PITTSBURGH (June 19, 1998) -- The Catholic Bishops of the United States have issued a document calling on all segments of society--from parents to government to the entertainment industry itself--to take action to overcome the widespread and pervasive exploitation of sex and violence in all forms of communications, including the Internet.
"Pornography, excessive violence, and other irresponsible uses of sex and violence in the media gravely harm the moral and psychological health of both society as a whole and its individual members--children and adults," the Bishops said. "Even people who do not consume a great deal of media are well aware that they live in a society whose environment and values are affected by media influence, for good or ill, and they can be affected themselves, even indirectly."
The statement, entitled "Renewing the Mind of the Media: a Statement on Overcoming the Exploitation of Sex and Violence in Communications," was overwhelmingly adopted by the Bishops at their spring meeting here. The statement was presented by Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, Chairman of the Bishops' Communications Committee, and drawn up by a subcommittee headed by Bishop Michael Cote, Auxiliary Bishop of Portland, Maine.
Bishop Lynch said that, in preparing a statement on sex and violence in the media, the Communications Committee was acting on the recommendation of Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, who was reflecting on concerns he shared with the ecumenical and interfaith communities.
The statement said that, while the influence of film and television has been subjected to much criticism in the past, today many other forms of media also influence young people and adults to engage in morally and socially destructive forms of behavior. Among the examples cited in the statement:
- "The utility of the Internet has already been compromised by those using it to sell sex and violence or to transmit messages of hate. This gateway to a vast world of learning and information is also a means of adults and children accessing obscenity, violence, and prejudice.
- Talk radio often assaults its listeners with angry or indecent remarks..
- "The music industry has deservedly come under fire for the obscene and violent messages contained in some lyrics and for the bizarre and suggestive behavior seen in various music videos.
- Brutal video games entice youngsters into equating images of violent, lawless and sadistic worlds with what is glamorous and heroic.
- Telephone services offer sexually stimulating talk of every kind.
- Advertising is notorious for using sex to sell products; and models, some of them young enough to be mistaken for minors, appear provocatively dressed and posed in ads in magazines, on billboards, on television, and on the World Wide Web.
The statement said the pornographer and those who use graphic violence to excite the vulnerable " are close kin to drug dealers who also prey on people's weaknesses for their own benefit." But others also share the blame, according to the Bishops.
"Government too bears some responsibility. De-regulation has left consumers largely without government as an ally in promoting better media in this period of vast developments in their influence.
"Consumers of media also share the blame. Those who freely choose to support the industries which purvey pornography and graphic violence have responsibility not only for themselves but for others who will be trapped in what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls 'the illusion of a fantasy world' filled with sex and violence."
Turning to individual recommendations, the Bishops called on government to do its duty with regard to its own laws against pornography, including its regulatory role with regard to the broadcast spectrum.
Noting that broadcasters, cablecasters and satellite operators are also regulated by the government, the statement said the public should demand regulation to the extent that it can affect the concentration of control over these media; disallow quick sales of media outlets that attract irresponsible owners; and open these outlets to a greater variety of program sources.
While government censorship across a broad range of media is not feasible nor desirable, said the Bishops, "government's role should be to use its good offices to act as a catalyst for industry self-regulation and for consumers' expression of their rights."
The Bishops said those in the world of entertainment "know their industries best and how best to turn their resources away from unworthy uses and towards the good they have to offer. We encourage such conscientious industry leaders, especially our fellow Catholics among them, to work within our own industries to accomplish this."
Speaking to parents, the Bishops urged them not to be too quick to denigrate their own influence. "There is a bond between parents and children that nothing else can replace no matter how much, at any given moment, children seem to look elsewhere for example and guidance," they said. "The influences that parents fear have the most room to flourish where they do not offer their own moral direction."
The Bishops said it is the duty of Church leaders "to bring people together on these issues and organize them to exert the influence that we, as Church, can have. As healers, we need to offer the appropriate help to all wounded by the misuse of sex and violence in the media, above all through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Lastly, we need humbly to ask our people's support, so that when we speak as moral leaders our voices will be heeded by those we hope to influence."
The statement concluded with an appendix containing practical steps: for dioceses, for parishes, for families, for Catholic educators, for the media's creative and business communities, for government, and for everyone interested in contributing to a solution.
Bishop Lynch said that after the statement has been published the Communications Committee will develop materials for diocesan and parish use, probably including audio-visual materials.