National Catholic Register


Supporters and Detractors

BY Joseph Pronechen

July 4-10, 1999 Issue | Posted 7/4/99 at 2:00 PM


Catholic TV channel like Jerome Coniker's have their supporters and their skeptics.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, in a March 12 letter to all U.S. bishops, urged them to join those cardinals and bishops already committed to promoting the “Be Not Afraid Family Hours” video series “in helping make Mother Teresa's ideas a reality.”

The “Family Hours” are scheduled to be broadcast on Coniker's Familyland Television Network which begins in September.

“Mother Teresa repeatedly told Jerry Coniker that if we are going to stop abortion and save family life, we must bring families into churches for Eucharistic ‘Be Not Afraid Family Hours’ on video every week,” Cardinal Bevilacqua wrote.

Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the Diocese of Brooklyn and supreme chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, said in a statement to the Register, “I applaud Catholic Familyland for its initiative in finding an outlet for wholesome television programming for the entire family. … [A]ny effort made to use this powerful medium to reinforce positive values is to be commended.”

Recently Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila, the second largest Catholic diocese in the world, included the Family Hours as part of the official Jubilee Year 2000 program. And Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the archbishop of Mexico City, the largest Catholic diocese in the world, has approved Family Hours to be shown daily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

But others are more reserved about the new channel.

Father Gregory Coiro, a Capuchin Franciscan and media relations director for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said that any such Catholic channel should show a sense of diversity in Catholic teaching and not just aim “at a niche audience.”

He cited economic justice or capital punishment as important topics. “People need to be catechized on what the Pope and bishops are saying,” he said.

In Milwaukee, Archbishop Rembert Weakland's office argued that the content of the programming — and the difficulty that local bishops have monitoring it — was a serious concern.

“What doctrine, what theology is being presented? Who makes those decisions?” asked Jerry Topczewski, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

He said the archbishop has the responsibility to determine the suitability of programming brought into the diocese. If he “doesn't think it's constructive” or thinks “it's divisive,” he might ask the channel to stop operating, said Topczewski.

Satellite broadcasting will make it difficult for a bishop to control what content is broadcast in his diocese, he added. He said that such private ventures should seek the endorsement of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Familyland Television Network will not be affiliated with any of the 15 TV and nine radio stations now licensed and operated by U.S. dioceses.

William Ryan, deputy director of communications for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he saw no conflict with such a privately run Catholic station, especially one faithful to the magisterium and Pope John Paul II. He explained that “the bishops' own media plan was to encourage work being done” by many people. They wouldn't find the channel “in any way a source of stress, anxiety, or competition,” he contended.

The Conikers received a vote of confidence of sorts in May, when they were named to the Pontifical Council for the Family. “It's just providential,” Jerome Coniker said. “I never expected to be appointed to the council.”

Joseph Pronechen