Of the world religions, Christianity has probably paid more attention than any other to communication. Evangelical churches cite the “Great Commission”—Jesus’ command to the disciples, “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you” (Matt 28:19-20, CEV)— as a rationale. And as a “religion of the Book,” Christianity depends on the Bible; it therefore has an interest in copying and printing the Bible, making it available to as many people as possible. These two imperatives led to and continue to foster an ongoing alliance between Christianity and communication media: the Bible was the first book printed on Gutenberg’s press; within a year of the invention of motion pictures, film-makers produced Bible films and continue to do so;1 early radio featured church services; Marconi himself set up Vatican Radio; a Catholic bishop, Fulton J. Sheen, stands among the pioneer television personalities in the United States.
Besides this practical interest, Christian churches also show a theoretical interest in communication. Such an interest appears, first, in the writings of many individual pastors who seek either to teach people how to make appropriate use of the media (which programs to watch, which to avoid, etc.) or to influence public policy. Second, the concern appears in official statements from those churches that have a fixed public or hierarchical structure; these often address the same concerns as the local pastors, teaching congregational members and addressing public policy. Churches with fixed organizational structures that coordinate their comments on communication include the World Council of Churches,2 the National Council of Churches of Christ (1992), and the Catholic Church.
Of the Christian churches, the Roman Catholic Church has most actively commented on communication. More likely than not, this results from the organizational structure of the Church itself. With a permanent bureaucracy in the Vatican (as well as local offices for each bishop, and national support structures), the Catholic Church has offices to address the whole range of Christian living. For example, the Vatican today has nine top-level “congregations” responsible for such things as doctrine, worship, evangelization, education, and clergy; eleven councils, which address laity, Christian unity, the family, justice and peace, inter-religious dialogue, culture, and communication; and seven commissions, which supervise everything from biblical theology to archaeology. The communication office’s rank as a midlevel council indicates its stature and the importance that the Vatican places on communication.
This chapter reports on the Vatican’s statements on modern (mass) communication, particularly those issued in the last forty years. Before addressing the statements themselves, the chapter will provide a brief history of Vatican interest in communication and then outline the Roman Catholic theology that establishes the context for those statements. Finally, it will introduce the statements themselves, highlighting repeating themes.
Soukup, Paul A. (2005). Vatican opinion on communications. In C. Badaracco (Ed.), Quoting God: How Media Shape Ideas about Religion and Culture (pp. 233-245) Waco: Baylor University Press.