BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Eighty-three years after its debut in Denver, and 15 years after its purchase by the Legionaries of Christ, the National Catholic Register is being acquired by the world’s largest religious media network, the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). The sale, finalized at the end of January, marks the third time in the newspaper’s history that a new owner has stepped forward to preserve and expand the newspaper’s service to the Church.
Under the terms of the transaction, no cash will be exchanged between the parties. EWTN will take over the ongoing operational expenses of the Register and will assume the paper’s future subscription liabilities.
“I am very pleased and excited that the Register will now be a part of the EWTN family,” said Michael Warsaw, the network’s president and chief executive officer. “All of us at EWTN have great respect for the Register and the role it has played throughout its history. It’s a tremendous legacy that deserves to not only be preserved, but also to grow and to flourish. I believe that EWTN will be able to provide the stability that the Register needs at this time as well as to give it a platform for its growth in the years ahead. We’re proud to be able to step in and carry on both the Register’s name and its tradition of faithful Catholic reporting on the issues of the day.”
The need for the providential intervention by EWTN was precipitated by what Legionary Father Owen Kearns, the Register’s publisher and editor in chief, described as a “perfect storm.” That storm, not dissimilar to what has hit most print publications, was intensified by rising publishing and mailing costs, and the negative impact on Register donations from the downturn in the economy, all of which overwhelmed the Legion’s ability to continue to subsidize the costs of producing the newspaper and managing its website.
As of Feb. 1, EWTN will take full control and ownership of the Register.
Recent management changes at the Register had resulted in cost reductions exceeding $1 million annually. Senior Register staff said that this, coupled with continued donor support, a new marketing and advertising team, and additional changes have resulted in a recovery that promises to be timely and beneficial to the change in ownership.
Due in part to the fallout from revelations regarding the congregation’s founder, the Legion of Christ did not have the resources to bring the previous turnaround efforts to fruition, said the Register spokesman.
EWTN and the Register began exploring the possibility of an acquisition in November. A meeting, which was held in early December, was described by the spokesman as “open and enthusiastic.” Details of the transfer were worked out after that.
The acquisition of the Register is the latest in EWTN’s efforts to expand their operation in the global Catholic digital and multimedia market. At the start of 2010, the Irondale, Ala.-based organization entered into a partnership with Catholic News Agency (CNA). CNA is a Denver-based independent Catholic news media outlet with bureaus in North and South America and Europe. Under that agreement, EWTN and CNA are sharing news resources and have created a joint news service found at EWTNNews.com. That arrangement was recently expanded to include a new original Spanish-language news service, EWTN Noticias, launched in January 2011.
EWTN Global Catholic Network provides multimedia services to more than 140 countries and territories. The network transmits nine separate television channels in several languages to audiences around the world. It also operates multiple radio services, including a network of hundreds of AM and FM stations, a Sirius satellite radio channel, and a global shortwave radio service. EWTN’s main website, EWTN.com, draws more than 20 million unique visitors annually.
EWTN will become the Register’s fourth owner. The National Catholic Register grew out of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Register, which began on Aug. 11, 1905. Under the leadership of Msgr. Matthew Smith, the Register System of Newspapers was developed, with the first national edition appearing on Nov. 8, 1927. The newspaper eventually produced 35 diocesan editions, reaching its highpoint in the 1950s with a combined national and diocesan circulation of more than 700,000.
In 1970, California businessman Patrick Frawley purchased the declining newspaper and later moved it to Los Angeles. Its emphasis shifted to in-depth commentary on religion and culture. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s it attracted young, promising writers such as George Weigel, who went on to author Pope John Paul II’s biography, William McGurn, who went on to The Wall Street Journal, Robert Moynihan, who publishes Inside the Vatican, Phil Lawler, director of Catholic Culture, and Greg Erlandson, publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.
In 1995, a group of investors, along with the Legionaries of Christ, saved the newspaper from imminent closure and moved it to Connecticut, where it remained until late last year.
“When the Legion took it over, they did things with resources and personnel that we couldn’t do,” said Fran Maier, the Register’s editor between 1979 and 1993, and now chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver. “During its affiliation with the Legion, it played an important role in Catholic journalism.”
Under the Legion’s direction, the paper restored the emphasis on the news, made the print edition more colorful and greatly expanded it, adding numerous features such as the Vatican page and the family-friendly Culture of Life section.
When rising costs forced a reduction in frequency from weekly to biweekly, the Register expanded its Web presence with NCRegister.com, with daily breaking news, exclusive online content and free commentary by popular Catholic bloggers. In November, in a further effort to cut costs, the editorial offices were relocated from Connecticut to the Legionaries’ Center for Higher Studies in Thornwood, N.Y.
“The Register is a perfect addition to our teaching apostolate,” noted Warsaw. “We live in an age where there is so much distortion and misrepresentation of the Church’s teaching by forces who oppose her message, particularly in the secular news media. Being sure that the Church’s voice is heard clearly and accurately has always been the core of EWTN’s mission,” he said. “Continuing the tradition of the Register gives us another means to carry out our mission of service to the Church.”
“The service and the history of the paper are too important to simply abandon,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, where the newspaper originated. “The Church needs more tools of faithful communication, not fewer.”
Archbishop Chaput said that he doesn’t feel that the Register’s basic mission of “reporting the news and analyzing trends that are important for Catholics, from a Catholic perspective,” will change. “The means of accomplishing that mission may change quite a lot over time, but the Register’s fidelity to the Church will not.”
Father Kearns described the acquisition by EWTN as “a natural and a happy fit.” “EWTN has earned a reputation of fidelity to the magisterium, which has always characterized the Register,” he said. “This represents a continuity of fidelity to the Church and support of the bishops. The Register’s mission is to equip its readers to engage the secular culture with competence and confidence, and EWTN intends to continue, strengthen and develop that mission.”
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.