Image (from left): Fr. Gerald Murray, Robert Royal, Raymond Arroyo

Why are we listening to young people, who really haven’t experienced a lot of life, or God, frankly?

— Raymond Arroyo

Note: This is the second post in a series on longtime EWTN host Raymond Arroyo. Last week’s first part, “Policy over Fidelity,” explored how Arroyo uses his program, The World Over Live, to promote a political agenda that is often at odds with Church teaching. Part Two, “Posse of Deceit,” explores how he has used the program to undermine Pope Francis and his work to sow doubt and dissent among the faithful.

The second part of this series will take a somewhat different approach than part one. In the first article, I highlighted several of the more unsavory, politically-minded guests he invited to his program. Part two will focus on one recent (and representative) segment from The World Over Live, in which he misinterprets the intentions and mission of this papacy and how he and the “Papal Posse” had no qualms about portraying a pre-synodal gathering of young people at the Vatican in a negative light. This type of thing is a frequent occurrence on the show, and this example demonstrates the degree to which falsehoods and unfair representations permeate the discussion on his program.  

Since early in the papacy, Arroyo and his Papal Posse (author Robert Royal and Archdiocese of New York priest Fr. Gerald Murray) have been providing coverage and “analysis” of the words and actions of Pope Francis — coverage that is often incomplete, and analysis that is almost always critical and condescending toward the Holy Father. Frequently, guests on the program are known for their extreme opposition to the mission and vision of Pope Francis, whether they’ve written books critical of his papacy (Phil Lawler, Ross Douthat), or they’ve signed document or petitions suggesting that the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia contains doctrinal errors or heresy (Joseph Shaw, Cardinal Raymond Burke).

Many Catholics have taken note, and it appears that Arroyo has been feeling a little heat lately. On the April 12 episode of The World Over Live, he let loose on his critics and defended his coverage of the papacy, stating,

“I get this every week. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not the pope. All we do is cover this. I do think people sometimes — look, we all love the Holy Father, I think, the viewers of this program do. It is up to us to respect him enough to take the words and evaluate them in a context of the times and of the moment, and if we look the other way for portions and pretend we’re not seeing it, we’re letting that audience down and we’re not being, to my mind, good Catholics.”

–Raymond Arroyo
April 12, 2018 broadcast of
The World Over Live

Earlier that day, Twitter user Patrick Neve (@catholicpat) posted an 8-second clip from the March 29 episode showing Arroyo questioning why the opinions of young people matter. It was asked at the beginning of a discussion with his “papal posse” about the final document of the pre-synod meeting of youth in Rome. Since the tweet was posted, a number of social media users, as well as blog posts and articles have popped up to chastise Arroyo and to defend the valuable voices of the youth in the Church.

Here’s the clip:

Lest anyone suggest that the quote is taken out of context, here is the entire episode from March 29 (video cued to the beginning of coverage of the pre-synodal meeting). It is clear that the posse’s discussion of the document was agenda-driven from beginning to end.

First, let’s look at Arroyo’s initial question, “Why are we listening to young people, who really haven’t experienced a lot of life, or God, frankly?” The implications here are nothing short of dismissive, not only to to the concerns of Catholic young people in general, but the the 305 young adults who gathered in Rome from March 19 to 25 to discuss issues relevant to vocations and the faith of young people. His tone arguably projects an air of condescension that infects the entire segment of the program.

Regarding the youth he was questioning: this was not a random sample of teenagers picked up off the street. First of all, the entire delegation was made up of young adults (18 years or older). Participants were selected by their national bishops’ conferences and represented a wide variety of life experiences and cultural backgrounds. They came from all continents: Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia, and Europe.

Participants came from all different states of life. Among them were singles, those discerning a vocation, married people, seminarians, and those in religious life. For example, the three United States delegates were a young married mother and author, a Lasallian brother who teaches high school religion classes, and a single man who works in campus ministry. Each of the three was selected for experience working with young people, and for dedication to the faith. Yet listening to the continuing discussion on The World Over. you would think this was a group of unwitting subversives, selected to undermine the faith.

Where Peter Is has already commented on the final document of the pre-synod meeting twice (here and here). As you can probably guess, we were big fans of the document, and were particularly impressed at the young people’s work, and are looking forward to the outcome of the synod with great anticipation.

The Papal Posse thinks otherwise.

Robert Royal (by far the most charitable of the trio but no better informed than the others) said this group of young people “know almost nothing about the Church, about why the Church thinks the way that it does, so they put out things that I think the bishops probably already knew. But it’s part of what I think Pope Francis thinks will be a way of evangelizing…Obviously the concrete suggestions that they make are suggestions that a 20-something person asks without understanding the nature of what they are talking [about].

Cutting Royal off before he could finish his sentence, Arroyo turned to Fr. Murray and asked, “The question I have is most of these young people are catechized not by the Church but by the world. So what fruit can this ‘dialogue,’ this interaction, bring forth?”

Fr. Murray, the curmudgeon of the group who never passes up an opportunity to voice his disagreement with anything even vaguely related to Pope Francis, responded,

“The dialogue is important if it’s a dialogue in which information’s being communicated to people who lack it. So I’m always suspicious when there’s a document with people who don’t really know Catholic teaching, then tell us that we need to reexamine these teachings in order to be more relevant in the modern age. I think the mission of the Church is to communicate the Word of God and it’s obvious that this hasn’t been very well communicated the last 20-30 years, to the coming generation. So I sit down to look at this document and it’s very concerning because it’s basically rehashing secular criticisms of Catholic morality and then bringing up the subject of why don’t we have women priests, why isn’t there equality in the Church? This is not what we need to be discussing right now. This is basically just continuing what I would say is a revolutionary process that has fomentented when we take these questions and treat them as open questions. These are not open questions.”

First of all, if Gerald Murray had actually read the document before making that statement, I’ll eat my hat. Secondly, he’s also accepted Arroyo’s slanderous classification of the young adults as ignorant dissenters.  

Arroyo then drew their attention to a quote from the meeting’s final document:

“The Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism. Sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of ‘it has always been done this way.’ We need a Church that is welcoming and merciful.”

Note that the document does not say that the Church is excessively moralistic. Nor does it say that the teachings of the Church are untrue. It simply states something that anyone who has ever spoken to a lapsed Catholic or secular liberal know to be true: there are people who do think the Church is too strict. There are people who are not convinced by certain arguments made to defend Church teachings. The point is that we need to make a better effort to reach these people.

That’s not how the posse saw it. Arroyo immediately saw invisible hands at work in the drafting of the document, saying,

“There was a line here we mentioned some time ago, ‘Sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of ‘it has always been done this way.’ That line that appears in this pre-synodal document supposedly from these young people, allegedly, that was a line Pope Francis used in his opening address to them. That we have to get away from this notion that it has always been done this way. Are we … looking at a little bit of ventriloquism here, with the old Vatican hands using these kids as convenient mouthpieces?”

Murray was quick to agree,

That’s always the suspicion, Raymond, because young people may not organize their thoughts in the precise language that we just heard. Talk about the Church as severe and moralistic. I mean, that’s a complaint I hear constantly, usually from people who don’t accept Catholic morality. My question is when you say things have always been done this way, and that’s not a justification, in the history of the church, since we are passing on a message from 2000 years ago: doctrine, practices, ways of living, they’re inherited, they’re cherished and appreciated. In fact, people who are cultural Catholics, they look back on their family formations as the transmitters of faith, festivals, feats, and beliefs. If something that has been done in the Church for a long time, the presumption is it’s a good thing that we need to preserve. So the logic of it’s been done in the past, it’s got to be rejected, unless you can explain it to me instantaneously. That’s an invitation for chaos.”

Clearly, no one on the program watched or read the explanation given at the press conference for the release of the final document, where participant Laphidil Twumasi (a young woman of Ghanaian origin, representing the Migrantes group in Vicenza and Youth Ministry of the Diocese of Vicenza) described the process of drafting the final document:

“I was part of the document editing group, and it was a unique and unforgettable experience. We felt very involved, and worked on the material we collected from the twenty different language groups that were created. There were nine groups for English, four for Spanish, four for Italian and three for French. In addition to these groups, there were six other groups from the social world to hear the voices of young people not physically present at the pre-Synodal Meeting. Indeed, on social media, the same questions were asked on our three themes:

  • challenges and opportunities of young people in today’s world
  • faith and vocation, discernment and accompaniment
  • the educational and pastoral action of the Church.

The initial challenge was to take 26 different texts, translate them all into English, look for the points they had in common, make a kind of summary, and then re-translate everything into different languages. We editorial group members were divided into three groups, so that each group could elaborate on one of the three themes. There were four speakers and three translators for each group. We worked for three days, or rather nights, on the document, each time offering the general meeting the opportunity to share their opinions and comments on its drafting and content. For the most part, we carried out a work of synthesis and tried to put our ideas in writing with a direct, precise and clear language, making sure that every young person felt represented in the document, without excluding anyone.”

This certainly doesn’t sound like Sr. Joan Chittiser and Fr. James Martin were in the back stitching together meeting notes from old “We are Church” newsletters to make up the document.

Mr. Arroyo, if this is what you’re giving every week, you shouldn’t be surprised about what you are getting every week. You owe an apology to every single young delegate who participated in the meeting, and you and the posse should retract your false characterizations of the youth that were made on the program. Then, perhaps you should invite some of the people who participated in and helped organize the meeting to provide accurate coverage of what really happened.

If he leaves this condescension and slander uncorrected, I once again call on the Catholic bishops to speak out in defense of the young people at the synod, and I call on the Catholic press to pay closer attention to the damage that he’s inflicting on the body of Christ through his program.

Stay tuned for part 3…

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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