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The Catholic Position Radio Show

August 18th, 2016posted by Sarah L. Ater
Abp. McNicholas on the radio for NBC in this undated photograph.

Abp. McNicholas on the radio for WSAI in this undated photograph.

In late 1945 Abp. John T. McNicholas opened a weekly radio program entitled, “The Catholic Position.” This six-week program was structured to have selected priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati explain the Catholic position on many questions of the day, especially as the world had just experienced a massive and devastating war. Abp. McNicholas gave the first talk and focused on the idea of a totalitarian government and why it is wrong in principle. With the Cold War about to begin, the Church and the whole United States was very eager to fight against communism.  “The Catholic Position” was initially broadcast on WKRC on Sunday afternoons beginning in November 1945. The Archbishop invited the public to submit questions resulting from the broadcasts, and they would be answered as time allowed. Abp. McNicholas stated, “The addresses of the priests are intended to promote peace, harmony, good will, and inquiring spirit, and above all, a love of the truths of Christ which will enable earnest souls to tread the way of Christ and to live after the manner of Christ.”

Trouble came quickly by the time of the fourth broadcast scheduled for December 2. Written and to be given as a general dialogue between Revs. Francis J. Flanagan and Stanley J. Bertke, the Catholic Church’s position on “The Rights of Labor” prompted the station to cancel the program and the two remaining scheduled programs. A heated strike at General Motors in Norwood was currently happening and made the station feel that they were not the appropriate vehicle for the expression of Catholic views on labor. Instead, the station indicated that they had asked only to have topics that were inspirational, religious meditations, and the Christian motive to show how to live in harmony with God. A statement from WKRC director of religious programs, Judson McKim, reads, “I pointed out that the station had no desire to challenge this script in any particular, but that we were in a difficult situation in as much as we had just refused to accept a GM script to run at our regular rates on the ground that it was too controversial at this particular time. To present the opposing view under a religious classification, therefore, would be embarrassing to us.”

Msgr. Clarence Issenmann, later Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati and then Bishop of Cleveland

Msgr. Clarence Issenmann, later Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati and then Bishop of Cleveland

The station offered to broadcast the Church’s program on a Saturday afternoon in December or January, but the Church rejected this proposal, stating that the damage against free speech had already been accomplished. Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Rev. Clarence Issenmann, wrote, “Basic principles, whether they pertain to labor, capital, press, or radio, should be expounded honestly and simply, thus enabling citizens to form their judgments…Labor should know that the Catholic Church is its true and disinterested friend and counselor. The mission of the Church is to lead men in the way of truth, justice, and peace.”

The public press made note that the addresses were given on free time and therefore the priests would be the guests of the host (WKRC) and should not say anything objectionable to the host. Rev. Issenmann countered that the government insists that radio stations allot certain amounts of free time to programs that are of interest to the general public and if all air time is commercial, then “commercial interests will control or slant these programs to their own interest…too much one point of view.”

“The Catholic Position” ended with WKRC in December 1945, but it was restarted in 1946 when invited by WLW to begin a thirteen episode series beginning on April 28. Again, these broadcasts would be given by priests of the Archdiocese and would look at common questions of the faith. Topics included four episodes dedicated to marriage and four to capital and labor (yes, given by Revs. Flanagan and Bertke). A letter was sent from the chancery to all priests of the Archdiocese, encouraging them to promote the program to their congregations. “This opportunity has exceptional value because it enables us to carry the teachings of the Church across areas much more vast than that covered by any other Cincinnati Station. Enjoying a listening area of four states, WLW brings us into approximately 250,000 homes, with a potential audience of one million.”

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati continued this seasonal program relationship with WLW through 1950. Those priests giving the talks were required to send their manuscript to the Archdiocese for approval prior to broadcast. They were reminded to be on guard against offending any members of the audience and to win their friendly interest while not compromising the position of the Church. By 1951 WLW was airing “The Catholic Hour” with Monsignor Fulton Sheen. The massive popularity of this program overtook “The Catholic Position,” thus ending its run.

 

Laboring on the Mission is a blog of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives. The title is taken from a letter written by Bishop Edward Fenwick, OP, describing his mission work in Ohio. Whether in the wilds of the 19th century or the baby boom of the 1950s, the Catholic Church continues the mission entrusted to her by Jesus Christ. Here we tell that story.