Papa Don’t Preach

Taking a break from his continued attempts to cover up and make excuses for sexual abuse within certain sections of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI has taken time off to address a conference given by Italian bishops that focuses on how Christians engage with new media and online communities. As you can imagine, the Pope’s a little worried about the power of the Internet. His address to the conference included this mouthful:

The dangers of homologation and control, of intellectual and moral relativism are also increasing, as already recognizable in the decline of critical spirit, in truth reduced to a game of opinions, in the many forms of degradation and humiliation of the intimacy of the person

Now, even though I have a degree in English Literature and in Media & Communication Studies, I’m afraid that I don’t have one in Theology, so I’m unable to decipher the jargon and deliberately confusing use of language above. If I was to hazard a guess, I would say that the Catholic Church is concerned that its teachings on morality are not being listened to because consumers of new media are now obtaining their values from the internet and other forms of modern communication. Considering the results of the Church’s so-called morals, I don’t think this is such a bad thing

It’s not difficult to see why the Catholic Church is worried about the increasingly powerful influence of new media. In the pre-industrial age, the Church was at its most powerful. Communities were smaller and, therefore, access to different cultures and viewpoints must have been few and far between. The gap between the wealthiest and the less well-off was a smaller than it is now, but those with low incomes had fewer opportunities to experience anything other than hard work, low wages and little leisure time. These unjust circumstances made it impossible for members of the working classes to travel outside of their environment on a physical level and, for those who couldn’t read, on an intellectual level. The ruling classes, including the Church, ensured that those who could read were not unduly influenced by ‘immoral’ thoughts by banning such works. ‘High’ art forms, such as painting, theatre and classical music remained immune from censorship because it was felt that it would not be possible to corrupt cultivated minds

In the meantime, the lower classes were kept in control by allowing them to develop their own form of culture. Technological advances throughout the 20th century made popular culture more widespread and film, television and music were all subject to forms of censorship throughout the course of the last century. Media devices became smaller, more powerful and less expensive and this gave more consumers greater access to a wider range of albums, TV programmes and films, first on video and later on DVD. The development of the internet has made access to information and entertainment far more accessible and affordable than anyone could have ever imagined. The greatest challenge facing the Catholic Church in the digital age is the diversification of media and audiences and how it has become virtually impossible for the Church to censor or even exert their influence on users of new media. Consequently, contemporary users of the new media are able to exert their own choices over what they consume and this gives them the ability to create their own system of beliefs and values without having been told what to think by a group whose values and motives are pretty suspect in the first place

Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna cover) – Picturehouse