII, p. 54.
4 I Thess. V, 21-22.
5 Cfr. Sermo, quinto exeunte saeculo ab Angelici obitu, in Aedibus Vaticanis habitus d. 20 Aprilis, a. 1955: A. A. S., vol. XLVII, 1955, pp. 291-292; Litt. Enc. Musicae Sacrae, d. 25 Decembris, a 1955: A. A. S., vol. XLVIII, 1956, p. 10.
6 Cfr. Adhortatio de televisione, d. 1 Ianuarii, a. 1954: A. A. S., vol. XLIV, a. 1964, p. 21.
7 Gal. V, 9.
8. Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Feb 22, 2002
9 John Paul II, Message for the 35th World Communications Day, n. 3.
10 John Paul II, Message for the 35th World Communications Day, n. 3.
11 Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Bishops of the United States, n. 5, Los Angeles, September 16, 1987.
12 Ethics in Communications, n. 25.