Inter Mirifica (Latin original, English translation), the Council’s decree on the media of social communications promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 4 December 1963, is largely forgotten, due in part to its overshadowing by the much more momentous Sacrosanctum Concilium, which was promulgated on the same day, as well as the slightness of its subject matter, the unobjectionable character of its contents, and its negligible lasting impact.
By “social communications,” Inter Mirifica means, essentially, what we would call “mass media”: then newspapers, radios, television, and the film and music industries; today, that could presumably be expanded to include video games and the various forms of Internet-based communications, including blogs, Facebook, YouTube videos, etc. The headline version of Inter Mirifica is as follows: social communications are essentially good but their use should be subordinated to some basic guiding principles, both moral and prudential. It outlines those principles in some depth and offers a few guidelines on how the Church might usefully exploit media of social communications, which includes training both clergy and laity in their use. This, so far as I know, has not really been systematically implemented; in fact, it seems the most successful Catholic media apostolates sprang up organically with little to no formation on the Church’s part, they are as likely as not to be treated by the Church with suspicion and contempt (e.g., Michael Voris’ ChurchMilitant.tv), or to be actively harmful to her interests (and I’m not just talking about National Catholic Reporter).
Inter Mirifica might usefully be classified as “mostly harmless” in that, with a few questionable word choices aside, its content seems theologically and even prudentially inoffensive. My analysis of it, then, will be fairly brief. I’ll look at its recommendations, assess the extent of their successful implementation, and analyze the situation on the ground today. I’ll also spare a brief discussion about the “right to information” which it announces belongs to all “men” “in society,” and in which some traditionalists see (wrongly, I will argue) an endorsement of unfettered Enlightenment freedom-of-press. It’s in that section, in particular, that we begin to see the Council’s… unusual… way of speaking about certain issues emerge, a dialectic we might usefully call “liberalese.”