Catholic Bishops Do Siskel & Ebert

So, if you are thinking about seeing a movie Saturday night and want to know what might be morally appropriate according the hierarchy of United States Catholic Church—the bishops have you covered.

The Office of Film and Broadcasting at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reviews new releases, films on DVD, television shows, and theater. They have reviewed everything from Peter Pan to Superbad to Top Gun. Their reviews are based on criteria which includes: the film’s source material, morality, actions of characters, intent of filmmaker, depictions of church and clergy, and—you guessed it—human sexuality. After review, the films are then classified into the following categories: A-I—general patronage, A-II—adults and adolescents, A-III—adults, L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling, and O—morally offensive.

Here is a sampling of movies in a few of the categories:

A-I: The USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting denotes that this category is rare as “nowadays…even the cleanest adult films contain at least one four-letter word.” Nevertheless, Horton Hears a Who made the cut.

The roaring review states, “The film, co-directed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, promotes excellent values, such as compassion, self-sacrifice, persistence and teamwork. Seuss’ story has even been read by pro-life activists as upholding the dignity of the unborn, a not unreasonable interpretation.”

However, the film also promotes racist attitudes. The dumb-witted villain, a vulture named Vlad, is portrayed with a thick Russian accent, while the heroes and even the more cunning villains are without accent. Similar to the crows in Dumbo or the “Indians” in Peter Pan (both of these movies are also given an “A-I” by the USCCB), Horton Hears a Who sends very clear message about race, language, and culture. Apparently, racism is acceptable by the standards of the USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting.

A-III: Juno fits in this category. However, screenwriter Diablo Cody would probably be disappointed that it got such a high rating from the USCCB. The USCCB puts an anti-abortion spin on its review, stating, “[Juno is] so turned off by the coldness of the abortion clinic that she resolutely decides not to have an abortion, and promises the coming baby to a childless upper-class couple, Mark and Vanessa, who long to adopt and have advertised in a local paper.”

When movie star, Ellen Page, was asked if Juno was a pro-life movie, she responded, “Not in the slightest, and if you knew me and if you knew the writer and the director, no one would ever say that…She goes to an abortion clinic and she completely examines all the opportunities and all the choices allowed her and that’s obviously the most crucial thing. It’s as simple as that.”

O: The box office hit Sex and the City is considered morally offensive by the USCCB’s standards. Why? According to the review, “The film contains graphic sexual activity (some of it nonmarital and aberrant); rear, upper-female and partial nudity; sexual and scatological humor; two same-sex kisses; some rough and crude language; and two uses of profanity.”

In addition to their reviews, the USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting also offer Top Ten Lists from each calendar year beginning with 1965. It is probably safe to say that Hamlet 2 will not top the 2008 list.