For those of you conscientious Catholics who also happen to own Netflix accounts, I’m sure you have cringed in your couch cushions at least a couple of times as you scrolled through the selection of films available for streaming on the site. I certainly have.
Recently, I formed the habit of looking up films on a trustworthy film-review website to see whether or not they are morally sound. Oftentimes in the recent past, I have sat on the couch, TV remote limp in one hand and my phone in the other, simply baffled at the atrocities that these reviews described certain films to contain. I would abandon the idea of watching such films and move on. After a search that seemed to grow longer with each attempt, I would discover a film that was, in fact, morally-approved. I began to ask myself: What is the defining factor that in this judgement? The overall message of the film? However, a film can have multiple interpretations, some moral, others immoral, so I discarded this theory. Graphic violence or nudity shown in the film? While I still do not believe that nudity should ever be shown onscreen, I also concluded that this other theory was incorrect, for I could think of many morally sound movies that also depicted graphic violence (look no further than The Passion of the Christ). So, in a last ditch-effort to cure my seemingly incurable curiosity, I decided to examine the teachings of the Church concerning morality in film.
I was happily surprised to find that the Second Vatican Council’s “Decree On the Media of Social Communications,” titled Inter Mirifica, laid all my questions to rest.* Although I found that both of my initial theories had some truth to them, I also found myself asking a much broader research question: In a just society, what kinds of films should be censored and, once we know this, how should we go about censoring them?