Mother Angelica’s Legacy

MotherAngelica-702x336 “Boldness should be the eleventh commandment.” – Mother Angelica

I have always been a great fan of the indomitable Mother Angelica. She appeared at a time for me when, despite having grown up in a traditional Catholic household, I was suffering bewilderment and sorrow at the state of the Church of my young days in the 70’s and 80’s. The protestantisation and banalities going on at Mass, and the watering down (and sometimes even a flat denial) of established doctrines among ordinary Catholics and in Catholic religious education, the evil fruits of Modernism (although I was too naive at that time to recognise it), were filling me with confusion. Admittedly, the about-turn from complete turmoil in the Church had already slowly commenced in those early years of the papacy of John Paul II, but the wreckage was going to need many ‘helpers’ besides our Marian pope if all the values of Catholicism were to be restored among the flock.

Along came one such “helper” in the unlikely person of a cloistered Poor Clare nun who, with no funds and knowing nothing at all about technology, had started a national Catholic network (soon to become worldwide) from inside an old garage!! Truly mind-boggling. Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.

Discovering on EWTN the fierce defender of real Catholicism in the lovable person of Mother Angelica, a genuine Catholic crusader, who did not fear to speak God’s truth to every ‘enemy’ that had infiltrated His holy temple, was an amazing and joyful turning point in my life, and that of millions of other Catholics all over the world.

“Mother” (the single name she became affectionately known by), brought the True Faith back to a ‘starving’ world, at the same time as her network, through the generous donations of countless overjoyed Catholics (almost exclusively American Catholics), grew and expanded.

Then, unexpectedly in 2001, Mother, who had suffered from bad health all her life, was silenced by the averse effects of a couple of strokes… Or so we all thought! It now appears that there were also other forces at work to silence the bold defence of the fullness of Church teaching from this fearless ‘knight for truth’!

Steve Skojec (1P5) states:  “As Mother Angelica sat there on television and hammered these issues head on, we witnessed a turning point in the post-conciliar era of the Church. To fail to remember that this was the reason for her success — her tenacity, her unwillingness to take things lying down, her unflagging courage when it came to speaking Christ’s unpopular truths to those in positions of ecclesiastical power — would be to fail to honor who she was and what she was truly about. And we must also remember that Mother made enemies by taking such stands. Powerful enemies that cost us her voice even before her debilitating stroke. In his book, EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong, Christopher Ferrara tells a story many Catholics have to this day never heard about why Mother Angelica disappeared so suddenly from her own network:

While EWTN says the strokes have rendered Mother Angelica unable to appear on television, in truth she had already been driven from her position of control over the network she founded by an episcopal power play orchestrated with the assistance of a Vatican congregation.

It all began in November 1997 with Mother’s unforgettable televised denunciation of the infamous Cardinal Mahony, that celebrity prelate who is the very embodiment of post conciliar Modernism and decay in the Church. Mother rightly denounced Mahony’s “pastoral letter” on the Holy Eucharist as a Modernist obfuscation of the true doctrine of the Mass. Under pressure from Mahony’s friends in the Vatican apparatus, Mother made an on the air apology; but the “apology” was even more defiant than the original commentary. For nearly an hour Mother “served up a point by point critique of the pastoral letter,” demonstrating that Mahony had slighted and thus undermined the doctrine of transubstantiation. An infuriated Mahony filed a canonical complaint in Rome. Arroyo quotes one elderly curial Cardinal as admitting that “Mother Angelica has the guts to tell him [Mahony] what we do not.” Mahony’s canonical complaint ultimately went nowhere, but he had already begun to agitate the Vatican apparatus to take action against Mother. Arroyo quotes Mahony’s director of media relations as stating “The Cardinal wants the Holy See to do something about Mother Angelica’s whole attitude that she is not responsible to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops or to any of the individual bishops.”

Then Mother Angelica tangled with another liberal prelate, Bishop David Foley, the ordinary of her diocese in Alabama. Foley had no real authority over Mother’s apostolate, the Poor Clares of the Perpetual Adoration. Nevertheless, he insisted that in the new Shrine to the Blessed Sacrament Mother was building in Hanceville, Alabama, no Masses were to be said in the traditional “ad orientern” manner that is, facing the altar and God in an eastward direction, rather than facing the people. When Mother refused to knuckle under to this illegal demand, in October 1999 Foley issued a preposterous decree stating that Mass facing the altar (an unbroken tradition of the Church from her earliest days) was an “illicit innovation or sacrilege” and that anyone “guilty” of this “sacrilege” would be subject to “suspension or removal of faculties.” All Masses in his diocese, Foley declared, would “henceforth be celebrated at a freestanding altar and… the priest would face the people.”

In a courageous act of resistance to this abuse of power, Mother Angelica boycotted the dedication of the new Shrine in December 1999, presided over by none other than Foley himself, who celebrated Mass facing the people. Arroyo reports that a clearly humiliated Foley called Mother to the podium to say a few words, but “in silent protest” she remained with her nuns in the cloistered area behind the altar, refusing to serve as Foley’s prop. Clearly determined to get revenge, Foley went to the Vatican as the representative of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to demand action against Mother Angelica (no doubt with Mahony’s blessing). Foley, with the advice of Cardinal Medina, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, promulgated norms that banned any televised Mass facing East (i.e. the altar) in his diocese and requiring Mass facing the people. EWTN complied with these “norms,” even though they were as preposterous and illegal as Foley’s earlier decree, for Foley had no authority to ban the Church’s immemorial practice, on television or otherwise.

But the matter did not end there. Foley also induced the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to send an Apostolic Visitor, Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Alabama to investigate the entire EWTN operation. It quickly became apparent that the aim of the visitation (which took place in February-March 2000) was to establish that Mother Angelica’s order, the Poor Clares, owned EWTN’s assets, including the new Shrine, and not EWTN’s civil corporation board of directors, of which Mother was CEO with full veto power over the board’s decisions. If it could be established that Mother’s order owned the assets, then the whole EWTN enterprise could be subjected to ecclesiastical control, including the possible appointment of a “progressive” replacement for Mother Angelica herself.

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.”

Please read the rest of this informative article by Steve Skojec on 1Peter5 to find out more.

Steve concludes:  “Mother Angelica was a Catholic media pioneer and a trailblazer who stood for Christ’s truth against all opposition — not just outside the Church, but in particular, from within. […]”

We must pray for the repose of the soul of Mother Angelica in heartfelt gratitude for the tremendous legacy Mother has left us. But at the same time I think we, the Church Militant, may also dare to beg her to intercede for us from heaven that her EWTN “legacy” should return to the fullness of true Catholic orthodoxy in its programmes on Catholic teaching and liturgy… And that we shall continue her courageous fight for Christ and His Holy Bride, and never give in to pressure to dilute the beauty and fullness of God’s Truth, in the same way she never did.

Mother Angelica, ora pro nobis.    

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2 Responses to Mother Angelica’s Legacy

  1. Mary Salmond says:

    Good article. But very sad about what happened to Mother Angelica. The article confirmed my suspicions about what happened. Mother was a strong driving force for the success of EWTN. The archives are so good. She exudes a divine presence of goodness. No matter who has taken the helm, they are not her, nor coming from her perspective or total commitment.

  2. kathleen says:

    Yes, I agree, Mary!
    I still watch, or listen to, some of EWTN’s great programmes (when I have time), but I have to admit that nowadays it sometimes lacks that solid Catholic orthodoxy, and the beautiful traditional liturgy, of those years in the early 1990s when I first discovered it. Sad!
    And it must have been a greater cross for dear Mother Angelica than even her terrible physical suffering in the last years of her life!

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