NCR

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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Thinking about 'Sodoma': Critics on left, right have many similar concerns about Martel's work

Thinking about 'Sodoma': Critics on left, right have many similar concerns about Martel's work

So, now that the big splash is over in Rome, does anyone need to take the time to read “In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” by the French LGBTQ activist Frédéric Martel?

That’s the English title. In other parts of the world the book was given an even more provocative title — “Sodoma.”

Everyone agrees, basically, that the book contains some serious allegations about gay life and gay power networks in Catholic life, and the Vatican to be specific.

But what has Martel been able to document with solid, journalistically respectable information? On many crucial points, everything depends on whether readers are inclined to accept the accuracy of the author’s “gaydar,” that gay extra sense that tells him — based on issues of culture, style and his own emotions — whether this or that person (or pope, even) is gay.

This is your rare chance to read radically different cultural voices attack the same book for some very similar reasons. For starters, it doesn’t help when — the critics agree — a book is packed with factual errors and appears to have been edited by someone with years of experience in supermarket tabloid work.

I mean, check this out: Rod “Benedict Option” Dreher pointing readers toward an essay by Michael Sean Winters of The National Catholic Reporter?

Here is a choice bite of Winters review:

Martel sees gay influence everywhere. He has a whole chapter on Jacques Maritain, the gist of which is this: "To understand the Vatican and the Catholic Church, at the time of Paul VI, or today, Jacques Maritain is a good entry point." Why? "I have gradually understood the importance of this codex, this complex and secret password, a real key to understand The Closet. The Maritain code." He mentions in passing that Maritain is the father of Christian democracy, and mentions not at all that Maritain's reading of Thomas Aquinas is critical in understanding how the Second Vatican Council came to many of its conclusions. None of that really matters. The key is that he hung out with gay writers.

Such stereotypes would be denounced as sheer bigotry if they came from a straight man (and would not get reprinted in NCR). Why is Martel given a pass to traffic in them because he is gay? Bigotry is repugnant no matter the source.

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Valid journalism question? Yes, Callista and Newt Gingrich have a complex Catholic history

Valid journalism question? Yes, Callista and Newt Gingrich have a complex Catholic history

Before the rise of Citizen Donald Trump, it was hard to name a more complex and even bizarre character on the modern GOP stage than the thrice-married and pugnacious former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Where to start? How about the popular political myth that, long ago, he asked his first wife to sign divorce papers on her deathbed.

You've head that one? Here is how the gang at FactCheck.org parses that:

No. Jackie Battley is still alive, and the couple was already in divorce proceedings at the time of the 1980 hospital visit. But she was recovering from surgery to remove a tumor, and the former House speaker admits that they “got into an argument.”

Actually, the fine details of that first marriage are, sort of, in the news -- linked to the reports that this third wife, Callista Gingrich, is set to be nominated by Trump (if he has a few spare minutes) as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.

In case you haven't heard, divorce -- specifically the issue of divorced Catholics receiving Holy Communion -- is a hot topic in Catholic circles right now. The Gingrich situation, to be blunt, could be complex. Here is how the conservative Catholic News Agency states the basics:

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and explained, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com, how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.
He noted that he had attended Masses at the National Shrine [note: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.] where Callista sang in the choir, and she “created an environment where I could gradually think and evolve on the issue of faith.”
At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2011, he also cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to the U.S. as a “moment of confirmation” for him. At vespers with the Pope, where Callista sang in the Shrine choir, Newt recalled thinking that “here is where I belong.” 

The key question here: What is the status, in the eye of Catholic officials, of Newt Gingrich's first marriage, long ago in Georgia?

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