Saturday, January 2, 2021

EWTN's King of Ashes

 As Christopher White details, there is a storm going on at EWTN, a civil war brewing.  Or maybe not.  I think that is something people should at least consider.  For all the talk of what this entails for the purposes of the narrative, there's little actual journalism detailing what is going on within the company.  Even for those who work in the various parts of the EWTN empire, there's a lot of speculation of what these moves could mean, but very little speculation on what it does mean.

This should be a big red flag for anyone involved that you might be getting a narrative, and a narrative that benefits certain individuals who, much to ones surprise, are those talking about what these various moves could mean.  The first thing you should always remember when dealing with Catholic organizations, especially those that involve donations, is that they are a business.  The first thing to remember when dealing with Catholic writers is that they are showmen, and everything they are doing should be viewed through the lens of self-promotion.  Even the praiseworthy stuff has an angle.  So when you hear that Gloria Purvis was sidelined for this or that reason, always be aware of the levers of benefit and influence that would flow from this or that narrative, and that involves not just Purvis but her critics.

As interesting as this might be to some people (and they will try to convince you its even more interesting), its worth understanding just how very online this is, and how little it matters about the overall state of the Catholic Church.  The state of the EWTN empire matters greatly to everyone involved, because by influencing that empire, they influence themselves.  Yet how much does that matter in the overall grand scheme of things?

The race to see who claims the EWTN empire I do think is instructive in another way: the perils of what happens when Catholicism and self-promotion mix.  This is nothing new to EWTN.  Mother Angelica started EWTN to give people a venue for Catholic spirituality, but from the very beginning she was crafting a brand for EWTN:  that of a fearless advocate of Catholicism when so many otherwise Catholic institutions (universities, bishops, etc) were quite fearful advocates of Catholicism, to the point of timidity or worse.  There is always going to be a tension between promotion of yourself as a witness for Christ and the Gospel you are meant to be a witness to.  St. Paul struggled with precisely this in 2 Corinthians and Galatians.

I'm not sure where, but I think EWTN over time lost that balance. Slowly over time, they became less about fostering Catholic spirituality, and instead fostering a specific type of spirituality.  No, this isn't the culture war battle you think it is.  In a time of unparalleled collapse for global Catholicism (its retreat from Europe, its auto-demolition in Latin America in a single generation, the era of the abuse scandal in the US), EWTN was selling a narrative that not only were things not bad.....   things were GREAT.   It really was a New Springtime.  To sell this new springtime, EWTN brought in a lot of new Catholic personalities, many of them converts, to sell their own conversion story, and to give others the hope they had that not only were we in a New Springtime, but that they were the vanguard of renewal.  Whether it was John Corapi, Mark Shea, Robert Sungenis, Greg Popcak, Dawn Eden, for a span of roughly 20 years (from the mid 90's to around 2015 or so), people from all across the ideological spectrum all had one thing in common:  they were EWTN celebrities or heavily touted being featured on EWTN.

Very few questions were ever asked about if this was a sustainable model of Catholicism, or of the inherent dangers of having a "model" of Catholicism to follow.  Outside of one or two exceptions, nobody is looking at the various media personalities on EWTN over the years and thinking "these are the people I want to model my life after."  Deep down, that includes their biggest fans.  Devotion to kayfabe is the only reason they say otherwise.

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, a lot of this crap simply doesn't matter.  When Dawn Eden and Mark Shea demanded that their previous shows be removed from EWTN's library, everyone's reaction was "oh yeah, 10 years ago they did something of value" that was otherwise forgotten.  Most people watching EWTN aren't watching because they are or aren't promoting racial identity politics:  they are watching to view Daily Mass or get a chaplet in.  Sure, The World Over is lucrative business, but most people outside the online bubble still know EWTN as that station that was ran by a nun or that had religious stuff on it.  

This discussion is useful mostly as a reflection of the US Church, a Church that is becoming increasingly insular, polarized, and very online.  It is a race between various factions to wear the crown of ashes, to shape a once glorious Church and company now a shell of its former self.  They just hope they are the ones getting paid as it implodes.

Have nothing to do with it.

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