||Mahony appeals to Rome about
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has taken his complaints about Mother Angelica and her cable television network EWTN to the Vatican, according to the cardinals spokesperson. Sources close to Mahony say he intends to demand fundamental changes in both the management style and the on-air tone of the controversial Catholic media outlet.
The cardinal wants the Holy See to do something about Mother Angelicas whole attitude that she is not responsible to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops or to any of the individual bishops, said Capuchin Fr. Gregory Coiro, director of media relations for the Los Angeles archdiocese. It goes beyond her criticism of the cardinal -- its about how the network operates and to whom it is accountable, he said.
While Mahony was in Rome for the recent Synod for America, Coiro said, he approached the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, under the direction of Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications under American Archbishop John Foley. In both cases, Coiro said, Mahony discussed EWTN and the changes he thinks are necessary.
To date, Mahony has not received a formal response from either office, Coiro said.
On her nationally syndicated television program Nov. 12, 1997, Mother Angelica criticized Mahonys pastoral letter on the Sunday liturgy for what she regarded as insufficient emphasis on the real presence of Jesus in the eucharistic elements of bread and wine. She called on Catholics in the Los Angeles archdiocese to practice zero obedience. Though expressing regret for those remarks on her Nov. 18 show, Angelica took that occasion to deepen her criticism of the pastoral letter (NCR, Dec. 5).
After having initially protested Angelicas remarks in a Nov. 14 letter, Mahony wrote her again on Dec. 1; Coiro read portions of that letter to NCR. In it Mahony wrote, What saddens me most is that EWTN has such potential for being a positive tool for the new evangelization ... [but] when a network features programs that attack and criticize its own bishops publicly, how can that build up the body of Christ, the church?
Mahony demanded that Angelica read an apology on the air, to be written by Bishop David Foley of Birmingham, Ala., where EWTN is located. Mahony asked that the apology be read a minimum of four times between Dec. 1 and Dec. 25. According to Coiro, no such apology occurred.
What must non-Catholic viewers who were watching the program on Nov. 18 think? Mahony asked Angelica in his Dec. 1 letter. Would they have been interested in your level of confusion about my pastoral letter or would they have been more interested in hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and his saving presence within our church?
Mahony now appears to want more than a retraction from the TV nun. According to sources close to Mahony, he believes EWTN should be reoriented so it plays what he feels is a positive role in the churchs evangelization efforts and cooperates with the U.S. bishops in how it goes about that task. The cardinal thinks that EWTNs broadcasts sometimes damage and diminish positive work being done in the church, those sources told NCR. What changes such a reorientation would mean in practice is not yet clear.
According to Coiro, Angelicas remarks about Mahony and his pastoral constitute technically, a very serious violation of canon law. In his letter, Mahony referred to Canon 753, which obliges Catholics to respect the teaching office of the diocesan bishop and specifies that only the pope and whoever at the Vatican he empowers may correct a bishops teaching.
Coiro said he also feels Canon 1373, which forbids anyone from exciting disobedience against the pope or the bishops, and provides for interdiction or other just penalties, would apply to Angelicas remarks. An interdiction is a church penalty that deprives Catholics of certain spiritual privileges, such as the right to receive the sacraments.
Mahony is consulting canonists to determine what options exist to bring pressure onto EWTN and Mother Angelica, sources told NCR. At the same time, however, they said the cardinal wants to avoid a protracted public fight with Angelica, so much of this activity is going on behind the scenes.
Coiro said he wasnt sure what response Mahony is hoping for from the Vatican. Is he looking for Rome to slap an interdict on EWTN, which technically would be justified under the circumstances? he said. Probably not, though I wouldnt rule it out. But what other options are being explored, I dont know.
Coiro said he also was not sure when Rome would respond. Sometimes things in Rome move slowly, so well just have to wait and see, he said. But one thing is sure -- were not just letting it drop.
EWTN spokespersons did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article. Foley of the Birmingham diocese likewise indicated through an assistant that he did not wish to comment. The assistant said that Foley was dealing directly with Cardinal Mahony on the matter.
Mahony or other prelates seeking to influence EWTN may find tough going. At the 1996 Call to Holiness conference in Detroit, Angelica told a story about three or four bishops she refused to interview at a bishops meeting. She said they demanded to know by whose authority she turned them down, and she responded, I own the network. According to Angelica, when the bishops said she wouldnt always be there, she responded, Well, Ill blow the damn thing up before you get it (NCR, Dec. 6, 1996).
EWTN claims to be the worlds largest religious cable network, with 1,600 affiliates reaching 54 million homes. According to its Web site, EWTN is shown in 34 different countries and four territories. Additional millions are reached through EWTN radio and Internet broadcasts.
In a related development, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Youngstown, Ohio, diocese -- Mother Angelicas home diocese -- recently published an appeal in his diocesan newspaper for Angelica to invite Mahony onto EWTN to discuss their differences. Sources close to Mahony say he has received no such invitation and has no plans at present to appear on the network.
National Catholic Reporter, January 30, 1998