Sunday, August 14, 2011

Catholicism project on PBS

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."
 – Matthew 16:15-18
St. Peter's Basilica

[Please see updates at the bottom for additional comments. There is information on the TV broadcast schedule in UPDATE 2 below.]

Father Barron of Word on Fire is producing a series of programs on Catholicism for PBS. Please join me in prayers for this project. I ask you to first watch the video below before continuing on to my comments.

[The following are my thoughts and impressions. I'm sorry that I have failed in my attempt to organize them well.]

I'm familiar with Father Barron's work. It is hard to be critical of him because he seems so likable. And maybe that's the problem. Christians have to be willing to be disliked and marginalized in order to remain true to our faith. Whenever we become to comfortable with the culture we live in, that is a sign that we may be losing our way. Ours is the narrow path.

I am full of apprehension about this project. My number one concern is that any Catholic work that is done in cooperation with PBS has a difficult mission. PBS is the very height of secular culture in America. All of its programming begins with the assumption that God does not exist as described by Christianity. To be a regular viewer of PBS programming is to be immersed in a slow and gradual indoctrination into the secular worldview. So I see an inherent contradiction in the very premise of this series, that the Catholic Church can be presented on PBS in a way which will strengthen someone's faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.

I even find myself wondering about the name "Catholicism Project". What is "Catholicism"? Christianity is not an "ism" like other belief systems or religions. Christianity is the truth or it is nothing. It is the fullness of all "isms".

I predict that what this project will end up presenting is the Catholic culture -- a sort of anthropologic study of Catholicism. But that it won't present a spiritual message. It will give a tourist perspective of Catholicism like a museum exhibit; the same way that a PBS program might explore the ancient Egyptian religion. The Catholic Church will be viewed as a living relic.

Now this might be enough to stir some people's imagination and make them want to explore the Church further. And when they begin to discover the true faith of the Church then they might be inspired by the Holy Spirit to commit themselves to Jesus Christ. Let's pray that this happens to many lost souls.

Certainly we have everything to offer that people are searching for. And in fact there is no other alternative as I stated earlier. We can spend our whole lives wandering and searching and never find the answers which are right in front of our own eyes in the Church.

But somehow I'm sure that PBS will manage to wrap enough doubt and ambiguity around this program that it will actually serve in many cases to harden the hearts of viewers. At least I am sure that they will do everything in their power to produce this end result.

They would like Americans to follow the example of the people living in Europe in the shadow of the great Cathedrals who are not moved to come home to the open arms of the Church. Surely the Church itself is mostly to blame for this, having failed in the mission delivered to it by Christ. Still, we should be able to look beyond the failings of the Church and see the beauty which lies in its core and which it still protects and preserves. At its core is a tree with abundant fruit and beautiful flowers. This is Christ, the Tree of Knowledge.


UPDATE 1 [Aug 15]:

Thanks go to Grace who left a comment and pointed me to this longer video highlight of the Catholicism Project. As before I ask you to watch the video before reading my further comments.

This longer highlight video is certainly reassuring in terms of the Catholic content of the program. It communicates a real sense of the Church as a living institution that is the Body of Christ. I complement Father Barron on this achievement. I continue to pray that this same spirit of truth -- which is so boldly displayed here -- will be present throughout the series.

I also want to complement Father Barron on the quality of the program. From what we can see here and in the previous video, the production quality is excellent. The visuals and the audio are quite stunning. I'm sure that these highlights are taken from some of the best footage, but regardless it shows a dedication to quality which I admire, and is in keeping with the great works of art that have been dedicated to Christ and His Church through the ages.

Just to clarify for Grace, at times I have felt that Father Barron's videos are superficial. And I sometimes feel that he is more inclined to accommodate the secular culture rather than to confront it. Now depending on where one is in their spiritual journey, that may be an appropriate message. For me it doesn't resonate.

Certainly we need to reach out to people where they are at. But then we need to guide them to a deeper faith. That's a tough task to do in a "broadcast medium" like Father Barron's ministry. I suppose that one would hope and pray that those people who are attracted to his message would reach out to others and be led further along in their Christian journey. This is an area that I think most Catholics would admit the Church is not very good at.

Oddly enough I have found that EWTN has been successful in this area. I say it's odd because they are another "broadcast media". Maybe it is because EWTN's mission is centered around the Eucharist.

My own personal experience has been that the very orthodox and unapologetic way that EWTN transmits the message of the Church has helped me to "unattach" myself from the secular culture that surrounds me.

They provide an oasis in the desert, if you will. It is a place of shelter where I can be free to be the person that God wants me to be; free from ridicule and doubt. In order to construct such a shelter, we need to use solid rock as a building material. If we try to build from lighter materials, then the structure is simply swept away by the constant and ever prevalent winds of secularism. It doesn't matter how beautiful the structure may appear, if it is not built on a foundation of rock (Peter) then it will not last.

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UPDATE 2 [Sep 25]:

The television schedule for Catholicism on PBS stations is now available at:

I noticed a few funny things about the schedule. If you look at the Boston, Massachusetts entry, you'll only see one airtime:
10/03/11 Massachusetts-Boston 9:00 PM EST NHPTV
That doesn't jibe with a comment that producer Nancy Ross left below that PBS stations would air four episodes. Does this mean that some will air less than four episodes?

Also, the PBS station in Boston is WGBH as most people are fully aware of. Yet NHPTV is listed for the Boston showing of Catholicism. NHPTV is the New Hampshire public television station which is not available in the Boston area. Apparently, WGBH is not carrying any of the series. This might actually be good news from my point of view, because it might indicate that there are some elements of the series which the left leaning WGBH finds unacceptable. Or it could simply be that WGBH doesn't have time in its busy schedule to fit in this programming. Or it could be that some influential donors to WGBH strongly objected to showing Catholicism. Who knows. I'll bet WGBH never passed up on an opportunity to air a show on the priest sex abuse scandal. Just saying.

And in case you're wondering the schedule for New Hampshire is also the same single entry:
10/03/11 New Hampshire- Statewide 9:00 PM EST NHPTV
I followed the link provided to the NHPTV website where I did a search of the site for the Catholicism series. They have no mention of it at this time. I'm beginning to wonder if this information is incorrect.

There is also a single entry for Maryland and Washington, DC:
9/29/11 Washington, DC & Maryland 9:00 PM EST Maryland PTV
In this case lumping DC in together with Maryland is fine because most people in Washington will probably have access to MPT. If you go to the MPT website you'll easily find this link with information about the showtimes for the Catholicism series:

And you'll quickly learn that the series is airing on 4 days -- Sep 22, 23, 29 and 30. So they've already shown the first two episodes.

My advice to you would be to use the information provided on the Catholicism series website with caution and to also "check your local listings" for more detailed information. My advice to the folks at the Catholicism series website is to spend a little time to get the correct information up online. It can't be that hard. I'm sure they have the information at hand. They're not just going to let any station broadcast their programs at any time without getting previous approval. They are the originators and distributors of this series after all.

And in case you're wondering, here is the schedule for EWTN according to the Catholicism series website:

 11/19/11 U.S./Canada/Europe 1:00 PM EST EWTN
 11/16/11 U.S./Canada/Europe 8:00 PM EST EWTN
 11/17/11 U.S./Canada/Europe 11:00 PM EST EWTN
 11/18/11 U.S./Canada/Europe 10:00 PM EST EWTN

Yes, they posted them out of order. This can't possibly be complete because EWTN is supposed to air six episodes. Again, this is according to the comment left below by Nancy Ross. I checked the EWTN website, but they haven't posted their schedule for the Catholicism series yet.

Given that the first four episodes will not be available via PBS in many parts of the country, it sure would be nice if EWTN could host the complete series. You always have the option to buy the whole series on DVD (not available on Blu-ray) but it will cost you $149.95. Not exactly small change.

I asked producer Nancy Ross to provide me with a complementary copy of the series so that I could do a proper review, but I never heard back from her. So I and many others like me that are in areas of the country where the series will not be shown on PBS will simply have to come to our conclusions based on the information that is publicly available on the internet.


  1. I was just wondering if you'd had the opportunity to watch the longer video clip. It may (or may not, I don't know) help to alleviate some of your concerns:

    It seems to me that the purpose of it is to actually share the Christian faith, in its origin, history, and current practice.

    There are, of course, as many styles and approaches to Christianity and orthodoxy as there are practicing believers. In my own parish, we have been served in the last 5 years by three priests who all graduated from the seminary within the last 8 years. One was very academic and theological in his approach: he was a teacher. One had a very urgent approach: his style was to emphasize that eternity is real and our actions in this life make a difference to our eternity -- it's urgent. And the other approaches Christianity and his priesthood from the stance of the love of God: we are beloved. All three of these are valid styles and approaches; I have seen the fruits of their different styles in my parish, with an ever-increasing faithfulness and balance.

    Anyway, there is not one way of approaching Christianity. Fr. Barron's style may not appeal to you, but I think it's wrong to imply that this program is intended to tear down the faith.

    Blessings to you,


  2. Hi Grace. Thanks for your comment and the link to the longer video. See my update of the article for some additional comments. I wasn't trying to imply that Father Barron is in any way out to "tear down the faith".

    I come from a liberal background. So I'm particularly sensitive to how liberal attitudes can corrupt the faith. This can happen even with the best of intentions. This is because modern liberalism has been imbued with secular humanist ideas and thinking. Even the meaning of words have been changed by the influence of secularism. Words like "freedom", "rights", and "choice" for example. But even words like "faith" or "God".

    I think if we are going to tear people away from secularism then we have to be prepared to confront some of the ideas that are taken for granted today. Pope Paul VI did this when he wrote Humanae Vitae. His upholding of Catholic teaching on contraception certainly wasn't popular among liberals inside and outside the Church. This is a shining example of how we must stand firm in our beliefs.

    Ultimately, many Christians have seen the wisdom of Pope Paul VI -- first with relation to abortion and now with relation to "homosexual marriage". So many Christians are realizing the central role that contraception plays in both of these moral issues that confront our society. And when they realize this, they are drawn to the Church. An example is Lila Rose who converted to Catholicism.

  3. UPDATE: I added a second video and additional comments. Thanks Grace!

  4. UPDATE: The answer to the question that I asked about the conflict between PBS and a program that is faithful to Catholic teaching seems to be that this was an independent production. That's the good news.

    The not so good news is that its not clear how many PBS stations will actually broadcast this series. Father Barron has been able to convince the PBS station in Chicago WTTW (where he is from) to offer the series. It will be interesting to see how many others join in. And especially in the "major markets".

    And again there is still the question of the actual content of the program. Did Fr. Barron edit the message in order to make it more palatable to PBS programming directors?

    Again, I ask for your prayers. Getting the true message of the Gospel out through the mainstream media is hard work. We saw an example of how successful this can be with the movie of the Passion by Mel Gibson. It certainly doesn't seem as if economics is the stumbling block. There is definitely an audience out there that is hungry for Christ's message.

    A last thought. I wonder if this series will eventually be shown on EWTN. And I also wonder what the relationship is between EWTN and Father Barron.

  5. UPDATE: If anyone comes across a link that gives the actual listings of showings for this series please leave a comment. So far the only thing that has been announced is that it will be shown on in October on the Chicago PBS station, WTTW11. I haven't seen any specific announcements about the showtimes in Chicago. Nor have I found a list of other PBS stations that plan on airing the series. Also, WTTW says that it is only showing 4 of the 10 programs in the series:
    WTTW11 will premiere CATHOLICISM

    Also notice the description of the series offered by WTTW11 below. It sounds more like a program about the Catholic culture than the Catholic faith. This is exactly the concern I expressed in my first post.

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    Catholicism illustrates the history and treasures of this global religion shared by more than one billion people around the world. The panoramic presentation is filmed in stunning high-definition and spans more than 50 locations in 15 countries.

    Using art, architecture, literature, music and all the riches of the Catholic tradition, Father Robert Barron tells the story of Catholicism around the world. The production crew travels to some of the most magnificent and sacred sites in Jerusalem, Rome, ETC.
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  6. Hi All,

    Just to clarify:

    The "Catholicism" series is not funded, produced, or created by PBS. WTTW-11 in Chicago (a PBS affiliate) is the presenting station. Fr. Robert Barron is the creator, writer, and host of the series - a production of Word On Fire Catholic Ministries in partnership with Picture Show Films.

    To date, about 80 public television stations are planning to air four of the ten episodes, most during prime time. EWTN and, we hope, other Catholic and non-Catholic networks will broadcast the remaining six episodes. We should have updated air times to share next week at The DVD sets, Study Program, and Book are all shipping. I hope you will have the chance to see "Catholicism," own it, and share it.

    God bless you,

    Nancy Ross

  7. Hi Nancy. Thanks for sharing this information. I look forward to watching the full Catholicism series. I'm glad to hear that you have partnered with EWTN to show the remaining six episodes.

    If you would like to provide me a free copy of the "Leader's kit" for me to review, I would be happy to accept that. You can always get in touch with me and leave me your contact information by leaving a comment here. Since I personally moderate all comments, just leave me a note at the top of the comment requesting not to publish and I will keep it confidential.

    And I want to repeat that this project has my prayers, and I'm sure the prayers of thousands of faithful Catholics. I pray that many blessings will flow from this work.

  8. UPDATE 2: I added information on the TV broadcast schedule for the Catholicism series.

    NOTE: I never heard anything back from producer Nancy Ross who left a comment that you can see above.