Pontifical Council for the Family
The Catholic University of Ružomberok
Rodina a Médiá
The Mass Media:
of H.E. Ennio Card. Antonelli
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
Ružomberok – September 5, 2008
I am glad to be here with you as the new President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. I wish to greet with sentiments of respect and friendship the Bishops, the Priests, the religious sisters and brothers, the authorities, the professors, the experts and all ladies and gentlemen present. I recall with affection and gratitude my predecessor, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo who had promised to participate to this Congress, and that surely is participating spiritually, having being called to Eternal Life. I wish to the Congress a fruitful working session, in order to offer explanations and to give discernment on the not so easy relationship between the families and the complex world do the mass media, bringing forward also wise proposals in the educational, ecclesial cultural and political fields.
On my part, I will limit myself to suggest a few ideas of reflection and prospects for commitment. I will let myself be guided especially by the message of John Paul II for the 38th World Day of the Social Communications of 2004, that had as theme: The Mass Media in the Family (MF), and took in consideration either the use that the families make of the mass media either the treatment that the mass media reserve towards the family.
 THE EPOCAL CHANGE IN ACT
The rapid and amazing development of the mass media is transforming in a radical way the work and the economy, the science and the culture, the entire society in the planetary dimension. The immense phenomenon of globalisation is closely tied to the mass media: the awesome and continuous flow of ideas, images, knowledge and technologies, of money, goods and sensations; the mobility and the migrations of multitudes of people, with the consequent blend of populations and cultures.
Also, the mass media do not modify society only, but also the single persons, their mentality, their interests, their attitudes, their behaviours, and even their psychology, their capacity and reactions. John Paul II underlined synthetically that the mass media have “a great capacity to model the ideas and to influence the behaviour” (MF 6).
We are entering in a world modeled in a great part by the mass media, for which some already speak of “mediocracy”. In the Church, many but unfortunately not all, perceive that the new situation requires new modes of evangelisation, new creativity and above all, new missionary impulse, shaking away the diffuse sense of impotence and resignation, recalling that, by the grace of God, David still a young lad, can always defeat the giant Goliath.
The mass media are transforming also the life of the families. As John Paul II was observing, now “they are welcomed daily as a familiar guest in many homes and families” (MF 6). In the homes live the old mass media, the press, the radio and the television that keep the children busy for a longer time than any other occupation, except for sleep and perhaps school. In the homes live the new media: internet and email, cellular phones that have become for the adolescents and also for many children a fixed appendage to the body, the computer being always smaller and easy to carry. The new and the old mass media are always more interconnected and crossed between themselves in a rapid process of integration and in an increasing multiplicity of functions and services. From one’s own home, people, even the poor ones, have the possibility to extend their own view and their own action on the entire world. John Paul II explicitly indicated it: “Many families throughout the world, even those of quite modest means, now have access in their own homes to immense and varied media resources” (MF 2).
 MAVELOUS OPPORTUNITIES
John Paul II spoke of the “exceptional opportunities to enrich life not only of the individuals, but also to the families” (MF 1). He then further specified: “As a result, they enjoy virtually unlimited opportunities for information, education, cultural expansion, and even spiritual growth - opportunities that far exceed those available to most families in earlier times” (MF 2).
With the mass media, the communication is not only amplified, but the overall experience of reality is dilated. They fundamentally carry two general functions: to inform and to put in contact. They inform, they teach, they memorize regarding the news, the opinions, the ideas, the photographs, the addresses, the agendas, the documents, the newspapers, the film clippings, and the music. At the same time, they put in contact the people, allowing them to meet each other, dialogue, enter in conversation, establish relationships of closeness, gather in communities of shared interests, participate in great collective events, share sensations and emotions. They give the possibility to work, to exchange goods and services, to make reservations and acquisitions, to travel guided by satellite navigators.
As for the Church, she finds in the mass media new ways of evangelization and new expressions and actualizations of communion. Access is easily open to all with facility to the news and the ecclesial events, the listening of the Sacred Scriptures and of the Magisterium of the Pope and the Bishops, the use of the catechesis and of theology, the participations to liturgical celebrations or to other forms of prayer, as for example the Rosary. Links are made accessible with all the institutions and ecclesial communities: parishes, dioceses, Episcopal conferences, the Apostolic See, religious orders, associations and movements. Even new forms of spiritual and fraternal communication are activated between people: in that sense let us recall the experience of the Focolarini Movement.
As far marriage and family are concerned, aside from the general benefits that have already been mentioned, one must also recall with John Paul II the specific support that can come for them from the mass media, either when their values are emphasized, “love, fidelity, forgiveness, and generous self-giving for others”, or when their crises are presented with healthy sensibility and correct judgment, that is when the media “recognize the failures and disappointments inevitably experienced by married couples and families - tensions, conflicts, setbacks, evil choices and hurtful deeds - yet at the same time make an effort to separate right from wrong, to distinguish true love from its counterfeits, and to show the irreplaceable importance of the family as the fundamental unit of society.” (MF 3).
 GRAVE DANGERS
John Paul II indicated not only the advantages of the mass media but also the risks for the persons and the families. He explicitly spoke about the “new challenges” that derive from the messages (MF 1) and he made implicit reference to those that derive even from the use of the mass media (cf. MF 1; 5). In reality, the mass media are powerful means either of education or bad example; they condition in good and in evil; they condition especially the minors, whose personality is still being formed.
The market has occupied and deformed the social communications and also the same interpersonal and family communication. The market relations are monetized exchange relations, instrumental relationships based on the coincidence of interests. Instead the relations of communication, as expression of truth and contact between people, are a value in themselves as knowledge, love, art, prayer, sport. Above all, the family relationships maintain themselves on gratuity and on the reciprocal recognition of the value of the persons: conjugal friendship is a great good in itself; children are in themselves a priceless treasure. “«Were a man to offer all his family wealth to buy love, contempt is all that he would gain» (Sg 8:7). Unfortunately, the hypertrophy of economy and of the market in our society tends to commoditize even the family relationships: the relation of the couple is often lived as a more or less lasting coincidence between two selfishness, in that the other serve as an instrument for one’s own self affirmation or for one’s own pleasure; the children are often felt, also by women, as an obstacle to the professional career and they also cost too much. Regarding social communications, it is also commoditized in an ever more pervasive way, since the 80’s when commercials have made their appearances in them. The programming is conceived in function of the publicity and of business. The program schedule is broadened so as to cover the 24 hours of day and night. The ruthless race of the audience is unleashed with programs of alienation, often superficial, with scenes of sex and violence, with the sensationalism and extravagance. It is the individual and not the family as such who is aimed; the attention is directed not towards the intelligence and the heart but rather to emotions and strong sensations. The same private vicissitudes, the intimacy, the feelings, the shapes of the human body contribute to make the performance.
John Paul II warned against the media, stating that they “have the capacity to do grave harm to families by presenting an inadequate or even deformed outlook on life, on the family, on religion and on morality” (MF 2). In fact, we notice how the religious and ethical themes are treated through debates among many opinions in contrast with each other and that follow each other in rapid succession like a carousel, or through opinion surveys, or also giving the podium to some entertainment star, often superficial and incompetent. This favours relativism in the religious and ethical fields. Children and adolescents, so much needy of certainties, become gravely disorientated. Since God, is marginal or absent in the media, He does not count anymore even in the concrete daily living, given that what does not appear in the media is irrelevant, as if it did not exist. Success, power, wealth, health, power, physical beauty, pleasure, transgression, violence are exalted: all this bears heavy repercussions on the moral degradation of society. The good and ordinary things, according to a deep-rooted prejudice, do not make the headlines. The solid traditional values are substituted with those of the secularized consumer oriented society (cf. MF 4), often luring fictitious needs and cultural conformism.
Regarding the family, John Paul II observed: “Infidelity, sexual activity outside of marriage, and the absence of a moral and spiritual vision of the marriage covenant are depicted uncritically, while positive support is at times given to divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Such portrayals, by promoting causes inimical to marriage and the family, are detrimental to the common good of society” (MF 3). Unfortunately, it is easy to verify how diffused is the vision of sex as an amusement and how sexual relationships before marriage are considered normal, at always more precocious ages, and those outside marriage, adultery, divorce, di facto unions, homosexuality, abortion and the parents surrendering in their educational commitments.
It must however be underlined that, above all the messages and their contents, the use itself of the mass media (in particular, TV, Internet, cell phones), if they are not managed with wisdom and moderation, they carry non negligible risks. It tends to absorb the interest of the users and to create psychological dependence, stealing away the time from other important activities, interpersonal relationships, work and prayer. The prevalence of images on words and the rapid sequence in which they exhibit themselves nourish continuous sensations and emotions at the cost of reflection, the capacity of being critical and of memory: from this comes the excessive emphasis in the decisions given to the subjective sensation instead of understanding or motivating. The too frequent contacts through media messages create superficial relations with others, sometimes deceptive, and can hide fears and solitude. The media play varied functions to the advantage of the user: they provide company, they easily resolve his/her problems, they amuse him/her, they protect him/her, they give a sense of security, they actually make him/her feel at the centre of a vast world; but exactly for that reason, they can also contribute in making him/her shy from their responsibilities and in weakening their character, making him/her incapable of effort and suffering. The estrangement of reality reach many users to the experience of the so-called second life, a virtual life in a virtual ambient, where one enters with a fictitious identity to work, to buy, to build a house, to establish businesses, to dedicate free time in a gratifying way, to make interesting encounters, to bind affective and sexual ties, even to celebrate marriage, obviously all things being virtual.
To summarize: the mass media present great opportunities and great risks; therefore, they require an intelligent and responsible commitment.
 THE FAMILY COMMITED TO DIALOGUE WITH THE MASS MEDIA
John Paul II taught: “All communication has a moral dimension” (MF 1) and also: “Communication in any form must always be inspired by the ethical criterion of respect for the truth and for the dignity of the human person” (MF 2).
Communication must be faithful to truth and to the good of the person; it must exclude all lies, because it corrodes the authenticity and the reliability of human relations: “All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no” (Mt 5:37). «If you mean ‘yes’, you must say ‘yes’; if you mean ‘no’, say ‘no’” (Jm 5:12). The false word and gesture are a moral disorder, even notwithstanding their consequences (for example, the treacherous kiss of Judas, the handshake that simulates an agreement, the sexual relation without the accompanying two unitive and procreative dimensions).
The families, where love reigns, constitute a model of the authentically human communication, because in them, the persons are treated as a value in themselves without exploitation and the communication unfolds in the respect of their alterity according to a dynamic of gratuity. In fact, the famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, in his work The Prophet, has very suggestive expressions. To the spouses he recommends:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Also to parents regarding the relations with the children, the poet recommends something analogous:
“Your children are not your children […] They come through you but not from
A language which is undoubtedly poetic, intense, strongly evocative!
With a conceptual abstract but appropriate language, one could say that love is the unifying energy in the respect of the alterity of the persons. It animates the authentic communication either in the intimacy of the family relationships or in the vaster field of the social and cultural relations. As in the family, the true good of every single person in never in contrast with the good of the others, and the true common good of all the persons is also the own good of each, thus in society, the good of one cannot subsist without and against that of others and the common good is inseparable from the good of each.
Social communication is part of the common good: it regards all and all are responsible for it and must care for it. The family must take a stance in front of the media as an interlocutor prepared and responsible not only in the phase of consumer, but also in that of production and of regulation. Unfortunately, many parents (and many teachers and educators) lack the necessary preparation and, as John Paul II recommended, they must acquire “wisdom and discernment” (MF 1).
First of all, parents must educate themselves and their children in the correct use of mass media. It is the task which is most directly under their reach. John Paul II stated: “Parents, as the primary and most important educators of their children, are also the first to teach them about the media. They are called to train their offspring in the “moderate, critical, watchful and prudent use of the media” (MF 5). It is therefore necessary to understand and make understand why and how certain messages arise and how they function; to be aware that the media, far form being a simple open window open on the world, often give a partial and distorted vision of reality in obedience to commercial and political interests. Then, it is necessary to provide criteria of value, educate towards what is true, good and beautiful, cultivate the development of persons with solid identities and at the same time open to dialogue.
It is not enough though to educate; it is necessary also to discipline the use of the media. Let us listen once again to John Paul II: “Parents also need to regulate the use of media in the home. This would include planning and scheduling media use, strictly limiting the time children devote to media, making entertainment a family experience, putting some media entirely off limits and periodically excluding all of them for the sake of other family activities” (MF 5). In this line traced by the Pope, we can list some indications and recommendations: a) establish a sober use of TV and Internet and propose alternative activities, taking into consideration that children normally prefer playing and working; b) limit the time of the use of cellular phone through economic control, or rather, normally not give cellular phones to children until they reach approximately ten years; c) install the TV and the computer only in common rooms that are frequented; d) evaluate and select ahead television programs and use a program filter for Internet, motivating and presenting the advantages; e) encourage the attention and the access to Catholic inspired media; f) re-elaborate in family dialogue the programs viewed, confronting them with the ideals of the family.
Eventually, we must underline that the commitment of families regarding media is not exhausted in the consumer phase, but must trace back, to the production phase, of the rules and public controls. Let us listen to that effect, John Paul II: “ Often [the families] will find it helpful to join with other families to study and discuss the problems and opportunities presented by the use of the media. Families should be outspoken in telling producers, advertisers, and public authorities what they like and dislike” (MF 5). It appears to me that this call of the Pope can actualize itself especially through the adhesion to Family Associations that, expressing themselves through highly qualified and competent committees, can influence in a positive way the operators (producers, professionals and advertisers) and can collaborate with the authorities and with politicians. Regarding the operators, the families sometimes could act also directly, sending by Email protests against programs considered reprehensible and morally harmful.
The operators instead are expected to respect the ethical criteria in the exercise of their profession, even if it could cost great sacrifices. John Paul II recorded this quoting the words of His predecessor Paul VI: “Professional communicators should know and respect the needs of the family, and this sometimes presupposes in them true courage, and always a high sense of responsibility” (MF 4).
Regarding politicians, they must consider the family as a social subject of public interest and sustain it with adequate family policies in various fields, among which even that of social communications, where they could either condition in a positive way the production and the offer of programs or either promote the education of media in schools.
Finally, the ecclesial communities can intervene and help families in different ways either directly or indirectly: a) they can organize family meetings to enjoy together and discuss some media programs for the purpose of formation; b) they can insert education to the use of communications media in the marriage preparation courses; c) they can encourage and stimulate the adhesion of families to family associations; d) they can spread the use of Catholic inspired media; e) they can contribute in preparing for the media new professionals, orientating towards them some youth particularly suited with human qualities and seriousness of Christian life; f) they can provide themselves with a specific ministerial figure, the promoter of social communications.
 A SIGN OF THE TIMES
The Second Vatican Council has recorded us that: “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (GS 4). The sign of the times can be considered as the seed of the Kingdom of God that grow in history, the phenomena and the positive trends where the Divine Providence manifests Itself. Among those, the Council recognized the sense of solidarity among all peoples that is increasing today (AA 14). It appears reasonable to me to enumerate among those also the prodigious development of the social communications that has transformed the world into “the global village”. We know by faith that man is called to live in relationship with his similar and with God, and that his ultimate goal is perfect communion in Christ and the participation to the Trinitarian unity of the Divine Persons. We are aware of the passionate prayer of Jesus, the supreme longing of His heart: «I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me. May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe…” (Jn 17,20-21). It appears to me therefore that, to the extent to which social communications develops itself in the service of truth and of love, forward strides are accomplished towards the unity desired by Jesus. In such a perspective, Christians and Christian families find a splendid motivation to integrate themselves in social communications with the responsibility and evangelical coherence for the good of people and society.