“It’s like she has access to everything,” he said.
Founded by Mother Angelica in 1981, EWTN is located in conservative, Deep South state. Though Hispanic immigrants have helped expand parishes statewide in recent years, Alabama’s coast was the center of the state’s Catholic population for generations.
EWTN looks much like any other TV operation: There’s a control room with TV screens in front of big desks filled with brightly lit buttons; a studio with stage lights hanging overheard; a forest of satellite dishes in the back of the 10-acre complex.
But it has other things you don’t see at secular operations, like white statues of angels and saints scattered around the exterior. There are indoor and outdoor chapels for Mass; crucifixes hanging in hallways; and photos of Mother Angelica, who is retired from the media and lives in a convent in north Alabama.
The network operates on a nonprofit basis and neither sells ads nor accepts money for its programming, yet it brings in millions annually. Federal tax forms filed by nonprofit groups show EWTN took in $36.3 million in 2011, nearly all of it in donations, and ended the year with more than $40 million in assets.
Warsaw said the network’s 24/7 focus on Roman Catholicism gives it an advantage when big events happen, such as the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the selection of a successor. But while the network is tweeting and offering live updates about the selection process, just like other media outlets, it won’t necessarily worry about being the first to break all the big news leading up to the announcement of a new pontiff.
“Our mission is not to be first, our mission is to be right and to provide the right perspective and context,” said Warsaw, who will be in Rome for the conclave.
Massimo Faggioli, an Italian who teaches theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., said EWTN is unique in its size and reach, but he faults the operation for being too hesitant to air opinions outside Vatican orthodoxy.
“I can’t even watch it. It gives always an official version of how thing should be: The Vatican version and the American Catholic version,” said Faggioli.
EWTN’s stated goal on federal tax forms is to “communicate the teachings and the beauty of the Catholic church and to help people grow in their love and understanding of God and his infinite mercy,” and Warsaw doesn’t make any apology for communicating Vatican beliefs to viewers.
The papal election gives the network another chance to put church business into spiritual terms for a wide audience, he said.
“While you certainly can’t deny that there is an aspect of the election of the pope that is political, it’s not entirely political,” said Warsaw.