From the April 28, 1962 issue of America, a look at the preparations for the upcoming Council to welcome the journalists of the world in an unprecedented manner.
Nothing reveals more startlingly how “modern” the Second Vatican Council will be than a report from the Central Preparatory Commission, which recently began its considerations of the Church’s responsibilities in the fields of the press, motion pictures, radio and television. “For the first time in history,” the report observed, “these tools of mass communications” will necessarily fall under the deliberations of an ecumenical council.
How necessary such consideration will be is revealed in these staggering figures. News, comments, doctrines, principles and pictures are spread throughout the world by 8,000 daily newspapers with a total circulation of 258 million copies; by 22,000 periodicals; by 11,760 radio transmitters reaching some 400 million listeners; by 1,000 television stations serving 120 million TV sets; by 170,000 cinemas with 18 billion yearly patrons. The result of this awesome saturation is “a total reformation of minds and consciences, and the formation in many places of new habits and customs.” Such results will be further stepped up with the advent of communications satellites circling the globe to whisk news and pictures to the orb’s remotest corners.
The problems thus posed for the council are abundantly clear. For, although the Church “has no fear of the instruments of communication themselves,” it is a fact of sorry experience that “in the name of an absolute liberty in the fields of artistic realism and information [these instruments] often become unsettling influences over hearts and consciences . . . [and] in the name of a state or party or of class ideologies they take hold of the minds of the public, deform the truth and unleash sentiments of hate and brutality which generate unease and threaten international safety.”
What will the deliberations of the council be able to achieve to assure that these instruments of communication do not become roadblocks to the work of the Church; even more, that they may grow progressively into “effective collaborators in the Church’s task of spreading the message of God”?
Wiser counsels than ours will have to shape any large policy, but perhaps we may throw out a few modest hints about what the individual Catholic can do to assist the work of the council in this vast and vital area.
Individual Catholic action may seem small and impotent, but it is always caught up, strengthened and sanctified by the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. So, the prudence and self-discipline of the individual Catholic in his use of the mass media and his exercise of responsibility over those under his charge can undoubtedly bring a large measure of God’s enlightenment to the council’s deliberations. Pope John, in an address to the commission considering this field, called for “a strong and clear conscience on the part of parents and educators.” It may seem a small matter to direct the TV or moviegoing habits of one’s children, or to discipline one’s own reading of the sensational and irresponsible press, but a “strong and clear conscience” at work in the whole Catholic body would undoubtedly win from the Holy Spirit strong and clear guidance for the council as it faces this most modern and most promising (for good or evil) challenge to the work of the Church in this age of space.