25th and 26th General Congregations
November 23 and 24, 1962
The importance of modern means of communication for preaching the Gospels to all men and spreading the principles of peace, social justice and human dignity was repeatedly emphasized as the ecumenical council began its discussion of communications media.
It was also stressed that the Church must study these media so that “such a vast force will not be abandoned to evil.” Council Fathers were reminded that these media should never be allowed to become “harmful to either the mind or conscience or offend the dignity of man.”
In this connection it was noted that the Church has the right and duty to “indicate to civil authorities their missions and duties in this field.”
The council also heard a call for establishment of a Vatican office that will set up “an official organization on an international, national and diocesan basis for communications media and for the purpose of informing and forming public opinion.”
In addition there was a request that “the most rapid means be used for the distribution of the more important and official documents of the Holy See to obviate erroneous reports about them,” the council press office reported.
“In this respect,” it said, “reference was also made to the institution of an international Catholic news agency.”
Discussions on communications media opened at the council’s 25th general meeting (Nov. 23) and continued through the 26th session (Nov. 24). Before the discussions began it was announced that the next topics to be dealt with will be proposals regarding the unity of the Church and Our Lady. At the close of the 26th session, Archbishop Pericle Felici, general secretary of the council, said that debate on communications media was expected to end by Nov. 26.
The proposal on Church unity is entitled “That All May Be One” and the one on Our Lady is entitled “Of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The latter was distributed to council Fathers at the 25th session. The former has been in the possession of the Fathers since last summer.
First speaker on the communications media proposal was Fernando Cardinal Cento, president of the Commission for the Lay Apostolate and Communications Media. He noted that his commission was made up of two parts and that only the second part was under discussion.
Cardinal Cento pointed out that the proposals on communications media had been drawn up by a separate commission headed by Archbishop Martin J. O’Connor, rector of the North American College in Rome and president of the Pontifical Commission for Radio, Television and Motion Pictures for 14 years.
A report on the commission’s proposals was made by Archbishop Rene Stourm of Sens, president of the French Bishops’ Subcommission for Cinema, Radio and Television and a member of the council’s Preparatory Commission for Communications Media.
Archbishop Stourm noted that communications media, including the press, are sources of entertainment for the modern world and that from this point of view they interest the Church as a mother aware of the needs of her children.
The council press bulletin reported, he pointed out, that “communications media are never, in fact, indifferent in the moral sphere, considered both as a means of entertainment and a means by which ideas and cultures are communicated.”
The Archbishop also stated that youths make up a majority of the audience for entertainment and that they can draw either great good or great evil from it. He then presented a statistical picture of the various communications media and noted the necessity for the Church to use them in preaching the Gospel to all peoples and for laying down moral standards on their use.
The proposals on media are divided into a preface and four parts, each made up of a brief introduction and several chapters. The first part deals with Church doctrine on the subject. The second treats with the apostolic function of the media. The third outlines disciplinary norms of the Church and the fourth deals with each of the most important media — the press, movies, radio and television.
Speeches by council Fathers at the 25th session, the council press bulletin reported, were in great part favorable to the proposals for their pastoral tone. It was also noted that this is the first time such a topic has been discussed by an ecumenical council.
Some of the Fathers suggested changes in the present form of the proposals without changing their content. It was held that their formulation would in some parts be unsuitable for a council constitution. It was therefore suggested that the proposals be shortened while leaving their substance intact.
“Repeated agreement,” the press bulletin said, “was given to the proposals contained in the text for the institution of an office in the Holy See or for the enlargement of the already existing Pontifical Commission [for Radio, Television and Motion Pictures] which will have the task of creating an official organization on an international, national and diocesan basis for the communications media and for the purpose of forming and informing public opinion.”
Some speakers, the bulletin reported, expressed the hope that it would be laymen above all who would contribute their experience and work at these levels.
At the 26th general session the Fathers unanimously voted to send a message of congratulations to Pope John XXIII on his 81st birthday (Nov. 25).
At the meeting it was again stressed that care must be taken that the new means of communications, which were called gifts from God, are not used to weaken or destroy the moral or religious aspects of society.
The responsibility of all human beings to watch over the use made of these media was stressed and Christian laymen were urged to take an interest in exercising good effects on the organs of public opinion.
One speaker said that communications is a field in which all Christians, not only Catholics, can and must work for a recognition of fundamental principles.
While recognizing the right to information, a speaker stated that this must exclude the secrets of private lives for reasons of justice and charity.
Another speaker said that the proposals as they stand do not sufficiently stress the motives on which the Church must base its right to speak on matters pertaining to communications.
Still another stated that while pastoral problems differ in many parts of the world, modern communications can pierce all barriers and the principles of God can be carried even where pastors are silenced and local communications media are forbidden.
An appeal to council Fathers for concrete help for developing nations in the communications field was made.
The hope was also expressed that there could be created a constantly larger body of trained laymen who will have a technical knowledge equal to their apostolic zeal in making the influence of the Church’s teachings felt in the press and entertainment fields.
The need for understanding and encouragement of those in the field was also mentioned.
The 25th and 26th sessions of the council were attended by 2,153 and 2,136 Fathers respectively. The sessions were presided over by Antonio Cardinal Caggiano, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, the Netherlands. Opening Masses were offered by Bishop Giacinta Tredici of Brescia, Italy, who celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination on the day of the 25th session, and Bishop Francois Charriere of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Switzerland.
Among speakers at the sessions were Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York; Paul Cardinal Leger, Archbishop of Montreal; Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo; Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Primate of Poland; William Cardinal Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster, England; Leo Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels; Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity; and Coadjutor Bishop Albert Sanschagrin of Amos, Que.
Two bishops from Sees behind the Iron Curtain also spoke — Coadjutor Bishop Herbert Bednorz of Katowice, Poland, and Auxiliary Bishop Vincentas Brizgys of Kaunas, Lithuania, who now resides in Chicago.