It’s no secret the media scorn Catholic doctrine – but it’s not every day the Vatican accepts the challenge to respond.
The Vatican released “Instrumentum Laboris” June 26 in preparation for the third Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October. At Pope Francis’ request, the meeting of Catholic bishops will address “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” Citing responses from a questionnaire distributed worldwide among the faithful, the document noted the media’s “negative impact,” by sending messages such as “love cannot endure for a lifetime."
To describe “Critical Situations within the Family,” “Instrumentum Laboris” dedicated two paragraphs to “Dependence, the media, and the Social Network.” The document emphasized how questionnaire respondents “repeatedly stressed” the media’s “negative impact on the family, particularly when they convey and offer opposing models to the image of the family.”
Television, smart phones and computers can surface as “a real impediment to dialogue” by “leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family,” the section read. Warning that media instruments “replace real family relationships with virtual ones,” the text elaborated, “this situation runs the risk of leading to not only the disunity and breakdown of the family but also the possibility that the virtual world will replace the real one,” especially in Europe, North America and Asia.
Alongside “the hedonistic culture,” “materialism” and “growing secularism,” the document also listed “the influence of mass media” as an “underlying reason” for “the difficulty in accepting Church teaching” in relation to the family.
Paying special attention to the media’s grasp on youth, the paper stressed how respondents “mention a concept of freedom,” associated with Western lifestyle, which defines marriage as a “relinquishment of personal freedom.” “Such an idea influences poorly formed young people to make them think that love cannot endure for a lifetime,” the document continued, and “the media largely promotes this attitude.”
But the bishops’ document offered solutions amidst criticism: “pastoral care” should aid young adults in “overcome[ing] an overly romantic idea that love is only an intense feeling towards each other” and instruct instead on how love is “a personal response to another person as part of a joint project of life, which reveals a great mystery and great promise.”
As far as the media’s influence on marriage (as defined between one man and one woman), the document noted the mass media’s influence as well as the examples displayed by celebrities and athletes. “These aspects,” the text continued, “are exerting influence even in countries with traditional family cultures,” such as Africa, the Middle East, and South-Central Asia.
Other media-twisted issues included the Church’s position on the “grave problem” of HIV/AIDS – as well as contraception. “Natural methods for fertility regulation are not natural ‘techniques’ applied to solve a problem,” the document clarified, but “instead, they show a respect for ‘human ecology’ and the dignity of the sexual relationship between husband and wife."
But from the beginning, the “Instrumentum Laboris” Preface clarified that the family “is not ultimately defined by difficulties.” Promising hope, the document recognized “the efforts being made, primarily by young people, to bring about a new springtime for the family,” or, in other wording, a “renewed desire for marriage and family life” located “above all in the newer generations.”
— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.