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R-Rated Movies in the Catholic High School

[Editor’s note: This document was prepared on behalf of a group of Catholic parents to address issues locally that may also be going on elsewhere in the country. It is published here as a resource for parents who may find it useful.]

Having chosen [a Catholic School] does not relieve [parents] of a personal duty to give their children a Christian upbringing. They are bound to… make certain that the school remains faithful to Christian principles of education… Where difficulties and conflicts arise about the authentic Christian character of the Catholic school, hierarchical authority can and must intervene… (The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education: The Catholic School: 71)

In most high schools, drugs, drinking, profanity and promiscuity pose significant challenges.   Sadly these challenges now likewise present themselves in our diocesan high schools today.  Studies show that teens exposed to R-rated movies become more likely to engage in smoking, drinking, drugs and promiscuity.[i] Studies also show that viewing violence begets violence.  Thus, when students view R-rated movies, the probability of these negative behavior increases.  The following examines the rationale typically provided for showing R-rated movies to students: 

  1. Students would be exposed to the material anyway
  2. Parents can exempt their teens from the movies
  3. The R-rated movie is necessary to teach a subject

The above points are addressed in detail below:

1. Students would be exposed to the material anyway

 The material contained in R-rated movies is often violent and erotic in nature.  Rome’s encyclical The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (TMHS) (126) states that “No material of an erotic nature should be presented to… young people of any age, individually or in a group.”  The school can’t control what students are exposed to outside of school. However, it can control, and parents rightfully expect that it will control what is shown in the classroom. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says that “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons.”  So too must the school.  Aside from shocking and traumatizing some students, having boys and girls together watch erotic scenes further shreds the natural barrier that should exist between boys and girls.  This strips them of their dignity, which schools are called to uphold.  

Both parents and schools are called to form students in chastity.  The means for doing this are explained in TMHS 70.  The means are: 

…discipline of the sense and the mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, the observance of modesty, moderation in recreation, wholesome pursuits, assiduous prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.  Young people especially should foster devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God.

If students are to be formed in chastity, then, according to TMHS, students must be guided towards wholesome endeavors.  Are R-rated movies wholesome endeavors?

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) rates almost all R-rated movies as for “adults only.”  Catholic parents have a right to expect that Catholic schools would naturally and willingly honor the Catholic Bishop’s rating.  Teens are not mini-adults.  They are young people whose vulnerable minds are still in formation.  We must see to it that these young minds are not just formed, but formed well. 

2. Parents can exempt their teens from the movies

This may be true.  One can exempt one’s own child from adult films.  But because one can exempt one’s child, does that give the school license to show adult films to students whose parents have signed the permission slip?  Does a permission slip make adult films acceptable or desirable in the Catholic school? 

Furthermore, although one can exempt one’s child from seeing the film, one cannot “exempt” one’s child from the sordid discussion that inevitably takes place afterwards.  The first inclination of teens after viewing an adult film is to talk about it almost continuously with their peers.  Even students who did not watch the film itself will hear about it in exacting detail. Once the student population views an “adult” film, no student is “exempt” from the consequences.

When parents are given the option to exempt, there is often no clear explanation to parents of the actual content of the film so that they might make a wise decision when signing a permission slip.  As an example, one diocesan Catholic school sent home a permission slip stating that the Breakfast Club was rated “R for profanity.”  This description is inadequate and can mislead parents. The truth about the Breakfast Club was not given to parents, and is provided in the following movie review by the Bishops:

Breakfast Club, The — Five teenagers spend a Saturday detention in their school library. After much abrasive interchange and a little marijuana, they become downright chummy when they realize they share common attitudes about adult authority figures, drugs and sex… the movie lacks any critical perspective, seeming to justify anti-social behavior, casual sex and the concept of drugs as a harmless escape, if not a liberating experience. (O*) (R) 1985; NOTE*: The letter “O” stands for morally offensive by judgment of the USCCB. 

Knowing that students are immersed in an immoral culture, and knowing that many students are struggling with issues of morality, does it make sense to show students morally offensive films that will make it even harder for students to act morally and embrace their faith?

3. The film is necessary to teach a subject

The claim may be made that the film is necessary to teach the subject. If Catholic high school subjects can no longer be taught without adult films, then rather lowering our standards of morality, perhaps we might correct our view of the subject or change how best to teach it. Our Church teaches that “one may not do evil so that good may result from it.”  (CCC 1761)  Even if one actually believes one is bringing about a greater educational good, this fails to grant license to take acts that can inflict moral harm on students. “The end does not justify the means.”  (CCC 1753)

Bringing R-rated films into schools can create scandal.  Apart from the damage done to students, some families may (based on what the school is doing) assume R-rated movies are fine and thus bring them into their homes, thinking “if it’s okay for the Catholic school, then it’s okay with me.”  This spreads, not God’s Kingdom on earth, but that of the enemy. 

Catholic students are called to be a “royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter: 2:9).  The Catholic school must strive to instill a sense of this royal dignity and nobility in the student.  The Catholic school, called to elevate students and families through the grace of Christ, must be mindful of the moral example it sets and actively avoid “the tendency to adopt present-day values as a yardstick…” (The Catholic School: 30)  To reduce such risks, the school “must develop into an authentically formational school.” (The Catholic School: 31)

Popes have warned parents and educators of the “moral and religious” shipwreck associated with modern theater.[ii]  Attached to this document are two lists.  One is a list of modern films that have been shown to Catholic school students.  The other is a list of wholesome films that generally are not shown.  It is interesting to look at the movies not shown to students.  It is clear that there are many movies on saints that are not shown in the Catholic high school which involve action, romance, death, drama and excitement of all sorts.  The Saints were never boring.  For example, the film on the story of St. Rita is jam-packed with chivalry, romance, murder and mayhem to a degree that would keep even the most jaded student alert.  Yet the film is made in a way that ultimately elevates the mind and the heart to God.  The viewer departs from the movie with a love for the Catholic faith. 

The saints experienced prejudice, persecution, trauma, violence, romance—every aspect of life—yet they demonstrate how we can triumph in these areas.  The Fatima children thought they were going to be boiled in hot oil.  How frightening is that?  Saints were burned to death, decapitated and had their eyes plucked out.  Sometimes the problem is not what material is being presented in films, but rather how.  R-rated movies tend to be particularly brutal, vulgar, caustic, and degrading in their presentation.  It is possible to present the very same themes found in some R-rated movies, yet in a way that respects the dignity of the student, and emboldens the student in faith.

Among the questions many Catholic parents are asking is why are good Catholic movies avoided and why are secular R-rated movies shown?  Why is there a tendency to embrace films which present modern themes?  Why is there an aversion to showing films which embrace wholesome themes from a traditional Catholic perspective which would ennoble the student and morally and spiritually lift him or her up? 

Conclusion

The world and world to come are two enemies.  We cannot therefore be friends to both; but we must decide which we will forsake and which we will enjoy. (Pope St. Clement I)  The Encyclical letter on the Education of Youth (p.37) exhorts us to “reprove… in all patience and doctrine… when… there is so great and deplorable an absence of clear and sound principles, even regarding problems most fundamental.”  Sadly, such an absence of clear and sound principles now appears to be the case with R-rated movies and plays. 

In this era of religious and moral shipwreck, Holy Mother Church needs, perhaps now more than ever, Christ’s moral light to shine in the Catholic school.  Catholic schools must provide moral leadership and act with uprightness of action.  Parents respectfully and rightly request that Catholic schools actively strive to help students recognize their dignity in Christ by showing them movies and taking them to plays which build them up and strengthen them in faith.  Toward that end, parents request that:

  • Respect be demonstrated for the Catholic school student and for the ratings of the Bishops.  The showing of R-rated (adult-only) films to (non-adult) students should be stopped in the Catholic school. 
  • All other movies be assessed for appropriateness by an objective person well formed in faith, and approved at the diocesan level, and by the diocesan respect life office.  Parents would be willing to form a committee to assist in the process of identifying suitable movies and categorizing them.  Given the moral shipwreck of the culture, now even PG movies need to be screened, most especially at the elementary school level.  As one example, one Catholic school tried to show the PG movie Apollo 13 to elementary school students, prior to parental intervention.  The obscene contents of this movie are attached.
  • Broadway plays be screened and evaluated for suitability in the Catholic school, and approved at the diocesan level, and by the diocesan respect life committee. 

Some films can be presented in both History and Religion classes.  The story of Fatima is an example.  Catholic school history classes can teach how Our Lady explained to the Fatima children that WW I would end, but if men did not mend their ways then a worse war would follow (WW II).  She also warned Russia would spread her errors, and said God wanted to establish a [iii]devotion to her Immaculate Heart.  She said this devotion would bring peace to the world.

What if the student objects?  What if the student prefers the brutality, eroticism or vulgarity of the modern R-rated movie?  What if the student has little preference for the wholesome movie or the ennobling message it sends?  That will be sad.  But the preference of the student is somewhat irrelevant in the case of R-rated movies.  The student’s preferences are immature and need to be cultivated.  And they must be cultivated towards goodness and Truth.  It is only in this way that the student will grow into a faithful adult.  This cultivation is the difficult job of the Catholic parent.   So too is it the difficult job of the Catholic school.

Sample Movies shown in the Catholic School and Accompanying Bishop’s Review:

American History X –Violent melodrama in which the young leader (Edward Norton) of a California hate group is sent to prison for manslaughter, then after being gang-raped by fellow skinheads, is befriended by a black inmate and returns home a changed man. Directed by Tony Kaye, there is nothing subtle about the movies anti-hate message or reliance on hard-edged violence in conveying it, but the result is unconvincing as human drama and provides no insights beyond the obvious danger to society of such groups. Intense violence, some of it gory, sexual situations, including a brutal rape sequence, brief nudity, racial epithets, recurring rough language and occasional profanity. L (R) 1998

The Breakfast Club — Five teenagers spend a Saturday detention in their school library. After much abrasive interchange and a litte marijuana, they become downright chummy when they realize they share common attitudes about adult authority figures, drugs and sex. Under John Hughes’ direction the movie lacks any critical perspective, seeming to justify anti-social behavior, casual sex and the concept of drugs as a harmless escape, if not a liberating experience. (O) (R) 1985

Dead Man Walking — Powerful fact-based dramatization about a Louisiana nun (Susan Saradon) offering spiritual comfort to a hard-bitten prisoner (Sean Penn) condemned to death for the rape and murder of two teenagers, while at the same time attempting to share in the painful loss of the victims’ grieving parents. Directed by Tim Robbins, the picture is balanced between the nun’s respect for the dignity of every individual, even the despicable killer, and the parents’ quest for justice in the state’s execution of their children’s murderer, leaving viewers at the end to ponder what moral or social purpose is served by capital punishment. Flashbacks to savage crimes, the depiction of an execution, racial slurs and several instances of rough language. (A-III) (R) ( 1995 )

Bowling for Columbine — Specious documentary in which producer-writer-director-interviewer Michael Moore uses guerrilla video journalism techniques to ridicule and blame the National Rifle Association and an American mindset for the Columbine High School massacre and other shootings. Although his film is thought-provoking, Moore tosses in a racially charged minicartoon and a grab-bag of unrelated facts and opinions to build his case. Recurring rough language and some intense images in video and newsreel clips. A-III — adults. (R) 2002

Crash — beautifully crafted film with a strong moral center about a disparate, racially mixed group of Los Angeles residents, including a district attorney and his wife (Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock), a hardened cop and a rookie (Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe), an immigrant store owner, a locksmith, a pair of carjackers, a television director, and a weary detective with professional and domestic problems (Don Cheadle), whose lives will intersect in unlikely and redemptive ways. Writer-director Paul Haggis takes a story and milieu that at first seems sordid and ugly, and with the help of a terrific ensemble cast, has fashioned a transcendently moving essay on the benevolence that may lie beneath racial intolerance…Much rough and crude language, some violence, many racial epithets, sexual situations, including one encounter with partial nudity, another with suggestive groping and innuendo, and a bloody traffic-accident injury. L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (R) 2005  

( Apollo 13 is a PG movie one Catholic elementary school tried to show its fifth grade students prior to parental intervention. The following information on Apollo 13 was provided on a parents movie guide:

At the party at Jim’s house, Jack is demonstrating a procedure done in space with the space crafts, using a beer bottle as “him” and a glass as “her”. He slides the beer bottle into the glass, as a sexual reference as well as an educational one. There is one scene where Jack gets a phone call. He comes out of the bathroom where his girlfriend is wearing just a towel.

The following are the list of profanities for Apollo 13: “G—d—-“, “Sh—“”, “B—sh–” and blasphemous terms.

As far as the use of alcohol in the movie champagne and beer are used. )

Sample Broadway Play to which Catholic High School students were taken

HAIR [description below adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_(musical)]

Nudity, sexual freedom and drug use:

The brief nude scene at the end of Act I was a subject of controversy and notoriety. Miller writes that “nudity was a big part of the hippie culture, both as a rejection of the sexual repression of their parents and also as a statement about naturalism, spirituality, honesty, openness, and freedom. The naked body was beautiful, something to be celebrated and appreciated, not scorned and hidden. They saw their bodies and their sexuality as gifts, not as ‘dirty’ things.”

 Hair glorifies sexual freedom in a variety of ways. In addition to acceptance of miscegenation, mentioned above, the characters’ lifestyle acts as a sexually and politically-charged updating of La bohème; as Rado explained, “The love element of the peace movement was palpable.” In the song “Sodomy”, Woof exhorts everyone to “join the holy orgy Kama Sutra”. Toward the end of Act 2, the tribe members reveal their free love tendencies when they banter back and forth about who will sleep with whom that night. As Clive Barnes wrote in his original New York Times review of Hair, “homosexuality is not frowned upon.” Woof has a crush on Mick Jagger, and a three-way embrace between Claude, Berger and Sheila turns into a Claude-Berger kiss.

Various illegal drugs are taken by the characters during the course of the show, most notably a hallucinogen during the trip sequence. The song “Walking in Space” starts off the sequence, and the lyrics celebrate the experience declaring “how dare they try to end this beauty … in this dive we rediscover sensation … our eyes are open, wide, wide, wide”. Similarly, in the song “Donna”, Berger sings that “I’m evolving through the drugs that you put down.” At another point, Jeanie smokes a marijuana cigarette and says that anyone who thinks “pot” is bad is “full of shit”. Generally, the tribe favors hallucinogenic or “mind expanding” drugs, such as LSD and marijuana, while disapproving of other drugs such as speed and depressants. For example, Jeanie, after revealing that she is pregnant by a “speed freak”, says that “methedrine is a bad scene”. The song “Hashish” provides a list of pharmaceuticals, both illegal and legal, including cocaine, alcohol, LSD, cough syrup, opium and Thorazine, which is used as an antipsychotic.

Religion and astrology

Religion appears both overtly and symbolically throughout the piece, and it is often made the brunt of a joke. Berger sings of looking for “my Donna”, which takes on the double meaning of the woman he’s searching for and the Madonna. During “Sodomy”, a hymn-like paean to all that is “dirty” about sex, the cast strikes evocative religious positions: the Pietà and Christ on the cross. Before the song, Woof recites a modified rosary.

Sample Movies generally not shown in the Catholic School

For the elementary school level: The following link provides outstanding Catholic movies for the elementary school level.  http://www.catholicfamilycatalog.com/saints-and-heroes-dvd-video-series-for-catholic-children-by-ccc-of-america.htm  It includes movies on St. Bernadette, St. Francis, Juan Diego, Christopher Columbus, St. Nicholas, St. Patrick, etc.

For the high school level:

The 13th Day (the Fatima Message) — The 13th Day is the best movie ever made about Fátima — the most beautiful and effective, as well as one of the most historically accurate. Distilled to the bare essence of the events, mediated through evocative visuals and mood rather than character-based drama, The 13th Day has a clarity and intensity of a defining event in childhood that we rehearse in our minds for the rest of our lives. That is, indeed, how The 13th Day approaches the apparitions at Fátima in 1917, through the eyes of 30-year-old Sister Lúcia de Jesus Rosa Santos, living in seclusion at the Carmelite convent in Spain, writing the second of her six memoirs.

St. John Bosco: Mission to Love —Flavio Insinna gives a winning performance as John (Don) Bosco, the great priest and educator of youth from the tough streets of Turin, Italy. Beautifully filmed in Italy, this epic movie dramatizes the many challenges that Don Bosco had to overcome from his childhood through founding his religious order, the Salesians, for helping educate boys. Growing up without a father gave him compassion for the many orphans that he cared for, while he faced persecution from both secular society and the Church as he fought to build a place to house and educate the homeless, outcast youth of Turin. His deep faith, creative imagination and profound charity shine through in this wonderful film. Also stars Charles Dance (Gosford Park) and popular Italian singer and actress Lina Sastri.

A Man for All Seasons — (1966) Engrossing drama of the last seven years in the life of Thomas More, Henry VIII’s chancellor, who met a martyr’s death rather than compromise his conscience during a period of religious turmoil. Robert Bolt’s script is masterfully directed by Fred Zinnemann, with a standout performance by Paul Scofield in the title role, among other notable performances from a uniformly fine cast. The historical dramatization achieves an authentic human dimension that makes its 16th-century events more accessible and its issues more universal. Profoundly entertaining but heavy-going for children. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. (Columbia TriStar, $19.95)

Monsieur Vincent  — (1947) Lucid, moving account of St. Vincent de Paul’s work among the poor and the oppressed in 17th-century France, from his first labors in a plague-ravaged village and his appeals to the conscience of the aristocracy to the founding of an order devoted to charitable works and his death in 1660. Director Maurice Cloche portrays the poverty of the times and the cruelty of the regime in starkly convincing fashion, providing a solid historical framework within which Pierre Fresnay’s performance in the title role shines with a warm compassion and spiritual intensity which most viewers will find irresistably compelling. Subtitles. High on the list of great religious movies. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I — general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Nostalgia, $29.95)

The Passion of Joan of Arc — (1928) Silent screen masterpiece portraying the heresy trial, confession, recantation and execution of the Maid of Orleans (Maria Falconetti) in a performance of such emotional power that it still stands as the most convincing portrayal of spirituality on celluloid. Directed by Carl Dreyer, the work is essentially the interior epic of a soul, consisting largely of close-ups of Joan’s face and those of her interrogators accomplished in a fashion which is never static as the camera explores the inner struggle between human frailities and spiritual strength. Some duplicitous churchmen, medicinal bloodletting and a restrained torture scene. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Nostalgia, $29.95)

Au Revoir les Enfants — (1988) When the Gestapo discover that a priest has hidden three Jewish youths in a Catholic boys’ school, he and the boys are arrested and deported to concentration camps. French writer-producer-director Louis Malle re-creates a painful memory from his own youth in a restrained, humbling, well-acted dramatization of a boy’s firsthand experience of the Holocaust. Subtitles. Some rough language. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. (Orion, $19.98)

The Bicycle Thief — (1949) Simple yet compelling study in desperation as a worker (Lamberto Maggiorani) must find his stolen bicycle or lose his new job. Ignored by the police and others, the man and his young son (Enzo Staiola) search the streets for it until, in despair, he himself tries to steal a bicycle. Scripted by Cesare Zavattini and directed by Vittorio De Sica, the result is an engrossing picture of the human realities of life on the edge of poverty, shot on the streets of Rome with a cast of non-professionals that brought a new realism to the postwar screen and a new emotional honesty to the stories it told. Subtitles. Some earthy references. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Nostalgia Family, $69.95)

The Burmese Harp — (1956) Badly wounded in Burma at the end of World War II, a Japanese soldier (Shoji Yasui) is nursed back to health by a Buddhist monk, then devotes himself to searching the jungle battlefields for the abandoned remains of dead soldiers to give them a decent burial. Directed by Kon Ichikawa, the Japanese production takes a strong anti-war stance through a series of flashbacks to the horrors of battle, but uses hauntingly poetic imagery to convey the main theme of life’s value and the need to atone for its loss. Subtitles. Wartime violence. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Connoisseur, $29.95)

Chariots of Fire — (1981) Two young Englishmen (Ben Cross and Ian Charleson) overcome quite different obstacles to win gold medals at the Paris Olympics of 1924. One is a Jew determined to beat the anti-Semitic establishment at its own game and the other is a devout Scot who runs for the glory of God. Directed by Hugh Hudson, it is a richly entertaining and highly inspiring movie for the whole family. Several coarse words. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. (Warner, $19.98)

Dersu Uzala — (1978) Russian production about the friendship that grows between a turn-of-the-century explorer in Siberia and his guide, an aging Tungus hunter whose name gives the film its title. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa concentrates on evoking the vast remoteness of the Siberian wilderness, a world the Russian finds forbidding but one in which the hunter is perfectly at home. Subtitles. Finely acted, beautifully photographed, it is an admiring portrait of a man living in harmony with nature and with his fellow hunters. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. (Sultan, $29.98)

St Francis  —Starring Raoul Bova, this visually graceful and finely acted biography tells the story of Francesco Bernardone, known to history as St. Francis of Assisi. Originally broadcast on Italian television, the film dramatizes his life, from his privileged childhood as the son of a wealthy medieval cloth merchant, to his wanton youth, his sobering combat experiences, eventual conversion and struggles to live out his spirituality of poverty and simplicity as “God’s fool.” Filmed on location where many of the events took place, the production’s rich period detail is feature film quality. Directed by Michele Soavi, the film takes some dramatic license — especially in the relationship between Francis and St. Clare (Erica Blanc) and in Francis’ wartime prison ordeal — but stays reverently true to the outline and “Franciscan” spirit of the much beloved saint’s life, and can stand as a worthy companion to Zeffirelli’s “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” and Rossellini’s “Flowers of St. Francis.” Among the more lovely rendered scenes are Francis’ renunciation of wealth, his appeal to Pope Innocent III and his legendary sermon to the birds. Buttressed by Bova’s performance, which soulfully captures Francis’ sublime joy and childlike innocence, the movie imparts a valuable countercultural message to our material-obsessed society. The film contains scenes of battlefield violence, off-screen torture, images of prison squalor and brief suggested nudity. Also included on the DVD is a making-of featurette with cast and crew interviews and a booklet containing essays on St. Francis by the film’s star and director. Subtitled. A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (No Shame)

Karol: A Man Who Became Pope — While the major American TV networks were jockeying to be the first to present a filmed biography of the late Pope John Paul II, cable’s humble Hallmark Channel managed to beat everyone to the punch with the four-hour Karol: A Man Who Became Pope. Actually, this made-for-TV film was a Polish-Italian co-production, debuting on Italian television as Karol, un Uomo Diventato Papa on April 8, 2005, and subsequently released theatrically in Poland. Curiously, it had been filmed in English, so no dubbing was necessary — thus enabling Hallmark to rush the production onto American screens as early as August 15, 2005. Piotr Adamczyk stars as Karol Wojtyla, whose tireless fight for humanity and basic fundamental rights begins with the German invasion of his native Poland in 1939. Appalled at the brutal treatment afforded his Jewish friends, Karol turns to religion as a means of making a difference in the world, and with the help of several other like-minded individuals mounts a nonviolent, but extremely effective, anti-Nazi resistance. Ordained as a priest at war’s end, Karol finds himself fighting another form of godless totalitarianism, this one from the Communists who have overtaken his country. Ultimately, Father Karol Wojtyla’s noble mission culminates in his being elected as Pope John Paul II in 1978 — and it was surely no coincidence that Poland’s liberation was now but a matter of time. Although A Man Who Became Pope looks lavish and expensive, it was very economically produced, and had made back its cost many times over before its acquisition by Hallmark. The film is also a “winner” in terms of its straight-on portrayal of the pontiff, and the commendably sincere, unadorned performances of virtually every actor in the cast. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

St. Therese —The mesmerizing story of a young girl’s romance with God. Her faith, trials, and sacrifices reveal a way of life based on love and simplicity. A contemplative film based on the true story of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the most popular saint of modern times.

The Reluctant Saint (St. Joseph Cupertino) — Directed by Edward Dmytryk, The Reluctant Saint is based on the life of Saint Joseph of Cupertino. When young Giuseppe Diesa (Maximilian Schell) is sent to work at a monastery circa 17th century Italy — his parents believed he was mentally challenged — he surprises a local bishop by his incredible relationship with the monastery’s animals. Believing this merits a traditional religious education, he is taken in and taught to pray, with miraculous results. His spiritual energy apparently allows him to levitate, which impressed many, and terrified others. ~ Tracie Cooper, Rovi

Bernadette —In 1857, an unemployed miller moves his family into grim lodgings; his wife takes in laundry. In February of 1858, at the Massabielle grotto, their 14-year old asthmatic, illiterate daughter, Bernadette, sees a light she later distinguishes as a beautiful young woman. The girl converses with the woman over the next few months. Crowds follow her and people are cured by the waters from a spring Bernadette has cleared. Secular authorities are threatened by the popular gatherings and subject the girl to police inquiry and medical review. The local monsignor is also skeptical, then becomes Bernadette’s champion. She maintains her forthright simplicity and untutored wisdom throughout.  

Padre Pio: Miracle Man — St. Padre Pio brought to life in biographical drama on DVD Beloved by millions, Padre Pio — saint, stigmatic, humble priest — is brought to life in the artfully crafted biographical drama, “Padre Pio, Miracle Man,” starring Sergio Castellitto. Originally broadcast over two nights on Italian television in 2000, the film — now released on DVD from NoShame Films (www.noshamefilms.com) — traces the life of the pious Capuchin friar, born Francesco Forgione in 1887, from his peasant roots in rural southern Italy to his death in 1968.

Told through a series of flashbacks as an elderly and mortally ill Padre Pio recounts his story to a skeptical bishop (Jurgen Prochnow), the DVD runs nearly four hours and focuses on the monk’s years at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo, where his popularity as a confessor, visionary and miracle worker attracted both devotion and controversy, prompting two Vatican investigations.

Padre Pio was beatified in 1999 and canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, who, as the film dramatizes, visited the mystic as a young priest.Director Carlo Carlei’s reverent, if episodic, approach avoids hagiography in presenting a nuanced portrait of Padre Pio in remarkably human terms, showing him grappling with fear and self-doubt, battling poor health and spiritual trials while remaining steadfast in his faith, his fidelity to the church, and his concern for the souls in his care.

Castellitto’s soulful performance conveys an accessible blend of humor, sanctity and tough love. Beautifully shot, with picturesque Italian vistas, the film eloquently captures Padre Pio’s simple spirituality of uniting one’s life with Christ — especially in suffering — and should be of particular interest to those with a special devotion to the saint. The DVD includes a companion booklet containing a short biography of Padre Pio, Pope John Paul II’s address during the saint’s canonization and an interview with the film’s star. Subtitled. The film contains scenes of demonic torment and some mature thematic elements. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

A Christmas Carol — This British version of the Dickens’ classic has worn well over the years principally because of Alistair Sim’s zestful performance as Scrooge, the old humbug whose transformation into a loving human being is a pleasure to behold. Director Brian Desmond Hurst’s period piece does well with its 19th-century London setting and the ghostly visitations are done simply but with considerable flair. The result is dandy family viewing. (A-I) (br) 1951

Come to the Stable — Sentimental but amusing picture from Clare Booth Luce’s story of two French nuns (Loretta Young and Celeste Holm) trying to establish a hospital in New England with some help from an eccentric artist (Elsa Lanchester) and a cynical songwriter (Hugh Marlowe). Director Henry Koster gets some smiles from the nuns’ adapting to American ways and the bemused reactions of the locals to the newcomers’ otherworldly simplicity, with mostly heartwarming results. Unpretentious, generally high-minded fun. (A-I) (br) ( 1949 )

The Greatest Story Ever Told — While not the greatest movie ever made, director George Stevens’ vision of the Gospel story presents a consistent, traditional view of Christ as the God Incarnate. The movie, despite its epic Hollywood scale, is well-acted, tastefully and realistically written, beautifully photographed and Max von Sydow’s believable portrayal of the Christ is the most essential element in its success. (A-I) (G) ( 1965 )

It’s a Wonderful Life — Seasonal favorite about the joys and trials of a good man (James Stewart) who, facing financial ruin on the eve of Christmas, contemplates suicide until his guardian angel (Henry Travers) shows him how meaningful his life has been to those around him. Director Frank Capra’s unabashedly sentimental picture of mainstream American life is bolstered by a superb cast (including Lionel Barrymore as a conniving banker) and a wealth of good feelings about such commonplace virtues as hard work and helping one’s neighbor. Young children may find the story’s dark moments unsettling. (A-II) (br) ( 1946 )

Mother Teresa — Feature documentary by Ann and Jeanette Petrie on the life and work of a Catholic nun in India whose tireless efforts for the poorest of the poor have earned her the Nobel Peace Prize and recognition as a media star and secular saint. Inspirational portrait of a contemporary woman. (A-I) (nr) ( 1986 )

Maria Goretti  Maria Goretti’s touching history and of Alessandro Serenelli. Alessandro, however, in an impulse of violent passion, he transforms it in a tragedy. The film, of that tender and simple youth, wants to show that it is possible to conserve the Christian values, even at the expense of the sacrifice of the own life, testifying in the pardon, the force of the love without measure.

The Bells of Saint Mary’sFather O’Malley the unconventional priest from ‘Going My Way’ continues his work for the Catholic Church. This time he is sent to St. Mary’s, a run-down parochial school on the verge of condemnation. He and Sister Benedict work together in an attempt to save the school, though their differing methods often lead to good-natured disagreements. Written by (Enable Javascript to see the email address)%3E&view=simple&sort=alpha">Greg Helton <(Enable Javascript to see the email address)>

Father Chuck O’Malley is assigned as the pastor of an inner-city Catholic school and has to work with the dedicated, but stubborn, principal Sister Mary Benedict. O’Malley and Sister Mary Benedict quarrel frequently and he feels the school should be closed and the children sent to a nearby school with modern facilities but all of the sisters believe that God will provide for them. Specifically, they put their hopes on Horace P. Bogardus, a businessman who has built a modern building right next door to the school and who they hope will donate his new edifice to them.

Bella Sweetly sentimental story about an unmarried New York waitress (an especially fine Tammy Blanchard) who loses her job after becoming pregnant, and her restaurant’s empathetic chef (Mexican soap favorite Eduardo Verastegui) — an ex-soccer star whose career ended after his car fatally struck a child — who gives the young woman emotional support, takes her to visit his loving family, and gently tries to persuade her to keep the baby. Director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde’s impressive feature film debut is sometimes dramatically slack and implausible, but the sensitive performances, positive depiction of the chef’s warm Latino family, and most of all, its affirmative pro-life message — along with themes of self-forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption — should resonate with Catholic viewers. Partially subtitled. A couple of crass words, a child’s death, a drug reference, and the out-of-wedlock theme aside, film is admirably free of objectionable elements. A-II — adults and adolescents. (PG-13)

The Sound of  Music  — Particularly fine screen version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about the formative years of the Trapp Family Singers in Austria between the two world wars. Its interesting story, solid cast (headed by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer), lovely music and intelligent lyrics, colorful scenery and pleasant fantasy will entertain the mind and enliven the spirit. Directed by Robert Wise, the movie has held up over the years as thoroughly refreshing family entertainment. (A-I) (G) ( 1965 )

Others: Defending Life DVD (Father Frank Pavone), St. Teresa of the Andes, Saint Rita, Pope John Paul II, Clare and Francis, St. Giuseppe Moscatti, St. Anthony, A Time for Miracles (St. Elizabeth Seton), Jesus of Nazareth.


[i] Research has shown that R-rated movies damage teens:

  • According to Science Daily (3/12/2010) “R-rated movies portray violence and other behaviors deemed inappropriate for children under 17 years of age.  A new study finds one more reason why parents should not let their kids watch these movies: adolescents who watch R-rated movies are more likely to try alcohol at a young age.”
  • Reuters Health (12/6/2010) stated that “Kids whose parents let them watch R-rated movies may be up to three times more likely to start smoking compared to their more restricted peers, according to a new study.”
  • According to RAND Corporation recent studies have found that watching TV shows with sexual content… hastens the initiation of teen sexual activity, and that sexual talk on TV has the same effect on teens as depictions of sex.

[ii] The Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XI on the Christian Education of Youth warns:

“More than ever nowadays an extended and careful vigilance is necessary, inasmuch as the dangers of moral and religious shipwreck are greater for inexperienced youth.  Especially is this true of impious and immoral books… of the cinema…  How often today must parents and educators bewail the corruption of youth brought about by the modern theater…!” 


  • Heidi Bratton

    This is a fantastically researched article addressing an super touchy topic. Unfortunately, it has been my experience with four children through or still in Catholic high school that too many parents sending kids to a high school (Catholic or not) have long ago handed the parenting reigns over to their teenager’s teachers and to their teen’s peers, and simply don’t stay on top of issues like this, much less put up a fight about them if they do become aware. Thank you, Catholic Lane, for giving those of us who do still care and do want to protect our children from harm, something solid to use in defense of not showing R rated movies in Catholic high schools. Seriously, thank you.

  • Jann

    My first two daughters went to our local Catholic high school (at a great financial sacrifice to us and a 30 mile drive one way). We had informed the principle we did not want them watching a certain R-rated movie; the teacher ended up not being able to show it and my daughters took the brunt of this incident. They were ridiculed for the rest of the school yr by THE TEACHER because of it–and in front of their class mates.

    Even some PG-13 movies are out of bounds in many parents’ opinion. The Academy rates their own films and it is NOT necessarily based on content/language–it’s about money making and spin. I suggest parents try their hardest to view the movie themselves ahead of time to decide for themselves if it is appropriate for their child to view.

    • Jann

      And there are other offensive Broadway shows that our local ND Catholic high school took the chorus to see–RENT. That was bad enough, but not as bad in my opinion, as when they took the French Club students to the topless burlesque club Moulin Rouge on their Paris, France trip! That was 2002–almost 10 yrs ago, so it could be worse by now.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Some PG-13 movies are quite appropriate: The Fellowship of the Ring, for example. However, there are movies given a PG-13 that are worse than some R-rated movies. Especially if you compare an R-rated movie from, say, 25 years ago to a PG-13 from today, you might find yourself preferring the older R-rated movie. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, just a suggestion.

    We also have to remember that today, a movie like Facing the Giants gets a PG because of its explicitly Christian message. Thus, citing the USCCB’s ratings is a good idea. One of the few places to provide a better set of ratings is http://www.decentfilms.com/ — but the person who does that site only reviews a few movies. The USCCB reviews even older movies and some esoteric movies. They’ve had a few issues — what comes to mind is the “L” originally given to Brokeback Mountain in lieu of the “O” to which it was changed after there was an outcry — but theirs is still the best site to get a decent overview without actually having to view a film yourself. Some of the L’s and O’s aren’t obvious from the movie’s marketing materials, so I am glad to avoid those altogether!

    But I almost wonder if this isn’t a deeper problem with some Catholic schools. It seems like some of the schools want to offer an outstanding secular curriculum to which they append a religion or theology class and perhaps some prayer time or a Mass or two. Now I am not saying that religion, theology, prayer time, or Mass are bad things. However, I believe the Catholic schools used to integrate faith and morals directly into the academic curriculum. Today, many seem more like public schools with uniforms and a separate place for religion. This is a bad idea, not only from a moral and religious perspective but from a marketing perspective. At some point, prospective parents will simply conclude that the Catholic school is exactly like the public school that costs them no out-of-pocket (school taxes are the same either way) and is several miles closer to home. Then, even the secularly-minded Catholics will opt out of Catholic school. Indeed, I think this is already happening, and this is the real cause of the decline in the Catholic schools.