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The promulgation of the Conciliar Decree, Inter Mirifica

An important page in the history of the Church was written fifty years ago this coming December, as the images stored in this Vatican Film Library clip show.

December 4, 1963 marked a milestone in the relationship between the Church and the media. On that day, at the closing session of the second period of the Second Vatican Council, the Fathers voted on and approved the "Decree on the Media of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica”.

As footage from the Film Library shows, the Decree was favourably received when Bishop Pericle Felice, the Secretary of the Council, submitted it to the Council Fathers for final approval. In all, it took only 12 minutes to be adopted with 1,960 votes in favour and 164 against. [The soundtrack accompanying the footage is taken from the Gospel canticle for Morning Prayer, Benedictus, which looks forward to the dawning of a new day. December 4, 1963 was certainly a new day with regard to the Church and the media.]

A milestone truly had been reached, for this was the first time the Church had defined what it understood 'social communications' to mean. For an Ecumenical Council to speak of Social Communications as tools for the fundamental mission of the Church was indeed timely in that it madepossiblea relatively unhindered implementation of these tools of evangelisation - in the service of the Church - with which to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, in a rapidly-expanding and rapidly-diversifying world of mass-media. From this moment on, social communications officially became part of the Catholic Church’s programme of outreach and teaching.

How did the Council decide to create Inter mirifica?

As one of the original staff members of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Fr Thomas Stransky recalls how Pope Paul VI founded both his secretariat and the Secretariat for Social Communications on Pentecost Sunday, 1960. Under the leadership of Archbishop Martin O'Connor, he called together various parties who drew up its first official document, which Fr Stranskyfeels left much to be desired.

What was the process of voting for this document like?

Fr Thomas Stransky, one of the original members of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, recounts how the document, 'Inter Mirifica', received the highest number of negative votes of any Conciliar document! Even within the world of Catholic media, there was an attitude that it would be better to have no document than a bad one, but their protests were too little too late. In the end, Pope Paul VI, himself the son of a journalist, described the document as being, "nec inutile", not unusable!

How was Inter mirifica created?

Fr Thomas Stransky, one of the original staff members of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, beginning his service in 1960 soon after the Secretariat was formed, recalls that the first discussion of 'Inter Mirifica' came between two theologically-weighty deliberations, and thus discussion of it created the sense of being something of a 'recreation break'. Only Cardinal Bea, he recalls, had emphasized the need for the creation of a Press Office after the Council! The next time it was discussed, the Press focused on 'Sacrosanctum Concilium', and once again, Inter Mirifica appeared to have been 'overlooked'.

Why did the Council fathers decide to create a document on the topic of communications?

Mgr Robert Trisco, an eminent Church historian, was also a 'peritus' at Vatican II. Here, he recalls that the Council Fathers regarded social communications as a feature of contemporary society, and thus the need for a Conciliar document recognized. Beginning life as a considerably longer document, it was gradually shortened as the bishops submitted proposals for revision. Even at the last minute, there was concern by some that the it lacked relevance.

Whast was the reaction from the journalistic world to the Inter mirifica document?

Mgr Robert Trisco, a major figure in American Church history for over 40-years, recalls that the reaction of some in the world of journalism to 'Inter Mirifica' was that it would 'tie their hands', feeling that the document didn't reflect sufficiently the challenges of the modern world. Nevertheless, Fr Trisco believes, however, that it should not be judged on its own, as it included a pastoral desire to provide positive guidance for the various media, which was generally well received.