In following with vigilant eye, as Our Pastoral Office requires, the
beneficent work of Our Brethren in the Episcopate and of the faithful, it has
been highly pleasing to Us to learn of the fruits already gathered and of the
progress which continues to be made by that prudent initiative launched more
than two years ago as a holy crusade against the abuses of the motion pictures
and entrusted in a special manner to the "Legion of Decency".
This excellent experiment now offers Us a most welcome opportunity of
manifesting more fully Our thought in regard to a matter which touches
intimately the moral and religious life of the entire Christian people.
First of all, We express Our gratitude to the Hierarchy of the United States
of America and to the faithful who cooperated with them, for the important
results already achieved, under their direction and guidance, by the "Legion
of Decency". And Our gratitude is all the livelier for the fact that We were
deeply anguished to note with each passing day the lamentable progress
magni passus extra viam
of the motion picture art and industry in the
portrayal of sin and vice.
I. PREVIOUS WARNINGS
As often as the occasion has presented itself, We have considered it the duty
of Our high Office to direct to this condition the attention not only of the
Episcopate and the Clergy but also of all men who are right-minded and
solicitous for the public weal.
In the Encyclical "Divini illius Magistri", We had already deplored
that "potent instrumentalities of publicity (such as the cinema) which might be
of great advantage to learning and to education were they properly directed by
healthy principles, often unfortunately serve as an incentive to evil passions
and are subordinated to sordid gain". 1
The Influence of the Motion Picture
In August 1934, addressing Ourselves to a delegation of the International
Federation of the Motion Picture Press, We pointed out the very great importance
which the motion picture has acquired in our days and its vast influence alike
in the promotion of good and in the insinuation of evil, and We called to mind
that it is necessary to apply to the cinema the supreme rule which must direct
and regulate the great gift of art in order that it may not find itself in
continual conflict with Christian morality or even with simple human morality
based upon the natural law. The essential purpose of art, its raison d'๊tre, is
to assist in the perfection of the moral personality, which is man, and for this
reason it must itself be moral. And We concluded amidst the manifest approval of
that elect body the memory is still dear to Us
by recommending to them the
necessity of making the motion picture "moral, an influence for good morals,
And even recently, in April of this year, when We had the happiness of
receiving in audience a group of delegates to the International Congress of the
Motion Picture Press, held at Rome, We again drew attention to the gravity of
the problem and We warmly exhorted all men of goodwill, in the name not only of
religion but also of the true moral and civil welfare of the people, to use
every means in their power, such as the Press, to make of the cinema a valuable
auxiliary of instruction and education rather than of destruction and ruin of
The Needs of the Entire Catholic
The subject, however, is of such paramount importance in itself and because
of the present condition of society that We deem it necessary to return to it
again, not alone for the purpose of making particular recommendations as on past
occasions but rather with a universal outlook which, while embracing the needs
of your own dioceses, Venerable Brethren, takes into consideration those of the
entire Catholic world.
It is, in fact, urgently necessary to make provision that in this field also
the progress of the arts, of the sciences, and of human technique and industry,
since they are all true gifts of God, may be ordained to His glory and to the
salvation of souls and may be made to serve in a practical way to promote the
extension of the Kingdom of God upon earth. Thus, as the Church bids us pray, we
may all profit by them but in such a manner as not to lose the goods eternal:
"sic transeamus per bona temporalia ut non admittamus aeterna". 2
Now then, it is a certainty which can readily be verified that the more
marvellous the progress of the motion picture art and industry,the more
pernicious and deadly has it shown itself to morality and to religion and even
to the very decencies of human society.
The directors of the industry in the United States recognised this fact
themselves when they confessed that the responsibility before the people and the
world was their very own. In an agreement entered into by common accord in
March, 1930, and solemnly sealed, signed, and published in the Press, they
formally pledged themselves to safeguard for the future the moral welfare of the
patrons of the cinema.
It is promised in this agreement that no film which lowers the moral standard
of the spectators, which casts discredit upon natural or human law or arouses
sympathy for their violation, will be produced.
Promises not carried out
Nevertheless, in spite of this wise and spontaneously taken decision, those
responsible showed themselves incapable of carrying it into effect and it
appeared that the producers and the operators were not disposed to stand by the
principles to which they had bound themselves. Since, therefore, the
above-mentioned undertaking proved to have but slight effect and since the
parade of vice and crime continued on the screen, the road seemed almost closed
to those who sought honest diversion in the motion picture.
In this crisis, you, Venerable Brethren, were among the first to study the
means of safeguarding the souls entrusted to your care, and you launched the
"Legion of Decency" as a crusade for public morality designed to
revitalize the ideals of natural and Christian rectitude. Far from you was the
thought of doing damage to the motion picture industry: rather indeed did you
arm it beforehand against the ruin which menaces every form of recreation which,
in the guise of art, degenerates into corruption.
The "Legion of Decency" Pledge
Your leadership called forth the prompt and devoted loyalty of your faithful
people, and millions of American Catholics signed the pledge of the "Legion
of Decency" binding themselves not to attend any motion picture which was
offensive to Catholic moral principles or proper standards of living. We are
thus able to proclaim joyfully that few problems of these latter times have so
closely united Bishops and people as the one resolved by cooperation in this
holy crusade. Not only Catholics but also high-minded Protestants, Jews, and
many others accepted your lead and joined their efforts with yours in restoring
wise standards, both artistic and moral, to the cinema.
It is an exceedingly great comfort to Us to note the outstanding success of
the crusade. Because of your vigilance and because of the pressure which has
been brought to bear by public opinion, the motion picture has shown an
improvement from the moral standpoint: crime and vice are portrayed less
frequently; sin is no longer so openly approved and acclaimed; false ideals of
life are no longer presented in so flagrant a manner to the impressionable minds
A Useful Impetus
Although in certain quarters it was predicted that the artistic values of the
motion picture would be seriously impaired by the reform insisted upon by the
"Legion of Decency," it appears that quite the contrary has happened and
that the "Legion of Decency" has given no little impetus to the efforts
to advance the cinema on the road to noble artistic significance by directing it
towards the production of classic masterpieces as well as of original creations
of uncommon worth.
Nor have the financial investments of the industry suffered, as was
gratuitously foretold, for many of those who stayed away from the motion picture
theatre because it outraged morality are patronizing it now that they are able
to enjoy clean films which are not offensive to good morals or dangerous to
When you started your crusade, it was said that your efforts would be of
short duration and that the effects would not be lasting because, as the
vigilance of Bishops and faithful gradually diminished, the producers would be
free to return again to their former methods. It is not difficult to understand
why certain of these might be desirous of going back to the sinister themes
which pander to base desires and which you had proscribed. While the
representation of subjects of real artistic value and the portrayal of the
vicissitudes of human virtue require intellectual effort, toil, ability, and at
times considerable outlay of money, it is often relatively easy to attract a
certain type of person and certain classes of people to a theatre which presents
picture plays calculated to inflame the passions and to arouse the lower
instincts latent in the human heart.
An unceasing and universal vigilance must, on the contrary, convince the
producers that the "Legion of Decency" has not been started as a crusade
of short duration, soon to be neglected and forgotten, but that the Bishops of
the United States are determined, at all times and at all costs, to safeguard
the recreation of the people whatever form that recreation may take.
II. THE POWER OF THE CINEMA
Recreation, in its manifold varieties, has become a necessity for people who
work under the fatiguing conditions of modern industry, but it must be worthy of
the rational nature of man and therefore must be morally healthy. It must be
elevated to the rank of a positive factor for good and must seek to arouse noble
sentiments. A people who, in time of repose, give themselves to diversions which
violate decency, honour, or morality, to recreations which, especially to the
young, constitute occasions of sin, are in grave danger of losing their
greatness and even their national power.
It admits of no discussion that the motion picture has achieved these last
years a position of universal importance among modern means of diversion.
The most Popular Form of Amusement
There is no need to point out the fact that millions of people go to the
motion pictures every day; that motion picture theatres are being opened in ever
increasing number in civilized and semi-civilized countries; that the motion
picture has become the most popular form of diversion which is offered for the
leisure hours not only of the rich but of all classes of society.
At the same time, there does not exist today a means of influencing the
masses more potent than the cinema. The reason for this is to be sought for in
the very nature of the pictures projected upon the screen, in the popularity of
motion picture plays, and in the circumstances which accompany them.
The power of the motion picture consists in this, that it speaks by means of
vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without
fatigue. Even the crudest and most primitive minds which have neither the
capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or
deductive reasoning are captivated by the cinema. In place of the effort which
reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of
concrete and, so to speak, living pictures.
This power is still greater in the talking picture for the reason that
interpretation becomes even easier and the charm of music is added to the action
of the drama. Dances and variety acts which are sometimes introduced between the
films serve to increase the stimulation of the passions.
It must be Elevated
Since then the cinema is in reality a sort of object lesson which, for good
or for evil, teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract
reasoning, it must be elevated to conformity with the aims of a Christian
conscience and saved from depraving and demoralizing effects.
Everyone knows what damage is done to the soul by bad motion pictures. They
are occasions of sin; they seduce young people along the ways of evil by
glorifying the passions; they show life under a false light; they cloud ideals;
they destroy pure love, respect for marriage, affection for the family. They are
capable also of creating prejudices among individuals and misunderstandings
among nations, among social classes, among entire races.
On the other hand, good motion pictures are capable of exercising a
profoundly moral influence upon those who see them. In addition to affording
recreation, they are able to arouse noble ideals of life, to communicate
valuable conceptions, to impart a better knowledge of the history and the
beauties of the Fatherland and of other countries, to present truth and virtue
under attractive forms, to create, or at least to favour understanding among
nations, social classes, and races, to champion the cause of justice, to give
new life to the claims of virtue, and to contribute positively to the genesis of
a just social order in the world.
It Speaks not to Individuals but to
These considerations take on greater seriousness from the fact that the
cinema speaks not to individuals but to multitudes, and that it does so in
circumstances of time and place and surroundings which are most apt to arouse
unusual enthusiasm for the good as well as for the bad and to conduce to that
collective exaltation which, as experience teaches us, may assume the most
The motion picture is viewed by people who are seated in a dark theatre and
whose faculties, mental, physical, and often spiritual, are relaxed. One does
not need to go far in search of these theatres: they are close to the home, to
the church, and to the school and they thus bring the cinema into the very
centre of popular life.
Moreover, stories and actions are presented, through the cinema, by men and
women whose natural gifts are increased by training and embellished by every
known art, in a manner which may possibly become an additional source of
corruption, especially to the young. Further, the motion picture has enlisted in
its service luxurious appointments, pleasing music, the vigour of realism, every
form of whim and fancy. For this very reason, it attracts and fascinates
particularly the young, the adolescent, and even the child. Thus at the very age
when the moral sense is being formed and when the notions and sentiments of
justice and rectitude, of duty and obligation and of ideals of life are being
developed, the motion picture with its direct propaganda assumes a position of
It is unfortunate that, in the present state of affairs, this influence is
frequently exerted for evil. So much so that when one thinks of the havoc
wrought in the souls of youth and of childhood, of the loss of innocence so
often suffered in the motion picture theatres, there comes to mind the terrible
condemnation pronounced by Our Lord upon the corrupters of little ones:
"whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones who believe in Me, it
were better for him that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he be
drowned in the depths of the sea".
It must not be a School of Corruption
It is therefore one of the supreme necessities, of our times to watch and to
labour to the end that the motion picture be no longer a school of corruption
but that it be transformed into an effectual instrument for the education and
the elevation of mankind.
And here We record with pleasure that certain Governments, in their anxiety
for the influence exercised by the cinema in the moral and educational fields,
have, with the aid of upright and honest persons, especially fathers and mothers
of families, set up reviewing commissions and have constituted other agencies
which have to do with motion picture production in an effort to direct the
cinema for inspiration to the national works of great poets and writers.
It was most fitting and desirable that you, Venerable Brethren, should have
exercised a special watchfulness over the motion picture industry which in your
country is so highly developed and which has great influence in other quarters
of the globe. It is equally the duty of the Bishops of the entire Catholic world
to unite in vigilance over this universal and potent form of entertainment and
instruction, to the end that they may be able to place a ban on bad motion
pictures because they are an offence to the moral and religious sentiments and
because they are in opposition to the Christian spirit and to its ethical
principles. There must be no weariness in combating whatever contributes to the
lessening of the people's sense of decency and of honour.
This is an obligation which binds not only the Bishops but also the faithful
and all decent men who are solicitous for the decorum amd moral health of the
family, of the nation, and of human society in general. In what, then, must this
vigilance consist ?
III. A WORK FOR CATHOLIC ACTION
The problem of the production of moral films would be solved radically if it
were possible for us to have production wholly inspired by the principles of
Christian morality. We can never sufficiently praise all those who have
dedicated themselves or who are to dedicate themselves to the noble cause of
raising the standard of the motion picture to meet the needs of education and
the requirements of the Christian conscience. For this purpose, they must make
full use of the technical ability of experts and not permit the waste of effort
and of money by the employment of amateurs.
But since We know how difficult it is to organize such an industry,
especially because of considerations of a financial nature, and since on the
other hand it is necessary to influence the production of all films so that they
may contain nothing harmful from a religious, moral, or social viewpoint,
Pastors of souls must exercise their vigilance over films wherever they may be
produced and offered to Christian peoples.
To the Bishops of all Countries
As to the motion picture industry itself, We exhort the Bishops of all
countries, but in particular you, Venerable Brethren, to address an appeal to
those Catholics who hold important positions in this industry. Let them take
serious thought of their duties and of the responsibility which they have as
children of the Church to use their influence and authority for the promotion of
principles of sound morality in the films which they produce or aid in
producing. There are surely many Catholics among the executives, directors,
authors, and actors who take part in this business, and it is unfortunate that
their influence has not always been in accordance with their Faith and with
their ideals. You will do well, Venerable Brethren, to pledge them to bring
their profession into harmony with their conscience as respectable men and
followers of Jesus Christ.
In this as in every other field of the apostolate, Pastors of souls will
surely find their best fellow workers in those who fight in the ranks of
Catholic Action, and in this letter We cannot refrain from addressing to them a
warm appeal that they give to this cause their full contribution and their
unwearying and unfailing activity.
From time to time, the Bishops will do well to recall to the motion picture
industry that, amid the cares of their pastoral ministry, they are under
obligation to interest themselves in every form of decent and healthy recreation
because they are responsible before God for the moral welfare of their people
even during their time of leisure.
The Moral Fibre of a Nation
Their sacred calling constrains them to proclaim clearly and openly that
unhealthy and impure entertainment destroys the moral fibre of a nation. They
will likewise remind the motion picture industry that the demands which they
make regard not only the Catholics but all who patronize the cinema.
In particular, you, Venerable Brethren of the United States, will be able to
insist with justice that the industry of your country has recognized and
accepted its responsibility before society.
The Bishops of the whole world will take care to make clear to the leaders of
the motion picture industry that a force of such power and universality as the
cinema can be directed, with great utility, to the highest ends of individual
and social improvement. Why indeed should there be question merely of avoiding
what is evil? The motion picture should not be simply a means of diversion, a
light relaxation to occupy an idle hour; with its magnificent power, it can and
must be a bearer of light and a positive guide to what is good.
And now, in view of the gravity of the subject, We consider it timely to come
down to certain practical indications.
A Yearly Promise from the Faithful
Above all, all Pastors of souls will undertake to obtain each year from their
people a pledge similar to the one already alluded to which is given by their
American brothers and in which they promise to stay away from motion picture
plays which are offensive to truth and to Christian morality.
The most efficacious manner of obtaining these pledges or promises is through
the parish church or school and by enlisting the earnest cooperation of all
fathers and mothers of families who are conscious of their grave
The Bishops will also be able to avail themselves of the Catholic Press for
the purpose of bringing home to the people the moral beauty and the
effectiveness of this promise.
The fulfilment of this pledge supposes that the people be told plainly which
films are permitted to all, which are permitted with reservations, and which are
harmful or positively bad. This requires the prompt, regular, and frequent
publication of classified lists of motion picture plays so as to make the
information readily accessible to all. Special bulletins or other timely
publications, such as the daily Catholic Press, may be used for this purpose.
Were it possible, it would in itself be desirable to establish a single list
for the entire world because all live under the same moral law. Since, however,
there is here question of pictures which interest all classes of society, the
great and the humble, the learned and the unlettered, the judgment passed upon a
film cannot be the same in each case and in all respects. Indeed circumstances,
usages, and forms vary from country to country so that it does not seem
practical to have a single list for all the world. If, however, films were
classified in each country in the manner indicated above, the resultant list
would offer in principle the guidance needed.
A National Reviewing Office
Therefore, it will be necessary that in each country the Bishops set up a
permanent national reviewing office in order to be able to promote good motion
pictures, classify the others, and bring this judgment to the knowledge of
priests and faithful. It will be very proper to entrust this agency to the
central organization of Catholic Action which is dependent on the Bishops. At
all events, it must be clearly laid down that this service of information, in
order to function organically and with efficiency, must be on a national basis
and that it must be carried on by a single centre of responsibility. Should
grave reasons really require it, the Bishops, in their own dioceses and through
their diocesan reviewing committees, will be able to apply to the national list
which must use standards adaptable to the whole nation
criterions as may be demanded by the character of the region, and they may even
censor films which were admitted to the general list.
Films in Parish Halls
The above-mentioned Office will likewise look after the organization of
existing motion picture theatres belonging to parishes and to Catholic
associations so that they may be guaranteed reviewed and approved films. Through
the organization of these halls, which are often known to the cinema industry as
good clients, it will be possible to advance a new claim, namely that the
industry produce motion pictures which conform entirely to our standards. Such
films may then readily be shown not only in the Catholic halls but also in
We realize that the establishment of such an Office will involve a certain
sacrifice, a certain expense for Catholics of the various countries. Yet the
great importance of the motion picture and the necessity of safeguarding the
morality of the Christian people and of the entire nation makes this sacrifice
more than justified. Indeed the effectiveness of our schools, of our Catholic
associations, and even of our churches is lessened and endangered by the plague
of evil and pernicious motion pictures.
Care must be taken that the Office is composed of persons who are familiar
with the technique of the motion picture and who are, at the same time, well
grounded in the principles of Catholic morality and doctrine. They must, in
addition, be under the guidance and the direct supervision of a priest chosen by
Exchange of Information
A mutual exchange of advice and information between the Offices of the
various countries will conduce to greater efficiency and harmony in the work of
reviewing films, while due consideration will be given to varying conditions and
circumstances. It will thus be possible to achieve unity of outlook in the
judgments and in the communications which appear in the Catholic Press of the
These Offices will profit not only from the experiments made in the United
States but also from the work which Catholics in other countries have achieved
in the motion picture field.
Even if employees of the Office
with the best of good will and intentions
should make an occasional mistake, as happens in all human affairs, the Bishops,
in their pastoral prudence, will know how to apply effective remedies and to
safeguard in every possible way the authority and prestige of the Office itself.
This may be done by strengthening the staff with more influential men or by
replacing those who have shown themselves not entirely suited to so delicate a
position of trust.
If the Bishops of the world assume their share in the exercise of this
painstaking vigilance over the motion picture
and of this We who know their
pastoral zeal have no doubt
they will certainly accomplish a great work for
the protection of the morality of their people in their hours of leisure and
recreation. They will win the approbation and the approval of all right thinking
men, Catholic and non-Catholic, and they will help to assure that a great
the motion picture
shall be directed towards the noble
end of promoting the highest ideals and the truest standards of life.
That these wishes and prayers which We pour forth from a father's heart may
gain in virtue, We implore the help of the grace of God and in pledge thereof We
impart to you, Venerable Brethren, and to the Clergy and people entrusted to
you, Our loving Apostolic Benediction.
Given at Rome, at St Peter's, the 29th day of June, Feast of SS Peter and
Paul, in the year 1936, the fifteenth of Our Pontificate.
||A.A.S., 1930, vol. XXII, page 82.|
||From the Mass of the Third Sunday after