Catholic Church's Challenge: Critical Consciousness

Popes and bishops call for media literacy principles to be taught at all levels.

The Catholic Church has spoken about the power of media since the invention of the motion picture. Its concern has always been a call for critical consciousness, an understanding of the media's role and place in modern culture, and creative collaboration between the faithful and the media.

In 1971 Communio et Progressio: the Pastoral Instruction from the Second Vatican Council on the Means of Social Communications issued the challenge:

"The Church considers it to be one of her most important tasks to provide the means for educating recipients of the media in Christian principles. Catholic schools and organizations cannot ignore the urgent duty they have in this field. It is never too early to start encouraging in children artistic taste, a keen critical faculty and a sense of personal responsibility based on sound morality. This sort of training must be given regular place in school curricula. It must be given, and systematically, at every stage of education."

In 1972 the American Catholic Bishops addressed the influence of technology on faith in their document, To Teach As Jesus Did:

"Underlying virtually all of the changes occurring in the world today, both as instrument and cause, are technology and the technological worldview. Technology is one of the most marvelous expressions of the human spirit in history; but it is not an unmixed blessing. It can enrich life immeasurably or make a tragedy of life. The choice is man's, (sic) and education has a powerful role in shaping that choice."

Twenty years later, Pope John Paul II issued the papal encyclical Aetatis Novae, a Pastoral Instruction on Social Communication, in which he renewed the Church's call for catechists, religious leaders, teachers and youth ministers to address the way media affect the faithful:

"Much that men and women know and think about life is conditioned by the media; to a considerable extent, human experience itself is an experience of the church takes a positive, sympathetic approach to media, seeking to enter into the culture created by modern communications in order to evangelize effectively, it is necessary at the very same time that the church offer a critical evaluation of mass media and their impact upon culture."

In 1992, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, issued a pastoral letter, Film Makers / Film Viewers: Their Challenges and Opportunities, in which he promised:

"I will ask our Catholic educational institutions, from kindergarten through graduate school, to make media literacy, which includes film appreciation, media criticism and TV discernment, a priority for their students."

The current National Catechetical Directory, states the need for media literacy this way:

"All who use the communications media in their work 'have a duty in conscience to make themselves competent in the art of social communications,' and this applies in particular to people with educational responsibilities, including catechists. Catechists should learn how to take media into account as a crucial part of the cultural background and experience of those being catechized; how to use media in catechesis; and how to help their students understand and evaluate media in light of religious values."