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Nun Apologizes for TV Criticism of Mahony

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has received an apology from cable TV’s Mother M. Angelica, who recently called on Los Angeles Catholics to disobey the cardinal’s plans to revitalize the way they celebrate Mass, a Mahony spokesman said this week.

Mahony is at the Vatican as co-president of the synod for bishops of North and South America. Reacting to e-mail reports of the nun’s on-air remarks, Mahony had demanded a formal apology from Mother Angelica, who heads one of the nation’s largest religious cable channels.

On her “Mother Angelica Live” show Nov. 18, the traditionally garbed nun read portions of Mahony’s letter to her and said, “I do want to apologize to the cardinal for my remarks, which I’m sure seemed excessive.”

Mother Angelica said that on the earlier show she was “expressing my heartfelt concern” over Mahony’s plans and whether Catholic doctrine was clearly stated in his pastoral letter outlining the changes.

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But Father Gregory Coiro, the cardinal’s spokesman, complained that Mother Angelica further compounded the insult after her brief apology by using the same program “as a vehicle to launch another broadside” against Mahony.

Bill Stelteneier, president of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in Birmingham, Ala., declined to comment this week about the incident, spokeswoman Amy Murray said.

The focus of the dispute is Mahony’s new “Guide for Sunday Mass,” which outlines plans for revitalizing worship in Los Angeles area parishes over the next three years. Mahony’s pastoral letter called for, among other things, using actual bread in the Eucharist instead of flat, round wafers.

The cardinal released the guide in September amid complaints from traditional Catholics about changes of emphasis and worship format.

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On a Nov. 12 program, Mother Angelica lamented what she termed secular trends in the Catholic Church and criticized Mahony’s pastoral guide for being unclear on the “real presence” of Christ in the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

“I’m afraid my obedience in that diocese would be absolutely zero,” she said on the program. “And I hope everybody else’s in that diocese is zero.”

Mahony responded sharply. “For you to call into question my own belief in the Real Presence is without precedence. To compound the matter, your call for my people to offer zero obedience to their Shepherd is unheard of and shocking,” he wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to the nun.

The cardinal said he was offended that Mother Angelica would accuse him of teaching that the Eucharist is bread and wine before consecration and remained bread and wine afterward. “To hold such a view is nothing short of heresy in our Catholic Church,” he said.

The charge is “astounding and reprehensible,” wrote the cardinal, adding that he was consulting both church and civil attorneys in light of “the scandal that can be caused by publicly accusing the archbishop of heresy.”

Coiro said Mahony, who is not due back in Los Angeles until mid-December, also has consulted with Vatican officials and U.S. bishops.

It is ironic, the cardinal said in his letter, that he has supported the network and Mother Angelica’s program in the past, even trying to get EWTN on more Southern California cable systems.

Mother Angelica, the head of a religious order based in Alabama, founded the independent cable channel in 1981, and it is now carried by more than 1,600 cable franchises.

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The 24-hour network features doctrinally conservative material, but Mother Angelica’s live talk show has proved to be the flagship program.

She is well-known “for her freewheeling verbal assaults against those with whom she disagrees,” said Tod Tamberg, editor of the Tidings, the archdiocesan weekly.


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