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 New book slams EWTN

By Matt C. Abbott

 A new book by Catholic attorney Christopher A. Ferrara, titled EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong, levels heavy criticism at the Eternal Word Television Network, the global Catholic television network founded by Mother Angelica.

 Ferrara is among a group of Catholic traditionalists who believe EWTN has become modernist. In the words of Ferrara (from an interview in Catholic Family News):

  The constant reports and complaints I had heard, and verified by my own viewing and other research, concerning EWTN's content, which especially since the departure of Mother Angelica, has become in many respects utterly modernist by every objective historical standard of Roman Catholicism.

 There is no doubt in my mind that St. Pius X, or any other of the great pre-Conciliar Popes, would scream with horror at much of what EWTN broadcasts to the world as authentic Roman Catholicism.

 And yet for millions of Catholics EWTN is the Catholic Faith. This network has more influence today than the Vatican itself. And that is a serious problem in the Church...

  Father John Trigilio, who has appeared on the network on a number of occasions, provided me with the following (slightly edited) statement in response to the information contained on the book's official website:

  As someone who has been associated with EWTN for more than ten years, doing online internet Q&A as well as two weekly series (WEB OF FAITH and COUNCIL OF FAITH) for television and radio and being an occasional guest on the live shows and celebrant of the daily televised Mass, I am very disappointed at this book EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong.

 I have known Reverend Mother Angelica these past ten years, along with Deacon Bill Steltemeier and many of the staff in production and programming, Internet services, the theology department, and so on.

 It is a gross distortion to infer that EWTN, since Mother's stroke and subsequent absence from the camera, has deteriorated into a modernist, heterodox, sacriligeous agent of modern Catholic media. EWTN is not perfect, but neither is Vatican radio or TV. There is no perfect broadcasting network on earth nor will there ever be. The same applies to print and other media.

 Outside the inspired, infallible and inerrant revealed Word of God found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, anything produced by mere man will be imperfect. Nevertheless, in comparison, I dare say there has never been, nor is there now, and I predict there may never be, another more orthodox, reverent, and Catholic network as EWTN.

 While I love and appreciate the Tridentine Mass and hope it is celebrated more often and in more places, I also fully accept the validity and liceity of the Novus Ordo Mass of Paul VI. I think it can be improved, but I also have been celebrating it throughout the 18 years of my priesthood. When done well, reverently and with full solemnity, it can be very beautiful and edifying.

 I find the Masses televised on EWTN to be what the Novus Ordo should be, and the Masses celebrated at the Eucharistic Shrine in Hanceville even more so. Whether 'ad orientem' or 'versus populum,' Latin or English or both, solemn high with sung choir or simple quiet Mass with no music or chant, in all instances, when the proper rubrics are obeyed and the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with reverence, love and conviction of his beliefs, the Novus Ordo is as grand as the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.

 While the Tridentine Mass is gorgeous when done properly, there have been those who celebrated it mechanically, hurriedly, sloppily and without much devotion. Yet, no one cites the very few exceptions as reasons to abandon the Tridentine Mass, nor should they. Likewise, bad celebrations of the Novus Ordo do not negate the proper, reverent celebrations done elsewhere by other priests.

 While the prudential judgments of any pope are certainly non-infallible, no Catholic has the right or privilege to judge any pope since all popes enjoy the plenitudo potestates and have full, supreme, immediate and universal authority throughout their papacy. While only infallible on matters of faith and morals when exercising the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Magisterium, every pope possesses the highest authority in matters of jurisdiction, discipline and governance.

 Call me an Ultramontanist, but I echo Saint Ambrose, who said UBI PETRUS IBI ECCLESIA. Even though there were some prudential judgments of Pope John Paul II that I myself would have done differently, or even a few I did not personally like, out of respect for the office and the Petrine authority, I would never identify or mention them in public or private. Complete obedience to supreme authority is not the equivalent of an assent of faith given to infallible teaching, but it is a religious submission of mind and will to the one Person, Jesus Christ, who gave the keys of the kingdom and the absolute power to bind or loose.

 I find it distasteful that before the one year anniversary of his death, some traditional and conservative Catholics feel it necessary to openly criticize and critique the papacy of John Paul II as if they themselves were experts. Only another pope could make such assessments since the rest of us have no idea what it means to have full, supreme, immediate and universal authority.

 This is why no Ecumenical Council can licitly or validly supercede any Roman Pontiff since the First See is judged by no one, save God alone. Even a bad and immoral Pope cannot be deposed. The faithful can only pray for his conversion of heart or that Saint Joseph bless him with a happy and speedy death if his behavior becomes scandalous.

 Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy are light years apart in many areas of theology and liturgy, but they are united in their disavowal of papal primacy and supremacy and papal infallibility. It is not 'pope worship' to give complete and total respect and obedience to the Vicar of Christ on earth, no matter who sits on the Chair of Saint Peter. Easy to obey policies we personally agree with, but it is a true Catholic who can obey when he or she would prefer to do otherwise.

 Now, EWTN is no pope, but the criticisms and attacks leveled against it are often similar to those thrown at John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Again, if I were the CEO or president or director of programming, I might air some different programs or produce some different shows, but what is produced and what is shown on TV, radio, satellite, and the Internet is Catholic and orthodox. It may not always be good TV, but it's always Catholic and it's always orthodox.

 It's not easy running a global network on a shoestring budget. Many people who work at EWTN gave up high paying salaries and promising, profitable careers to work for Mother Angelica. If every diocese and parish had that quality of personnel — their competence and their Christian behavior — we would all be in much better shape than we are now.

 It's unfair and unjust to impute motives, infer hidden agendas and speculate about behind the scenes machinations at EWTN when it has been the only global Catholic network in history to reach so many souls and to spread the unadulterated truths of our holy religion. I have not seen nor heard one dogma or doctrine denied or diluted on EWTN. I cannot say that for most of our so-called Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries.

 EWTN may not be traditional enough for everyone's taste. De gustibus non disputandum est. Some of the shows for children and for youth are not attractive nor entertaining for adults, be they middle age or seniors. Likewise, not every child or teenager is going to be as big a fan of Archbishop Fulton Sheen as [adults] are. Someone may have more personal preference for Pope Pius XII while others liked John XXIII or Paul VI. What worries me is that the real war and battle is being ignored and obfuscated by these petty clashes over style, opinion, and taste.

 Instead of bashing EWTN, we need to support it, as it gets no funding whatsoever from the USCCB — or any individual bishop or diocese, for that matter. Even the Vatican doesn't fund it. EWTN survives on its own, but what it does in proliferating papal teachings, the sublime beauty of the catechism, the splendor of Eucharistic Benediction, the Holy Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, daily Mass, and a plethora of shows about Catholicism, is second to none.

 When in the seminary and after ordination, I was given a label of being archconservative and very traditional. My politics, philosophy and theology are very much to the right of center. What disturbs me, however, is a growing phenomenon where both liberal and conservatives have become strange bed-fellows in their caustic and acrimonious attacks on specific popes or their policies.

 I may not have always agreed or enjoyed decisions or statements of my Dad while I was growing up, but my respect for him never allowed me to ridicule him, impugn his integrity and never to question his authority before any of my brothers. While some Catholics feel it necessary to allegedly show they are 'more conservative' or 'more traditional' than Pope 'so-and-so,' that does not mean they are 'more Catholic.'

 Our efforts need to be directed toward the real enemies: dissident theologians, incompetent bishops, heterodox clergy, and lax Catholics who repudiate Humanae Vitae and the Catechism, who support abortion, euthanasia, contraception, homosexuality, and who promote or tolerate liturgical abuse.

 Picking on the pope and EWTN will do nothing but play into the devil's hands. The prince of darkness is the author of all lies and is the son of perdition. If EWTN were silenced and Catholics obeyed only the popes they 'liked,' satan will have won the war after all.

  Christopher Ferrara's response to Father Trigilio's statement is as follows (slightly edited):

  Tradition is not a matter of taste. Tradition is the sum total of what has been handed down to the Church intact over the centuries to be protected and nurtured by the leadership of the Church. It is not a question of being 'traditional enough' but rather traditional period.

 One reason I wrote the book was to avoid precisely what Fr. Trigilio's comments suggest: the acceptance by Catholics of a 'sliding scale' of Tradition that corresponds to the sliding scale of 'conservative' in secular politics.

 Anyone who reads this book with an open mind will agree that since Mother Angelica's resignation in March of 2000 from the EWTN board, her surrender of her veto power over network decisions, and her turning over of all management to lay people — which had nothing to do with her strokes — EWTN has been purveying a great deal of content that would have horrified a Pope like Saint Pius X.

 What would Saint Pius X think, for example, of a live TV broadcast in which an 'expert' on Catholic marriage urges viewers to imagine Our Lord engaging in marital relations through one's spouse as the 'incarnation' of His love? What would he think of a 'conservative' Novus Ordo Mass that features every one of the basic liturgical changes demanded by the Protestant rebels of the 16th century, including a dogged defense of communion in the hand by multiple EWTN 'experts'? What would he think of EWTN's active promotion of an association of 'Hebrew Catholics' whose leader says that the Church has been 'sociologically Gentile' for 1800 years, and that Jews cannot live their 'collective vocation' properly in the Church? These are just a few examples of the problematical and indeed scandalous content of the network's programming and Internet material that the book documents.

 In the beginning of the book I stipulate that much of EWTN's content is quite good, but I also stress that it is no objection to the book to point this out without addressing the serious problems with many other elements of EWTN's content. Again and again and again I have heard from Catholics, including former EWTN celebrities, that something was seriously wrong with a lot of what the network was broadcasting on TV and the Web. That is the main reason I decided to undertake this book project.

 Television is a powerful medium, and those who take it upon themselves to provide the 'Eternal Word' by that medium have a duty to be sure that everything they broadcast is wholly consistent with Catholic doctrine, dogma, decency and modesty. And those who undertake this mission voluntarily can hardly object if their fellow Catholics make legitimate criticisms of what they broadcast to the world.

 What is more, EWTN does not confine itself to purveying a great deal of objectionable content. Its theological 'experts' take the offensive against so-called 'traditionalists' merely because they cling to the Faith of our fathers. And EWTN does this at the very moment the Vatican itself is conceding that the Society of Saint Pius X is not in schism, that the traditional Latin Mass was never prohibited by Paul VI, and that (as Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos recently put it) criticism of the changes in the Church since Vatican II 'can be a treasure for the Church.'

 Why does Fr. Trigilio not protest the branding of traditionalists as 'disobedient,' 'schismatic,' and so forth by EWTN's lay experts, who have no authority to issue such pronouncements. At least the book presumes that those responsible for EWTN are in good faith.

 I am disappointed that Fr. Trigilio has played 'the Pope card' in objecting to the book. He writes: 'Now, EWTN is no pope, but the criticisms and attacks leveled against it are often similar to those thrown at John Paul II or Benedict XVI.'

 Have we not had enough of this draping of the patently objectionable in the papal flag? Instead of a demagogic invocation of papal authority, why not discuss the real concerns that many Catholics, not just this author, have with EWTN? If what some call 'the most Catholic thing out there' would have sent the great pre-conciliar popes into apoplexy, should Catholics simply shrug their shoulders and say, 'Well, EWTN is at least better than what the local bishop provides'? I think more is expected of us than acceptance of a sliding scale of Roman Catholicism.

 Finally, I want to stress that the book, as it states, was written in a fraternal spirit. No one would like to see EWTN become a force for ecclesial restoration — of true opposition to Modernism in the Church — more than I would. Indeed, the book notes that back in the 1990s, traditionalists, myself included, were applauding the courageous stands of Mother Angelica and were hoping she would become an ally in the cause for restoring everything that has been overturned since the Council.

 I sincerely hope that EWTN becomes what it could be: the vanguard of a movement to restore the Church, rather than a 'conservative' adaptation to the post-conciliar revolution. I sincerely hope that instead of attempting to update Roman Catholicism with rock music and other elements to suit what Fr. Trigilio calls the 'taste' of present-day Catholics, EWTN will come to recognize the disaster that even Msgr. Klaus Gamber, writing with the approval of the former Cardinal Ratzinger, noted in his Reform of the Roman Liturgy:

 'Is this the spring people had hoped would emerge from the Second Vatican Council? Instead of a genuine renewal in our Church, we have seen only novelties. Instead of our religious life entering a period of new invigoration, as has happened in the past, what we see now is a form of Christianity that has turned towards the world.'


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