Encyclical of Pope Pius XI promulgated on June 29, 1936.
To our Venerable Brethren of the United States of America, the Archbishops, Bishops, and other Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.
Venerable Brethren, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.
With vigilant care, as Our apostolic office demands, We follow all the praiseworthy work of the Bishops and the whole Christian people; and therefore it is with the greatest joy that We have learnt of the fruits which have already been brought forth and of the progress which is still being made by that provident undertaking begun more than two years ago, as it were a holy crusade against the abuses of the art of the cinema, entrusted in a particular manner to the body the "Legion of Decency."
2. This brings Us an opportunity We have long desired of opening Our mind more fully on this subject, which is most closely concerned with the morals and faith of the Christian people. And first We desire to congratulate you, for it was under your leadership and guidance, with the faithful in Christ who lent you their zealous aid, that that Legion has worked so laboriously in this field of the apostolate; the more strongly, in proportion to the distress of mind with which We saw that this art, and the industry concerned with it, had, as if "with long strides," departed from "the way" so as at present to all, through the medium of light, vice, wickedness and crime.
3. We have thought it a part of our high offfice, whenever We saw occasion not only to urge the Bishops and others of the clergy, but all men of good will to give serious attention to a cause of this gravity.
4. Already indeed in the Encyclical Letter Divini illius Magistri We have complained that "these powerful means of propaganda, which if they were turned to sound principles, would be of the greatest use to learning and education, often alas! serve as a vehicle for the enticements of vice and for greed of gain." (A. Ap. Sed., 1930, Vol., XXII, p. 82). And in the year 1934, in the month of August, when We were addressing an audience of members of that federation whose business it is among certain nations to edit periodicals and literature which deal with affairs of the cinema, We pointed out the growing importance of these entertainments in our age, and their potentialities for good as well as for harm; and moreover We gave Our opinion that it was entirely necessary that cinematographic plays should be ruled by those precepts by which the great gift of art is swayed and controlled, so that the Christian law or morals-even the human, formed by natural law-should not suffer discredit and injury. Now every liberal art ought, by its very nature, to strive to adorn man with his due honour and virtue, and should therefore be modelled on the principles and precepts of moral discipline. We therefore advised, with the full agreement of that chosen group of men (as our grateful memory recalls), that as a necessary consequence cinematographic plays must conform to right standards, that they might incite the spectators to right living and education worthy of the name.
5. Recently also, in the last month of April, when We gladly accorded an audience to members of various nations who had come to Rome for a conference, to consider the case of published literature dealing with the cinema, We again brought forward the weight and importance of this matter; and again, not only in the name of religion, but also in the sphere of the social stability of morals, We exhorted all men of feeling to strive, by their publications and by all means in their power, that day by day entertainments of this kind should use their influence for healthy upbringing and education, and not for the ruin and perdition of souls.
6. But the matter is of so great weight, especially if we consider the condition of society in our times, that it seems to Us opportune to set forth the matter again more plainly by these Letters, imparting the precepts which the times require not only of you, Venerable Brethren, but of all the Bishops of the Catholic world. It is indeed absolutely necessary and of great urgency to provide that whatever of God's gifts the progress of the age may have added either to human learning or to technical and scientific skill, may so serve divine glory, the salvation of souls and the furthering of the reign of Jesus Christ, that all of us, in the words in which the Church bids us pray, "may so pass through temporal goods that we should not lose the eternal."
7. Now all may easily discern that the more wonderful the increase of the technique of the cinema, the more dangerous it has become to the hindrance of morals, to religion and to social intercourse itself.
8. Wherefore those who are at the head of this industry in the United States of America professed to be aware of this matter and of its dangers, as affecting not only individual citizens, but the whole community of mankind. For in the year 1930, in the month of March, they made a free and solemn promise, publishing and signing a unanimous document, that they would safeguard the morals of audiences attending the cinema. And by this act they named a series of pictures which might tend to impair the morals of the spectators, to detract from the natural human law, or to encourage its violation, and promised never to exhibit them.
9. Nonetheless, though they had entered into this praiseworthy agreement, the producers and the operators seemed not to be able or to be unwilling to fulfil their voluntary obligations. Since therefore this agreement was shown to be of so little value, and the cinema continued to exhibit scenes of vice and crime, the way to decent entertainment by the means of the cinema seemed almost to be closed.
10. At this most serious juncture, you among the first, Venerable Brethen, studied the ways and means whereby you might guard the flock entrusted to your care from the danger which threatened from that quarter; and this you did when you instituted that holy regiment, if it may so be called, the "Legion of Decency," through the work of which it has come about that all the best rules and principles, conforming to standards of natural and of Christian morality, have taken on a fresh lease of life. Your intention in this was not to injure the industry in any way, but rather to do your best to save it from the ruin towards which every entertainment, which has recourse to the immoral corruption of art, is tending.
11. The faithful in Christ entrusted to your care embraced the purposes you undertook promptly and readily. Millions of Catholics of the United States of America, willingly accepting the obligation proposed by the "Legion of Decency," promised that they would patronise no cinema entertainment which offended Christian morals and the right precepts of life. And so we may say, with the very greatest joy, that in undertaking and furthering this cause, Bishops and people have been united by a stronger link than in almost any other problem of recent times.
12. Nor is it only the sons of the Catholic Church who have taken up your wise proposals, but Protestants and Jews, and many others, who have seconded your attempts to bring cinema plays up to the right principles of art and morals. It is a great consolation to Us to declare that the issues of this contest so worthily engaged have been by no means small or without value. We have been informed that the art of the cinema, on account of your watchful care and the weight of public opinion, has improved considerably. Vicious and criminal pictures are not so frequently presented on the screen; not so much applause and approbation has been give to immorality; false principles of life have not been exhibited to the inflammable minds of youth in so shameless a manner.
13. Although certain people foretold that the result of the care and activities of the "Legion of Decency" would be that the cinema would lose many of its artistic splendours, the very contrary seems to have been the case. No little attention has been given to bring the plots into conformity with the most honourable principles of the liberal arts, so that the works of the best writers of antiquity or of today are offered to the audience, a fact which deserves unstinted praise.
14. Nor have those who had put their money into the undertakings of this industry suffered any loss from this cause, as so many had gratuitously predicted; for many who had kept away from the cinema theatres owing to the injury which they felt was being inflicted on morality, returned when they realised that they might see on the screen actions which did not seem to be hurtful to human morals and Christian virtue.
15. When you, Venerable Brethren, began this crusade, as it were, it was said that its forces would not be enduring, and that its effects would be transitory, since, your vigilance and that of your people being gradually relaxed, the producers of pictures might freely at their own choice return to those dishonourable plots which endeavour to excite ignoble desires, and which you have therefore proscribed. For, while the production of films which exhibit men's actions in accordance with virtue demands a certain large measure of intelligence, labour, skill and sometimes expense, it is comparatively easy to attract certain men and certain classes of society to the cinema theatres in which such films are exhibited as incite to lust and stir up evil forces latent in men's minds. Wherefore it is necessary that the same watchful care of all men should completely convince the directors of this industry that this contest of the "Legion of Decency" has not been begun so that in a short time it should die of neglect, but that rather, under the leadership of the Bishops of the United States of America, the honourable enjoyment of the people should at all times and on all occasions be safeguarded with all the energy at their disposal.
16. Everyone will agree that recreation of body and soul, in the various forms in which this age has made it available, is a necessity to those who are wearied by the business and troubles of life, but it must be consonant with the dignity of man and the innocence of morals, and its object must be to excite and stir leisure hours to amusements which injure the principles of morality, dignity and honour, and which give occasion for sin, especially to the young, are surely running a grave risk of impairing their greatness and prestige.
17. Among such amusements, it must be clear to all, the cinema is of great importance, for in these times it is available to all men. Nor need one calculate how many millions take part in these entertainments every day; the number of cinema theatres is growing rapidly among almost every nation, whether in an advanced or early state of civilisation, and the cinema has become the common form of amusement and recreation, not only for the rich, but for every rank of society. It would not be possible to find anything with so much influence over the people, both on account of the very nature of the pictures projected on the screen, and because of the popularity of the films and the accompanying circumstances.
18. The power of the cinema is due to the fact that it speaks through the medium of living images, which are assimilated with delight and without difficulty, even by those who are untrained and uneducated, and who would be incapable or unwilling to make the efforts of induction or deduction necessary in reasoning. For to read, or to listen to another reading aloud demands a certain concentration and mental effort; an effort which in the cinema is replaced by the delight of a continuous stream of living images presented to the eyes. This power is accentuated in those films in which the voice accompanies the action, for the action becomes thereby even more easy to understand, and the plot may be developed with the added attraction of music. The dances and the scenes of so-called "variety" introduced in the intervals enhance the mental excitement and provide fresh stimuli.
19. These theatres, being like the school of life itself, have a greater influence in inciting men to virtue or vice than abstract reasoning. They must therefore be made to serve the purpose of disseminating the right principles of the Christian conscience, and must divest themselves of everything that could corrupt and impair good morals.
20. All men know how much harm is done by bad films; they sing the praises of lust and desire, and at the same time provide occasions of sin; they seduce the young from the right path; they present life in a false light; they obscure and weaken the wise counsels of attaining perfection; they destroy pure love, the sanctity of matrimony and the intimate needs of family life. They seek moreover to inculcate prejudiced and false opinions among individuals, classes of society and the different nations and peoples.
21. On the other hand, if these plays conform to the best standards, they can exert a most healthy influence on the spectators. They not only give pleasure, but urge men on and excite them to noble ends; they teach most useful lessons; further, they can display to a man the heroism and the glories of his own and of other nations; they can show virtue and truth in an attractive and beautiful light; among the classes of society, the nations and the different races they can arouse, or at least foster, mutual understanding and good will; they can embrace the cause of justice; they can call all men to virtue; and finally they can lend useful aid to a new and more equitable ordering and government of human society.
22. These considerations of Ours assume more importance from the fact that the cinema does not address its messages to individuals, but to gatherings of men, and that in conditions of time and place which are as well suited to directing men's enthusiasms towards good as towards evil; such mass enthusiasms as experience tells us may degenerate into something approaching madness.
23. The films are exhibited to spectators who are sitting in darkened theatres, and whose mental faculties and spiritual forces are for the most part dormant. We do not have to go far to find these theatres; they are near our houses, our churches and our schools, so that the influence they exercise and the power they wield over our daily life is very great.
24. 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. To this are added musical accompaniments, expensive settings, extravagant presentations, and novelty in its most varied and exciting form. Wherefore especially the minds of boys and young people are affected and held by the fascination of these plays; so that the cinema exercises its greatest strength and power at the very age at which the sense of honour is implanted and develops, at which the principles of justice and goodness emerge from the mind, at which the notions of duty and all the best principles of perfection make their appearance.
25. But alas! this power, in the present state of affairs, is too often used for harm. Wherefore when we consider the ruin caused among youths and children, whose innocence and chastity is endangered in these theatres, We remember that severe word spoken against the corrupters of youth by Jesus Christ: "But who so shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matth. xviii. 6-7).
26. It is therefore most necessary, in these times of ours, that these entertainments should not become schools of corruption, but that they should rather assist in the right education of man and in raising the dignity of morality.
27. It is worth considering, and We do so with the greatest pleasure, that certain Governors, concerned to the great effect exercised by this art on human morals, have instituted select committees of mothers and fathers of families, to inspect, censor and direct the published films. And We know the efforts they have often made to inspire the production of films based on the works of the best authors and poets of their own and of other nations.
28. Now as it is right and proper for you, Venerable Brethren, to keep a strict and attentive watch over the cinema industry of your nation, which has been productive of so much good, and which has had no little influence on other peoples, so it is the duty of the Bishops of the whole Catholic world to watch over this common and most powerful form of amusement and construction. They must use the injury done to the moral and religious conscience and to the principles of Christian doctrine as a motive for prohibiting immoral films, leaving nothing
undone, but striving with all the means in their power to ward off things which tend to injure and destroy their people's sense of decency and honour.
29. This duty does not bind the Bishops alone, but all Catholics and all men of good will who have at heart the honour and innocence of family life, of each man's native land, and of the whole human community.
30. Let us now consider and expound what means of vigilance should be adopted.
31. The business of the production of cinema films which conform to good morals would be at once concluded if it were possible to produce pictures in accordance with Christian principles. Wherefore we shall always continue to praise those who have in the past, or who will in the future devote themselves to this art, with the intention of producing films designed to promote healthy education and Christian principles-and that not in dilettante fashion, but with all the technical skill of their profession, lest they expend their energies and money in vain.
32. But since We have considered how many and how great are the difficulties, especially in the economic field, of organising this industry, and since it is of the first necessity that no published films should be such as to offer harm to religion, morals or society, the Bishops must exercise their vigilance on all films which are offered to Christian peoples from any and every source.
33. We therefore give Our solemn admonition to all the Bishops of the Catholic world, in whose nations cinema films are produced, and to you above all, Venerable Brethren, to bring your fatherly influence to bear on the faithful in Christ who take any part in the industry of this art. Let them seriously consider their private duty, and the obligation by which they are bound as sons of the Church, to strive with all their strength that the pictures which they produce, or in the production of which they assist, shall be in conformity with the best principles and with right standards. There are surely many Catholics among the executives, directors, authors and actors who take part in this business; it is much to be regretted that their actions do not always conform to their faith and their principles. Wherefore it is the duty of the Bishops to admonish such people to make their profession accord with the conscience of good men and followers of Jesus Christ.
34. In this field of the apostolate, as in all others, the Bishops will undoubtedly find their most willing fellow-workers among the ranks of Catholic Action, whom by this Encyclical We again and again urge to bring all their zealous and unflagging enthusiasm to bear in this matter.
35. It is advisable that the Bishops should repeatedly recall to the memory of the workers in this art that as in other things which form a part of their ministry, so must they have a care for all kinds even of honourable amusement; since by divine mandate they hold the people's morals entrusted to their rule and guidance even in the hours of relaxation. The sacred office which they hold demands that they should clearly and openly proclaim that immoral amusements relax the moral fibre of the nations themselves. Wherefore their aims in this matter do not concern Catholics alone, but all the audiences in the cinema theatres.
36. You, Venerable Brethren, have a special right to insist on these points with the directors of the cinema industry in the United States of America, they having as We have said, freely promised to pay attention to the dangers which threaten human society from that quarter.
37. But all Bishops, in whatever country they exercise their episcopal function, must take care to point out to the directors of the cinema industry that a force so powerful and so universal may usefully be directed to the very highest ends of individual and social improvement. For is it a matter only of avoiding vice? Why does the cinema waste so many hours of leisure, when it might, and should, edify the minds of the audiences, and use its wonderful influence to impel them towards every virtue?
38. Now We think fit, having considered the gravity of this matter, to make known some of Our own thoughts concerning it. first the various Bishops should follow the example of the Catholics in the United States of America, and obtain from the faithful in Christ entrusted to them a yearly promise never to frequent such cinema entertainments as offend the truth and principles of Christian doctrine. This pledge and promise can best be obtained in the churches and schools, with the active co-operation of the fathers and mothers of families, who are bound by a peculiar duty in this cause, and of the Catholic Press which can illustrate the importance and value of this sacred promise. The fulfilment of this solemn pledge depends on a wide knowledge among the people of what films are free to be seen by all, which may be seen with certain reservations, and finally which are harmful or actually immoral. This requires the publication of regular and frequent lists of classified films, made easily accessible to everyone by means of special leaflets and other opportune publications. It would be desirable that a single list should be published for the whole world, since all are bound by the same law in the sphere of morals. Since however it is a question of dramatic plots which affect all classes of society, the illiterate as well as the cultured, the mass of the people as well as the leaders, the judgment of all peoples and in all places cannot be the same. For customs and circumstances vary in different lands, so that it is not possible to obtain a unanimous and universal list. If, however, every nation has an order of classification such as We have described, this may be received as a general standard.
39. For which purpose it is necessary that the Bishops should establish in every nation an Office of inspection, whose business it may be to promote desirable films, to classify the rest, and to make known their findings to the priests and to the faithful in Christ. This business may very well be entrusted to the central offices of Catholic Action, which depend, as all know, on the Bishops. In any case it must be clearly laid down that for this work of classification to be efficient, it must be organised on national lines and with one central Office. If there shall seem to be good and sufficient reason, it shall be open to the Bishops to exercise a severer censorship, as the religious character of the place seems to require, within their own dioceses by means of select diocesan Commissions; that is, by censoring films which may have been passed according to the standards adopted by the national board of censorship.
40. This Office shall further see to it that the films which are shown in parish halls and at meetings of Catholic confraternities shall be only of the approved type. Through the organisation and discipline of these halls, which are often known to the cinema industry as good clients, a new principle can be established, that of production by the said industry of films conforming to Our standards, which films can then easily be exhibited not only in Catholic halls, but in others as well.
41. We are well aware that the establishment of such an Office entails no little labour and no little expense on the part of the faithful in Christ. None the less this labour and this expense are more than amply justified by the great importance of this cause, and the necessity of preserving the innocence not only of the Christian people but of the whole nation. For indeed the efficiency and strength of our schools, of the confraternities of Catholic Action, and of the sacred ministry itself is impaired and endangered by the festering ulcer of vicious films.
42. Care must be taken that the Office is composed of men who are as skilled in the technicalities of this industry as in the knowledge of Christian doctrine and principles. They should be directed and guided by a priest chosen by the Bishop.
43. A mutual exchange of advice and information between the Offices of the various nations, due regard being paid to the different conditions obtaining in the different places, will render the work of censorship more efficient and more harmonious; and in this manner, with the assistance of the whole Catholic Press, a unity of opinion, judgment and action will be obtained.
44. These Offices will not only profit from the experiences and the results of what has been undertaken in the United States of America, but from the work which Catholics in other countries have achieved in the field of the cinema.
45. If the members of this Office, in spite of the best intentions and dispositions, shall fall into any defect, as happens in all human affairs, the Bishops in the wisdom of their pastoral office shall find the means of repairing the error in the best manner possible, and shall at the same time safeguard as far as they can the authority and the prestige of the Office itself, reinforcing it by the addition of some more authoritative member, or replacing those who shall have shown themselves not entirely suited to so delicate a position of trust.
46. If then the Bishops of the Catholic world accept their part in exercising a vigilant watch over the standards of cinema films (as We, who are fully conscious of their pastoral zeal, have no doubt they will do), they will accomplish a great work in safeguarding the morals of their people in their hours of recreation and amusement. They will undoubtedly gain the approval and the cooperation of all men of good will, not only Catholics, but those also who do not profess our faith; and each will thus be doing his part in assuring the direction of that great international power, the cinema, towards the most honourable standards and a better way of life.
47. Meanwhile, that these wishes and prayers which We pour forth from a father's heart may gain in virtue, We implore the aid of divine grace; in token of which We impart to you, Venerable Brethren, and to the clergy and all the people entrusted to your care, Our loving Apostolic Benediction.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, on the XXIXth day of the month of June, on the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in the Year MDCCCCXXXVI, the fifteenth of Our Pontificate.