Media consumption can affect anyone. “The media are so much part of us that to recognize their impact, we must step back and consciously think about how they shape our lives and what they are saying,” the U.S. bishops write on their website. (Clipart)
Media consumption can affect anyone. “The media are so much part of us that to recognize their impact, we must step back and consciously think about how they shape our lives and what they are saying,” the U.S. bishops write on their website. (Clipart)

John Mulderig spends a lot of time watching movies. As film reviewer for Catholic News Service, he provides valuable insight to Catholics deciding which movies they want to see or show to their children. His reviews can be witty but also informative. He is responsible for keeping an eye out for offenses against Catholic teaching.

“The values that prevail among the providers of mass entertainment often diverge from those taught by Scripture and tradition,” said Mulderig. “This is especially true both with regard to the value of human life, and the limited circumstances within which violence may justly be employed, and with regard to the proper exercise of the gift of sexuality.”

In a culture inundated with media, deciding which books to read or which movies to watch can be a challenge. Even the most faithful Catholics can be caught off guard by a moral failing in a beloved show.

“The media are so much part of us that to recognize their impact, we must step back and consciously think about how they shape our lives and what they are saying,” the U.S. Catholic bishops write on their website.

“An intelligent use of media can prevent our being dominated by them and enable us instead to measure them by our standards.

“It is important for parents to educate their children in the influence of the media, to take responsibility for monitoring what media their children use, and to become role models for appropriate use of media,” reads the bishops’ website.

The Second Vatican Council took up the topic in 1963 with a decree on social communications, “Inter Mirifica.”

“The church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men’s entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God,” stated the council. “The Church recognizes, too, that men can employ these media contrary to the plan of the creator and to their own loss. Indeed, the Church experiences maternal grief at the harm all too often done to society by their evil use.”

The effects from visual media can be seen in reactions provoked by viewers, said Mulderig.

“The relentless presentation of violence can dull our sense of the sacredness of human life; a debased depiction of sexuality as mere pleasure-seeking can reduce our appreciation for this God-given gift; a glorification of criminal activity can wear away at moral standards generally,” he said.

“This can produce a skewed moral situation where mass entertainment becomes the norm of ethical standards instead of itself being judged, as it should be, by the measure of eternal moral truths.”

Propriety of media can depend on the circumstances of the person watching the movie, plus the time and place, stated the Vatican decree.

Father Tim Furlow agrees.

“It all comes down to the state of the person consuming the media and if they are adept at discerning spirits for good or for evil,” said Father Furlow, administrator of St. Patrick Parish in Northwest Portland and a moral theologian.

The priest gave an example. Consider two movies — one a comedy about a bank heist gone wrong and the second celebrating witchcraft. Both fall outside the church’s ethical framework. The first would likely not spiritually impact most people, though it may spiritually impact a person who has given up a life of crime. Meanwhile, the movie celebrating the occult and witchcraft would likely spiritually affect most people whether or not they realize it.

“I think people can handle different things,” said Father Furlow, noting that moral theologians don’t all agree on the topic.

“Some people can watch things or read things that involve material that is contrary to the faith without that negatively impacting their salvation. They’re not letting it in,” said Father Furlow. “But most people are susceptible to dark influence and are so inundated with consumption of media that they don’t notice they’re influenced.

“The safer path is to avoid, certainly, things that are overtly evil but also to discern that which causes one’s peace to wane while the media is consumed.”

The analysis requires discerning spirits to realize if watching a show or reading a book affects them or draws them into a particular sin. If while watching a film, they lose a state of peace or feel farther from the Lord, that means the movie likely is not for them.

“If after the show, you feel different — angry, aggravated, or whatever that might be — that’s a good indicator that thing is negatively impacting you,” said Father Furlow.

“Presentations ought always to be subject to moral restraint, lest they work to the harm rather than the benefit of souls, particularly when there is question of treating matters which deserve reverent handling or which, given the baneful effect of original sin in men, could quite readily arouse base desires in them,” stated the fathers of Vatican II.

“All who, of their own free choice, make use of these media of communications as readers, viewers or listeners have special obligations. For a proper choice demands that they fully favor those presentations that are outstanding for their moral goodness, their knowledge and their artistic or technical merit. They ought, however, to void those that may be a cause or occasion of spiritual harm to themselves, or that can lead others into danger through base example, or that hinder desirable presentations and promote those that are evil. To patronize such presentations, in most instances, would merely reward those who use these media only for profit.”

At the end of the day, media is not bad, said Father Furlow.

“There’s nothing wrong with watching a movie, it just needs to be the right one.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org