“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

December 10, 2009

Interesting Comments From a Protestant Who Listens to Catholic Radio

I ran across this post today from an Evangelical Protestant commentator named Michael Spencer. He described how he spent the better part of a day recently listening to and thinking about Catholic radio and the greater and lesser degrees of effectiveness of the men and women who host shows on Catholic radio networks like EWTN.

Though I don't agree with all his observations (in response to one particular remark, for example, I'd assert that Scott Hahn is every bit the "intellectual heavy-weight Protestants make him out to be"), I found myself agreeing with some and, on a few points, agreeing wholeheartedly.

But even in the areas where I do not agree with Mr. Spencer, I can surely sympathize with his situation as a Protestant who admits to being "very open to what Catholicism has to say," and I can see how he might come to some of the conclusions he reaches, even if I, a Catholic, might disagree with those conclusions.

One reason for my sympathy is that so much of the radio medium is really predicated on the Latin maxim: de gustibus non disputandum est, which could be somewhat loosely translated as "there is no use in arguing in matters of taste." Another way to say it: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

His comments interested me in part because I myself host a Catholic radio call-in show called "Open Line" (Thursdays at 3:00 pm ET on EWTN Radio), so, I'm naturally curious to know what listeners think about such programming, especially my non-Catholic listeners. I was also fascinated by the fact that some of Mr. Spencer's Catholic friends actually discouraged him from listening to Catholic radio, saying it presented a "distorted" picture of the Catholic Church. I find that tidbit very telling indeed. It's not anything new, of course, but it says a lot about just how widely divergent some Catholics are when it comes to what they think constitutes an accurate portrayal of "The Catholic Church."

Not knowing exactly what his Catholic friends may have meant by that warning, I can only conjecture. But I've heard that same claim before about EWTN-esque Catholic radio being "distorted," and I personally don't buy it. True, I play a very minor role in the larger Catholic radio enterprise, so I am biased, but I really believe that networks like EWTN are, far from distorting Catholicism, actually projecting the Catholic Church, at least in its American, Latin American, and European experience, as it really is, and has been, and should be, and could be. Of course, it goes without saying that there is far, far more to the Catholic Church culturally than its expression within an American or European context, but theologically, I would argue, what EWTN strives to purvey is historic, orthodox Catholicism. I know that for a fact.

The problem, as I see it, is that there has been so much genuine distortion within the American Catholic experience over the past 50 years or so, with plenty of obscuring and redefining and outright denying of orthodox Catholic teaching and piety, that now, after looking through badly scratched lenses (or listening through ears badly clogged with the earwax of dissent and confusion), many today who are finally coming into contact with real Catholicism find, at least at first perhaps, that their eyes and ears hurt a bit from the experience.

But then, that's just me. I'd be curious to know what you think, especially those of you who listen to Catholic radio.


  1. "It's just that there's been so much genuine distortion within the American Catholic experience over the past 50 years or so, with plenty of obscuring and redefining and denying of authentic Catholic teaching and piety, that now, after looking through badly scratched lenses (or listening through ears badly clogged with the earwax of dissent and confusion), many today who are finally coming into contact with real Catholicism find, at least at first perhaps, that their eyes and ears hurt a bit from the experience."

    You hit the nail right on the head, brother. When I tell people I'm Catholic they just don't seem to...understand it. I'm from Massachusetts where everyone is baptized a Catholic as a baby then promptly becomes pro-life (around kindergarten age) or falls in love with the romance of homosexuality (getting to "stand up for" a minority) around age 12. I shouldn't have to say "I'm a PRACTICING Catholic." I should be able to just say I'm Catholic and have that mean what it literally means.

  2. As a lifelong Lutheran, I found Catholic radio and EWTN to be very important in my spiritual journey to become Catholic in 2000. In addition to my reading of Scripture, the Catechism and spiritual direction from my priest, Catholic communications helped me familiarize myself with theology and tradition. I learned much about Pope John Paul II's interpretation of Catholic tradition that touched my mind and heart. I called in to Catholic Answers Live a few times and received great personal encouragement in my spiritual search.

    My impression then is the same as it is today--that Catholic radio & TV overall do a good job in familiarizing the non-Catholic world with the Church, while pointing the searcher to other resources and personal spiritual direction.

    Of course, there were/are Catholic programs that I don't appreciate. But as you pointed out, sometimes that's a matter of taste. Someone once said, "You can be the best strawberry ice cream in the world, and some people just won't like strawberry ice cream."

    Catholic radio, particularly Catholic Answers Live, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid and Rosalind Moss--and Catholic TV, particularly Marcus Grodi and Father Benedict Groeschel, were a great help to me, providing accurate information, thoughts for meditation and personal encouragement in my journey home to Rome.

    It pleased God to welcome me into the Church on the Protestant festival of the Reformation, which was also the Feast of St. Jude in 2000. I thank Mary and the Saints for their interecession, and God for guiding me through Scripture, spiritual direction and Catholic communications. I thank God every day for the joy of being a Catholic, His greatest gift to me.

  3. I don't think Catholic Radio distorts Catholic Truth...I do know that we Catholics speak in a different language than many people. We "pray" to saints - the short hand for - we ask the saints to intercede for us. We love Our Church and Our Christ and Our Blessed Mother...interestingly enough, there are those Catholics who do not listen to Catholic Radio because we do love the above.

    A Benedictine nun thought Mother Angelica was mean...until she started actually listening to her instead of what others thought of Mother Angelica.

    The only "problem" with listening to Catholic Radio, watching Catholic t.v., reading Catholic blogs/facebooks/twitter, going to Mass; actually living as a Catholic is that it is an ALL time consuming...praise be to God!

  4. The Catholic radio I've listened to in the last four years has been filled with more of God's truth through the reality of faithful Catholic teaching than the drivel and outright disssent I've heard in churches, youth groups, religious education conferences, and secular media for the 38 other years of my life. It was the true teachings of the Church as disseminated through Catholic radio such as Catholic Answers, EWTN, etc. that has lit a spark in me. I crave nothing but God's truth now! To all those in Catholic media who are faithful to the Magisterium, I say "THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!" Keep up the good work!

  5. I became Catholic in 2007 in large part due to the influence of Catholic radio. Or more precisely, due to podcasts of Catholic programs, since there is no Catholic station in Atlanta. Key programs for me were Open Line and Catholic Answers Live.

    I did have a fear that what I heard on the radio wouldn't match what I'd find in RCIA class. But I was pleasantly surprised that real-life, day-to-day, in-the-pew Catholicism was exactly what I envisioned after hearing Catholic radio.

    In my opinion, only those who dissent from official Church teaching would claim that Catholic radio presents a "distorted" picture. What I've heard on Catholic radio has been faithful Catholic teaching.

  6. My decision to grow up out of my Protestant roots and to become Catholic (in RCIA right now) happened before I was a regular listener to the programming on EWTN. Listening to EWTN on a regular basis has been only edifying and has solidified my decision to become Catholic. Your program in particular has been exceedingly helpful in that regard. I've learned much and continue to learn from what I hear on the program. More than that, the examples set by the hosts shows me (even more than it tells me) that I'm joining a family that is receiving me with open arms.

    Are there some programs I prefer more than others? Certainly. But I don't think that I've ever been presented anything that wasn't in agreement with what is presented in the Catechism. I read the same blog post to which you refer (even commented on it), and it sounds like his sampling of Catholic radio may have been skewed.

    I was listening to a priest speak yesterday (cannot remember now who it was), but he was talking about how seminarians are trained and well-studied in philosophy because it's so foundational in terms of how we understand things and how we process the information we receive. I've read Michael's blog for awhile now and I just have to wonder if it's not the radio hosts or the teaching presented on EWTN that he has a problem with, so much as that it doesn't fit within his philosophical framework. No doubt it's more complex than that, but it struck a chord when I heard it and I wondered if it might be applicable.

    I wish nothing but God's continued blessings for EWTN and all those affiliated. Thank you, Patrick, for doing what you do. I am one of many who is the better for it.

  7. Some are "Catholics" only because they are baptized as Catholics. Compare their beliefs and the teachings we hear either on Catholic radio or EWTN and find out which is more in line with the Magisterium and you will see that Catholic radio and EWTN convey true Catholic Church teachings. Catholic radio and EWTN made me understand Church teachings. The opinions of "Catholic" friends of the Catholic church only matter if these opinions agree with what the Church teaches.

  8. As one of those "Separated Brethern" who posted on Michael Spensers blog you are referring to, I just want to add my two cents here. I enjoy you Patrick. You are one of the good guys. While Rome hasn't lured me across the Tiber, I must confess, Catholic radio has the best programming available on the net and airwaves...bar none. I must admit I see some of the same mistakes being made that we made in with the far right and Christian Coalition days. It makes me uneasy when I see politics overshadowing our faith.
    That being said, there are principles that we must stand up for and I thank the Catholic church for leading the way on the issues of life and justice.
    God bless you in your work.

  9. One important factor to point out, too, Patrick, is the natural enlightenment of the mind given to us by the Holy Spirit. And from my experience, and I think these commenters will agree, a person doesn't seem to really receive this unless he give up his will to God.

    It was a beautiful dance of God's grace, Catholic Radio, and our willing participation (more and more through the years) that brought both my husband and me to a deeper place in our faith, and brought enlightenment to our minds. And it continues to do so.

    I do believe that an ESSENTIAL ingredient in this is total submission to God's Will, which is should seem obvious to any believer, but is truly DIFFICULT at first, especially in our hedonistic and individualistic culture!

  10. I second all of the above - I will be received into the church tomorrow by my parish priest and two others from our parish - not waiting till Easter because of my health - but it was Catholic Radio and the Virgin of Guadalupe that brought me home - I never ever thought I could fall in love with a church but since I have, I know that this is the one that belongs to Christ and it was in large part the teaching and conversation on EWTN that helped in opening my ears and heart and mind....so I don't think there is any distortion except in the minds of those who don't agree with the church's teaching, and want to walk their own way, without having to sacrifice their convenience to the demands of their faith...

  11. I came back to the Church via EWTN, specifically by tuning into Mother Angelica. About 4 years later, I was helping with a local Catholic radio fund raiser and I was stunned by number of "Catholics" (and clergy) concerned that we would be running nothing but EWTN programming. The issue being that it only served a certain type of Catholic. (What? The kind that follows Church teaching?!) When the board decided they wouldn't air Mother Angelica's show because it was "divisive", I decided to find another way to help fight the good fight!

  12. I must confess I'm not a big fan of Michael Spencer. Somehow his blog caught on (even having a highly speculative and uninformed piece about the future of Christianity run online in the Christian Science Monitor), but I just don't think he's all that.

    The deal is, he's an Southern Baptist minister but his wife became Catholic a couple years ago, and it drives him batty. And he's got a real existential issue with Scott Hahn; probably because, deep down, Hahn's threatening to him. He's a fiercely smart, well-published former Protestant. Michael can't keep up with him. (Neither could most of us.)

  13. I am a faithful and orthodox Catholic and I have no idea what the protestant fellow said about Catholic radio, but here's my 2 cents.

    I find much of it incredibly boring. If I have to hear one more person saying "My priest said something wrong once" I will want to tear out my hair. I don't doubt that some priests say some things wrong from time to time. But it seems like these comments make up well over 60-70% percent of the programming. Good grief. Is there nothing else worth talking about than correcting these (often quite trivial) matters?

    I would love to hear more programming about inspiring and creative Catholics who live their faith, interviews with Catholic artists, philosophers, novelists, those involved in caring for the poor in Catholic settings, and programs discussing the Catholic intellectual tradition as it relates to the questions of our day.

    There are dozens of interesting acadmic conferences taking place around the country every year - Why not record and transmit some of these? A few little interviews at those conferences would not cost much, but would provide a wonderful service to listeners.

  14. Patrick, I enjoy listening to EWTN Catholic radio, but I must say that its view of the Church is just one slice of the big Catholic pie. And I don’t mean that in a relativist, everything-is-right kind of way. I mean that different Catholics have different needs at different stages in their spiritual journeys, and EWTN serves a particular need. I wouldn’t say it necessarily distorts Catholicism, but I would say that it is somewhat unbalanced in its programming and is not for everyone.

    EWTN radio is heavy on apologetics, liturgy critique, and pro-life programming, and lighter on programming dealing with personal prayer, relationships, spirituality, and social justice. I know and appreciate the value of apologetics, liturgy, and pro-life programming, but there is more to the Catholic faith than these issues, as most people know. EWTN is activist radio in a certain sense, focused more on the evangelization of its listeners rather than on their ongoing conversion. It makes the assumption that its listeners are in error and need to be corrected.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing. In some ways, EWTN is the gadfly of the Catholic Church, rather than “every Catholic’s radio station.” But it also seems that EWTN takes a certain pride in being “true Catholicism,” a pride that I think is unhealthy and could be diabolical. EWTN listeners risk becoming a clique when they feel themselves superior to “cafeteria catholics,” “liberal catholics,” or whatever the insult of the day happens to be. People should not be judged to be inferior, evil or unintelligent just because they are ignorant of certain doctrinal truths, or just because they disagree with Catholic teaching. This shows up mostly in the voices and inflections of the callers, but it unfortunately surfaces in some of the hosts as well. It is usually subtle, but it is often tinged with arrogance. Sometimes EWTN sounds like me when I’m angry and taking it out on my children, rather than holding them close to take in their love and affection.

    EWTN often sounds more like the Catholic Complaint Network than the Eternal Word Network. How about a show where people call in and share how they’ve encountered the divine in their lives? With apologies to Marcus Grodi, are the only interesting stories in Catholicism those of converts?

    I am not advocating total acceptance of everyone’s positions, a destructive relativism that seeks to avoid contradicting anyone. I whole-heartedly believe in standing up for pro-life positions, in explaining the Faith in clear terms to those who want to know, and in working toward more effective liturgies. What I lament are the methods and attitudes I hear occasionally on Catholic radio, and the lack of balance in the programming.

    I don’t mean for this to be a rant against EWTN. If anything, EWTN merely shows the Roman side of Roman Catholicism--the side that likes to organize, classify and label. Human beings need organization, order and meaning. We are, after all, rational beings. The Romans were very good at putting things in order. But, like anything, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. I speak from experience. I am often guilty of the same shortcomings I see in EWTN. I can live in my head too much and disregard feelings and relationships. When the organization, the institution, and the intellectual is overemphasized, something is lost. In short, EWTN could be more pastoral.

    To Be Continued...

  15. Continued...

    The USCCB is beginning to do a good job of providing Catholic content that I think is more balanced and helpful to today’s Catholic. Shows like Catholic Radio Weekly, Catholic Bookmarks and American Catholic Radio reach Catholics in a different way than EWTN does. Rather than take a militantly evangelical approach, the USCCB radio programs gently invite the listener into Catholicism. It’s a different style of spreading the gospel, and one that I think EWTN could learn from.

    Another show that I recommend with all my heart is Tom Curran’s Sound Insights at MyCatholicFaith.org. You can hear the depth of his faith in every word he speaks, and when he prays you know you are listening to a man who spends a lot of time with the Lord.

    Patrick, you do a fine job on EWTN, and I like your book Search and Rescue. I admire anyone who would try to answer difficult questions like you, Jimmy Akin, Tim Staples and the other hosts do. I love listening to Fr. Benedict Groeschel and Fr. Thomas Dubay, but I can’t listen to Fr. John Corapi--which I suppose is just a matter of taste. EWTN does some wonderful things and has the potential to do much more. Contrary to what some may think, it is possible to adapt programming to reach a broader Catholic audience without sacrificing orthodoxy. It’s simply a matter of re-packaging the box, not changing the contents. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Please pray for me, that I may be a better bearer of Christ the Good News, as I pray for you.

    Nick Senger

  16. Patrick, I agree wholeheartedly with your take on Catholic Radio. Not only does Catholic Radio (EWTN specifically) strive to purvey historic, orthodox Catholicism; what is heard can be backed up with documented facts, i.e. the Church Fathers and Church documents.

    EWTN television was my path back to the Church. As a poorly catechized convert in 1985, I never knew or understood the depth and richness of my Faith. As a result I did not even practice my Faith "minimally", although I thought I did. It is no surprise I fell away - for about 5 years.

    After stumbling across EWTN back in 2001, I was glued to the TV for the remainder of the day. I knew immediately I had to return to the Faith, my husband did as well. After a period of time, I realized I needed to make my "first confession". My example led my sister, also a poorly catechized convert to return to the Church. My nieces then received First Penance and First Holy Communion. My brother-in-law, a staunch atheist, entered RCIA and entered the Church. Jesus worked all this out from one EWTN viewer/listener.

    To this day, my primary source of television and radio is EWTN. Without the teaching I've received from EWTN, I'm not sure I would recognize good teaching from bad. I don't think I would be grounded in reality.

    My take on those who call into the live shows, whether Catholic or Protestant is simple...those who are humble and earnestly seeking Truth are open to hear what the Church teaches, those who are arrogant and self righteous are argumentative and combative.

    I am so grateful to everyone at EWTN. I think Mother Angelica is a saint. God bless you Patrick and everyone involved in making EWTN happen!

  17. I drive a lot for work, so I listen to Catholic Radio quite often (when I can get reception). I love several of the shows, however I do think that EWTN radio is to apologetics heavy. Gasp! Did I just tell an apologist that? But really, after years of listening to it I am ready for more. It seems that apologetics is just skimming the surface. Oh, and Mass, the Rosary, etc. are wonderful. My family and I had to attend Mass on TV on Dec. 8th the Church was closed due to weather and I am sure that others attend Mass on the radio rather often. However, it seems every time I turn on the radio I hear the rosary, divine mercy chaplet, Holy Mass, chaplet of saint so in so, etc. I do think there needs to be a better balance. That being said, what a blessing Catholic Radio has been! Thank you to all who help make it possible!

  18. If you'll allow this "old" Protestant a few words again here I'd like to address a couple of things. To Iranaeus, Michael Spenser is honest in his research. He is fed up with current Protestants, especially Evangelicals. I agree with him. I think we have lost our focus on Christ Jesus and the cross and sin. Yes, he's Southern Baptist but he's very reformed Lutheran slanted. He's hard to nail down. He is a truth seeker and that's what I like about him. Don't sell him short. He has one of the largest followings on the net and has the ear of lots of people. Pray for him right now as he is having health issues.
    Secondly, Bullwinkle, I like what you said regarding the need for more variety on EWTN. I agree, I think they do. But who am I? Just a lowly Protestant. I've heard Catholics make fun of us Protestants for having so many different denominations. I'm not so sure that the Catholics have the same problem. Sure you the one Magisterium, but when it's all said and done you have as much variety of interpretations of what the Magisterium and the Mother Church says as we Protestants have denominations. I just talk to my Catholic friends to see that.
    But on the whole, from the outside looking in, EWTN comes off to me as right wing politically to the point of walking hand in hand with Pat Robertson's old Moral Majority...(just listen to Raymond Arroyo's show)...theologically Thomistic with some Augustine thrown in and rather limited in overall influence on the general Catholic population. However that will probably change as more stations come on line. And I hope that happens.
    Finally, I've told my Protestant brethern that the Catholic church is the proverbial canary in the tunnel. The world seems to attack the Catholic church first. Whatever is done to the Catholic church will happen to us. And when the dust settles, I suspect the Catholic church will be the one that will rise from the dust. Probably quite a bit smaller, but meaner...in a good sense. But the American mega church will disappear and never rise. It's too dependent on earthly means of support. Take away the tax benefits and they will disappear or at best survive as house churches. My opinion, but mine never the less.
    So...thank you for giving me a voice. Thank you Patrick for being the gentleman you are. We have our diagreements, but you are a brother in Christ.

  19. Nick, I think you were referring to this network I just ran across. IT looks slick and well done. I can't vouch for content, but it looks pretty good. It's Catholic TV.com or http://www.catholictv.com/home.aspx
    IT's an alternative to EWTN

  20. RichnHim, You're right, CatholicTV out of Boston is another great source of Catholic content. Thanks for the reminder. They've also got iPod apps and podcasts.

  21. of course radio presents a "distorted picture", so does any group of public speakers.

    after all, most of the Catholics are not on radio, right? most of the Catholics in America probably also dont like drawing attention to their religion, rocking the boat, or otherwise doing things that you have to do to be up in public.

    and sadly, a lot of Catholics, worldwide, but especially her in the uSA, dont seem to even understand what their church teaches, so when they hear someone say it.. they dont recognize it.

  22. Who I am: I am a life-long, 24 year-old Catholic married for a few years to a Catholic theology grad student and with child #2 on the way.

    The good: I find that Catholic radio, movies, and TV generally speaking have wonderfully orthodox content and have a good place (ministry) in the world... I especially have respect for programming that has been fighting the fight for a while now, for just that reason.

    The bad: BUT these are incredibly boring for the most part because of their mode of presentation. EWTN's sets, graphics, and sense of timing are all behind other channels to a very large degree, so that it makes it seem even slower or 'out of touch' when one flips through the channels. Imagine what an HD camera could do, paired with a cessation of slow panning in and out on statutes. This technology gap in itself is enough to deter me most days, unless a particularly engaging speaker or particularly pertinent content like news can draw me in. We do not need to sacrifice orthodoxy, but we need to add catholicity of appeal.

    And the in between: Catholic radio, I feel, is much like other talk radio, in that it is easier to keep up with the technology and/or they do a better job of it. I find that some of the shows are good conversation starters in the car, and the apologetics shows keep us grounded and ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us. You, Patrick, phrase your answers particularly well and with an eye to prudence, which I appreciate.

    I will conclude by saying that this criticism might seem misplaced, because not many corporations sponsor Catholic TV and radio and therefore there is a large gap in the money available for updating technology. However, I would counter that the purpose of having Catholic TV and radio in the first place is to reach people in those mediums who otherwise would not be reached. Therefore, keeping up with the standards of the industry - so long as there is nothing inimical to the Faith or the sense of the faithful, which there does not seem to be in the modifications I suggest - seems a fitting requirement.

    May our Lady guide us all to holiness, and these programs to success as she defines it.

  23. My husband points out that this is not the fault or burden of EWTN in particular, although this is really the only programming to which my area is exposed on a regular basis. Rather, it would be nice for dioceses and the USCCB to take an interest in a more organized and coorperative way, as we see with some promise coming out of Boston and NY on a small (or satellite radio) scale. There is room for a non-updated EWTN or its relative, as it appeals to a solid audience of faithful or searching people; but there is real need for the type of programming I described in my last post in order to draw others in.

  24. I agree with you Patrick. My feeling is that EWTN does project the Church faithfully. If it weren't for EWTN radio and television I do not think that I could annoy my "cafeteria" Catholic family members as much as I do. Funny how some people can applaud you for having the intent to be faithful rather than actually living out that faith. Get what I mean?

  25. People in the United States have to get over the idea that the Church, and by extension, EWTN, should "represent" the way Catholics *are*. This goes along with the above post on that Young Catholics for Choice group who said the Church doesn't represent their beliefs!!! Of course the Church doesn't represent their beliefs! That's the point! Talk about making God in our image!!!