1. Man's genius has, with God's help, produced marvellous technical inventions from creation, especially in our times. The Church, our mother, is particularly interested in those which directly touch man's spirit and which have opened up new avenues of easy communication of all kinds of news, of ideas and orientations. Chief among them are those means of communication which of their nature can reach and influence not merely single individuals but the very masses and even the whole of human society. These are the press, the cinema, radio, television and others of a like nature. These can rightly be called "the means of social communication".
2. The Church, our mother, knows that if these media are properly used they can be of considerable benefit to mankind. They contribute greatly to the enlargement and enrichment of men's minds and to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of God. But the Church also knows that man can use them in ways that are contrary to the Creator's design and damaging to himself. Indeed, she grieves with a mother's sorrow at the harm all too often inflicted on society by their misuse.
This Sacred Synod shares the solicitude of popes and bishops in a matter of such importance and feels that it is its duty to treat of the main problems posed by the means of social communication.
3. The Catholic Church was founded by Christ our Lord to bring salvation to all men. It feels obliged, therefore, to preach the gospel. In the same way, it believes that its task involves employing the means of social communication to announce the good news of salvation, and to teach men how to use them properly.
It is the Church's birhtright to use and own any of these media which are necessary or useful for the formation of Christians and for pastoral activity. Pastors of souls have the task of instructing and directing the faithful how to use these media in a way that will ensure their own salvation and perfection and that of all mankind.
For the rest it will be principally for laymen to animate these media with a Christian and human spirit and to ensure that they live up to humanity's hopes for them, in accordance with God's design.
4. If the media are to be correctly employed, it is essential that all who use them know the principles of the moral order and apply them faithfully in this domain. They should take into account, first of all, the subject matter, or content, which each medium communicates in its own way. They should also take into account the circumstances in which the content is communicated - the purpose, that is to say, the people, the place, the time, etc. The circumstances can modify and even totally alter the morality of a production. In this regard, particular importance may attach to the manner in which any given medium achieves its effect. Its impact may be such that people, especially if they are insufficiently prepared, will only with difficulty advert to it, control it, or if need be, reject it.
5. It is essential that all those involved should form a correct conscience on the use of the media, especially with regard to certain issues which are particularly controversial today.
The first of these issues is information, or the search for news and its publication. Because of the progress of modern society and the increasing interdependence of its members on one another, it is obvious that information is very useful and, for the most part, essential. If news or facts and happenings are communicated publicly and without delay, every individual will have permanent access to sufficient information and thus will be enabled to contribute effectively to the common good. Further, all of them will more easily be able to contribute in unison to the prosperity and the progress of society as a whole.
There exists, therefore, in human society a right to information on the subjects that are of concern to men either as individuals or as members of society, according to each man's circumstances. The proper exercise of this right demands that the content of the communication be true and-within the limits set by justice and charity-complete. Further, it should be communicated honestly and properly. This means that in the gathering and in the publication of news, the moral law and the legitimate rights and dignity of man should be upheld. All knowledge is not profitable, but on the other hand "love builds" (1Cor.8:1).
6. The second question bears on the relation between the rights of art-to use a current expression-and the moral law. The controversies to which this problem increasingly gives rise frequently trace their origin to an erroneous understanding either of ethics or of aesthetics. The Council proclaims that all must accept the absolute primacy of the objective moral order. It alone is superior to and is capable of harmonizing all forms of human activity, not excepting art, no matter how noble in themselves. Only the moral order touches man in the totality of his being as God's rational creature, called to a supernatural destiny. If the moral order is fully and faithfully observed, it leads man to full perfection and happiness.
7. Lastly, the chronicling, the description or the representation of moral evil can, with the help of the means of social communication and with suitable dramatization, lead to a deeper knowledge and analysis of man and to a manifestation of the true and the good in all their splendor. If, however, this is to be more profitable than harmful to souls, the moral law must be rigorously observed, especially when dealing with matters deserving of respect or with matters that lead all too easily to base desires in man wounded by original sin.
8. Public opinion exercises enormous influence nowadays over the lives, private or public, of all citizens, no matter what their walk in life. It is therefore necessary that all members of society meet the demands of justice and charity in this domain. They should help, through the means of social communication, in the formation and diffusion of sound public opinion.
9. Those who receive the means of social commmunication-readers, viewers, audiences-do so of their own free choice. Special obligations rest on them in consequence. A properly motivated selectivity would be wholly in favor of whatever excels in virtue, culture and art. Likewise, it would avoid whatever might be a cause or occasion of spiritual harm to the recipients or might be a source of danger to others through bad example; it would avoid whatever might hinder the comunication of the good and facilitate the communication of what is evil. This last usually occurs when financial help is given to those who exploit the media solely for profit.
If they are to obey the moral law, those who use the media ought to keep themselves informed in good time about assessments arrived at by the authorities with competence in this sphere and to conform to them as a right conscience would dictate. They should take appropriate steps to direct and form their consciences so that they may more readily resist less wholesome influences and profit more fully from the good.
10. Those who are at the receiving end of the media, and especially the young, should learn moderation and discipline in their use of them. They should aim to understand fully what they see, hear and read. They should discuss them with their teachers and with experts in such matters and should learn to reach correct judgements. Parents on their part should remember that it is their duty to see that entertainments and publications which might endanger faith and morals do not enter their houses and that their children are not exposed to them elsewhere.
11. A special responsibility for the proper use of the means of social communication rests on journalists, writers, actors, designers, producers, exhibitors, distributors, operators, sellers, critics - all those, in a word, who are involved in the making and transmission of communications in any way whatever. It is clear that a very great responsibility rests on all of these people in today's world: they have power to direct mankind along a good path or an evil path by the information they impart and the pressure they exert.
It will be for them to regulate economic, political and artistic values in a way that will not conflict with the common good. To achieve this result more surely, they will do well to form professional organizations capable of imposing on their members-if necessary by a formal pledge to observe a moral code-a respect for the moral law in the problems they encounter and in their activities.
They should always be mindful of the fact that a very large proportion of their readership and audience are young people who are in need of publications and entertainments for wholesome amusement and inspiration. They should ensure that religious features are entrusted to serious and competent persons and are handled with proper respect.
12. Civil authorities have particular responsibilities in this field because of the common good, toward which these media are oriented. It is for the civil authority, in its own domain, to defend and safeguard-especially in relation to the press-a true and just freedom of information, for the progress of modern society demands it.
The civil authority should foster religious, cultural and artistic values. It should guarantee to those who use the media the free exercise of their lawful rights. It is, further, the duty of the civil authorities to give assistance to those projects which, although very useful, especially for the young, could not succeed otherwise.
Finally, the civil authorities, which rightly regard the well-being of the citizens as their concern, are also bound to ensure, equitably and vigilantly, that public morality and social progress are not gravely endangered through the misuse of these media. This they can achieve by promulgating laws and tirelessly enforcing them. The liberty of individuals and groups is not in the least compromised by such vigilance, especially where serious guarantees cannot be given by those who use these media professionally.
Special measures should be taken to protect adolescents from publications and entertainments harmful to them.
13. All the members of the Church should make a concerted effort to ensure that the means of communication are put at the service of the multiple forms of the apostolate without delay and as energetically as possible, where and when they are needed. They should forestall projects likely to prove harmful, especially in those regions where moral and religious progress would require their intervention more urgently.
Pastors of souls should be particularly zealous in this field, since it is closely linked with their task of preaching the Gospel. Laymen who work professionally in these media should endeavor to bear witness to Christ: first of all, by doing their work competently and in an apostolic spirit, secondly by collaborating directly, each one according to his ability, in the pastoral activity of the Church, making a technical, economic, cultural or artistic contribution.
14. First of all, a responsible press should be encouraged. If, however, one really wants to form readers in a truly Christian spirit, an authentically Catholic press ought to be established and supported. Such a press, whether it be established and directed by the ecclesiastical authorities or by individual Catholics, would have for its manifest purpose to form, to consolidate and to promote a public opinion in conformity with the natural law and with Catholic doctrines and directives. It would also publish news of the Church's life and informed comment on it. The faithful should be reminded of the need to read and circulate the Catholic press if they are to judge all events from a Christian standpoint.
The production and screening of films which provide wholesome entertainment and are worthwhile culturally and artistically should be promoted and effectively guaranteed, especially films destined for the young. This is best achieved by supporting and coordinating productions and projects by serious producers and distributors, by marking the launching of worthwhile films with favorable criticism or the awarding of prizes, by supporting and coordinating cinemas managed by Catholics and men of integrity.
Likewise, decent radio and television programs should be effectively supported, especially those suited to the family. Ample encouragement should be given to Catholic transmissions which invite listeners and viewers to share in the life of the Church and which convey religious truths. Catholic stations should be established where it is opportune. Their transmissions, however, should excel by technical perfection and by effectiveness.
The noble and ancient art of the theatre has been widely popularized by the means of social communication. One should take steps to ensure that it contributes to the human and moral formation of its audiences.
15. Priests, religious and laity should be trained at once to meet the needs described above. They should acquire the competence needed to use these media for the apostolate.
First, lay people must be given the necessary technical, doctrinal and moral formation. To this end, schools, institutes or faculties must be provided in sufficient number, where journalists, writers for films, radio and television, and anyone else concerned, may recive a complete formation, imbued with the Christian spirit and especially with the Church's social teaching. Actors should also be instructed and helped so that their gifts, too, can benefit society. Lastly, literary critics and critics of films, radio, television and the rest should be carefully prepared so that they will be fully competent in their respective spheres and will be trained and encouraged to give due consideration to morality in their critiques.
16. Those who receive the means of social communication differ in age and culture. Hence the need for instruction and practical experience tailored not merely to the character of each medium but to the needs of each group. They need the instruction and practical experience if they are to use the media properly. Projects designed to effect this, especially among the young, should be encouraged and multiplied in Catholic schools at all levels, in seminaries and lay apostolate associations and should be directed in accordance with the principles of Christian morality. For quicker results, Catholic teaching and regulations in this matter should be given and explained in the catechism.
17. It would be shameful if by their inactivity Catholics allowed the word of God to be silenced or obstructed by the technical difficulties which these media present and by their admittedly enormous cost. For this reason, the Council reminds them that they have the obligation to sustain and assist Catholic newspapers, periodicals, film-projects, radio and television stations and programs. For the main aim of all these is to propagate and defend the truth and to secure the permeation of society by Christian values. At the same time, it earnestly invites groups or individuals who wield influence in technology or the economic field to give generously of their resources and of their knowledge for the support of the media, provided they are at the service of authentic culture and of the apostolate.
18. To make the Church's multiple apostolate in the field of social communication more effective, a day is to be set aside each year in every diocese, at the bishop's discretion, on which the faithful will be reminded of their duties in this domain. They should be asked to pray for the success of the Church's apostolate in this field and to contribute toward it, their contributions to be scrupulously employed for the support and the further development of the projects which the Church has initiated in view of the needs of the entire Church.
19. A special office of the Holy See is at the disposal of the Sovereign Pontiff in the exercise of his supreme pastoral responsibility for the means of social communication. 1
20. It is for bishops to oversee activities and projects of this sort in their own dioceses, to promote and, where they touch the public apostolate, to regulate them, including those under the control of exempt religious.
21. An effective national apostolate requires acceptance of a common objective and the unification of effort. This Council therefore decides and ordains that national offices for the press, the cinema, radio and television be established everywhere and be properly supported. The main task of these offices will be the formation of a right conscience in the faithful in their use of the media and to encourage and regulate everything done by Catholics in this domain.
In each country, the direction of these offices is to be entrusted to episcopal commissions or bishops appointed to do the task. The offices should also have on their staffs laymen who are qualified in Catholic teaching and technically.
22. The influence of the means of social communication extends beyond national frontiers, making individuals citizens of the world, as it were. National projects should, consequently, cooperate with each other at international level. The offices mentioned in par. 21 should each collaborate closely with its corresponding international organization. These international organizations are approved by the Holy See alone and are responsible to it.
23.The Council expressly directs the commission of the Holy See referred to in par.19 to publish a pastoral instruction, with the help of experts from various countries, to ensure that all the principles and rules of the Council on the means of social communication be put into effect.
24. For the rest, the Council is confident that all the sons of the Church will welcome the principles and regulations contained in this decree and will observe them faithfully. Thus, they will not suffer damage as they use the media. Rather will the media, like salt and light, add savor to the earth and light to the world. Further, it invites all men of good will, especially those who control the media, to use them solely for the good of humanity, for its fate becomes more and more dependent on their right use. The name of the Lord will thus be glorified by these modern inventions as it was in former times by the masterpieces of art; as the apostle said: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8).