WASHINGTON — EWTN on March 3 launched the first ever weekly television program dedicated exclusively to the pro-life cause. EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, a collaborative effort with the Susan B. Anthony List, will cover every area of concern in building the culture of life. The host of the new program, Catherine Szeltner, worked for EWTN News Nightly for three years before beginning her new show. She spoke with the Register about her role and its many challenges.
Catherine, in the sense of being both a Catholic and a journalist, what does it mean to you professionally and personally to be the main voice now for a pro-life program on EWTN?
Professionally speaking, I think there is no more important cause to which you can dedicate an entire program. I think that’s why the network saw the value in starting this. So I also know there is no room for mediocrity here, and I know professionally I will be giving just my absolute best and just pouring my heart.
When there’s a mission behind your work, I think there’s all the more desire, motivation to work even harder. So professionally, that’s how I view it, and there is, as a Catholic, this responsibility to speak up for the truth — and at EWTN, that’s what we do here. So I think all journalists, that’s their desire: to speak the truth and to broadcast truth. Here, we can do that, and it’s an entity shaped and informed by our Catholic faith. I also realize professionally — I recognize — I am having this opportunity early on in my career, and I am extremely humbled by that.
I also think it’s kind of wonderful that the network recognizes that the pro-life movement is young. You know millennials are referred to as “the pro-life generation,” so I think its humbling. It is overwhelming at times professionally, but I am really excited about that.
On a personal note, it is so humbling. The pro-life cause is one that has been close to my heart for many years. And people have been asking me a lot lately, “When did you begin to be pro-life?” And so I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and I don’t think there has been a hard start time.
My whole life has just been shaped in that lens. And I dedicate that really to my mother. She had my sister when she was 19 years old in college. My sister, whom I love, is biracial as well, so my mother did not get a lot support from a lot of family and friends. She had to work very hard, and now she is the CFO [chief financial officer] of an international corporation.
So to witness up close a woman who says, “Yes” to life, works hard, I think that’s an empowering message — and it’s an empowering message that needs to be shared, and I feel very passionate about that.
You raise a question about your own background. How did you go from a family like that, clearly solid in the faith, solid in life, to working for EWTN? There’s an obvious line there.
Yes, I’m a cradle Catholic — grew up in the faith. I’m so grateful both my parents are so committed to the faith. EWTN has always been in the backdrop of my home.
I grew up watching Mother Angelica. Vivid memories are sitting on the couch, next to my mother and grandmother, watching Mother. There was this show on the network, probably about 15 years ago, called Onward Pilgrims, and my sister was actually on it. She was one of the cast members, so she got to travel to all these pilgrim sites in Europe, so it has always been in the fabric of my life, this network.
It’s funny, I can even remember when I was in fifth grade, when Mother Angelica had the stroke that ultimately took her off the air. I remember my mother saying, “You need to pray for Mother Angelica” and me bringing that back to my fifth-grade class and telling them we need to pray for Mother Angelica. So it has really been an honor to work at this network that I care for. And it came about just crazily.
I think a lot of college seniors go through a quarter-life crisis. I was certainly going through that, not really sure what I wanted to do. But then I finally had my plan: I was going to work in marketing in Brooklyn. Then, two weeks before I graduated, a friend suggested I apply for EWTN News Nightly, a new program the network was about to launch in D.C. So I applied, and, praise be to God, I got the job and landed here.
It was one of those moments when I was like, “Wow! I get to combine my Catholic faith and my passion for broadcast television — this is incredible.” And it was one of those rare moments in life when you feel, confidently, that God wants you somewhere. It kind of felt like God was nudging me and said, “See, I got you. You’re supposed to be here.”
And EWTN Pro-Life Weekly is obviously a very powerful voice — at a network that is renowned for its commitment to the culture of life, the sanctity of the human person. It seems at first blush, then, a whole show dedicated to the pro-life movement. Why would you want to do that? And yet, there’s a really big logical step to put this show on.
Right; one thing I keep hearing from people is, “How has this show not existed before?” And I think the show really came about because there is a need — a growing need — to preach and share and shape the culture of life to our culture that is increasingly becoming a culture of death. And you can see it in more subtle ways, and you can see it in more obvious ways. But just looking how the bookends of life, from conception to natural death, are being attacked with abortion and assisted suicide, there’s a need to educate our viewers and inform them and build up this culture of life that St. John Paul II so often preached about.
And that totality — from conception to natural death — when you were first having the discussions about a pro-life show, was that part of that discussion?
Crucial. Absolutely. Because as Catholics we do view this holistically, and we know that our desire to defend the unborn comes from the recognition that each and every life had immeasurable value. Each and every life: the unborn, who are the most defenseless, the most vulnerable and need our greatest attention; but same with the elderly, who are in a nursing home; same with homeless on the street; same with people with special needs.
Each and every life is immeasurable.
Washington is home to the headquarters of so many pro-life organizations. Part of your job with News Nightly was to reach out to networks for guests and resources. That raises the immediate question of who is involved with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.
Right; so one group that we are working very closely with is the Susan B. Anthony List. I know when I was at EWTN News Nightly, we turned to them, and the network still turns to them. And they are such a great resource. They really are the experts and can break down what is happening on Capitol Hill when it comes to pro-life legislation. Because here’s this group — they help to elect pro-life leaders. So they are with these pro-life heavy hitters from the very beginning. They have these close ties and relationships. They are in the know. To work with them is a great opportunity for the network and for our viewers, so we can kind of help bridge that gap between what’s going on at Capitol Hill and bring that to our viewers at home.
The idea of hope is one that many in the pro-life community did not have in great abundance heading into the national election last year. And then there was the rather surprising result of Nov. 8, with the election of Donald Trump as president. Looking at this new administration, not only as a journalist, but also now as someone in charge of a weekly pro-life television show, what are some of your hopes and aspirations for this administration?
You know, when the show was being developed, I couldn’t help but assume that, if it’s under a President Clinton, this will be the most pro-abortion candidate, and I think the program would take on a different tone. But now we are dealing with a president who is really a convert to the pro-life cause and really learning and growing, but really surrounding himself with great pro-life leaders, especially Vice President Mike Pence and counselor Kellyanne Conway, who are very much at home in the pro-life movement.
So you look at his campaign and how he made, as a candidate, unprecedented pro-life promises. He laid out four pro-life promises, and he knew he needed to do that in order to persuade the pro-life movement. We have already seen him follow through on one of them, with the nomination of Judge [Neil] Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, so we will see if he is actually confirmed.
Early on in this administration, I think we owe it to our president to say okay, you gave us these promises. You did sign the Mexico City Policy in your first week; you nominated Judge Gorsuch. Give him the benefit of the doubt, but closely follow. Because we have on record these pro-life promises, we can hold him accountable to that. And we absolutely are going to do that on this program.
Having to readjust to an unexpected occupant in the White House has been one of your challenges. What have been some of the major ones you have already encountered in having to put this together?
One thing, when I was with News Nightly, I covered a broad range of topics. I was probably most passionate about the pro-life topic in particular. But there’s a lot of things you have to be an expert on that day [as a reporter]. Now having a program solely dedicated to the pro-life cause, these past few months, just learning, gearing up, getting caught up on so much — from the legal side to the history of the pro-life movement, to bioethics, to Church teaching — that has been a challenge and an opportunity for me personally, to grow and to learn. And another thing, kind of personally, now my days are really based on reading and thinking and talking mainly about abortion, which is really a morbid topic. So learning to hold on to hope and hold on to optimism, when discussing such brutal matters [is key]. It has also been a reminder that I need to stay close to the sacraments. In meeting with various pro-life leaders the last few months, that’s one word I’ve been given: Get a spiritual director or stay close to the sacraments. And we do see this from a spiritual lens as well, so I think that’s absolutely important. So I’d say that has been another challenge, as well.
And the enemy is there.
Absolutely. This is an attack on life. I can’t help but think, lately, how much this hurts our Mother, who said, “Yes” to life [by becoming Mother of God] — and it was an unexpected pregnancy, and she was young. And by Mary saying, “Yes” to life, she knew she was putting herself out there to potentially be stoned to death. That was a hard Yes. But she said Yes. And we have the Savior of our world because of that. I can’t help but think spiritually on this, reflect on that, and staying close to Our Lady, so that she is in this. In speaking about this, though, always remembering we have truth on our side, and with that we have peace. And I’m hoping that’s a peace that translates in the program, because we should not fear. We have peace. We need to walk boldly in that and speak charitably in truth.
Which raises the next logical question: What are the expectations of the pro-life movement with a show like this? You have probably been hearing from a lot of people with their own ideas.
Yes. One gift of the pro-life movement is that there are so many various pro-life groups, missions and visions, and leaders and thinkers on this. You get different ideas and different ways. One hope is there really is no other program like this. There is no other program on television that is solely dedicated to the life issue. So we really have this opportunity to inform and educate. I think a big, key role — and working with Susan B. Anthony List on this will be big, as well — [is all about] really giving a call to action, really engaging our viewers, our base. I think they are highly motivated in being pro-life already, but giving them the tools they need to do something with that and to actually make change. The March for Life is still fresh in my mind, and seeing those streets filled with such enthusiastic, and hopeful, passionate pro-lifers is such a beautiful testament to this movement. And that’s one thing we can do each year. But there is something we can be doing each and every single day: Let’s take these passionate beliefs that come from truth and use that to actually make some change.
What would one of these calls to action look like, in practical terms?
For example, we had the January special that aired the same week as the March for Life. And we directed viewers to the Susan B. Anthony List petition to defund Planned Parenthood. And it was so simple to do; it was going to SBA-List.org/defund-planned-parenthood. I still have that URL memorized. It took less than a minute to put your name down and say, “Yes I want to defund Planned Parenthood.” So that’s one example. In the future, one could call Speaker [Paul] Ryan; and let’s vocalize what we want to see with this particular piece of legislation. Maybe it’s attending a defund Planned Parenthood rally at the grassroots level. But the goal, the vision is to really engage our viewers at the local grassroots level. Because real change can be made there. Real impact can be made, and that’s where it begins too, at the local level. Whether it’s signing petitions or calling a congressman, by taking one easy, practical step that everyone can do, any day of the week, to really make a difference.
You’ve used the word a couple of times — optimism — and what joy is there. Last question: How important is a show like this to help the pro-life movement to maintain that joy, that optimism, even in the face of what we know are going to be setbacks in the future?
I think it’s crucial. We have this joy and optimism because it is rooted in truth. I think that can be translated a lot of ways and can contribute greatly to dialogue, which I think can contribute directly to change. When speaking about abortion in particular, emotions tend to rise up really quickly. But if you maintain a peace, a joy and a love for your neighbor, that becomes evident, and I think more people are willing to listen. With that, we can evangelize more greatly.
Matthew Bunson is senior contributor
to the Register and EWTN News.
EWTN Pro-Life Weekly airs on EWTN on Fridays at 11 pm Eastern and is encored on Sundays at 10am.