There is a developing story about a popular priest and TV presenter at Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network.

From the AmericanPapist:

As many of you have heard, Fr. Francis Mary Stone, the host of EWTN’s popular Life on the Rock TV program was supposed to host a segment last Thursday on the topic of Campion College in Sydney as well as Australia’s upcoming World Youth Day.

Instead, I’m told that this letter was read by a substitute:

Dear Family,

Regretfully, I have a message that does not come without significant pain to both you and me. I have to tell you in all honesty and truth, that I have been personally involved with helping a widow and her struggling family. Over the course of time, the mother and I have grown very close. As a result, I am compelled to take some time off to prayerfully and honestly discern my future.

I am truly sorry of the impact this may have on so many. I am not unaware of the gravity and magnitude of the situation, yet after much wise counsel, it is really something that I must deal with now for the good of all.

With that said, it is best that I deal with it away from EWTN. Therefore, I have asked for and graciously been granted some extended time to prayerfully discern my vocation.

To those who are part of the EWTN family locally, and others throughout the world, especially all those who have supported me so faithfully in my priestly vocation and ministry here on Life on the Rock, I sincerely apologize. I ask for your prayers and understanding during this time that is so very difficult, but yet so very necessary.

Please lift me up in your humble prayers to Jesus through Mary, our Mother, in Grace and Mercy.

Fr Francis Mary, MFVA [I have verified the text personally. – AmP]

I would join others who have been calling for prayers on behalf of Fr. Francis Mary. We should also remember in our prayers the fact that he is in a very grave situation.

Needless to say, Fr. Francis Mary’s letter has caused a great deal of grief to his viewers, and I think it’s important to allay some of the fears I’ve seen people express.

I’m not sure how EWTN has gone about addressing this situation, but I would say that in cases of public scandal like this it is important for EWTN to take Fr. Francis Mary’s decision as a teaching opportunity. Cases of laicization are not unheard of, and in all of our learning from priests we must distinguish their authentic teaching (which rests upon the Rock of Christ) from the particular teacher (who sadly does not always perfectly participate in the grace of Christ the Teacher).

That said, this turn of affairs is very public, and EWTN should take care that its viewers are not scandalized beyond what is already a sad (but not irredeemable) situation. From all I’ve seen been able to determine thus far, it seems that EWTN has decided to purge most references to Fr. Francis Mary from their website and recurring video spots. I even had to go to a 3rd-party website to find his picture.

Catholics should feel no embarrassment in this situation, and EWTN should give the full truth of the matter to the viewers that come to it for exactly that. While we are all saddened when a prominent Catholic figure missteps, none of us should be surprised by temptation. Some thoughtful editorializing would be entirely proper and pastoral in an upcoming Life on the Rock episode. (I should note that since I don’t regularly watch the show I don’t have a sure way of knowing that this response hasn’t in fact already been done or is planned.) I realize that it can be difficult to handle situations such as this one, but the primary concern should be the care of souls, not the reputation of the network, etc. I’ve read through quite a few message boards and comment threads to find that a great number of people have been disappointed by this news, and at the same time there seems to be scant little that EWTN has done to provide context and reconciliation. I trust that EWTN viewers will be given something more than Fr. Francis Mary’s statement? Maybe some sort of notice over at the Life on the Rock webpage?

[update: scroll down this post to read my comments on the LOTR segment now that I’ve heard the audio.]

And I would also hope that discussion of this situation in general does not generate into finger-pointing (at Fr. Francis Mary, the widow, EWTN, his brother friars, etc). Prayers are primary here, and no one knows the full details of the situation. I’m just concerned that the general principles that apply in such matters are expressed forthrightly by those who have previously worked with him.

If anyone has youtubed last week’s Life on the Rock segment, I’d be much obliged….

Update: For whatever reason (the Internet gods are fickle), this post is getting a huge influx of visitors from search engines and blog crawlers. Welcome to the new readers. Let’s keep the discussions exemplary.

Update 2: The EWTN website allows you to watch the most recent Life on the Rock episode in RealPlayer video format here. As of Sunday night (11/4), I couldn’t get that link to work. I hope the problem is merely technical.

The mp3 of the show, however, is still available here (large file). My summary and comments:

The substitute, Fr. Anthony Mary, does make a note before reading the letter that it is “difficult for him, and may not be appropriate for younger viewers.” He asks that parents be attentive to what their children are hearing and then proceeds to read the letter. (I wonder what kinds of parent-child conversations ensued?)

After reading the letter, Fr. Anthony Mary addresses the EWTN audience and says that this is a time when all involved are in great need of prayers and support. Always remember, Fr. Anthony Mary says, that no one is beyond the power of God’s mercy or redemption. They ask for prayers one again, then go to a break (in which the lengthy advertisement is ironically a priest giving his personal vocation testimony and talking about his desire to be a priest until the day he dies, etc.) and then resume the show.

Interestingly, the substitute anchor begins by adding that “evil and sin do not have the last word – there’s always hope” referring to Fr. Francis Mary’s plight, which, to my mind, is a much more negative evalation of the circumstances than most commenters are generally giving it. There might be something to consider here.