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Office for Film and Broadcasting


Office within the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, successor to the National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures (NCOMP), originally the National Legion of Decency (founded 1934). In 1980, the office merged with the National Catholic Office for Radio and Television and together they formed the present Department of Communications within the Bishops' Conference, under whose auspices the Office for Film and Broadcasting operates. It is based in New York City.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Legion of Decency claimed a membership of over 11 million Americans, about one moviegoer in twelve. Its influence on the motion picture industry was decidedly adversarial because so many of Hollywood's projects were seen as possessing loose moral content. Bishops often put pressure on the Catholic financiers who backed such films, particularly Bishop John T. Cantwell of Los Angeles. He persuaded Archbishop McNicholas of Cincinnati to form an Episcopal Committee for Motion Pictures, Radio, and Television within the conference of bishops, a committee that McNicholas chaired from 19331944. Together with people like Martin P. Quigley, a devout Catholic and publisher of the film industry's leading trade paper throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Legion exerted pressure on Hollywood to produce quality entertainment. Gradually, however, the Legion and later the NCOMP's influence waned. Its powerful ability to rate a film's moral value was supplanted by an increasingly well-formed lay opinion on what was acceptable viewing.

However, the bishops have seen fit to continue to guide audiences in making decisions on what they watch through capsule reviews and a rating system that departs from the standard film industry's G, PG, PG-13, NC-17, R, and X ratings. In 1971, NCOMP and National Council of Churches' Broadcasting and Film Commission withdrew support from the film industry's rating system. Currently, there are four subdivisions to the "A" or "morally unobjectionable" category: A-I, for general patronage; A-II, for adults and adolescents; A-III, for adults; and A-IV, for adults, but with reservations. The classification O is given to films that are found to be totally incompatible with Christian moral values or standards of decency.

Since 1995 the Office for Film and Broadcasting has issued a weekly movie review of select films. Reviews of certain television programs began in 1975 and video releases in 1992 when it became apparent that the video cassette recorder was influencing how Americans were selecting their entertainment.

See Also: erotic literature.

Bibliography: There is a compilation of some 8,000 movie reviews of virtually every feature length film since 1966 in Our Sunday Visitor's Family Guide to Movies and Videos, h. herx, ed. (Huntington, Ind. 1999). g. d. black, The Catholic Crusade Against the Movies, 19401975 (New York 1997); Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies (New York 1994). m. mclaughlin, A Study of the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1974). j. m. phelan, The National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures: An Investigation of the Policy and Practice of Film Classification (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1968). j. m. skinner, The Cross and the Cinema: The Legion of Decency and the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, 19331970 (Westport, Conn. 1993). f. walsh, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry (New Haven 1996). Archival material for the National Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting (19661990) and its predecessor, the Episcopal Committee on Motion Pictures (19331944), is housed at the Catholic University of America. The papers of Martin P. Quigley are archived at Georgetown University.

[p. j. hayes]

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