It’s About Time!
A Review of Christopher Ferrara’s
EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong
by Michael J. Matt
When unfortunate souls such as Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer are enthroned in our ubiquitous electronic tabernacles from east coast to west, it shouldn’t take a theologian to see that TV has become a Godless wasteland. Neither should it surprise anyone, then, when a “Catholic” TV network, adept at the art of blending the spiritual with the “cool”, would by default rise to the top of television’s dunghill as far as decent-living Catholic viewers are concerned.
Where Bishop Fulton Sheen once reigned supreme, the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) now can lay claim to Catholic television presence the world over. In Christopher Ferrara’s new book on EWTN, readers come face-to-face with something most serious Catholics have long felt in their gut but have been more or less reluctant to admit — something has gone terribly wrong at the Catholic network! EWTN isn’t exactly what it once was.
The difficulty that arises when attempting to point this out, however, is that we’re now talking about a multi-million dollar enterprise that boasts some of the best programming and production professionals in the business — real masters of the television medium, who know their trade and their audience.
So whether it’s the rather painful theological gobbledygook found in programs such as “Life on the Rock”, or the semi-salacious chitchat about NFP and the Theology of the Body, or movies, or the Stations of the Cross and nightly Rosary recitation for the elderly, EWTN has a little something for everyone, and it’s no small task to convince Catholics to look at the larger picture — which is precisely what Ferrara’s new book sets out to accomplish with devastating effectiveness. Still, few want to hear that EWTN is part of the problem, so the task of persuasion Ferrara is facing is substantial indeed.
So, there’s a little heresy here or some inappropriate sex talk there — what of it? It’s better than Springer, right? When one has been starving for forty years, even a piece of moldy cheese under a park bench looks appetizing. EWTN could re-run episodes of The Love Boat and call them Catholic morality plays and many of their truth-starved viewers would buy it!
While scrupulous in their use of the trappings of old-world Catholicism to create the EWTN ambiance — a smattering of Gregorian, beautiful images of Our Lord and the Saints, perhaps some traditional devotional practices here and there — EWTN boldly goes where no Catholic program has ever gone before, especially when it comes to human sexuality and discussions of marital relations that, at least by old world standards of decency, border on the pornographic. And this is to say nothing of the bizarre spectacle of rockin’ and rappin’ Franciscans that are becoming the stock-in-trade of this network gone wrong.
Doctrinal orthodoxy and authority have become so hard to find in the American Catholic Church that EWTN can pretty much do whatever it wants to do. In many ways the network is more powerful than the American Bishops’ Conference. Sure, much of what they try to pass off as “Catholic” would have given St. Maximilian Kolbe anxiety attacks, but when compared to what passes for “mainstream” Catholicism in the U.S., EWTN is a citadel of orthodoxy. And this seems to be at least part of the secret to their success — they thrive on the rotting carcass of “renewed” post-conciliar Catholicism.
With its dangerous brew of pop theology, sex talk, rock music, some sound orthodoxy, and priests behaving badly in order to score popularity points with those ever elusive “younger” viewers, EWTN gets a free pass from most of its truth-starved Catholic audience. Certainly, the network’s efforts to comfort the elderly and the shut-ins with tradition-friendly programming are praiseworthy. But, as Ferrara’s new book reveals, there’s the rest of the story to consider.
EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong chronicles how the network, which started out as a promising enterprise in the service of truth, was rather quickly co-opted by neo-Catholics and made into something that now looks an awful lot like “Protestantism plus.” From its tacky Christmas Eve specials in Las Vegas, to those off-putting priests tossing footballs around and chatting about Jesus, to Chris West getting down with the theology of the body, EWTN’s hodgepodge of “cool Catholicism” and novel theology seems to be transforming Mother Angelica’s dream into a sort of embarrassing MTV wannabe for “Catholic Christians”.
Ferrara doesn’t shy away from heaping lavish praise, by the way, on EWTN founder, Mother Angelica; in fact, the first section of the book is dedicated almost exclusively to exposing the neo-Catholics’ heavy-handed intimidation that eventually silenced her strong Catholic voice. In many ways, the book reads like a defense of the EWTN we all knew back in the days when it wasn’t uncommon to see the likes of Fr. Vincent Miceli chatting with Mother Angelica on the EWTN set. That was then. Today one is more likely to look on with alarm as Fr. Stan Fortuna “rocks out” with his favorite electric guitar.
As the book painstakingly documents, a lot has changed since EWTN refashioned itself in the image and likeness of neo-Catholicism. Using plenty of examples and copious footnotes, the book demonstrates with devastating effectiveness why, at least by the standards of the Catholicism of Pius XII and all his predecessors, EWTN can no longer be considered fully Catholic. And, as every Catholic remembers from the “penny” catechism, that which is only partly Catholic ceases to be Catholic, and should be avoided, especially by children. Indeed, Ferrara recounts how EWTN content has carried parental warnings. This is Catholic?
Ferrara’s sense of frustration over the demise of what by rights should have been a powerful force for good in an industry bereft of the decent and the Godly is practically palpable on every page. The reader comes away with the sense that the author would like nothing better than to see EWTN reverse course and become the Catholic counter-revolutionary force that Mother Angelica envisioned. But, alas, this is becoming less likely all the time, especially since EWTN has, as Ferrara notes, “fallen into the hands of lay directors, many of them ex-Protestants who have no intention of using the network to restore authentic Roman Catholicism in all its integrity.”
As the title suggests, EWTN has gone wrong; it has become a promoter of a “Modernist counterfeit of Roman Catholicism” with a growing list of charges to answer. Using page after page of incontrovertible evidence, Ferrara demonstrates how EWTN has:
• Endorsed and advanced the liturgical destruction of the past forty years; • Helped undermine Catholic adherence to the infallibly defined dogma that outside the Roman Catholic Church no one can be saved; • Has promoted and encouraged a Judaizing tendency in the Church not unlike that which confronted the original Jewish Apostles, while undermining the Church’s infallible teaching on the abrogation of the Old Covenant with the coming of the New Covenant; • Has publicized, excused, defended and outright promoted sacrilege in Catholic holy places; • Has contributed to the tendency to substitute a common-denominator natural religion for adherence to the truths of revelation expounded by the Catholic Church as necessary for salvation; • Has advocated a senseless and un-Catholic idolatry of the Pope’s person that does a grave disservice to the Pope, the Church and the Faith; • Is leading the way toward destruction of the traditional Rosary, whose traditional form was defended against innovation even by Pope Paul VI; • Has promoted an obscure sexual gnosticism that scandalously speaks of aspects of marriage in a blasphemous way; • Has generally corrupted and cheapened the Faith and image of the Church by trying to combine Roman Catholicism with rock music and show business in a vain effort to make Catholicism “cool” and appealing to the base instincts of a mass audience; • Has attacked and attempted to ostracize from the Church defenders of Roman Catholic tradition and the authentic Message of Fatima, with its warning of a crisis in the Church.
EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong presents ample evidence to prove its case. The question is: Can we handle the truth? It’s all right there, complete with enough well-substantiated arguments to amply justify the rightness of the claim made in the book’s title. One wonders, however, if the critics of this book - and there will no doubt be more than a few — will have the integrity to actually try to refute Ferrara’s case rather than just resorting to the predictable expressions of outrage that anyone should dare speak ill of the sacred cow of EWTN. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, simple honesty, as Ferrara notes, compels the conclusion that Pius XII and every one of his predecessors would view with horror, and absolutely condemn, the “collection of destructive doctrinal and liturgical novelties EWTN broadcasts to the entire world as ‘traditional’ Catholicism.”
It would appear that in EWTN the revolution in the Catholic Church today has a powerful “ministry of information” working 24/7 on television airwaves to try to alter the way Catholics think about everything from sex, to ecumenism, to shameful liturgical sacrileges. Is it any wonder that EWTN has been awarded the only permanent “Catholic” home in the mainstream cable TV industry?
I can’t recommend this book highly enough! If you want to learn how EWTN is using the power of television to promote the novelties of New Church — on a scale that liberal prelates can only dream of — read Christopher Ferrara’s riveting expose and let the scales fall from your eyes!
Michael J. Matt is editor of The Remnant, a Catholic biweekly magazine.