THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY FOR MEDIA
BISHOP ADAM LEPA
The world has been waiting long for this voice of the Church. The Decree of the Vatican Council about mass media was announced on 4 December 1963, ‘Inter mirifica’ was the second document elaborated by fathers of the Vatican Council, just after the Constitution about the holy liturgy
Bishops gathered at the Vatican Council did not know that once historians would call the XX century a ‘millennium of propaganda’ and ‘an epoch of big manipulations’. But, following their charismatic intuition, they elaborated a document which was to prepare the Church and the world for the technological revolution in the sphere of media not known so far. On 4 December there is the 5th anniversary of the appearance of the Decree ‘Inter mirifica’, which has been a document still current and inspiring till now.
A document according to the value of the epoch
Today it is not possible to act creatively in any sphere of media, not knowing the Decree ‘Inter mirifica’. From the beginning it was known that it is a breakthrough document which, first of all, resulted from its innovative content and decisions.
In the text of the Decree one can read sentences which were not in documents of previous Vatican Council. And in the ‘Inter mirifica’ the Church expressed its opinion for the first time about electronic mass media, that is, radio and television. During the Vatican Council there was not Internet yet. Only in the next decade, that is, in the 70s there were first computers and fundaments of Internet were being built, giving the beginning to the revolution in the sphere of informative technologies.
One can conclude from the text of the Decree which issues were acknowledged by the Second Vatican Council as the most priority in the activity of the Church. There are three groups of these issues: forming a proper way of media reception, applying moral rules in their evaluation and defending the youth from negative influence of media. These issues are touched on by fathers of the Vatican Council in seven various places of the document. Today, from the perspective of passed time it is seen that priorities of fathers of the Vatican Council are still current and will surely remain so.
In the Decree there is also an innovative idea, which will be more developed after some time, and it is expressed in the sentence that evangelization of media and through media is the most effective when they became its place, not only a means or a tool. Therefore, the Vatican Council suggests that laymen working in media should give a testimony to Christ and be apostolically engaged. It also notes that the Vatican Council treated critically those believers who show their passivity and no interest in media. This attitude was called by fathers of the Vatican Council as a kind of wickedness. Twelve years later the echo of these words can be found in the apostolic exhortation ‘About evangelization in the contemporary world’. Paul VI used stronger words in it: ‘The Church would be guilty towards its Lord, if it did not use this powerful help which the human mind is making more improved and effective’.
It should be emphasized that the main postulate of the Decree is calling for responsibility of the Church for media. Whereas the most important task of the Church is formation of their receivers.
Fathers of the Vatican Council not only gave a diagnosis to media at that time and warned them against a negative influence, formulating particular postulates. They also made decisions, whose presence and influence we experience even today.
The Vatican Council wanted to guarantee more effectiveness and stability in the sphere of media to the actions of the Church. Therefore, it decided that in particular countries there should be a day established on which believers would be taught about their duties towards media, and encouraged to pray in their intention and make offerings to maintain Catholic media. In Poland this day is celebrated on the third Sunday of September.
Another important decision of fathers of the Vatican Council was a decision that in all countries special offices for media should be established, which would be run by bishops appointed by episcopate. They would include laymen of a good knowledge about media. In the Polish Episcopal Conference this office is the Council for Mass Media.
An important decision of the Vatican Council was appointing a team consisting of prominent specialists, which elaborates a pastoral instruction about media. After five years such an instruction was published, entitled: ‘Unification and progress’. Fathers of the Vatican Council were aware of the fact that they would not be able to discuss all problems and issues connected with media functioning in such a short document, therefore, they made this decision. The instruction impresses with its variety of discussed issues and brave opinions. It was confirmed by the reaction of the public opinion in the West. Just after the instruction was published, it was called ‘a great Charter of information freedom’. Therefore, in Poland censorship had not allowed for this publication for many years. Footnotes placed in its text prove that it was written in the spirit of the Vatican Council II, and strictly speaking, from the inspiration of the Decree ‘Inter mirfica’.
What is surprising, is the fact that in the introduction, the Decree states explicitly what duties of the Church are in the sphere of media and mentions two most important ones: the first one refers to proclaiming the Gospel via media, whereas the latter one concern teaching people about a proper way of using media. The document emphasizes that these duties belong to bishops. They should be watchful over this kind of activity, support and coordinate it.
Bishops should include the problem of media in the range of duties of pastoral teaching. Pastors cannot be indifferent to the functioning of media, especially to the result of their activity. The Vatican Council reminded a few times that we should apply a moral evaluation towards to phenomena connected with the functioning of media. Journalists should know that they are responsible not only for the published word and image but also for their possible consequences.
It is significant that the Decree ‘Inter mirifica’, among all media at that time, puts press in the first place - -its reading, distribution and creating new articles. Also in this sphere, the bishop is responsible within his mission. During the Vatican Council II a prominent Canadian media expert Marshall McLuhan was popular on the world scale. It was just him who stated that only press is developing the way of thinking among its readers, whereas television agrees with the reality, that is, creates a conformist attitude. One can conclude that the bishop is also responsible for cooperation of Catholic media in the local Church. The Decree postulates mutual solidarity of these media.
The influence of media on the man is presented today via a metaphor which says that ‘a drop hollows a rock’. Therefore, there is an opinion about the sphere of media that today it is the most influential environment among other human environments.
The Decree ‘Inter mirifica’ is the most valuable because both bishops, priests and catechists as well as educators at Catholic schools and other lay believers received a list of the most important duties on its pages, which they should implement in the sphere of media. Despite the earlier anxieties, this document turned out to be highly inspiring which was perfectly confirmed by half a century of its creative influence. Let the forthcoming anniversary be an occasion to read this document, its content and encourage other to read it.