Archbishop Chaput Defends EWTN Instead of the Pope

In his First Things article A Little Wisdom From Bernard, archbishop emeritus Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap. defends EWTN and attacks the Roman Pontiff, while pretending that this is wisdom from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. The article begins:

“Bernard of Clairvaux, the great 12th-century saint and Doctor of the Church who renewed the Western monastic tradition, once warned that ‘The most grievous danger for any pope lies in the fact that, encompassed as he is by flatterers, he never hears the truth about his own person and ends by not wishing to hear it.’ Every pontificate has its courtiers. The current one is no exception; quite the opposite.”

That is a reprehensible misuse of the words of a Saint and Doctor in order to attack the Roman Pontiff and his defenders. Calling those who agreed with the Pope’s criticism of EWTN “courtiers” is absurd and false. They receive no benefits and are likely not even noticed by the Roman Pontiff for their comments in his favor. They are not courting favor, nor even flattering the Vicar of Christ.

Chaput, by the way, is a well-known and well-respected conservative (now retired) archbishop, and Pope Francis is of a more liberal point of view. But such differences do not justify a Bishop, retired or not, speaking of any Pope in the way that Chaput does in this article.

For one, Chaput does not identify any substantial error by Pope Francis on doctrine or discipline. He only objects to his criticism of EWTN, and to those who supposedly are “flatterers” and “courtiers” of the Pope for agreeing with him. Chaput is upset that Francis criticized (we believe) the network, and that others took his side. Chaput is a former board member of EWTN.

Pope Francis: “There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope,” said Francis. “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.”

Chaput: “It’s surprising to hear any pope be so publicly and personally sensitive to perceived ill will from a few commentators at a modest network (by secular standards) based on another continent.”

The same can be said of archbishop Chaput in his article. Why is he so “publicly and personally sensitive to perceived ill will from a few commentators” on the subject of “a modest network (by secular standards) based on another continent”? He was a board member, and he sees much good there. Granted. He complements Mother Angelica. How is that relevant? Due to ill health, she could no longer participate at any level at EWTN as of early 2002. She had nothing to do with the reasons for criticizing the network, which has clearly turned against the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis, elected in 2013, at least in some of its programming.

Notice the humility of Pope Francis, in saying, like King David, that he deserves “attacks and insults”. [See 2 Samuel 16:5-10 and 19:19:23 quoted below]

[2 Samuel]
{16:5} Then king David went as far as Bahurim. And behold, a man from the kindred of the house of Saul, named Shimei, the son of Gera, went out from there. And going out, he continued on, and he was cursing,
{16:6} and throwing stones against David and against all the servants of king David. And all the people and all the warriors were traveling to the right and to the left sides of the king.
{16:7} And so, as he was cursing the king, Shimei said: “Go away, go away, you man of blood, and you man of Belial!
{16:8} The Lord has repaid you for all the blood of the house of Saul. For you have usurped the kingdom in place of him. And so, the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of Absalom, your son. And behold, your evils press close upon you, because you are a man of blood.”
{16:9} Then Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, said to the king: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go and cut off his head.”
{16:10} And the king said: “What is it to me and to all of you, O sons of Zeruiah? Permit him, so that he may curse. For the Lord has commanded him to curse David. And who is the one who would dare to say, ‘Why has he done so?’ ”

{19:19} said to him: “May you not impute to me, my lord, the iniquity, nor call to mind the injuries, of your servant in the day that you, my lord the king, departed from Jerusalem. And may you not store it up in your heart, O king.
{19:20} For as your servant, I acknowledge my sin. And for this reason, today, I arrive as the first from all the house of Joseph, and I descend to meet my lord the king.”
{19:21} Yet truly, Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, responding, said, “Should not Shimei, because of these words, be killed, since he cursed the Christ of the Lord?”
{19:22} And David said: “What is it to me and to all of you, O sons of Zeruiah? Why are you acting toward me this day like Satan? Why should any man be put to death on this day in Israel? Or do you not know that today I have been made king over Israel?”
{19:23} And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And he swore to him.

So we see from the above example from Sacred Scripture that Pope Francis acts like David, humbly accepting insults, but those who attack the Church, especially by attacking Popes or Councils, behave like the devil.

According to the National Catholic Register: “The archbishop [Chaput] also recently stepped down from the Board of Governors of EWTN after 25 years of service, including 10 years of service as Vice Chairman. He frequently appeared with Mother Angelica on EWTN throughout the years….” The article is on an award he received from EWTN for his years of service there.

Archbishop Chaput was on the Board at EWTN during the entire time that the network changed from supporting the Roman Pontiff under Mother Anglica, a saintly nun if not (yet) a Saint, to making regular attacks on Pope Francis, such as in the show “The World Over” by Raymond Arroyo. So the criticism of EWTN by Pope Francis falls partly on the shoulders of archbishop Chaput. He bears responsibility, partially, for the way that Arroyo treats Pope Francis — like a politician from an opposing party, rather than as the Vicar of Christ. Arroyo has used his show to give repeatedly schismatic Bishop Athanasius Schneider a platform to reach EWTN viewers. Why should an auxiliary Bishop from Astana, Kazakhstan be given such a broad reach to Catholics around the world? Is it not only because he attacks the Pope and defends the papal accusers?

But Chaput was also and still is in retirement a member of another “board”, the Apostolic College, whose Head is the Roman Pontiff. It is bizarre to read his article, defending EWTN based on its past good work, ignoring the network’s attacks on the Pope, and then himself treating the Roman Pontiff with such, what are the words I’m looking for? Whatever is the opposite of flatterers and courtiers. If it is wrong to flatter the Pope and court his favor — which I don’t believe is a correct assessment of those who criticize EWTN and support the Pope’s (perceived) comments against it — then is it not also wrong to malign the Roman Pontiff, especially for an off-the-cuff (and supportable) remark? Chaput has as his first duty to be in communion with the body of Bishops and their Head, the Roman Pontiff, who is one Head with Christ over the one Church. Taking sides with EWTN and against the Pope, and maligning those who supported the Pope by calling them flatterers and courtiers, is conduct unbecoming of a successor to the Apostles and a faithful Catholic.

Chaput says: “EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, whom Ivereigh seems to regard as a special tool of the diabolos, does not pose quite the same fearsome threat to the Church as, say, China’s Xi Jinping. Or significant figures in America’s current leadership.”

Austen Ivereigh’s article in America magazine is here. He asserts: “over the past eight years, a powerful U.S.-based media conglomerate has used its formidable wealth and power to turn a large portion of the people of God against Rome and its current occupant. And, for good measure, against key reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”

Consider the two quotes above. Chaput compares Raymond Arroyo to the brutal dictator running China, apparently as some type of defense of the former. Arroyo is not as bad as Xi? What a bizarre defense of Arroyo! And Chaput is defending him for what Ivereigh describes well, undermining the Faith by attacking the Pope and the recent Ecumenical Council. That criticism is easily supportable. Arroyo’s show has given platforms to schismatic bishops Athanasius Schneider and Carlo Vigano, as well as to various lesser critics of the Pope.

Then Chaput says that Arroyo is also not as bad as some American politicians. How is that a complement? Does Chaput secretly agree with Ivereigh? Seriously. How bad do you have to be as a host of a Catholic show on a Catholic TV network for a Bishop from the board of directors of that network to defend you by saying you are not as bad as China’s brutal dictator and also not as bad as (current) political leaders in the U.S.?

Pope Francis and Ivereigh are clearly right to criticize EWTN. Though perhaps the Pope did not mean to compare EWTN to the work of the devil. He was speaking in the broader sense of those who are accusers of the Church and Her Roman Pontiffs, for they imitate the ancient and wicked accuser of Christ. Here’s a nice article from Dave Armstrong on that point.

Chaput: “Moreover, not all criticism in a family is ill-intended or disloyal or inaccurate. Some anger, even anger at legitimate authority, is righteous.”

So then why doesn’t that above comment apply to EWTN? How can those words apply so as to allow attacks on Pope Francis and Vatican II, which have the help of the Holy Spirit in their work? For “it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission.” [Donum Veritatis 24]. And what is the basis for the inference of Chaput that he or others are righteous in their anger at legitimate authority in the Church?

This ridiculous article by archbishop Chaput ends with a number of comments, including this one:

Chaput: “No pontificate is well served when its promoters show contempt and belligerence toward perceived enemies. That kind of flackery simply produces more, and even more determined, critics who do indeed elide into enemies. One can hope that Pope Francis understands this.”

The above comment simply does not match the situation. Pope Francis made a valid criticism of EWTN. He even stated that he has criticized them directly — and clearly this did not result in a substantial change of behavior. What kind of Catholic TV network does not accept direct correction from the Roman Pontiff? As for those who defend the comment of Pope Francis, how is that “contempt and belligerence toward perceived enemies”? They simply want a Catholic network and its Catholic shows and hosts to follow Perennial Catholic Teaching on the Roman Pontiff!

Pope Francis was right in his comment. Here it is again: “There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope,” said Francis. “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.”

So it is “attacks and insults” directed at “the Church” which “does not deserve them”
(because She is one, holy, universal, apostolic and indefectible) which are the work of the devil. But in so far as any particular host or guest on EWTN does attack the Church, such particulars are the work of the devil — not the overall work of EWTN, which still does much good. But the errors now found at EWTN are deserving of correction.

And Chaput is wrong to take the side of EWTN instead of the side of the Church, especially when some of the work of EWTN is clearly schismatic, such as giving a platform to schismatic Bishops Vigano and Schneider, and in speaking ill of Pope Francis, while also undermining Vatican II. At some point the conservative and generally faithful EWTN fell into the error of preferring conservatism over Catholicism, at least in some of its hosts and shows. And Chaput sinned by failing to correct those errors. He had the authority to make corrections and he was negligent in failing to do so. The criticisms of EWTN by the Roman Pontiff fall partly on him, and so he responds more like a corporate board member than a successor of the Apostles. I do not relish criticizing him, as archbishop Chaput did much good as an active bishop in the Church. But should I really imitate him and take the side of a TV network over the side of the Vicar of Christ? God forbid.

A little wisdom from Saint John Henry Newman on the Roman Pontiff.

Saint Newman, 1801-1890: “I have said that, like St. Peter, he is the Vicar of his Lord. He can judge, and he can acquit; he can pardon, and he can condemn; he can command and he can permit; he can forbid, and he can punish. He has a Supreme jurisdiction over the people of God. He can stop the ordinary course of sacramental mercies; he can excommunicate from the ordinary grace of redemption; and he can remove again the ban which he has inflicted. It is the rule of Christ’s providence, that what His Vicar does in severity or in mercy upon earth, He Himself confirms in heaven.

“And in saying all this I have said enough for my purpose, because that purpose is to define our obligations to him. That is the point on which our Bishop has fixed our attention; “our obligations to the Holy See;” and what need I say more to measure our own duty to it and to him who sits in it, than to say that in his administration of Christ’s kingdom, in his religious acts, we must never oppose his will, or dispute his word, or criticize his policy, or shrink from his side? There are kings of the earth who have despotic authority, which their subjects obey indeed but disown in their hearts; but we must never murmur at that absolute rule which the Sovereign Pontiff has over us, because it is given to him by Christ, and, in obeying him, we are obeying his Lord. We must never suffer ourselves to doubt, that, in his government of the Church, he is guided by an intelligence more than human. His yoke is the yoke of Christ, he has the responsibility of his own acts, not we; and to his Lord must he render account, not to us. Even in secular matters it is ever safe to be on his side, dangerous to be on the side of his enemies.

“Our duty is — not indeed to mix up Christ’s Vicar with this or that party of men, because he in his high station is above all parties — but to look at his formal deeds, and to follow him whither he goeth, and never to desert him, however we may be tried, but to defend him at all hazards, and against all comers, as a son would a father, and as a wife a husband, knowing that his cause is the cause of God. And so, as regards his successors, if we live to see them; it is our duty to give them in like manner our dutiful allegiance and our unfeigned service, and to follow them also whithersoever they go, having that same confidence that each in his turn and in his own day will do God’s work and will, which we have felt in their predecessors, now taken away to their eternal reward.” [Newman, Sermon 15: “The Pope and the Revolution,” preached in 1866 at the Birmingham Oratory. From: Sermons Preached on Various Occasions]

Saint Newman: “I say with [Saint Robert] Cardinal Bellarmine whether the Pope be infallible or not in any pronouncement, anyhow he is to be obeyed. No good can come from disobedience. His facts and his warnings may be all wrong; his deliberations may have been biased. He may have been misled. Imperiousness and craft, tyranny and cruelty, may be patent in the conduct of his advisers and instruments. But when he speaks formally and authoritatively he speaks as our Lord would have him speak, and all those imperfections and sins of individuals are overruled for that result which our Lord intends (just as the action of the wicked and of enemies to the Church are overruled) and therefore the Pope’s word stands, and a blessing goes with obedience to it, and no blessing with disobedience.” [Newman, Letter to Lady Simeon, 10 November 1867]

And let’s end this article with a little real wisdom from Bernard of Clairvaux.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor, 1090-1153, writing to Pope Innocent II:
“It is fitting that every danger and scandal of the kingdom of God be referred to your Apostolate and especially these which touch upon the faith. For I regard it worthy that there, above all, dangers to the faith are mended, where one cannot think the faith is lacking. For to what other See was it ever said: ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith not fail?’ [Lk 22:32]” (Epistle 190 ad Innocentium)

Pope Leo XIII, in Satis Cognitum 15, quotes Saint Bernard as follows:
“St. Bernard [of Clairvaux] writes as follows to Pope Eugenius [Pope Eugene III]: ‘Who art thou? The great priest — the high priest. Thou art the Prince of Bishops and the heir of the Apostles…. Thou art he to whom the keys were given. There are, it is true, other gatekeepers of heaven and to pastors of flocks, but thou are so much the more glorious as thou hast inherited a different and more glorious name than all the rest. They have flocks consigned to them, one to each; to thee all the flocks are confided as one flock to one shepherd, and not alone the sheep, but the shepherds. You ask how I prove this? From the words of the Lord. To which — I do not say — of the Bishops, but even of the Apostles have all the sheep been so absolutely and unreservedly committed? If thou lovest me, Peter, feed my sheep. Which sheep? Of this or that country, or kingdom? My sheep, He says: to whom therefore is it not evident that he does not designate some, but all? We can make no exception where no distinction is made’ (De Consideratione, lib. ii., cap. 8).”

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

This entry was posted in commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Archbishop Chaput Defends EWTN Instead of the Pope

  1. Barbara Lonnquist says:

    Thank you very much for this! I love St Bernard and was distressed to see him used so. I have followed Abp Chaput’s writings and this last seems extraordinary in its lively turns of phrase (“seasoned with snark” or “hard to read critics [of EWTN] withou sniffing that peculiar cologne of false piety” etc — one wonder how much is the product of an “ecrivain fantome?”

Comments are closed.