Listen to this story:
ROME – In an address to employees of the mega international conservative media conglomerate EWTN, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin stressed the importance for Catholic media of unity with the pope and of avoiding polarization.
In his remarks, Parolin said that “Catholic media, as you well know, has an important role in the task of the new evangelization.”
“This is why it is good that they feel that they are an active part of the life of the Church, first of all by living in a spirit of communion with the Bishop of Rome,” he said, saying this sense of communion “is all the more urgent today in a time marked by overly-dramatic debates, also within the Church, which do not even spare the person and the Magisterium of the Pontiff.”
Parolin said that Mother Angelica, foundress of both EWTN and a Poor Clares monastery in rural Alabama, where EWTN’s headquarters are located, established the network as an instrument “at the service of the Church and the Pope.”
“This continues to be your greatest mission and reward – to be and to experience yourselves at the service of the Church and the Successor of Peter,” he said.
He cautioned that “the devil always seeks to sift us like wheat, but Jesus’ prayer for Peter and his successors is our anchor of salvation,” he said, adding, “May this spirit of communion with the Pope be the distinctive sign of your work. May this be ‘felt’ and ‘touched’ in your television broadcasts, as well as in your articles and in your multimedia programs.”
Parolin spoke at a dinner for European affiliates of EWTN (the Eternal Word Television Network), held at the Villa Tuscolana in Frascati, on Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Founded in 1981 by Mother Angelica, known for her humor, feistiness and direct rebukes of both bishops and trends in American Catholicism that she found concerning, EWTN is the largest Catholic media conglomerate in the world, with an international audience of more than 380 million television households in 150 countries and territories throughout the world.
In addition, the company also does their own radio-programing and has hundreds of radio affiliates around the world; they run a newspaper, the National Catholic Register; and they also run an online news agency, the Catholic News Agency, in multiple languages.
While EWTN CEO Michael Warsaw is a consultor for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, the network has received sharp and widespread backlash in recent years for programming critical of Pope Francis, for enmeshing faith and politics, and for apparently presenting their editorial stance as the only true interpretation of the Catholic faith.
Speaking to fellow Jesuits during his visit to Slovakia in September 2021, Pope Francis said that Catholic media critical of the pope do “the devil’s work.”
Asked by a Jesuit how he handles critics who look at him and his decisions with suspicion, Pope Francis made reference to “a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.”
Although he did not specifically mention which Catholic television network he was referring to, many interpreted the remark as a jab at EWTN given its size and international footprint.
In his remarks, the pope said that “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
Later that year, EWTN had come under fire from Cardinal Sean O’Malley from Boston, saying both social media and the EWTN network have created a distorted image of Pope Francis in the United States.
Speaking in an interview with Argentine newspaper La Nacion, O’Malley said the United States Bishops’ Conference is polarized, noting that “There are also some bishops who are linked to a more conservative policy, and the Holy Father himself has commented on the situation of the EWTN television (a large American Catholic network), where many times the commentators are very critical of the Holy Father, at least of his ideas.”
British Vatican journalist Christopher Lamb in his book, The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Church, cited sources who said that Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the US, had expressed his concern to Warsaw over EWTN’s coverage of Pope Francis. In the book, Warsaw admitted to meeting with Pierre about EWTN, but did not disclose what was discussed.
In his speech Wednesday, Parolin, who was asked by EWTN to speak on the theme of, “The truth is what distinguishes information from communication,” said truth is a “crucial theme” for communications professionals.
“It is an issue which, in these past years, has become ever more prominent in public debate due to both the spread of the phenomenon of fake news as well as of a type of communication often based on a distorted, or false, representation of the other,” he said.
This, Parolin said, is “a type of fanaticism grounded in the conviction that the truth that one believes is so absolute as to legitimize the destruction of another person, what communication experts term ‘character assassination.’”
When this tactic is employed, he said, it is done in order to “impose one’s own view of truth upon everyone else.”
Quoting Pope Saint John Paul II’s message for the 35th World Day for Peace, Parolin said that even when the truth is reached, “it can never be imposed. Much less, therefore, can one’s own distorted representation of truth be imposed.”
For both Christians and communications professionals, the perception of truth “is not limited to a horizontal perspective, related merely to our social lives. There is a much more profound dimension,” which is Jesus Christ, he said.
Quoting Mother Angelica, Parolin said that “It is our duty to speak the truth, and each person can either assume or not assume this duty. But the truth must above all be within us”.”
“We should always keep this statement in mind and have the same awareness: the truth does not belong to us – we serve the truth. And we can serve it only in love and in unity,” he said, adding, “the truth is in us if we are humble and have the courage to know how to welcome it, even if at times it does not present itself as we might expect.”
Parolin recalled a speech given by Pope Francis to members of the Catholic Press Association in June 2020, in which the pontiff invited American Catholic media outlets to work for communion “in an age marked by conflicts and polarization from which the Catholic community itself is not immune.”
“A large international news network, like EWTN,” he said, “is therefore called to promote understanding between people, dialogue between communities and the search for places and opportunities that create contact between distant worlds, sometimes in conflict with each other.”
He said that means of communication, especially when they emphasize their Catholic identity, “must strive not to spread hate, but rather, to promote a non-hostile communication.”
“The truth, and the values deriving from it, must be fearlessly upheld,” Parolin said, insisting that the proclamation of the truth should always be done in “a merciful style by those who patiently listen to the women and men of our time.”
Noting that the world “communication” contains the root-word “communion,” Parolin said communion “is in the DNA of communication and is fundamentally its greatest aspiration.”
“A communication that instead fans the flames of polarization, or builds walls instead of breaking them down, betrays its very nature,” he said, adding, “The proclamation of the truth cannot be separated from the exercise of charity.”
Parolin closed his address voicing hope that each of EWTN’s viewers or readers would “recognize EWTN as a work of God at the service of the truth, ecclesial communion, and the good of humanity.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen