A BRIEF OUTLINE AND HISTORY
OF THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR SOCIAL COMMUNICATIONS
On 30 January 1948, by Letter Protocol No. 153.561 from the Secretariat of State of His Holiness Pope Pius XII, the Pontifical Commission for the Study and Ecclesiastical Evaluation of Films on Religious or Moral Subjects was established; at the same time Bishop Martin John O'Connor was nominated President and the following persons were designated as Members: Rev. Mons. Maurizio Raffa, representing the Sacred Congregation of the Council; Rev. Mons. Ferdinando Prosperi, representative of the Office Catholique International du Cinématographe and provisional Secretary of the new Commission; Mr Giacomo Ibert and Architect Ildo Avetta.
On 17 September 1948 the Holy Father approved the statutes of this new Office of the Roman Curia, which was renamed the Pontifical Commission for Educational and Religious Films.
One would have needed to be a clairvoyant to foresee the remarkable future of this minute Office,
composed of a President and four Members and housed in a single room in the Palazzo San Carlo in
Vatican City, in a wing still overflowing with the Information Office's vast archives on the Second World War. In spite of its modest beginnings, this small Commission was to write a new page in the history of the Church's pastoral and cultural activity.
The Pontifical Commission for Educational and Religious Films examined the complex educational and pastoral problems of the audiovisual era just coming into being and quickly realized that action was going to be needed. Through their President, Bishop O'Connor, they informed Mons. Giovanni Battista Montini, at that time Deputy Director of His Holiness' Secretariat of State, of their conclusions, namely that to be pastorally effective, the Commission would have to study the problems raised by motion pictures as a whole and engage bishops and believers alike in an apostolate in this field which could respond to the changed conditions of society.
Thus, the original five-man Commission was replaced by the Pontifical Commission for Cinema, the statutes of which were approved by the Supreme Pontiff on 1 January 1952. With this measure, the new Office of the Curia took on the character of a study organism, endowed with an ample College of Experts recruited from various nations, while higher prelates from the dicasteries of the Roman Curia concerned with pastoral problems related to the development of modern techniques in the entertainment world were called to take part in the Commission itself. The Commission was also given larger premises and provided with a Secretariat, directed by Mons. Albino Galletto, nominated Executive Secretary on 1 October 1950. Two years later, on 1 October 1952, Mons. Andrea Maria Deskur was designated Undersecretary.
The first Meeting of Experts, which was held in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican on 26 and 27 April 1953, emphasized the need for in-depth study in the educational domain of the problems arising from the development of all audiovisual media and their growing effect on the spiritual life of the world and the ministry of the Church, and above all warned of the impact that television would soon have on society.
After consultation with the bishops and the Catholic organizations concerned, the name of the Commission was once more changed, this time to the Pontifical Commission for the Cinema, Radio and Television, the statutes of which were approved by the Supreme Pontiff on 31 December 1954 and published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. The College of Experts was considerably enlarged and divided into three sections: films, radio, and television, and working groups were set up to prepare the material required for Pope Pius XII's address on The Ideal Film, delivered to meetings on both 21 June and 28 October 1955, and for his encyclical letter Miranda prorsus on the motion picture, radio and television, published on 8 September 1957.
At the same time the Pontifical Commission took an active part in the preparation and implementation of international Catholic congresses, organized annually by the Organisation Catholique internationale du Cinéma (OCIC) and, in the radio and television sector, by the Association Catholique internationale pour la Radio et la Télévision (UNDA), with the object of forming a permanent basis for collaboration and exchange of information with professional bodies and the relative pastoral organisms of the various countries involved.
The international position of the small Curia Office was so well established when John XXIII acceded to the Papacy that the new Pope had no hesitation in dedicating to it one of his first solemn documents, the motu proprio Boni Pastoris, with which the Pontifical Commission was aggregated to the Secretariat of State and made a permanent Office of the Holy See. This took place on 22 February 1959. Then some months later, on 16 December of the same year, the Pope instituted and approved the statutes of the Vatican Film Library, entrusting its management to the Pontifical Commission.
It was no surprise, therefore, when on 5 June 1960 the motu proprio Superno Dei Nutu established within the Pontifical Commission a Preparatory Secretariat for the Press and the Entertainment World as one of the twelve preparatory organs for the Second Vatican Council.
It was the above Preparatory Secretariat's task during the two years of its existence to identify the problems raised by the press and the audiovisual media and, while recognizing the individual character of each sector, to assemble all this material into a single study which would yet leave room for future developments in which the different instruments of social communication, as they were called from then on, would find their proper place and receive due consideration within the Church's renewed ministry. Even though some may consider that Inter Mirifica, the Council Decree promulgated three years later on 4 December 1963, did not go far enough, they must objectively acknowledge the significance of the fact that Vatican II dedicated special and far-seeing attention to this sector.
Paul VI's accession to the Papacy let to the constitution of the Council Committee for the Press under the direction of the President of the Pontifical Commission, which set to work, with notable success, to improve relations immediately between the Council and the world of news and journalism.
Without waiting for the end of the Council, His Holiness Paul VI acted on the Council Fathers' vote and by his motu proprio In fructibus multis of 2 April 1964 transformed the existing Commission into the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, responsible for dealing with the all the problems raised by the cinema, radio, television, and the daily and periodical press in relation to the interests of the Catholic religion. In addition, in the following years the Holy Father approved the Regulations for the audiovisual transmission of Ceremonies and Places directly under the authority of the Holy See (13 August 1965), at the same time instituting a Service for Audiovisual Assistance within the Pontifical Commission, and later he promulgated the Regulations of the Press Office of the Holy See, also within the competence of the Commission, under the direction of Mons. Fausto Vallainc, formerly Director of the Vatican II press office. In view of the increase in the Commission's activities, Pope Paul VI also thought it opportune to nominate a Vice-President in the person of Bishop Agostino Ferrari Toniolo (23 April 1969).
The Pontifical Commission took on the character of a post-Council Office, composed of Members ad quinquennium chosen from among the cardinals and bishops who were presidents of national commissions for social communications, and of 36 ecclesiastical and lay Consultors chosen for the same period from among professional and pastoral users of the media. The presidents of the three international Catholic organizations for the cinema, for radio and television, and for the press - OCIP, UNDA, UCIP (Union Catholique Internationale de la Presse) became Members durante munere.
His Holiness made a point of being present in person at the first Plenary Assembly of the newly organized Commission, paid a visit to its headquarters, now enlarged and refurbished, on 28 September 1964, and in subsequent years gave special audiences to participants in the Plenaries, which became the focal point of apostolic activities in social communications. The first task of the post-Council Commission was to prepare a Pastoral Instruction, in accordance with the Council Decree; this took over six years of work culminating in the promulgation of Communio et Progressio on 23 May 1971. Meanwhile, on 7 January of the previous year Mons. Andrea M. Deskur had been nominated Secretary of the Pontifical Commission, while Father Romeo Panciroli, MCCI, formerly an official of the Commission, was made Undersecretary. Once the decree was promulgated, the Commission set to work to implement the directives of the new Pastoral Instruction, under
the guidance of its new President, Archbishop Edward Heston, who on 8 September 1971 succeeded Mons. O'Connor, the latter being named President Emeritus after having directed operations tirelessly for no less than 21 years. At the same time Archbishop Ferrari Toniolo was designated Representative of the Holy See to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
A programme of personal contacts with the most important production centres of news and entertainment for the media was immediately drawn up, while the bishops' conferences in the various continents were invited to prepare, on local, national and continental levels and in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission, an in-depth study of their situation in the field of social communications and a programme of priorities for the future, to be elaborated at appropriate regional and continental meetings. Latin America was the first to launch such a programme, in 1972, followed by Africa in 1973 and Asia in 1974.
On a vaster scale, all over the Catholic world and in many non-Catholic environments much work was accomplished through the World Communications Days, celebrated annually since 1967 and dedicated to selected themes for study.
On 12 April 1972, Professor Federico Alessandrini, formerly Vice-Director of the "Osservatore Romano", became head of the Vatican press office. On 2 May 1973 Archbishop Heston died suddenly in the course of duty travel and was succeeded as President of the Commission by Mons. Andrea M. Deskur on the following 24 September. At the same time Father Romeo Panciroli and Father Karlheinz Hoffmann SJ were nominated Secretary and Undersecretary respectively, and on 25 September Father Antonio Stefanizzi SJ was appointed Technical Consultant to the President, while the Rev. Mounged El Hachem became Delegate in charge of the Vatican Film Library.
On 17 June 1974 the President, Mons. Deskur, was elected titular Bishop of Tene and was ordained by Paul VI approximately two weeks later, on 30 June.
The celebration of Holy Year 1975 and the faithful, immediate and worldwide diffusion of the message of reconciliation and renewal which the Holy Father had chosen to be the theme of the Jubilee brought more work for the Commission, which was responsible for the organization and supervision of the transmission of events via satellite television. For the first time in history the ceremony of the opening of the Holy Door was seen not only by a few thousand fortunate pilgrims but by millions of people, including many in the most remote corners of the earth. The Commission played an important part in the coordination and financing of these broadcasts, with the collaboration of the Pontifical Representations (coordination), the generosity of the Knights of Columbus (funding), and the technical assistance of RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana (the Italian radio and television network) and of Telespazio (satellite communications company). Worldwide television is today a consolidated reality: every year there are global telecasts of the Midnight Mass of Christmas, the Papal message and the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing 25 December, the Via Crucis at the Colosseum on Good Friday, and the Holy Mass, the Pope's message and the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing on Easter Sunday. Further world
television link-ups are also effected on other occasions of special or exceptional importance for the life of the Church. Approximately 70 countries over the five continents are hooked up every year.
On 3 June 1976 the Rev. P. Panciroli was appointed Director ad interim of the Press Office of the Holy See, with the Rev. Don Pierfranco Pastore, Editor-in-chief of the Vatican Radio programme "Four Voices" and Consultant to RAI on religious programmes, as his assistant. On 5 September 1977 Father Panciroli was confirmed as Director of the Vatican press office, while retaining his existing post as Secretary to the Pontifical Commission, and at the same time Don Pierfranco Pastore was officially made Assistant Director.
In 1978 the Vatican press office and the Audiovisual Service of the Commission were called to cope with no less than four exceptional events: the death of Pope Paul VI; the elevation to the Papacy of Cardinal Albino Luciani (John Paul I); the death of Pope John Paul I only 33 days after his election, and the subsequent election as Pope of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), Polish, well known to the Pontifical Commission through his friendship with the President, Bishop Deskur. Both John Paul I and John Paul II, a few days after their election, were to express their deep appreciation of the news media, and granted audiences to newspaper reporters and radio and television journalists.
On 25 February 1980 Pope John Paul II, having elevated the Rev. Agnellus Andrew O.F.M. to the titular Bishopric of Numa, nominated the new Bishop as Vice-President of the Commission, to work alongside Bishop Deskur, the President, who had suffered a stroke in October 1978 and was in poor health. Bishop Andrew, who had been President of UNDA, placed his vast knowledge of the problems inherent in social communications at the service of the Commission. He was to resign in the second half of 1983, on reaching retirement age.
Every year that passes, the tasks of the Pontifical Commission multiply as, despite shortage of staff and limited means, it faces the ever-increasing need for studies, reports and other undertakings, if it is to keep up with the vertiginous development of the media in the world. In fact, technology, especially in electronics and communications, is advancing with giant strides, challenging its users with innumerable problems of research, planning and appropriate action. Mons. John P. Foley, the new President, appointed on 9 April 1984 and named titular Archbishop of Neapolis in Proconsolare on the same date, was ready to take up the gauntlet. (Bishop Deskur was nominated President Emeritus and elevated to Archbishop.) Archbishop Foley inspired the Office with new energy, proposing new technical means and fresh pastoral approaches, aided in his task by the new Secretary, Mons. Pierfranco Pastore, appointed to the post on 4 December 1984.
At the same time the Pope nominated Dr Joaquin Navarro as Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, with Mons. Giulio Nicolini as Vice-Director, while Archbishop Romeo Panciroli, who on 6 November 1984 had been made titular Archbishop of Noba, became Apostolic Nuncio to Liberia.
At the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission in March 1985, in accordance with the statutes of the Vatican Film Library, Mons. Enrique Planas was designated Official Delegate to the Library, a post which had been vacant since 1980. Later that year, during the course of the meeting of the Executive Committee of the International Federation of Film Archives, held in London at the beginning of October, the Vatican Film Library was admitted to the organization as Observer Member while waiting for full membership on fulfilement of the necessary conditions. This was finally granted on 26 April 1997.
The Consistory of 25 May 1985 was an occasion of particular joy for the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, for on that date the President Emeritus, Archbishop Deskur, was created a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church.
A close and continuous collaboration has always linked the Pontifical Commission with many Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. The presentation to the world of the information contained in the Documents of the Papal Magisterium and in some of the more important acts of the Congregations and Offices often engaged the Commission in particular in a delicate, long-awaited and none too easy task. Among the fruits of this collaboration the issue of two documents closely connected with the social communications sector should be mentioned: Guide to the training of future Priests concerning the instruments of Social Communication, published by the Congregation for Catholic Education on 19 March 1986, and Instruction on some aspects of the use of the instruments of Social Communication in promoting the Doctrine of the Faith, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 30 March 1992.
With the apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus promulgated by Pope John Paul II at the Consistory of 28 June 1988, the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications became on 1 March 1989 the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and, as such, an Office of the Roman Curia in its own right. In accordance with Article 169 of the above-mentioned Apostolic Constitution, the Office "will deal with questions concerning the instruments of social communication, so that also by these means the message of salvation and human progress may serve the growth of civilization and morality". The Apostolic Constitution specifies that "in the performance of its functions, the Pontifical Council shall proceed in close liaison with the Secretariat of State". At the same time the Press Office of the Holy See becomes "the special office" under the First Section of the Secretariat of State for the publication and distribution of "official communications concerning both the acts of the Supreme Pontiff and the activities of the Holy See".
In 1989, on the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Council Decree Inter Mirifica, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications published two important documents: Pornography and violence in the communications media: a pastoral response (7 May 1987), and Criteria for ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation in communications (14 October 1989). Both documents were the fruit of approximately three years of work engaging Members, Consultors and Experts of the Office.
Following the departure of Father Karlheinz Hoffmann, whom the Superiors of the Society of Jesus had designated for a new pastoral ministry in Germany, Mr Hans-Peter R”thlin, Spokesman for the Swiss Bishops' Conference and Consultor of the Pontifical Council, was nominated Undersecretary on 21 May 1991.
In 1987, in view of the changed technological conditions in the field of social communications, the Pontifical Council had proposed to the Plenary Assembly that a possible supplement to Communio et Progressio be prepared, based on the answers to a questionnaire which had already been circulated to the bishops' conferences in 1986. As a result, five years later, 2 February 1992 saw the publication of the Pastoral Instruction Aetatis Novae on Social Communications on the 20th Anniversary of Communio et Progressio.
On 3 December 1994 the Council Secretary, Mons. Pastore, was elected titular Bishop of Forontoniana and was ordained by John Paul II on 6 January 1995.
In 1995-96, as a contribution to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the invention of the Motion Picture, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Vatican Film Library set up an ad hoc Organizing Committee to respond to the demands for more thorough research into the role of the cinema as an influence on values, on the threshold of the 21st century. The documentation prepared by the Committee was despatched to all the bishops' conferences in the world, which undertook to disseminate the suggestions and programmes it contained in the appropriate places.
Since one of the most important aspects of social communications is advertising, with its power of
persuasion and often of psychological pressure, the Pontifical Council had proposed to the Plenary
Assembly that a pastoral document be drawn up to treat the subject in the most suitable way. After three years of preparation involving Members, Consultors, Experts and numerous bishops' conferences, the document entitled Ethics in Advertising was published on 22 February 1997, provoking a remarkably favourable impression for the seriousness, simplicity and restraint with which the subject had been handled.
The above summary is intended merely to remind readers of the daily activities of international relevance which the Office of the Holy See for Social Communications has carried out during the fifty years of its existence.
The Pontifical Council is well aware that all those who work in journalism, radio, television, films and the whole system of informatics, who listen honestly to the voice of their conscience and sincerely aspire to further the progress of their art, know how difficult it is amid the conditioning of everyday life to keep faith with their true vocation as communicators of truth and goodness. Catholics, moreover, must often cope with a lack of material means which, however much they may desire it, hampers their making a contribution to the spread of free information mindful of the spiritual dimension and to public entertainment of quality showing faith in the betterment of the individual and of society and stimulating people to work for it. To all these, as the year 2000 approaches, the Office would like to offer its assistance and make available to all who request it the support of its full pastoral and professional commitment.