By Hilary White, Rome correspondent

ROME, December 10, 2009 ( – While the world's leaders are meeting in Copenhagen to talk about the problem of “climate change,” Pope Benedict XVI has addressed the problem of moral pollution through the media. Speaking on Monday at an annual ceremony near Rome's Spanish Steps for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the pope said that pollution of society's moral environment is as dangerous to the human person as pollution of the natural environment.

The pontiff said, “Hearts harden and thoughts darken” with a daily diet of the news media in which “evil is recounted, repeated, amplified, accustoming us to the most horrible things, making us become insensitive and, in some way, intoxicating us, because the negative is not fully disposed of and accumulates day after day.”

Because of this, the pope said, “the city has need of Mary, who with her presence speaks to us of God, reminds us of the victory of grace over sin, and induces us to hope.”

The mass media, he said, tends “to make us feel like spectators, as if evil regards only others and certain things could never happen to us.”

Instead, “we are all actors, and for better or worse, our behaviour has an influence on others.”

Comments such as these are developing into a recurring theme of Benedict's papacy. In his address to World Youth Day pilgrims in Australia last year, in a short discourse on “stewardship of the environment,” the pope turned his attention to the “social environment.” Counter to the anti-population emphasis that often characterizes environmentalist theories, the pope said that man is the “apex of God's creation” and must be protected.

“Not only the natural but also the social environment – the habitat we fashion for ourselves – has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss,” he said. These include problems like “alcohol and drug abuse, and the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the internet as entertainment.”

In his most recent encyclical letter, “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict emphasized the dangers of social and moral pollution, much of it promoted through the media, that pervades western industrialized nations.

“In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents,” he wrote. “The decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society.”

“If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology.”