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How Vatican II has helped me view “inappropriate” movies in a new light

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 05/02/22

An interesting document from the Vatican sheds light on the entertainment industry and its moral duty.

What’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable in a movie has been up for debate again after the release of Father Stu, the true story of an American boxer-turned-priest starring Mark Wahlberg.

The movie divided people on whether the story necessitated the swearing that was littered throughout the film. Some people were very upset about the huge number of F-bombs Stu dropped in the film, while others felt it helped them appreciate the power of Fr. Stu’s conversion and vocation.

Personally, I loved the movie. Whether this is because I didn’t focus on the swearing itself, or because I actually learned something from the story and came out feeling more positive than before I started the film, I’m not entirely sure. But it certainly made me think.

I read with interest many comments that were fine with Stu’s swearing, and those who were deeply offended by it. I certainly understand both sides. However, it made me wonder what the Church has to say about not just swearing in movies, but other issues that touch on moral questions, such as violence and gore — especially since I’m fascinated by certain genres of movies involving serial killers. (In my defense I considered studying criminology decades ago.)

And this is where Vatican II comes into play.

In a document called Inter mirifica (on modern communications), there is a section that addresses the “portrayal of moral evil.” It reads:

“The narration, description or portrayal of moral evil, even through the media of social communication, can indeed serve to bring about a deeper knowledge and study of humanity and, with the aid of appropriately heightened dramatic effects, can reveal and glorify the grand dimensions of truth and goodness. Nevertheless, such presentations ought always to be subject to moral restraint, lest they work to the harm rather than the benefit of souls, particularly when there is question of treating matters which deserve reverent handling or which, given the baneful effect of original sin in men, could quite readily arouse base desires in them.”

I was fascinated by this sentence “appropriately heightened dramatic effects can reveal and glorify the grand dimensions of truth and goodness.” For me, this was the case with the Father Stu movie, although some readers commented that they could imagine what Stu was like pre-conversion and didn’t need the explicit swearing.

And perhaps this is where the text is particularly useful. After all, some people do need things pointed out more than others. That is the beauty of us all being so different. But there’s a fine art to knowing when enough is enough. As Wahlberg shared in an interview, he actually chose to delete a significant number of cuss words from the script.

But I also found this notion of “moral restraint” very interesting. I imagine that I’m not alone in thinking that the gratuitous scenes of violence and sexual content in many moves and shows are meant to shock and titilate — and certainly not to educate. These are the films that make me feel uneasy.

The level of violence in movies and TV series, such as the controversial Squid Game, leave a very bad taste in my mouth. And unfortunately they seem to growing in popularity.

While there’s sadly no classification stating whether movies “reveal and glorify the grand dimensions of truth and goodness,” so for now I’ll have to use my common sense and question if I’m going to feel that viewing a movie or series will provide a positive experience. Thankfully, there’s always an “off” button!

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