EWTN

Liberal National Catholic Reporter probes a conservative rival, EWTN, in four-part series

Liberal National Catholic Reporter probes a conservative rival, EWTN, in four-part series

I was surprised to see, in the midst of summer vacation time, a four-part series from the National Catholic Reporter about the Eternal Word TV Network, a media empire started in 1981 by a feisty nun and her religious order in the Deep South.

EWTN has become so much a part of the fabric of the Catholic Church, that it’s the broadcaster for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings and the gorilla in the room when it comes to any Catholic news media.

But it’s a gorilla with a political agenda, according to the first part of the series, which I guess is bad, judging from the story’s tone. After some opening paragraphs describing groveling interviews by EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo with Vice President Mike Pence and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, the story adds:

The segment was clear evidence of how a television outlet once devoted to expressions of Catholic piety and conservative catechesis and apologetics has grown into a truly influential media empire, well connected to Republican politicians and the Trump White House. EWTN, where the "Catholic perspective" is unabashedly partisan, has also become the media star in a web of connections including wealthy conservative Catholic donors and some of the most public anti-Pope Francis forces in the Catholic world. Those connections, traceable through a maze of non-profit organizations, helped fuel EWTN's development. It is a complex tale involving the matchup of a peculiar brand of U.S. style conservative Catholicism with conservative political ideology and economic theory.

One red flag jumped out high up in the story:

NCR made repeated requests over nearly a week for comment from EWTN, but the network said it was unable to produce anyone to answer questions before publication.

The reporter behind the story has probably been working on this series for several months and she only gives EWTN a week to respond? That doesn’t seem fair to me, especially if the response window was during the summer school break, which starts early in southern states.

I wondered why NCR is running this story now, but the reason became clear with the following paragraphs about Arroyo’s sit-down with President Donald Donald Trump less than two weeks before the 2016 election.

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Digging into the complexities of religion and abortion — and how politics influences views

Digging into the complexities of religion and abortion — and how politics influences views

“Everything you think you know about religion and abortion is wrong.”

Wait, what!?

That’s the compelling way that Kelsey Dallas, national religion reporter for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, leads into an in-depth piece published today.

It’s certainly a timely subject, as regular GetReligion readers know. Just last week, we commented on the lack of religion in many of the initial stories on Alabama’s new law banning abortion in almost all cases. (Some later stories delved deeper into the God angle.)

Here’s what I always appreciate about Dallas: Her stories contain a nice mixture of expert analysis and helpful data. That’s certainly the case with her latest piece.

After grabbing the reader’s attention with that “Everything you think you know about religion and abortion is wrong” lede, Dallas clarifies the statement just a bit before moving into the meat of her material:

Well, maybe not wrong. But almost certainly incomplete, according to experts on religion and politics.

Religious beliefs do influence abortion views, but so do other factors.

Many faith leaders do oppose abortion rights, but their views don't tell you everything about the people in their pews.

Conservative lawmakers do often credit God with inspiring new regulations, but they're also pressured by their party to pass such laws.

In general, religion's role in the contemporary abortion debate is more complicated than it may, at first, appear.

"It's not that religion is absent from the debate," said Daniel Williams, a history professor at the University of West Georgia. It's that the debate is also "very much partisan and political."

Among the fascinating context offered by the Deseret News is this:

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Heavy, man: Late-night Rolling Stone bull session about a monument to a 'France that never was'

Heavy, man: Late-night Rolling Stone bull session about a monument to a 'France that never was'

Here is a rarity in the realm of GetReligion: a report in which the ghost is secularism — or, as Rolling Stone’s E.J. Dickson might write — “the ghost is quite literally so-called ‘secularism.’ ”

On the day after the inferno that swept through Notre Dame Cathedral, Dickson delivered brisk roundup of perspectives from historians of architecture about what was lost and what perhaps ought to replace it.

The problems begin in her first sentence: “Yesterday, the world watched in open-mouthed horror as Notre Dame Cathedral, an 800-year-old monument in Paris, France, burst into flames.”

Of all the ways one might describe Notre Dame, “an 800-year-old monument” is bland and tone-deaf, and it reflects Dickson’s consistent theme of the cathedral mostly as a symbol rather than holy ground. It’s kind of similar to what our own tmatt noted in his national “On Religion” column this week:

… American television networks solemnly told viewers that "art," "artifacts" and "works of art" had been retrieved from this iconic structure at the heart of Paris. In a major story about the fire, The New York Times noted that Notre Dame Cathedral had "for centuries … enshrined an evolving notion of Frenchness."

That's an interesting way to describe the world's second most famous Catholic cathedral, after St. Peter's in Rome. Then again, is a container of what Catholics believe is bread consecrated to be the Body of Christ best described as a "cultural artifact"? Is "in shock" the best way to describe Parisians praying the Rosary and singing "Ave Maria"?

As you would expect, this Rolling Stone paragraph in particular drew concern from Catholics, such as Raymond Arroyo of EWTN, who appreciate the cathedral’s primary identity as one of Christianity’s most sacred spaces:

But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,” says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University. If nothing else, the cathedral has been viewed by some as a stodgy reminder of “the old city — the embodiment of the Paris of stone and faith — just as the Eiffel Tower exemplifies the Paris of modernity, joie de vivre and change,” Michael Kimmelmann wrote for the New York Times.

It grows worse:

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How a past and (maybe) future pope are providing crucial leadership in age of Francis

How a past and (maybe) future pope are providing crucial leadership in age of Francis

The events of the past few days have truly been monumental for the Roman Catholic church.

You may not have noticed — unless you’ve bothered to read the ever-growing list of Catholic news websites on both the right and left. While liberals and conservatives within the church continue to wage a very public war over everything from the future of Christendom in the West to the ongoing clerical abuse crisis, two prominent voices have led the charge when it comes to these two issues.

Again, it was conservative Catholic media that proved to be the preferred mouthpiece for Cardinal Robert Sarah and Pope Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Both men — with help from right-leaning news organizations — have been very vocal about the problems plaguing the modern church in our ever-secular world.

It is fitting that these two men — one considered a potential future pope, the other already a pope — are the ones leading the charge as the church continues to become polarized. Under Francis’ papacy, the ideological split has become more pronounced. As the curia continues to polarize itself in public on issues like immigration and homosexuality, church leaders like Sarah and Benedict refuse to be silenced. Once again, it’s those Catholic media voices on the right that are helping to spread their message.

Case in point: this past week. At a time when Christians around the world continue on their Lenten journey, Sarah and Benedict are making a statement about the direction of Catholicism, the legacy of Vatican II and where the church is going. Sarah, who hails from the majority-Muslim nation of Guinea in Africa, contrasted Pope Francis’ statements in telling Christian nations they should open their borders to Islamic refugees.

The 73-year-old cardinal, in his new book” Evening Draws Near” and the “Day is Nearly Over,” argues that it’s wrong to “use the Word of God to promote migration.” Sarah laments the “collapse of the West” and what he calls “migratory processes” that threatens Europe’s Christian identity. As birthrates continue to drop across Europe, and workers from other continents are needed to take jobs, the culture of the continent is changing.

“If Europe disappears, and with it the priceless values of the Old Continent, Islam will invade the world and we will completely change culture, anthropology and moral vision,” he wrote.It’s worth noting that Sarah has been at odds with Pope Francis and his allies over an array of issues, including liturgical matters and translations of Latin texts.

The excerpt was largely ignored by mainstream news outlets.

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Say what? Newborn would be 'resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired'

Say what? Newborn would be 'resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired'

For lots of people, this was the story of the week — if you saw it covered anywhere.

Say what? If you were following any moral and religious conservatives on Twitter late this week, then you saw the explosion of outrage about proposed Virginia legislation that cranked up the flames under a topic that has long caused pain and fierce debate among Democrats — third-trimester abortion.

However, if you tend to follow mainstream media accounts on Twitter, or liberal evangelicals, or progressives linked to other religious traditions, then you heard — not so much. Ditto for big-TV news.

Now why would this be?

After all, the direct quotes from Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia were pretty out there, if you read them the same way as the leader of Democrats For Life, Kristen Day, who put the i-word in play — infanticide.

Once again, no one has to agree with her, but there are fierce debates about how many Democrats would welcome new restrictions on abortion, especially after 20 weeks or “viability.”

What’s the fight about? On one side are those who see Northam & Co. opening a door that leads — with a wink and a nod — to horrors that are hard to contemplate. On the other side are those who see the right to abortion under attack and want to protect every inch of the legal terrain they have held for years, and perhaps even capture new ground.

On the pro-abortion-rights left, what happened in Virginia — what Northam and others advocated — is not news. The news is the right-wing reaction — it’s the “seized” meme — to those words. And, of course, the tweeter in chief piled on.

Want to guess which wide the Acela-zone press backed?

Here’s the headline at The New York Times: “Republicans Seize on Late-Term Abortion as a Potent 2020 Issue.”

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Another big story from alternative Catholic press: Cupich and Wuerl teamed up on what?

Another big story from alternative Catholic press: Cupich and Wuerl teamed up on what?

When I was breaking into the mainstream religion-news biz — soon after the cooling of the earth’s crust — the words “church press” basically meant one thing.

It meant working for the news office in a denomination’s headquarters or, perhaps, in the outreach office of a religious non-profit. In other words, it was one step from the world of public relations.

As the old saying goes: It’s hard to cover a war when a general is signing your paycheck.

However, the Internet has — year after year — been blurring many of these lines. The denominational press is still out there, but so are lots of non-profit publications that offer an often dizzying mix of commentary and factual news.

This is especially true for reporters covering Catholic news. As my colleague Clemente Lisi noted the other day, referring to developments on scandals surrounding ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick:

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here.

Yes, he stressed developments on the pro-Catechism side of Catholic life. Why? Well, there has always been a lively market for Catholic news and commentary coming from the doctrinal, cultural and, yes, political left. The assumption was that official Catholic news offices would be defending the doctrinal fort.

This is no longer a safe assumption. Take a look, for example, at that “trusted” list of Catholic news outlets (at the top of this post), produced the other day by Father Thomas Rosica, head of the Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada. Notice any patterns in this list? Any obvious holes?

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Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

It’s certainly been a tortured Catholic summer here at GetReligion, what with our reporting on the scandals surrounding now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick –- that took up multiple news cycles from June 20 to mid-July -- and this week's explosive grand jury report out of Pennsylvania that with some of the saddest news that religion beat reporters have had to cover in ages.

I’ve talked about how the secular media are treating this disaster but what about Catholic media? There’s a bunch of other publications out there but many are weeklies or even monthlies. What I found most helpful in several of them had insider observations that secular media reporters might not have.

The two largest Catholic publications are the National Catholic Register and the National Catholic Reporter. I’ll start with the latter.

The Register’s reporting was heavy on analysis and blogs -- such as this one asking why no one listened to McCarrick whistleblower Richard Sipe –- and it tended to defend the bishops more; at least the ones it felt had been unfairly treated. Its breaking news was supplied by the Catholic News Agency, a wire service affiliated with the Birmingham, Ala.-based Eternal Word TV Network. (A screen shot of EWTN host Lauren Ashburn reporting on the grand jury report is atop this blog.)

CNA’s reporting included a piece on retired Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who was excoriated in the grand jury report. Trautman said a great deal of details had been left out of the report; details that would have put him in a better light.

Bishop Trautman said that the report “does not fully or accurately discuss my record as Bishop for twenty-two years in dealing with clergy abuse. While unfortunate, these omissions are consistent with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s findings that the grand jury process that produced the Report suffered from 'limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities' and lacked 'fundamental fairness.'”

The news service had a similar article defending Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was also criticized by the grand jury.

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RIP Mother Angelica: Some media were more prepared for this big story than others

RIP Mother Angelica: Some media were more prepared for this big story than others

Mother Angelica probably appreciated the fact that she died yesterday – Easter Sunday – and it was a few savvy folks in the secular media who knew of her fame and quickly posted stories about her death.

Outside of Alabama, NBC News and the Washington Times were the quickest on the ball to note that a giant in the Catholic media world just died. The doughty nun has been bedridden the past 15 or so years but any religion reporter working in the last decades of the 20th century knew of Mother Angelica’s amazing story. 

Mother Angelica died about 5 p.m. CDT on Sunday. By the time EWTN posted news about her death about 90 minutes later, media on the East Coast were wrapping things up for the night. Which is why a quick story on deadline by my former colleague Victor Morton –- who has extensive contacts in the Catholic world -- at the Times was impressive.

Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday.
The Poor Clare nun became the face of Catholic media during the Pope John Paul era by founding Eternal Word Television Network and being its most prominent on-air personality.
EWTN confirmed the death Sunday, almost 15 years after a stroke took the power of speech and the ability to appear on the air from its founder, whose formal religious name was Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation and was born Rita Rizzo. She was 92.

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RNS reports ferment over Vatican slideshow, but may project a few of its own views

RNS reports ferment over Vatican slideshow, but may project a few of its own views

When the Vatican lit up St. Peter's Basilica with a colorful slideshow on the environment, reactions swelled like the rising oceans. And the Religion News Service aptly covered extremes of anger and delight, including various shades in between.

Up to a point, at least. RNS added a shade or two of commentary that was all its own.

The context was the opening of Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy, a time for the faithful to rededicate themselves to lives of charity, devotion and reconciliation. They can also gain "indulgences," for the forgiveness of sins, by passing through designated Holy Doors at all cathedrals worldwide -- including St. Peter's, which Francis opened on Tuesday.

That night also saw Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home, a dazzling light-and-sound show with landscapes and animals projected onto the façade of the Catholic Church's mother church. As RNS observes, the three-hour show was aimed also at publicizing, once again, Laudato Si', Francis' encyclical last June on caring for the environment, just as world leaders were meeting in Paris to discuss climate change.

But objections to Fiat Lux were often fierce, as RNS reports:

"This has gone beyond ridiculous," fumed a conservative blogger, the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, who called it "irreverent" to use a sacred space for a secular purpose. "Why not rent out the Sistine chapel too, while they’re at it?"
"The Vatican profaned," Antonio Socci wrote at the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli. "The symbolic significance of the event is a Church immersed in darkness, but illuminated by the world, by the new climatist-religion-ideology."
"Sickening" and "embarrassing" were among the reactions on a Twitter thread started by Raymond Arroyo, a popular host on the conservative Catholic cable network EWTN. "Someone should be fired for this. Actually, several people should be," wrote another.

RNS goes beyond mere slings and arrows, classifying the types of objections and looking up answers as well. Among those objections (the summaries are mine):

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