Catholic media serves a vital role in service of the Church’s mission of evangelization. Good journalism and expert commentary can help inform Catholics about the important issues facing the Church. It can empower us to be more effective in the world. The trustworthiness of Catholic media has become increasingly important as trust in Church leadership fades. It is therefore tremendously scandalous when a Catholic media outlet deliberately misleads its audience in an attempt to present a false narrative.

It is very troubling to witness an ostensibly-Catholic media organization apparently abandon their commitment to truth and instead deliberately impose an ideological and political agenda on its audience. It is nothing short of deplorable. Even more worrying is when that agenda directly opposes the teachings and authority of the pope. For this reason, my colleagues and I have attempted to warn other Catholics about the inherent dishonesty and flagrant heterodoxy of the programming on the EWTN network since 2018. Within the last week, they were caught red-handed.

Last Thursday, November 12, at 8 p.m. EST, an interview between Raymond Arroyo and the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, aired on Arroyo’s weekly show, The World Over. Following the broadcast, videos of the interview, a discussion between Arroyo and his so-called “papal posse,” and the full episode were posted to the network’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

While I didn’t see the interview during its original broadcast, I was alerted to the headline of an article about the interview on LifeSiteNews: “Viganò skewers McCarrick Report on EWTN: ‘Bergoglio is to the deep church as Biden is to the deep state’” The timestamp on this article says “Thu Nov 12, 2020 – 8:50 pm EST.” In other words, it was posted shortly after the interview aired, and even before the program ended.

I was intrigued by this, in part because I was somewhat surprised that EWTN had fallen that far down the rabbit hole, and in part because I was curious about what else he might have said. EWTN, despite its clear antipathy and opposition to the Holy Father, has thus far striven to maintain a veneer of “respect” for Pope Francis, and—to my knowledge, anyway—has not yet indulged in the wildest QAnon-related conspiracy theories that other reactionary Catholic outlets and figures typically embrace.

In the early morning hours of the next day, Vatican reporter Edward Pentin posted a tweet about an “exclusive” transcript of this interview on the website of the National Catholic Register.

When I read this transcript, I noticed that it omits the “deep church” line. This was strange. Where the LifeSite story quotes him as saying, “the evidence of the facts demonstrates the opposite. I would say that Bergoglio is to the deep church as Biden is to the deep state,” the Register’s transcript stops at the word “opposite.” I checked the YouTube video (cued here to several seconds before the missing statement). At around 21:25—the point at which the “deep church” line should appear, the video cuts from a photograph of Viganò to a reaction shot of Arroyo and moves on the the following paragraph:

Meanwhile, I was directed to several reactionary Catholic websites that also purported to have the “complete” transcript of the interview, including LifeSiteNews, One Peter Five, Catholic Family News, and GloriaTV. All of these transcripts included the “deep church” line, as well as other content that was not featured in the EWTN interview.

This seemed very odd. How did these outlets obtain and publish transcripts of an interview so soon after the program, why were they all identical to each other, and why did they not match the transcript published by the Register (an EWTN-affiliated outlet)?

When questioned about this, Arroyo took to Twitter to insist that the transcript Pentin posted was the complete one:

At this point, things started to look really fishy. I couldn’t understand how the same interview had two different transcripts. Despite Arroyo’s insistence, it was clear that EWTN had made cuts. I also found small discrepancies—a word or two here and there—between the transcripts in addition to the missing sections of the Register’s transcript. Additionally, I noticed that there was one question and answer in the Register’s transcript that didn’t appear in the “alternative” versions. Then I stumbled upon a PDF transcript of the interview on an Italian website on Viganò’s letterhead.

Finally, things seemed to start becoming clearer. It was now apparent that Viganò must have sent out the script to numerous friendly outlets and permitted them to publish it in full after midnight Eastern time (based on the timestamps on the articles) following the broadcast. The editors of LifeSite must have been so excited by the “deep church” line that they decided to publish their short piece about it immediately after the interview aired.

There were other things that struck me as odd about the video of interview. For one thing, at the very beginning we don’t hear Viganò greet Arroyo. In fact, Viganò doesn’t say a word until he launches into a paragraph-long response to the first question. There was very little (if any) direct interaction between Viganò and Arroyo the entire interview. Viganò spoke in long, multi-sentence monologues in response to each of the questions, while Arroyo nodded along with a look of keen interest on his face. Was it possible that he was talking to a recording of Viganò’s voice and it wasn’t a real interview at all?

Several times throughout my investigation, I asked Arroyo questions about it on Twitter. He ignored me until I posted my theory that his “interview” had been conducted with pre-recorded answers from Viganò. In a tweet that was quickly deleted, he responded:

If Arroyo was not speaking to a recording, the only other reasonable explanation is that both Viganò and Arroyo were working from a script.

Confirmation came in the form of Robert Moynihan’s ”Inside the Vatican” Letter #37, which arrived in my inbox the following evening and now appears on his website. This letter not only contains a combined transcript, but makes parenthetical notes of the parts that were cut from the EWTN broadcast. It also confirms that most of the interview was pre-scripted.

Additionally, the letter confirms that the EWTN version of the interview was edited, making a note near the beginning that says:

“The entire text originally prepared for this Arroyo-Viganò interview is below in its entirety; the broadcast interview does not have the complete prepared text, because some prepared sections were omitted from the broadcast interview.”

Towards the end, he adds this “Special Note”:

“The following question and answer were not in the prepared interview. So this is the sole question and answer which were completely extemporaneous…”

In addition to the aforementioned “deep church” quote, statements removed from Viganò’s transcript by EWTN include mentions of secretive networks of nefarious people (“The same connections, the same complicities, the same acquaintances always recur: McCarrick, Clinton, Biden, the Democrats, and the Modernists, along with a procession of homosexuals and molesters that is not irrelevant”). He suggests that Francis is an illegitimate pope when he states that Benedict XVI “is too meek to blatantly disavow his successor by calling him a liar and discrediting him, as well as the function he holds.”

Additionally, the EWTN version of the interview omits Viganò’s closing rant:

“In this grotesque farce, now cloaked in a false semblance of legalism, there is no hesitation to drag the entire Church through the mud – its prestige before the world, its authority over the faithful – in order to save the now-compromised image of corrupt, unworthy, depraved prelates. I limit myself to observing that even now, in the Vatican, Bergoglio still surrounds himself with notorious homosexuals and people with gravely compromised reputations. This is the most blatant disavowal of Bergoglio’s supposed moralizing work.”

Why would EWTN want to censor these parts of the interview? Well, for the most part, while EWTN’s opposition to Pope Francis has been brazen and deceptive, the grounds for their opposition have largely been political and theological. They had not veered into the sensational and paranoid as much as other far-right Catholic media. Apparently they thought it was worth the risk to give a platform to Archbishop Viganò—who has become a symbol of political and ecclesial opposition to Pope Francis—despite his obsession with conspiracy theories. Maybe they thought they could control the message. If they did, he proved them wrong.

The publication of Letter #37 suggests Viganò and Moynihan pulled a bait-and-switch on Arroyo and EWTN. Arroyo and his network seem to have agreed to a pre-scripted interview with Viganò, apparently thinking that they could edit out Viganò’s most bizarre statements and produce a “complete transcript” that would match what they aired in their broadcast. It seems unlikely that they anticipated Viganò sending the “full” transcript to numerous other outlets in advance, who would in turn highlight the most outrageous passages. Even more, I doubt they foresaw Robert Moynihan blowing the lid off the entire plot and exposing their “interview” for the sham it was.

The way the interview was presented, viewers were left with the impression that it was a spontaneous exchange. It appears, however, that each side was reading their part in a script, like actors. If so, it was a serious breach of journalistic ethics and would be grounds for dismissal at other broadcast news outlets.

It remains unclear if Viganò’s team provided the questions to EWTN, but is certainly a strong possibility. As the veteran Vatican journalist Philip Pullella of Reuters tweeted on Monday, “Vigano and his handlers are total control freaks. They will not let anyone who might challenge him or ask a tough question anywhere near him. He/they want it all orchestrated. That is why all his missives are just regurgitated without checks or challenges.”

Meanwhile, as all of this unfolded, EWTN repeatedly deleted videos of this broadcast to YouTube and uploaded new versions. You can see the deletion history in the screenshot below:

Whether this was due to additional interview edits is unclear, but they have certainly not been forthcoming about the genesis of the interview or the completeness of their transcript.

EWTN and Moynihan did not respond to requests for comment.

Of course, this is not the first time Viganò and Moynihan have collaborated to create a media stir. On the most recent episode of the Patrick Coffin podcast, Robert Moynihan says he “was involved” with Viganò in the planning of the controversial audience between Kim Davis and Pope Francis back in 2015, during his apostolic visit to the United States. This has been long suspected, as Moynihan was also the first journalist to confirm the fact that the meeting occurred back in 2015. In the podcast, Coffin suggests that Moynihan details his and Viganò’s involvement in that story in his new book on Vigano, due out later this week.

Cardinal Robert Sarah also learned the hard way that getting mixed up with Viganò can backfire dramatically. When the cardinal attempted to publicly deny that he had signed Viganò’s conspiracy-laden letter on the Covid-19 pandemic, Viganò fiercely refuted this denial, providing details of their telephone conversation, which he claims to have recorded. He also publicly accused Sarah of causing “serious harm to the truth and to my person.” This conflict caused a disturbance among traditionalists who previously revered both men.

Regarding these recent events, the fact that EWTN would allow an interview of Viganò on the network at all is disturbing in itself. Honestly, this is distressing with or without Viganò’s comments about the deep church or networks of predators surrounding the pope. But this episode shows the lengths to which those bent on undermining Pope Francis are willing to bend the truth and try to present this dangerous ideological narrative to their viewers.

When you dance with the devil, you will get burned. When you tango with Viganò, you shouldn’t be surprised when the fire spreads beyond your control.

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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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