BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Programming on the Alabama-based EWTN Global Catholic Network looks a lot like regular cable TV for a change.
With the death of Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic cable television and satellite operation has gone wall-to-wall with news from the Vatican, just like CNN, Fox News, NBC and other mainstream media outlets. Much of the coverage on Eternal Word Television Network is live; some is taped.
As the channel showed live video from the procession of the pope's body into St. Peter's Basilica on Monday, the Rev. Mitch Pacwa, a regular host on EWTN, discussed the pope's death and Vatican ritual in a separate feed that originated in a studio in the Birmingham suburb of Irondale.
"They are transferring his body in prayer and great formality," Pacwa explained.
The potential audience was huge: With a worldwide audience of 110 million households in 110 countries, EWTN calls itself the world's largest religious-based media network. Actual viewership is unknown, because much of the channel's potential reach is outside the United States.
This week, the channel's primary news host, Raymond Arroyo, will travel to Rome to anchor coverage of the pope's funeral and the conclave to elect a new pope.
"EWTN will provide extensive coverage of the period of the vacancy of the Holy See, or interregnum, much of it live from Rome," Doug Keck, vice president of programming, said in a statement.
Aside from coverage of events surrounding the pope's death, Keck said EWTN would show special documentaries about the life and work of Pope John Paul II. The network's conservative stance on religious and social topics often mirrors positions taken by the pope.
Many Catholics get their news from the same sources as anyone else, but a professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., said the EWTN channel does have a devoted following.
"I'm a priest and work in a parish, and a lot of our members watch it," said the Rev. Robert Sullivan, who teaches history at Notre Dame and directs the Erasmus Institute, which tries to apply traditional Catholic thought to current issues.
Founded by a nun, Mother Angelica, in 1981, EWTN has grown to include a radio operation with a potential audience of about 600 million people and programming in English and Spanish. Internal Revenue Service records available online show EWTN reported $29.5 million in revenues in 2003, all but a small part of it from contributions.