The Problem with Mother Angelica and EWTN (from 1995)


The following article appeared in the August 12, 1995 issue of America. Click here to find other US EWTN coverage.

I run the risk, I know, of getting into trouble if I write something about Mother Angelica, the founder and guiding spirit of the popular Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Last October, in an article on the Faith & Values ​​ecumenical network. I mentioned that the network often found itself vying for space with Mother Angélique. whom I qualified as “conservative”. Most of the article focused on the little disjointed F&V, with only around 100 words on Mother. But from the volume of mail we received, you would have thought that we had published a full scale 20 page attack on Mother Angelica. She has, it should be noted, many fans.

Either way, now is the time to talk about Mother Angelica. It is, after all, a television column, and EWTN is the nation’s largest religious cable station, reaching 40 million homes in the United States and in more than 20 countries abroad. It broadcasts 24 hours a day. Consider this: For some Americans, it represents the Catholic Church, not the local bishop, or the United States Conference of Bishops, or the last papal encyclical, or America or Commonweal or the St. Anthony Messenger. Mother Angelica is what a lot of people think of when they think of the American Catholic Church.

Consider this: For some Americans, Mother Angelica represents the Catholic Church, not the local bishop, or the United States Conference of Bishops or the last papal encyclical.

As you digest this last observation, let me now praise Mother Angelica. And when I speak of “Mother Angelica”, I am speaking of the whole EWTN phenomenon: the network, the broadcasts, the religious order, the masses, the whole Gestalt. Now praise: Here, sweet readers. is a woman who loves her church and is devoted to God. This may not be the kind of church you prefer St.-Louis Jesuit-singing, Matthew-Fox-reading. inclusive language types, empowering lay people, yet she is dedicated to her church nonetheless.

Second, Mother provides service to many Catholics who watch television. Admit it: are there many other cable shows nationwide that air Mass four times a day (and in Spanish on Sundays)? It might not be your kind of Mass, but Christ is there, isn’t He?

Third, unlike many other cable religious networks, Mother offers a wide variety of programming. Last month, she televised the proceedings of the meeting of the American Bishops’ Conference. Most days of the week, Bob and Penny Lord, the affably devout hosts of “The Miracles of the Eucharist,” serve as spiritual guides, guiding viewers to places such as Blessed Faustina’s home in Poland. There is also a liberal sprinkling of not-so-liberal scholars expounding the Scriptures, although most of the exegesis consists of a priest standing behind a podium, reading the Bible directly. (“And Mathew goes on to say ….”) Again, as a Jesuit friend likes to say, “For people who like that sort of thing, this is the kind of thing they like.”

Finally, for the imprisoned, Mother Angélique is undoubtedly a godsend. A Jesuit told me that his mother worshiped (the right word) what I will call EWTN’s “Rosary Shows”, one of which features a young girl standing on a misty hill reciting the Rosary for half a year. -time.

Mother Angelica, devout and well-intentioned as she is, has big problems.

The. It wasn’t that bad, was it? Now for the second part of our story: Mother Angelica, devout and well-meaning as she is, has big problems.

On the one hand, Mother seems to live in a black and white world. There is good and bad. There is good and bad.

Well, it’s true. The is good and bad and good and bad. Unfortunately, there are other things in the middle, where most Catholics tend to live.

“Thank God for the new catechism,” she said, slapping the book on her knees, because that will finally put an end to all those boring theologians who dare to criticize the magisterium. Now, I can think of a number of reasons to thank God for Sunday school, but keeping exuberant theologians in their place is not one of them. Too bad for theologians. (You will recall that St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and St. Augustine were members of this unruly club.) So much for the continued development of theology, and more specifically. too bad for the Holy Spirit.

Mother also seems to be – and this is about as nicely as I can tell – more comfortable with the past than with the present.

Mother also seems to be – and this is about as nicely as I can tell – more comfortable with the past than with the present.

I recently spent two years working abroad. As EWTN does not broadcast in Kenya (where it would undoubtedly be very popular), I did not watch Mother Angelica. When I got back, I shot his show one afternoon. Could it be? His habit had become …dictu mirabile—more conservative than before Indeed, like most of the sisters who appear on EWTN, Mother Angélique favors the full dress. Priests and brothers, for their part, invariably sport office attire (with snow-white French cuffs) or, better yet, cassocks.

Now there is certainly nothing wrong with veils and collars and cassocks, but I am wondering if these are prerequisites for appearing on the net. I have met quite a few committed and devoted sisters in my time. Most of them choose to wear street clothes. So where on EWTN are all these sisters-in-law who don’t wear habits?

In other words, where is the rest of the church that Mother Angelica says she loves?

And these masses. What is the story? Did Vatican II take place? Was there another council that I missed that revoked the liturgical renewal of Vatican II? It’s understandable to yearn for the good old days, but these days aren’t all bad. This must make Catholics wonder why their own parishes aren’t doing the same thing they see on EWTN. Why can’t our parish be more like his? Hey, father. where are our sub-deacons?

It is also evident that, like many other American Catholics, Mother Angelica is angry. She is angry with the permissiveness of our society, against violence, the decline of sexual mores. the destruction of the family, all good things to be deplored.

She seems to reserve her greatest anger for her own church: theologians who lead us astray, disobedient lay people, liberal priests and sisters who favor women of the clergy, married priests, inclusive language ….

However, she seems to reserve her greatest anger for her own church: theologians who lead us astray, disobedient lay people, liberal priests and sisters who favor female clergy, married priests, inclusive language … you name it. And she lets them have it whenever she can.

Indeed, the level of vitriol she directs towards certain elements of the church would be called Catholic-bashing if it came from other quarters.

Fair enough. Everyone is mad at something in the church. It’s too liberal: it’s not liberal enough. There are no women priests; there are too many women around the altar. There is not enough inclusive language; there are too many of them, and that dilutes the beauty of the liturgy. Make your choice. But when your anger drives your ministry, then you are in trouble.

This is what bothers me the most about Mother Angélique. Of course, this is a completely subjective analysis. But after all, his ministry is television, and with television the image, not the intention, is the product. The medium is the ministry, so to speak. And the picture here says it all.

Despite all her dedication to church, she does not seem As that a lot. I mean the whole church – the great controversial, worldwide, extremely messy, post-Vatican II church struggling to find its way into the modern world.

Maybe it can even be forgiven. Perhaps Mother Angelica feels that she is rendering a service in the church with her righteous zeal, like Jesus in the temple. But here’s the problem: His anger is particularly harmful because it is this image of the church – bitter, uncompromising, defensive – that is a dominant image of the church on American television, in large part thanks to its influential network.

The Catholic Church, as projected by Mother Angelica, is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. He is also extremely angry.

And this particular fruit of his television ministry is a disservice to the American church.

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