The Church and Media of Social Communication

26 Nov

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) promulgated two documents at the conclusion of its 1963 session. By far, the more influential (and controversial) of these documents was the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, which we examined last week. The other document was the Decree on the Media of Social Communication (Inter Mirifica), the subject of today’s post.

Clearly in the 50 years since Inter Mirifica, there has been an explosion of new information technologies that create new opportunities—and challenges—for the Church. In the years since Vatican II, the Church has continued to develop her approach to this changing landscape, from the annual World Communications Day to her reaching out to those engaged in new media technologies at both the national and international level.

Despite the many changes in this sphere of human activity, Inter Mirifica does articulate some timeless principles that are just as applicable today as they were in the pre-Internet 1960s. The Council was clearly concerned about the responsible use of media to promote what is good, true, and beautiful. And clearly the Church has always seen advances in the field of mass communications as creating new, appropriate means of evangelization—from Vatican Radio in the 1930s to EWTN and now to the proliferation of Catholic blogs, podcasts, and apps.

After all, the “new evangelization” entails the use of “new methods and expressions.”

Still, with great technological power comes great responsibility. For that reason, the section of Inter Mirifica that I am going to quote here involves use of media in the home:

“Those who make use of the media of communications, especially the young, should take steps to accustom themselves to moderation and self-control in their regard. They should, moreover, endeavor to deepen their understanding of what they see, hear, or read. They should discuss these matters with their teachers and experts, and learn to pass sound judgments on them. Parents should remember that they have a most serious duty to guard carefully lest shows, publications, and other things of this sort, which may be morally harmful, enter their homes or affect their children under other circumstances” (no. 10).

I was recently startled to learn that the peak time for online pornography is 3:00-5:00 p.m.—after school and before parents come home.

Further, most technological devices are geared to individual users. It is more challenging to monitor what our children are viewing on their devices than, say, what they’re watching on the family’s television.

One aspect of my being the “pastor” of my family, which Vatican II would call my “domestic Church,” is to be vigilant about what is allowed into our homes. I’m not suggesting that we adopt a bunker mentality, but are we good shepherds, truly committed to protecting the souls that have been entrusted to our care? We might talk a good game when it comes to what’s going on “out there,” but do we apply the same level of scrutiny to what goes on in our own homes? Are we careless in letting in influences, often under the guise of entertainment, that are harmful to our family’s life of faith, hope, and charity?

Families may take different approaches to the Internet, television, video games, cell phones, and the like. But whatever approach we take, we must be clear in our resolve to protect the faith and good morals of our children from thieves and marauders that want to steal it from them. Catechism, no. 2088 provides the standard, and I find it quite sobering:

“The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it.”

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