Friday, 28 June 2013

Journalists have a duty to ‘point the finger’ when there is scandal

Raymond Arroyo has given some of his best years to being an anchor on a Catholic television network. And when you meet him it becomes clear that he has made a choice to prioritise Catholic television when he could have had his pick of jobs on secular television, as anything from producer, director, presenter or even actor.  

Not many people realise that Arroyo, the lead anchor of EWTN News, is also a gifted actor, tried and tested during four gruelling years studying under Stella Adler at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. When I ask what it was like to be one of Adler’s pupils (others include Marlon Brando, Judy Garland and Robert De Niro), he sighs and says: “There were originally 30 people in the class, and at the end, there were four left, because you had to audition to get in each year, and Stella would routinely send people away. On a day-to-day basis, when you came into class to perform a scene, she would stop you and say: ‘Get out, you’re lying. Get out!’” 

Arroyo goes into role as Stella, wagging a sharp finger and talking in a flinty voice. “You’re not walking into a bar, you’re walking into an acting studio,” he mimics. “Stella sat on a type of throne, with a microphone and she critiqued you constantly as you rehearsed.”
Adler was trying to get the actor to identify how he was inserting himself into the character and failing to serve the play. “We were taught to serve the play,” Arroyo says. “It wasn’t about self-aggrandisement or an ego trip.” 

Arroyo reminisces that on one occasion when he was playing Biff Lowman in Death of a Salesman, Adler made him leave the stage and come back in seven times. He was only granted entry when he entered as if it was a real bedroom in the Lowman home. 

Did Adler believe that being a practising Catholic was an impediment to training as an actor? “Stella was very insistent that we understand religious faith and that religious practice was important because it shaped the soul of an actor,” Arroyo says. “Without a huge spiritual reservoir, you really can’t play the big roles like Hamlet or Lear.”

After studying so hard to be an actor, he graduated and got high-paying work. His favourite role was Richard III. But he eventually gave acting up for journalism. “I found the repetition of playing the same character for a long run to be very boring,” he explains. “Saying someone else’s lines for many weeks: it became like painting a wall. I’m probably a better director than actor, because I like to inhabit all the roles.”
Arroyo worked with the Associated Press and on the New York Observer. When I invite him to talk about journalism, he switches from being the chameleon actor who can jump into any role to being serious and reflective. With a grave expression he says: “I’m not a Catholic journalist.
I am a journalist who is Catholic. There is a big distinction. I have to write the truth.” 

What is the fall-out for a journalist who has PR and spin as their priority?  “When a journalist fudges the truth or suppresses it, they do it to their own detriment, because you are not only hurting yourself and your credibility, but you also hurt your audience as well.” 

Does this mean that Arroyo believes in telling the truth even if it seems he’s letting down the Catholic side? “People who claim to love the Church must ask if they are doing their best for the institution, because had the sex abuse crimes come to light sooner it would not have metastasised into the present situation. Part of the reason that it happened was because people did not want to be the truth-teller, the one pointing the finger.”

This mention of the sex abuse crisis prompts me to ask if we have really learned the lessons of the crisis. Do we still think it’s better to cover up crimes so that we preserve reputation at the expense of justice? “You don’t keep the house standing by protecting the bad,” Arroyo says. “Our job as journalists is to challenge people to defend their positions and to dig out the uncomfortable truths.”  

At the same time, Arroyo is quick to dismiss “hit journalism”, where “it has become a hobby to destroy people in the public sphere, a cottage industry which is not in the interest of the public good”.
We discuss a disquieting trend, the confusion following Pope Francis’s warnings about gossip. Many journalists are doing their best to report news honestly, but sometimes that news is bad, and journalists are being emotionally blackmailed with the claim that they are “gossiping”. Arroyo comments: “What Pope Francis is talking about is idle gossip that is not done with the good of the public in mind.” 

One high-profile example of a public figure who did not live up to expectations is Fr John Corapi, an American priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) who was removed from public ministry following allegations of misconduct, though he maintained his innocence. Many people converted or reverted to the  faith after hearing Fr Corapi’s stirring addresses on EWTN. But his followers were perplexed in 2011 when the superior general of SOLT accused Fr Corapi of a variety of offences. 

In the wake of Fr Corapi’s troubles, his followers protested his innocence and were angry at journalists who quoted the superior general’s words. EWTN promptly stopped broadcasting shows featuring Fr Corapi. I ask Arroyo if he knows why Fr Corapi’s supporters were so enraged.
“I knew Fr Corapi for years,” he says. “Many people, especially men, had a conversion because Corapi was a tough, blunt speaker who spoke the truth without using gilded language. That arrested their attention. Now, when you tell them that a man who converted them, who awakened their conscience, was not who they thought he was, you will naturally draw their anger. Their reaction is: ‘How dare you reveal this about a good man?’”

Arroyo is not content simply to write non-fiction. He is deep in the throes of writing a seven-book children’s series. He is very widely read, but the children’s authors who are his role models are G K Chesterton, Tolkien and J K Rowling.  

What does he think about Catholics who think that J K Rowling promotes witchcraft? “That’s an opinion, but in the works of J K Rowling there is a battle between good and evil, and Harry fights on the side of good, and is sustained by his mother’s love. I’m not a theologian or a churchman, so I don’t know for definitive if part of the Harry Potter series is bad for souls, but if the moral universe is contiguous in a work of fiction and reflects the world that we live in, then it’s good because it’s true. There are a number of children’s books which disturb me. They distort and invert good and evil, so that evil becomes the good. What is the purpose of confusing a child’s inner moral compass? Is that the intention of the writer?” 

Arroyo has certain literary and cinematic tastes that some other Catholics might find unpalatable. His favourite film is The Godfather and a favourite television series is The Sopranos because “it shows unflinchingly that the wages of sin are death”. 

He says that one of his favourite novelists is Graham Greene because his characters are real people, often at a moral crossroads. “The priest in The Power and The Glory, is a drunkard and has a child out of wedlock. He’s not a pious hero yet he becomes a martyr. But so many people relate to him. They see themselves in the priest’s imperfections. It is one of our greatest Catholic novels.”


He also mentions the novelist William Peter Blatty’s work in glowing terms. “The Exorcist is an apostolic work. By highlighting the power of darkness inevitably you highlight the power of good. The Church does triumph, in the form of a priest who exorcises and frees a child from a demon, but there is a cost.” 

But is it really necessary for Catholic writers to concentrate on evil and darkness? 

Can’t we just write about the lives of the saints and exclusively cheerful topics?
Arroyo’s answer is stark: “The world is littered with pious, sentimental works that no one reads. You can’t show the light without showing the darkness. If you try to remove all the profane, you are left with the saccharine. The sacred will seem saccharine because you need something to offset it, because that’s the way the world is.  Fiction has to conform to the perceptions of the reader. If it doesn’t, you are telling a lie.”

Arroyo was born in New Orleans in the early 1970s. “As a young boy,” he recalls, “my grandfather would take me to the French Quarter in the mornings. They would be hosing down Bourbon Street. There would be prostitutes on the corner, women who worked in strip joints, the hawkers hanging around and the drunks stumbling out onto the street. Then we would walk past the cathedral and hear the choir singing the opening hymn of the Mass. So the sacred and the profane have always marched closely together in my mind. You can’t have one without the other.” 

While Arroyo is steeped in writing fiction at the moment, his most successful piece of writing is the uncompromising biography of Mother Angelica that became a New York Times bestseller. He is, as a result, an authority on Mother Angelica. They were close collaborators at EWTN in the 1990s and Arroyo has the utmost regard for her. But he encountered objections when he wanted to write a true-to-life portrayal of Mother Angelica’s dysfunctional family home and of her character.
“Some people didn’t like that I wrote about Mother’s capricious nature, her stubbornness or the mistakes she made,” he says. 

“Or the fact that her suicidal mother wanted to kill her father. But presenting her as human and flawed was the only way that people would relate to her. Mother understood this from the very first interview we did for the book.” 

Arroyo has impressed feminists with the fact that EWTN was the first non-profit television network that was founded by a woman. Mother Angelica launched it in the garage of her monastery and her humour and directness drew millions of viewers from all over the world. The highest compliment that Arroyo pays her is that “she was like the Pope Francis of her day: not afraid to cut through the dross, find the truth and show it”.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The histrionic reaction to the Pope missing the concert is unfair

I seem to be in a very lonely position as someone who is not criticising Papa Francesco for missing the concert on Saturday night, June 22nd. Some more conservative Catholics are up in arms that Francis suddenly scarpered before a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.  

In a blog for The Catholic Herald, I sympathise with the musicians who prepared for the honour of performing for the Pope, but were disappointed.

 But I also argue that passing up an evening of sublime music, and fulfilling his 'urgent' commitments is in line with Pope Francis' character and his life choices.  As a bishop in Argentina, he could have gone to glittering parties, but chose to visit AIDS victims and keep them company, or help in a soup kitchen.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Raymond Arroyo on how Mother Angelica founded a TV network against all odds

Last night, near London Bridge, in the Church of the Most Precious Blood, Raymond Arroyo gave a scintillating talk about Mother Angelica’s trials and graces in setting up a TV studio. 

She decided to set it up in an old garage on the grounds of her monastery. But, in order to broadcast television, she needed enormous satellite dishes, and the cost was six hundred thousand dollars.  There was a slight hindrance – Mother Angelica only had two hundred dollars. 

Mother Angelica, who is of Italian blood, began looking for an Italian satellite dish provider, because she knew how to negotiate with one of her own. Having found one satellite dish retailer in Atlanta, Mother Angelica began bargaining.  
‘The dish will cost six hundred thousand dollars,’ he told her.  
‘Well, what if I pay you a little now, and more money as time goes on,’ Mother Angelica said.
‘That’s not how we do business,’ he said plainly.
‘That’s because you lack faith,’ Mother Angelica gently admonished him.
The conversation ended with him saying, ‘not one piece of equipment will come off the truck unless you have all the money to pay for it’.

On the day of delivery, two trucks with satellite dishes pulled up outside Mother’s monastery. Mother Angelica decided to show them the monastery – an effort to stall them because she didn’t have a penny. She told them to wait while she went into the chapel to pray.  Kneeling down in the pew she said to the Lord, ‘well, your delivery is outside. It’s your satellite. You’ve got to go and pay the man now. He wants six hundred thousand dollars and I don’t have it.’ 

Reconciling herself to the fact that six hundred thousand dollars was not going to tumble from the sky, and questioning if the satellite dishes were really God’s plan, Mother Angelica went back out to the delivery man, and told him that she had no money. But just then, at that exact moment, one of the sisters rushed up to her, ‘Mother, there has been a man calling and calling on the phone and he won’t stop until he talks to you.  This man says it’s an emergency!’

A little bit reluctantly, Mother Angelica picked up the phone, and the caller was a wealthy businessman who was calling from his yacht in the Bahamas. He had been very moved after reading one of Mother’s pamphlets on suffering and family life.  The business man had got embroiled in a life of drugs, but Mother’s counsel had caused him to stop drug-taking and reunite with his wife and kids. The reason that he was ringing her was to give her a token of his gratitude, a sum of six hundred thousand dollars.
‘Can you send it right now?’ Mother Angelica asked eagerly. 

Those satellite dishes, to this day, transmits EWTN to most of North America and most of Latin America.

Raymond’s biography of Mother Angelica (which was published by Double Day and became a New York Times bestseller) is bursting with stories just like the one above, as well as giving a very real, uncompromising picture of Mother Angelica’s childhood of hard knocks when her father abandoned the family when she was five and she was left alone to cope with a suicidal mother. Mother did not lecture on suffering: she knew pain and it knew her.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see a dramatic quirk of fate because Mother’s father and the wealthy businessman had something in common: both men had deserted their kids.   Mother Angelica wrote a tract on suffering and family life that was informed by her bitter experience of having an abusive father. And her writings inspired one father to return to his children, and in appreciation, he gave Mother six hundred thousand dollars.   

Had Mother never had such childhood agony, which inspired her lessons on suffering, she would never have genuinely melted the heart of the wealthy businessman, and he would never have given her six hundred thousand dollars. 
After the talk on June 20th, Raymond was greeted by EWTN viewers

Thursday, 13 June 2013

My evening at the Oratory to hear Charles Moore’s talk on Thatcher

I’ve just attended a very stirring talk at the Oratory, given by Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph and the official biographer of Margaret Thatcher. The talk was organised by the Friends of the Ordinariate.  The hall was heaving with people, and it was standing room only.  

The defining characteristic of the talk was Charles Moore’s memories of Thatcher and the factors that coloured her religious beliefs. Thatcher’s father denounced Catholicism as ‘spiritual totalitarianism’, but Moore insisted that, ‘she had none of her father’s animosity to Roman Catholicism’.   

Moore reminisced about a ‘perplexing’ time when he and Thatcher were both Godparents to the same child. Moore asked Thatcher if her twins had been Christened, and she replied, ‘oh, yes, but without the water’. Moore concluded, ‘she had no interest in sacraments’. 

Moore and Thatcher did make a journey together to Rome for a meeting with Pope Benedict. Moore pointed to the fact that Thatcher was, at the time, losing her mental faculties, and that he said to her, ‘isn’t it marvellous that we are going to see Pope Benedict?’ which he said, ‘was more to remind her that this would be happening’. Thatcher asked him, ‘what does one say to a Pope?’

In a crowd that big, there were probably a few who did not revere Thatcher, but the first female prime minister is dead, and while Charles Moore was clearly very fond of Mrs T, there was not one boo, hiss or sigh from the audience.  In this company, it would have been seen as downright rude to make a snide remake about the first female prime minister who passed away recently.

At the Oratory talk, the audience was mainly comprised of former Anglicans who are still drying themselves off from swimming across the Tiber.  There was a lot of date comparing, ‘I became Catholic on this date. Cheers!’  It was an atmosphere of celebration as fizzy wine was pouring into glasses and the tingle of chinking glasses filled the air.

I confess that I like former Anglicans (and Anglicans) because, in my experience, they hold true to certain values of Englishness such as good manners, minding-their-own-business, integrity, tact and honour.

Charles Moore, who himself is a convert from the Church of England, spoke frankly on the Ordinariate: “wholly Catholic, but representative of a different tradition”

“The Ordinariate is not just a case of bishops making a lot of former Anglican priests work jolly hard”

Reflecting on the fact that the Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, has a Roman Catholic spiritual director, Moore said, ‘previously that would have prevented him from being Archbishop of Canterbury’. 

At the Q and A, I put my hand up a few times, and had quite a challenging (maybe even obnoxious) question: did Thatcher’s tempestuous relations with Northern Irish Catholics shake her relationship with the Catholic Church? 

I’ll have to read Charles Moore’s account of Thatcher's life to find out if he answers this question. 
Charles Moore signing copies of his book in St Wilfrid's Hall. June 13 2013. Luke O'Sullivan is asking him a question.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The best explication of abortion that I have ever read

Blessed Mother Teresa:  “The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society.

It has portrayed the greatest of gifts--a child--as a competitor, an intrusion and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the dependent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.”

Mother Teresa was a young Loreto nun when she received “a call within a call” to found the Missionaries of Charity to serve “the poorest of the poor”.
After obtaining Indian citizenship she did basic medical training, which prepared her for working in the slums. So difficult was the first year that she resorted to begging. But it wasn’t long before more young women joined her. She came to prominence after Malcolm Muggeridge’s 1969 documentary Something Beautiful for God.
For over 45 years Mother Teresa served the poor, the sick, the dying and the orphaned. When she met Hillary Clinton in 1994 they didn’t agree on abortion, but Mother Teresa assiduously sought Clinton’s help in setting up a centre in Washington DC where orphaned babies could be cared for. Clinton and Mother Teresa were good collaborators and in 1995 the Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children was founded.
Gifted with keen intelligence, Mother Teresa led the expansion of her order until shortly before her death in 1997. Today the order has over 4,500 Sisters and is active in 133 countries.
Since her death, Mother Teresa has become a role model for people enduring the dark night of the soul. For over 40 years she felt isolated from God’s presence, but her doubts never overwhelmed her.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Spiritual Simplicity

A Miraculous Medal graces the side of my vintage tea-pot

Adding a small giver-of-grace which is unobtrusive can be quite easy. I put a miraculous medal onto a vintage tea pot that I'm very fond of. The medal is gold, which colour-coordinates with the dark mustard coloured tea pot and the yellow orchid. So, instead of languishing in a cupboard or a box, the medal is pride of place on the ornament that acts as a nice background and highlights the medal. Not a good luck charm, the Miraculous Medal was designed according to Our Lady's instructions, and she promised St Catherine Labouré that 'great graces' would be given to those, 'who wear the medal with confidence'. Perhaps that not only applies to wearing the Miraculous Medal on a chain around the neck, but also to displaying the medal on an ornament 'with confidence'.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Three blogs by three young Catholics just added to my blog list

A friend asked me why I say, 'there are young Catholic bloggers blogging around Britain', but then don't have more links on my blog to young Catholics writing on the walls of the blogosphere.  Mea culpa: I have been negligent in updating my blog list with fellow young'uns (or 'yoof' as Eccles calls uz).  My conscience about including more bloggers on my blog roll was again pricked when I saw my blog address on Luke O'Sullivan's blog, and I remembered to include his blog on my list.
To remedy the lack of 'Yoof', I have put three blogs by three Catholic bloggers on my list. Drum-roll please...ladies first....

The Whistling Sentinel. The origin of the blog title comes from Chesterton, who wrote, 'it's not a question of theology, it's a question of whether, placed as a sentinel of an unknown watch, you will whistle or not.'  I derive the meaning of the blog title to be that the Catholic state-of-being is to whistle whilst in a place that is inhospitable, strange and cold, because we are offering up our stint as sentintel. A very erudite lady-blogger, Megan wrote about her conversion, and how she was converted by reading the enemies of the New Atheists, i.e. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Benedict. Recently, Megan became Catholic, at the London Oratory, and the next blogger is her God-father. 

The Thirsty Gargoyle is written by an academic who bounces from Ireland to England and back again. His stamina in travelling is matched by his intellectual stamina. His most recent post, 'He who controls the past, controls the future' is his best post to date (IMHO). It would make eye-watering reading for Pete-the-treat Boylan who was an expert witness at the inquest into Savita Halappanavar's death.

Lucas Cambrensis is written by Luke O'Sullivan, whose ancestors fled Ireland during The Potato Famine. I think Luke's contribution is as a Catholic male, will be a witness to withstanding the pressure to partake in so-called social norms for males such as peeking at Page 3 and evaluating women in terms of physical characteristics.  Luke's most recent post is entitled, 'On the quality of paving slabs in the Red Light District of Amsterdam', includes sub-headings such as 'sex bomb' and 'a failure to communicate'.

If you've read this far in my post, you may have come to agree with me that there are some enthusiastic young Catholic bloggers here in Britain. Of course, in thirty years time, Whistling Sentinel, Thirsty Gargoyle, Luke-the-Welshman and yours truly might be comparing pension plans and looking at the Catholic blogosphere and moaning, 'look at those youngsters, don't they know that we were some of the first young'uns on there? Why don't they have our blogs on their blog-lists? A little respect, please!'
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