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Church and state averypoliticalwomancomIn the 1950s and early 1960s, the Venerable Fulton J Sheen not only had his own television shows on American network television and radio but was also a guest on secular shows, one of them being What’s My Line?

No doubt one or two nationally renowned Protestant ministers also appeared on secular programmes. Although alive at the time, I was too young to know.

Today, that happens rarely. The last secular programme which had clergy on from time to time was CNN’s The Larry King Show. Although I am not King’s biggest fan, it is to his credit that he invited the Revd John MacArthur several times as well as priests and rabbis.

It’s unclear whether the strident tone of the Moral Majority’s clergy in the 1970s put an end to inviting men of the cloth on secular shows, but, surely, they do not represent the vast majority of ordained men and women.

Perhaps it is time for producers of secular television and radio programmes to reconsider their moratorium on clergy.

One happy exception to this is France’s RMC radio. The morning current affairs show Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) has a priest from Poitiers — the Revd Patrice Gourrier — on frequently. He is pastor of Saint-Porchaire Church, which dates from the 11th century.

Père Gourrier adopts an appropriate stance of taking his faith seriously but wearing it lightly. He mixes well with everyone and has a quick wit. On Thursday, April 3, his fellow panellists included an atheist and a conservative homosexual jurist.

The atheist declared herself within seconds after being introduced. Gourrier made a witty riposte and the two conversed during breaks in the show.

Homosexuality also came up in the discussion, specifically around France’s Christian Democratic Party. The jurist, formerly an active party member himself until he came out, said that considering homosexuality as a sin was an archaic stance. Gourrier gently countered that the New Testament tells us that it is an ‘abomination’ and still a sin.

However, he warned against people defining themselves by family values alone. He added that it had become an ‘obsession’ for some French conservative politicians which, he reckoned, would produce ‘interesting psychoanalysis’. As a practicing clinical psychologist, he should know.

Gourrier is intellectually curious and well informed on the issues of the day; he reminds me of priests and Protestant ministers I have known over the years. The world must have millions of clergy around the world just like them. Why don’t the mainstream media invite them on to news shows? Not all would wish to accept, but even a few more would reveal to viewers and listeners that balanced Christianity can be in the world — intelligently — but not of it.

Since Gourrier began his regular appearances on Les Grandes Gueules, he occasionally meets RMC listeners who are travelling through or taking their holidays in or near Poitiers.

For him, attending church is essential. Last year, he deplored the family values marches in Paris which were held on a Sunday: ‘I fear my pews will empty on the protest days. They would do better coming to Mass.’

On April 3, he deplored attacks on women as part of a worrying trend objectifying people instead of viewing them as human beings. He also said that he was appalled by an increase in racial harrassment, which he also sees in Poitiers: ‘What these people don’t realise is that those attacked are not only French but are also doctors and lawyers’.

Gourrier said that it is entirely ‘normal’ for us to gravitate towards those who are most like us: ‘We can tolerate minor differences which add interest but nothing too far out of the norm’. That said, he added, over the past five years, the economic crisis has exacerbated racially-motivated verbal and physical assaults: ‘Sadly, hard times bring out the worst elements of human nature’.

One of the show’s hosts, Olivier Truchot, noted that every racial grouping in France had its part to play, not just French Europeans. The conservative jurist added that another part of the problem was the onslaught of ‘diversity’ messages ‘every day, morning to night — people are fed up’. Another panellist wryly told him, ‘A bit like your homosexual lobby. So there are gays. We don’t need to be told anymore. Please — keep it to yourselves’.

Still, in France, as anywhere else in the West, RMC’s callers lamented that they couldn’t correct certain colleagues without being called a racist by everyone else.

But I digress.

Gourrier’s measured, intelligent discourse, 15 books and his Twitter account are persuading lapsed Catholics to return to the Church.

An article in La Nouvelle Republique tells us that his parishoners avail themselves of printed copies of all his Sunday sermons, which contain flashcodes leading to a video version on Dailymotion.

Gourrier told the paper that a life in the Church and in Poitiers saved him. When he began working, it was as an editor and a publishing house director. He lived comfortably in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. All the same, he felt that he lacked something. He reflected on his childhood when he would go off alone to read the New Testament during lunch at school. He entered seminary at the age of 23 but left, possibly fearing where that life would lead him. In the 1990s, he returned and was ordained at the age of 40 in 2000.

He will be leaving Poitiers this year for health reasons (severe GI-tract problems) and because the diocese is reorganising the parishes. However, he will continue in some capacity with the Church, saying that ‘we need more mission work for priests’.

Meanwhile, Catholics in Poitiers can attend his Sunday Masses — ‘beautiful, traditional’ ones — because, as he explains, ‘people need a well-established ritual’.

Returning to Archbishop Fulton J Sheen, Benedict XVI declared him Venerable in July 2012. In a fascinating article excerpted below, National Catholic Register tells us how mainstream media aided his ministry. Emphases mine:

A consummate communicator, Archbishop Sheen hosted the evening radio program The Catholic Hour for 20 years, and his Emmy award-winning Life Is Worth Living (1951-1957) and The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968) became some of the most-watched television shows airing at the time. He authored numerous books and is often referred to as one of the first televangelists.

He harnessed the new media of his day — radio and television — and used those tools to lead others to Christ,” said Msgr. Deptula. “We can look to him to see how to bring the eternal news of Jesus Christ to our modern world.”

As important as his works, Bishop Jenky also noted Archbishop Sheen’s life of holiness.

One of his greatest gifts was his example of prayer, preaching and teaching — especially his prayer before the Eucharist,” said Bishop Jenky. “His life of prayer began as a seminarian. As an associate pastor of a parish in Peoria, he had a huge impact on bringing that parish back to life. He said that miracle came from the time he spent on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”

He constantly preached that, even for the most hardworking priest, the most important time would be the time he spends in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament,” said Bishop Jenky. “I can’t speak of anyone who spoke more eloquently about this, and he lived it every day of his life.”

We need more Fulton J Sheens in today’s media — balanced Catholic and Protestant clergy. May God bring them forward. And may secular programme commissioners and producers see the need for inviting them on air.

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