Deacon Greg Kandra

‘What’s going on at EWTN?’

That’s the question a few people have asked me in emails and text messages, as stories like this one have started circulating:

Two top editors at the EWTN-owned Catholic News Agency are leaving effective Dec. 31, in a move that could signal further chaos inside one of the largest media empires covering the Catholic Church.

Ed Condon, the Washington bureau chief of Catholic News Agency, confirmed to NCR that Dec. 31 would be his last day on the job and that he was leaving on his own terms. He declined to offer further reasons for his departure.

J.D. Flynn, the editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, declined to provide comment on Condon’s departure. When asked whether he would remain in his own post, Flynn also declined to comment.

In a tweet one hour after the publication of NCR’s story, Flynn confirmed that Dec. 31 would mark his last day on the job.

“The entire team at CNA [Catholic News Agency] is a crack outfit, all of whom enjoy my full confidence and professional esteem,” Condon told NCR. On Twitter, Flynn said he made the decision “a few weeks ago for personal and family reasons.”

News of Condon’s and Flynn’s departure comes just one day after the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) announced a number of changes to its television and radio programming, including the ouster of Gloria Purvis, an outspoken champion of racial justice and host of the “Morning Glory” radio show. NCR previously confirmed with Purvis that she was informed of the immediate cancellation of her show on Dec. 30 and was not provided further explanation.

Hot on the heels of those moves, there was this item on Twitter Thursday, from Father Larry Richards:

EWTN, for its part, is trying to put the best spin on all of this, announcing new programming on its Catholic News Agency site with the headline: “2021 EWTN lineup will see new arrivals, some departures.” 

Note: the “departures” were mentioned only in passing and with no explanation.

Yesterday, Dawn Eden Goldstein offered her own take on what is unfolding at the network, with a critical look at one of its top donors.

It remains to be seen what all this adds up to. But this much is clear: at the very least, EWTN has a PR disaster on its hands. The Purvis cancellation lit up social media during a relatively quiet time in Catholic media, between Christmas and New Year’s, and focused renewed attention on the operation, its policies and its politics — leading more people to wonder, “What’s going on at EWTN?”

My friend Brian Fraga looked at the Purvis story at his Patheos blog and noted:

EWTN may be a non-profit, but it still operates as a business, so  it’s not surprising on one level that the Catholic network would move to cancel a show that since the summer has not been broadcast in its biggest affiliate’s radio markets. Money talks, and if a television or radio show isn’t bringing in advertising revenue, its days are usually numbered.

But it is still a public relations problem, to say the least, for EWTN in its move to cancel the voice of a high-profile Black Catholic woman who provided an important perspective on race issues for a Catholic audience. As the calendar turns to 2021, the national reckoning with racism that began with Floyd’s death is not going to end. The Catholic Church in the United States cannot avoid the issue the way it did with chattel slavery before the Civil War.

There also seems to be some political calculations going on at EWTN, which fair to say has always been to the right of center in ecclesial affairs, to borrow from political terminology. But since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, and accelerating through the Trump years, more of a distinct right wing American political ideology has been reflected in some of the network’s public affairs commentary and news programming. Heidi Schlumpf at the National Catholic Reporter did a well-reported series last year on that trend, “The Rise of EWTN: From Piety to Partisanship.”

Stay tuned.