In March of this year, as the Catholic world mourned the death of Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation — Mother Angelica as she was known to the viewers of the television network she founded, EWTN — I wrote an essay that was part tribute, part lamentation, concerning what I saw as EWTN’s drift away from her tenacious desire to combat liberalism within the Church. In that essay, I cited at length a passage from Christopher A. Ferrara’s 2006 book, EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong. Specifically, I quoted a section of the book which details an alleged insider account of Mother Angelica’s hasty departure as CEO of EWTN and chairman of its board of directors while under pressure from Bishop David Foley, the ordinary of her diocese, and an investigation instigated by him from Archbishop Roberto Gonzales of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. In the interest of space, I will reproduce here only the most relevant portion (of which you can read more at my original post):
In desperation, Mother made a prudential decision that in retrospect was a huge mistake: Fearing that Archbishop Gonzalez’s report to the Vatican would recommend an ecclesiastical takeover of her apostolate, Mother surrendered all control over EWTN to the lay people who run it today. At an emergency board meeting in March of 2000, she resigned as CEO of EWTN, relinquishing her veto power, and with it her control over EWTN’s affairs. At the same meeting EWTN’s board amended the corporate by laws to insure lay control and preclude any control in the future by a bishop, priest or religious. Thus, instead of continuing her direct resistance to liberal prelates, Mother Angelica thought she could defeat them by a strategic retreat.
One reviewer of Arroyo’s biography opines that “by resigning, Mother Angelica had defeated her enemies within the Church and entrusted her network to lay people who shared her orthodox views….”As we will see, however, Mother’s retreat was actually a complete rout. For it was precisely Mother’s “enemies within the Church” who had gained the victory by driving her from her position of control over EWTN, leaving the network entirely in the hands of lay people, many of them ex-Protestants, who did not have her traditional pre-Vatican II spiritual formation and old fashioned Catholic militancy. The nun Arroyo calls “the undisputed matriarch of Catholic communications” had been neutralized.
Shortly thereafter, I received correspondence from a Mr. Charles A. Wilson, the retired Executive Director of the Saint Joseph Foundation, which provided canonical advice and assistance to EWTN, before and after Mother Angelica’s resignation as CEO in 2000. Wilson was present at the conference call meeting of the Board of Governors held on St. Patrick’s day in that year. Several months later, he was elected to the Board of Governors (at the prompting of Mother Angelica herself) and served until his retirement in 2014. During much of his time on the Board he served as treasurer and chairman of the Audit Committee.
Mr. Wilson reached out to me to “set the record straight” — to provide correction, insight, and clarity as regards the claims made in Mr. Ferrara’s book from the perspective of someone who was present at the meeting in question. In the interest of fairness, I have agreed to do so. He sent me two slightly differing versions of his account of what happened that day; one drafted directly for me, and for readers of OnePeterFive, and another that he published in the May 13, 2016 issue of Christifidelis, a newsletter published by the St. Joseph Foundation. It is this latter that I will reproduce, in part, here, and this for technical reasons. The version drafted in direct correspondence to me is a scanned copy, and thus cannot be excerpted below. At Mr. Wilson’s request, I am providing links to PDF copies of both the Christifidelis newlsetter and his correspondence with me in full.
I would like to note that I am publishing his clarification only now because in the busy period of time that has followed the release of Amoris Laetitia, I forgot to return to the documentation he sent me in order to review it. Today, as I watched the excellent panel discussion on recent papal comments about marriage on The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, I was reminded that there was another side of the EWTN story that I had neglected to share with you. I hope that you will consider Mr. Wilson’s testimony on the matter and reach your own conclusions.
EWTN and Mother Angelica
At about 6:00 PM on Easter Sunday, my telephone rang and my wife answered. She told me that Michael Warsaw, Chairman and CEO of EWTN, was on the line and handed me the telephone. I guessed that his call could be about just one thing, which he confirmed a few seconds later. The news of Mother Angelica’s passing was sad but not unexpected and I was very sorry that I was unable to accept his gracious invitation to attend her funeral.
There has already been a flood of moving and eloquent tributes to Mother and I cannot find the words to add to them. Suffice it to say that I hope and pray that she will one day be raised to the altars of the Church she so dearly loved and served with such steadfast and heroic devotion.
In the aftermath of Mother’s death, besides the many tributes, I was saddened to see some statements about her relationship with EWTN. Here is an example:
For it was precisely Mother’s “enemies within the Church” who had gained the victory by driving her from her position of control over EWTN, leaving the network entirely in the hands of lay people, many of them ex-Protestants, who did not have her traditional pre-Vatican II spiritual formation and old fashioned Catholic militancy. The nun [Raymond] Arroyo calls “the undisputed matriarch of Catholic communications” had been neutralized.
This statement was first made public about ten years ago, when I was a member of the EWTN Board of Governors. Management decided not to make a public response, which I believe was the right move at the time. Now that I have retired as an officer and Governor of the network, I am obliged to set the record straight by stating my firm conviction that Mother’s decision to resign as CEO of the network was her own, freely made, and that she was not forced into exile. Afterward, she continued to exercise considerable influence over the affairs of the network.
Much of the evidence that could be produced to support my claim is and must remain confidential. Some factshave become public — albeit not widely known — and it is upon them that I base my argument. I will speak on only three subjects; whether Mother’s decision was truly her own, whether she was really neutralized and the llegations made regarding the EWTN Board of Governors.
A special meeting of the EWTN Board of Governors was held on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2000. On the agenda were resolutions to accept Mother’s resignation as CEO and amend the corporate by-laws to eliminate ex-officio memberships and rescind her reserved power to veto any action of the Board. I was not on the Board then but was present on the telephone as spokesman for the Saint Joseph Foundation, which prepared the canonical arguments supporting Mother’s reasons for her decision. Also present with me were our consulting canonist and one other member of the Foundation’s staff. Even if I was free to disclose details of the meeting, I do not think it wise to do so here out of respect for the privacy of the participants, especially those who have died since, and a desire to avoid reopening old wounds that have long since healed; but I can say that no one who heard her words on that occasion could have had the slightest doubt that Mother’s decision was made freely and personally, however much they might have disagreed with the prudence or timeliness of her action. In the end, the Board approved the resolutions by a lopsided majority.
A few weeks after the meeting, Mother Angelica invited me to join the EWTN Board of Governors, on which it was my honor and privilege to serve until I retired in 2014. I am obliged to challenge the mischaracterization of the Board as consisting only of lay people, many of them ex-Protestants. The EWTN Board has always included men in holy orders, including her immediate successor. As of 2014, one priest, a diocesan bishop and two archbishops were members. Furthermore, at the time of the meeting, those lay members of the Board were personal friends of Mother Angelica who had been appointed by her. They would never have cooperated with an effort to replace her and the proceedings of the meeting prove it.
It is my personal understanding that no one could attain or retain membership without Mother’s approval. This practice continued after her retirement and only ended after her physical condition made it impossible. As one ex-Protestant who was personally and directly involved, I am convinced that the Board and the network’s management have always done their utmost to uphold Mother’s vision. Even if it turns out that in spite of their best efforts they did not always succeed, their good intentions are beyond question.
I should also say that I am acquainted with and respect the work of some of those who have made and support the claims that I have contested. I believe they acted in good faith and share many of their views concerning the crisis in the Church. I now invite them to reconsider their positions on the three matters at issue here. If they continue to maintain that EWTN has strayed from its original mission, I have full confidence in the EWTN Board of Governors and management to respond appropriately.
In closing, I recall what Mother Angelica said on St. Patrick’s Day sixteen years ago: “I will watch over this network after I retire and I will watch over it after I’m dead.” We can thank God that she kept the first part of her promise and now continues to keep the second.
Reverend Mother, pray for us.
Charles M. Wilson