… you need to rethink your life. Recently, he said precisely that about EWTN, and Michael Sean Winters remarks:
Of all the speeches, homilies and documents that issue from Pope Francis, my favorite have become the transcriptions of his meetings with local Jesuits on his apostolic visits around the globe, transcripts then published by Civilta Cattolica. They are akin to the conversations after a holiday meal, when the unpleasant cousins have departed and only your dearest friends or relatives remain, and you are pouring the second or third round of after-dinner drinks: frank and familiar, sometimes a little edgy, often funny and always illuminating.
Last week, Civilta published the transcript of the latest such meeting, with 63 Jesuits in Slovakia. The exchange provided a window into the Holy Father’s thoughts on a variety of topics, but the most newsworthy were his comments about EWTN.
“There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope,” the pope said. “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
Of course, NCR has regularly published articles that are critical of popes and members of the hierarchy, but the comparison distorts the reality, at least mostly. In the first place, NCR has never represented itself as speaking for the authentic Catholic magisterium. We have published essays saying the magisterium is wrong, and that it should be changed, to be sure. EWTN features, and features regularly, those who claim they possess the authentic magisterium, not those who are constitutionally endowed with that authority. Phil Lawler, Fr. Gerald Murray, Robert Royal: They are all more Catholic than the pope, at least this pope.
In the second place, NCR has always been a newspaper first, and most of our commentary flows from and is based on that reporting. And the reporting speaks for itself. EWTN’s principal news show, “EWTN News Nightly” only began airing in 2013. Conversely, Raymond Arroyo’s weekly “newsmagazine” show “The World Over” began airing in September 1996. It served to extend the kind of conservative Catholic conversations found on the network’s “Mother Angelica Live” into the realm of politics. Arroyo’s show does not have a reputation for serious reporting and regular readers of this column will know how often I have had to call attention to the more brazen abuses of our Catholic tradition peddled by Arroyo.
On the first show since the pope’s comments were published, which aired Sept. 23, Arroyo did not discuss the criticism of EWTN with his lead-off guest, Catholic University theology professor Chad Pecknold. The two discussed other parts of the pope’s conversation with the Jesuits, such as his comments about sexual diversity and the reception of Vatican II, but not his comments about the network.
That said, Arroyo and Pecknold managed to display exactly the kind of criticism of Pope Francis that justified his comment in the first place. They mocked the pope’s criticism of pastoral rigidity.
“How do you confess that in the confessional?” Pecknold asked with a smirk. “Father, I’ve been rigid three times. How would you even confess that?”
Later the two discussed the Vatican’s decision to require proof of vaccination to enter the city-state and that of the Archdiocese of Moncton in Canada to prohibit the unvaccinated from attending public Mass. “Conformity to safetyism,” Pecknold called it. “A betrayal of the Gospel.”
Arroyo and Pecknold are latter-day Mother Angelicas, but without the wimple or the wit. As Jesuit Fr. James Martin pointed out in a recently republished essay from 1995, Mother was often angry and Manichaean, and Arroyo and Pecknold fit that bill, but she also had a twinkle in her eye at times. Arroyo’s humor is usually mean-spirited, and Pecknold seems incapable of a smile, let alone a laugh. They are scolds, more akin to Cotton Mather than to any Catholic historical figure.
The real problem with EWTN, however, is not that it criticizes the pope and does so in ways that undermine the affective collegiality the church needs if it is to overcome the polarization that afflicts it. It is that the network is a shill for a political agenda. I watch Arroyo’s show most weeks. I watch EWTN News Nightly at least once a week. It is not that they only present one side of particular political issues. It is that the Catholic faith is always made subservient to a political agenda, a Republican and increasingly Trumpian agenda.
So, for example, whereas this column has repeatedly employed our Catholic intellectual and moral tradition to challenge pro-choice Democrats and their indifference to the dignity of unborn children, Arroyo hosts spokesmen for anti-immigrant groups like NumbersUSA and routinely refers to migrants as “illegal aliens.” Arroyo’s interview with Steve Bannon was remarkable for the outrageous claims Bannon made that were completely unchallenged by the host. His 2020 interview with President Donald Trump was an object lesson in fawning, uncritical and leading questions.
EWTN, then, is not like NCR. It is more like Catholics for Choice or CatholicVote.org, political organizations in religious drag.
Several things are notable here.
First, of course, is that the reflexive shriek “BUT ABORTION!” is scotched in the egg by the fact that Winters makes clear his own support of the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. The reflexive lie told by MAGA Catholics to rationalize their own support for inhuman cruelty on a dozen fronts–namely, that their critics are all “liberal babykillers”–is deflected by Winters perfectly orthodox and Catholic convictions here.
Next, is the destruction of the tu quoque which is practically all the MAGA Catholic has in his intellectual toolkit. Winters freely grants that he is sometimes critical of the Pope. But then again, he does not–as EWTN does–hold himself up as the sine qua non of Perfect Orthodox Catholicism. That is, however, EWTN’s entire schtick. They claim to stand for Total Fidelity to the Church and fit judges of all the rest of us slobs muddling along.
But, in fact, their real pole star is not the Church, but MAGA ideology. The cry “BUT ABORTION!” is what it has long been for the MAGA cult: a cynical use of the unborn as human shields for what the cult really cares about: GOP selfishness. They have, over the years, fought tooth and nail to defend the use of torture, spit on desperate brown refugees, wage shameful war on Amazonian Catholics whose only crime was to come to Rome to seek pastoral care and the sacraments, and, of course, make ceaseless war on this Pope while sending out suffocating clouds of propaganda for Donald Trump.
And now, as Arroyo and Pecknold make clear, they are bent on selling the lie that basic courtesy to one’s neighbor in a time of Pandemic is somehow a sin of “safetyism” as they labor to spread both the sin of selfish narcissism, as well as death to the vulnerable.
That includes the vulnerable in the womb, as well as infants and children, about whom the “prolife” MAGA Catholic gives not one damn as they trumpet their “courage” in spreading disease to their young victims while cosplaying in the mirror as martyrs.
As is constantly the case with the MAGA antichrist cult, accusation is confession with them as they smear the innocent and decent with that charge of which they themselves are guilty: “betrayal of the gospel”. And for the archetypal reason that the gospel was betrayed: for the 30 pieces of silver MAGA cultists in the EWTN donor base offer them.
In short, those to whom much is given, much will be required and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. EWTN has presumed to set itself up as an alternate magisterium superior to the real Magisterium. They deserved what they got from the Holy Father–because they do the work of the devil.