Newsletter of the District of Asia

 March 1998

The Popes' Teaching on Television,
Videos and Cinema



Importance and Power of Motion Pictures

It admits of no discussion that the motion picture has achieved these last years a position of universal importance among modern means of diversion. There is no need to point out the fact that millions of people go to the motion pictures every day; that motion pictures theatres are being opened in ever increasing number in civilized and semi-civilized countries; that the motion picture has become the most popular form of diversion which is offered for the leisure moment not only of the rich but of all classes of society.

At the same time, there does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema. The reason for this is to be sought for in the very nature of the pictures projected upon the screen, in the popularity of motion picture plays and in the circumstance which accompany them.

The power of the motion picture consists in this, that it speaks by means of vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without fatigue. Even the crudest and most primitive minds which have neither the capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or deductive reasoning are captivated by the cinema. In place of the effort which reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of concrete and, so to speak, living pictures.

(...) Since then the cinema is in reality a sort of object lesson which, for good or for evil, teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract reasoning, it must be elevated to conformity with the aims of a Christian conscience and saved from depraving and demoralizing effects.

Everyone knows what damage is done to the soul by bad motion pictures. They are occasions of sin; they seduce young people along the ways of evil by glorifying the passions; they show life under a false light; they cloud ideals; they destroy pure love, respect for marriage, affection for the family. They are capable also of creating prejudices among individuals and misunderstandings among nations, among social classes, among entire races.

The motion picture is viewed by people who are seated in a dark theatre and whose faculties, mental, physical and often spiritual, are relaxed. One does not need to go far in search of these theatres: they are close to the home, to the Church and to the school and they thus bring the cinema into the very centre of popular life.

Moreover the acting out of the plot is done by men and women selected for their natural ability and for all those natural gifts and employment of those expedients which can become, for youth particularly, instruments of seduction. Further, the motion picture has enlisted in its service luxurious appointments, pleasing music, the vigor of realism, every form of whim and fancy. For this very reason, it attracts and fascinates particularly the young, the adolescent and even the child. Thus at the very age when the moral sense is being formed and when the notions and sentiments of justice and rectitude, of duty and obligation and of ideals of life are being developed, the motion picture with its direct propaganda assumes a position of commanding influence.

It is unfortunate that, in the present state of affairs, this influence is frequently exerted for evil. So much so that when one thinks of the havoc wrought in the souls of youth and of childhood, of the loss of innocence so often suffered in the motion picture theatres, there comes to mind the terrible condemnation pronounced by Our Lord upon the corruptors of little ones: "Whosoever shall scandalize one of the these little ones who believe in Me, it were better for him that a mill stone be hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Mat. 18,6)


From the teachings of Pope Pius XII


We are living in the era of the motion picture and television. Without doubt both absorb a considerable part of the time which before used to belong to the printed word. Yet it happens that they are the very ones to increase the value of a good book. For, though we fully recognize the importance of the technique and art of the motion picture, yet the unilateral influence it exercises on man and especially on youth, with its almost purely visual action, carries with it such a danger of intellectual decay that it is already beginning to be considered as a danger for the people. It is all the more the duty of the good book, therefore, to educate the people to a deeper understanding of things, to make them think and ponder.


3) APOSTOLIC LETTER January 1, 1954

When we think of the incalculable worth of the family, the very cell of society, and reflect that the physical and spiritual development of the child - the precious hope of the Church and the nation - must be started and carried out in the home, we cannot fail to proclaim to all who have any position of responsibility in television that their duties and responsibilities are most grave before God and before society...

Constantly before our mind is the painful spectacle of the power of films for evil and moral ruin. How, then, can we not be horrified at the thought that this poisoned atmosphere of materialism, frivolity and pleasure-seeking which is found too often in so many theatres can, through television, be brought into the very sanctuary of the home? Truly one cannot imagine anything more fatal to the spiritual health of a country than to perform in front of so many innocent souls - even within the family circle - those lurid scenes of forbidden pleasure, passion and evil which can undermine a formation of purity, goodness and healthy personal and social upbringing, and bring it to lasting ruin...

Here especially one sees the baselessness of the pretended rights to the absolute freedom of art, or of appealing to the pretext of freedom of information and thought, because here, higher values are at stake which must be safeguarded. Those who offend against these values cannot escape the penalties threatened by the Divine Saviour: "Woe to the world because of scandals ... woe to that man by whom scandal cometh." (Mt. 18,7)

When there are abuses and evils, it is not enough for Catholics to remain content with merely deploring them. These abuses must be brought to the attention of the public authorities in precise and documented particulars. Indeed, it must be admitted that one of the reasons less noticed, perhaps, but nonetheless real - for the spread of so much immorality is not the lack of regulations but the lack of reaction or weak reaction of good people who have not known how to make timely denunciation of violations against the public laws of morality.


4) ENCYCLICAL LETTER Miranda Prorsus, September 8, 1957 TELEVISION - Its great possibilities

It remains, Venerable Brethren, to deal briefly with the subject of television, an art which in some countries has made remarkable progress during the course of Our Pontificate, and is gradually being introduced into others. It is an achievement of tremendous importance in the annals of the human race and We have been watching its growth with interest and expectancy, but with grave misgivings too. From its inception We have recognised its possibilities for good and the new fields of opportunity that it opens out to mankind; yet, on the other hand, We foresee and foretell the dangers that may accrue from the folly of those who misuse it.

Television has many features in common with the cinema, since it gives visual expression to the fire and flurry of life, and indeed not infrequently makes use of the material provided by screen plays. It is also in some respects akin to radio, since it has the same characteristic of appealing to men, not in public theatres, but in the sanctuary of their own homes.


The Dangers of Television

But television, besides the element it shares in common with the other two inventions We have spoken of for the spreading of information, has a power and efficacy of its own. Through the medium of television viewers are enabled to see and hear far-distant events at the very moment at which they are taking place, and in this way the illusion is created that they are actually present and taking part in them. This sense of intimacy is greatly enhanced by the home surroundings.

The special power which television has of giving pleasure within the family circle is to be reckoned its most important feature, for it has a great contribution to make to the religious life, the intellectual development, and the habits of those who make up the family - of the sons, particularly, for whom this more recent invention has a special fascination and appeal. If there is any truth at all in that text: "a little leaven currupteth the whole lump" (ICor. 5,9) and if the physical development of young people can be arrested by an infectious germ and prevented from reaching full maturity, how much more havoc can be wrought upon the nerve-centres of their religious life by some insidious element in their education sapping their moral vitality! It is a matter of common experience that children are frequently able to resist the violent onset of diseases in the world at large, whereas they have no strength to avoid the disease that is latent in the home. It is wrong, therefore, to endanger in any way the sanctity of the home, and the Church, as her right and duty demand, has always striven with all her power to prevent these sacred portals from being violated under any pretext by evil television shows.

Unless wise counsels exert an immediate restraining influence on the use of this art, the damage will be done; a damage which will affect not merely individuals, but the whole of human society - and indeed it is not an easy matter to assess the amount of damage that may already have been caused.

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