The draft decree — or schema — on communications media approved by the ecumenical council Nov. 14 petitions Pope Paul VI to develop the existing Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television to include all other media and to give the commission an international staff.
It still remains for the decree to be given a final revision and be submitted once more to the council Fathers for a vote on the document as a whole. But it is expected to be promulgated before the end of November.
When this is done, the Church for the first time in its history will officially pronounce on modern communications media as an instrument to be used in its work of spreading the Kingdom of God.
The document, which is relatively short and simple compared with the other schemas on the council agenda, has importance more by its character than by its content. What it says has been said before. What it does, in officially proclaiming the Church’s teaching on the subject and in giving a specific mandate to the clergy and laity on the use of communications media, has never been done before.
The petition to the Pope that the pontifical commission be extended “to all instruments of social communication, not excepting the press” is contained in the second chapter of the document, which lists a number of specific exhortations to all the faithful in the passive and active use of communications media.
It calls for “a united effort” in putting the media to effective use in the works of the apostolate as well as in opposing the harm that the media are capable of creating.
It furthermore encourages the faithful, after sound preparation, to enter the media professionally.
The document promotes instruction in the use of communications media in schools, seminaries and study clubs. It also urges the establishment of offices to implement its instructions on the diocesan, national and international levels.
While the document is general in its instructions, it calls for a more detailed instruction to be issued at a later date by the Holy See.
In its parts treating of the possible harm that can be done by misuse of communications media, it places emphasis on education and self-censorship. While it reminds civil authorities of their duty to preserve the common good, it also mentions their duty to “defend the just freedom of information, especially as regards the press.”
It concludes by drawing a parallel between the Church’s patronage of the ancient arts and the Church’s patronage of the modern arts of communication for the good of souls and the glorification of God.
Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief