This is something that will only mean anything to Catholic readers, but it’s so hilariously un-self-aware that I have to share it with you. Michael Sean Winters, a marquee columnist for the ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter, the whole raison d’etre of which has always to do Catholic journalism independent of the Catholic bishops’ control, is upset because the independent Catholic cable network EWTN is doing the same thing from the Catholic right — and succeeding. He writes:
The vast complex of parishes and schools and hospitals and fraternal associations that American Catholics built in the 20th century were all, in some meaningful way, connected to the hierarchy of the church. People might agree or disagree with what the church had to say, but they knew who spoke authoritatively for the whole. EWTN, however, severed its official ties to the church at the same time as it had eclipsed the bishops’ own efforts to create a Catholic television network. NCR is proud of its independence from any official control, but EWTN repeatedly claims it is presenting the news “from a Catholic perspective.” When you are the only Catholic network, people can be forgiven for thinking the “Catholic perspective” being presented is authentic and accurate.
And that claim could not be more wrong. Despite their insistence that they are loyal to the magisterium, EWTN has always been highly selective in presenting church teaching. They distort some teachings and ignore others. They inflate those teachings they like to the point that they block out other important teachings. They evidence none of the historical suspicion with which the Catholic tradition has always viewed capitalism. NCR has always acknowledged its role as a kind of loyal opposition. EWTN has claimed to be loyal to the party in power, but now in the age of Pope Francis, their disloyalty is no longer able to be hidden.
“NCR has always acknowledged its role as a kind of loyal opposition.” I apologize to you Catholic readers who fell out of your chair when you read that, or who broke a rib laughing. But wait, there’s more!
The bishops have a large problem on their hands. They have lost control of communications within the church. Millions of Catholics watch EWTN. How many read a press release from the bishops’ conference calling for protections for undocumented immigrants? How many read a diocesan newspaper if there still is one?
Oh man, Catholic readers, can you just even? National Catholic Reporter came into existence precisely to be a voice for covering the Church independent of the feeble diocesan press, which was suffocating under institutional control. From the NYT’s obituary of Robert Hoyt, NCR’s founder, who died in 2003:
In 1964, when Mr. Hoyt started The National Catholic Reporter, almost all Catholic newspapers and magazines were published by dioceses or religious orders and, as Time magazine noted at the time, usually displayed ”a nervous, reverential caution in telling what goes on inside the church.”
Mr. Hoyt’s aim was to bring the professional standards of secular news reporting to the Catholic press.
”If the mayor of a city owned its only newspaper,” he liked to say, ”its citizens will not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs.”
He was right about that. NCR has published some good and important journalism, most of all Jason Berry’s pathbreaking reporting on the abuse scandal. But NCR has over the decades been a bastion of amplifying and indeed glorifying left-wing dissent from authoritative Catholic teaching. That’s what it does. I was never a faithful reader of that paper, but my impression of NCR’s editorial line over the years was: No enemies to the left. The paper never met a radical lesbian nun that it didn’t love.
Now, I’m sure that there’s stuff to criticize about EWTN. I don’t have cable, and haven’t kept up with the network since I left the Catholic Church in 2006. I’m not in a position to defend EWTN, though when I was a Catholic, I was grateful for it, because despite the network’s shortcomings, it provided something for orthodox Catholics to hold onto. Still, the idea that a National Catholic Reporter columnist, of all people, would dress down another Catholic media outlet for criticizing the Pope and for failing to follow the bishops’ instructions on covering the Church is like watching Madonna chastise Miley Cyrus for being a self-promoting slut.