Mass for Shut-ins to be Canceled by WHUT?

PBS stations are debating the limits of one of public television’s basic commandments: Thou shalt not broadcast religious programming. The discussion, some station managers fear, could lead to a ban on broadcasts of local church services and other faith-oriented programs that have appeared on public stations for decades despite the prohibition.

The Public Broadcasting Service’s board is to vote next month on a committee’s recommendation to strip the affiliation of any station that carries ‘sectarian’ content. Losing its PBS relationship would mean that a station could no longer broadcast programs that the service distributes, from Sesame Street to ‘Frontline.’

The proposal is already having local ramifications. In anticipation of the vote next month, WHUT, the public station operated by Howard University in the District, has notified the Archdiocese of Washington that it will cancel ‘Mass for Shut-Ins,’ a Diocese-produced weekly program, if the PBS board adopts a strict interpretation. ‘Mass for Shut-Ins’ has been carried on WHUT since 1996, and continuously on a Washington TV station for nearly 60 years.

‘It’s kind of a shock to us,’ said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. ‘They’ve been great partners of ours for a long time. . . . The Mass is a very local programming that provides a community service. You’d think public television would be about engaging the community.’

…..A strict ban would leave stations such as WLAE in New Orleans with a dilemma: Stop airing its daily telecast of Catholic Mass or end its affiliation with PBS. The station, which is partly owned by a Catholic lay group, has been presenting the morning Mass since it went on the air in 1984.

‘We don’t want to lose our association with PBS, because they provide a lot of fine programs,’ said Ron Yager, the station’s vice president and general manager. ‘But at the same time, we need to serve our community. We’ve built an identity around this. People know us for this.’

Yager said his station has never received a complaint about the Mass telecast in the 25 years it has aired. ‘I’m really not totally sure of their reasoning for doing this,’ he said.

Lawson said her station has never had a complaint about its Mass broadcasts, either. But the program has sparked interest from other religious groups that would like the station to broadcast their church or mosque services, she said. ‘We just have to tell them that [‘Mass for Shut-Ins’] is a legacy program, and that we don’t have the wherewithal or inclination to do any more,’ she said….

KBYU in Provo, Utah, for example, is operated by Brigham Young University, which in turn is affiliated with the Mormon Church. The station airs much of the usual PBS fare — ‘Arthur,’ ‘Barney,’ ‘The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer’ — but also broadcasts two hours a day of ‘BYU Devotional,’ which includes lectures from leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. KMBH, based in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and licensed to an affiliate of the Diocese of Brownsville, carries Sunday Mass broadcasts, Bible study in Spanish, and a family issues program hosted by a priest. In 2007, the station drew national attention when it declined to air ‘Hand of God,’ a critically praised ‘Frontline’ documentary about clergy sexual abuse.

Jan McNamara, a PBS spokeswoman, declined specific comment, saying only, “We’re still gathering feedback from our members to see where they stand.”

9 Replies to “Mass for Shut-ins to be Canceled by WHUT?”

  1. Perhaps we should remember this when PBS comes looking for contributions. Affiliates say that NPR is also pursuing such a 100% Christian-free rule as well, although they are denying it.

  2. Do you know to whom we should write to petition the board not to vote for the restrictive interpretation?

  3. Thank you to everyone interested in helping the Mass. The archdiocese is committed to continuing to offer this ministry, though the cost of moving to a broadcast station, which is important to reach our homebound and elderly viewers, is really significant (it could be as high as $100,000 per year). In addition, it can be very difficult to move viewers to a new station. The Mass has been on air in the DC area for 60 years, and on WHUT since the mid-1990s.

    We have been working with the Shrine on seeking a production grant, which would help if we could get it. Unlike televangelist programs, the Mass does not solicit donations on-air through an 800 number. This program truly is a service to the elderly and homebound so they can attend Mass (we have Catholic and non-Catholic viewers).

    In terms of next steps, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other faith groups are seeking a meeting with PBS. From what we understand, PBS reportedly has decided to implement membership policies that date to 1985 (24 years ago), but were never implemented. The policies would prevent their member stations from including religious programming as part of overall community programming, even if the local community wants it. Our Mass features participants from around the Washington region (DC, MD and VA) so it’s definitely a local program anda community service.

    If you want to weigh in, the contact at WHUT is Jennifer Lawson, [email protected]. WHUT has been a wonderful partner in providing this community service since the mid-1990s. This change would be a real loss to our viewers.

    Finally, if you are interested in being a part of the congregation, please join us. The next taping is June 4, 7:30 p.m. (we tape two half-hour Masses so expect to be there until 8:45 p.m.) at the Basilica Crypt Church. Email [email protected] if you want a schedule for the tapings.

  4. I am so sorry to learn the Mass for Shut-ins has been cancelled. I hadn’t been aware of this because I don’t usually watch it over the summer. I was looking for it’s return in September and am saddened and disappointed that it has not been re-established. I do hope this can be resolved and the Mass for Shut-ins will return..

  5. Thanks for writing. I should have provided an update earlier. The Sunday TV Mass has continued – just not on WHUT and at a much higher cost since we now have to buy airtime for this community service.

    The Mass airs every Sunday, 10:30 a.m. on CW-50. The actual channel varies by cable provider. For example, most Comcast customers in this area watch it on Channel 3 or 23.

    WHUT’s decision not to carry the Mass was difficult since we’ve had such a great partnership, but we hope more people will be able to see the Mass on CW-50 since its broadcast area is larger. If anyone would like to support the TV Mass given the higher cost for airtime, the address is Sunday TV Mass, Archdiocese of Washington, PO Box 29260, Washington, DC 20017-0260.

  6. The snow now sees me at home for a week. Thank you Archdiocese and CW-50. It has been a chore to find this until I typed in Mass For Shut Ins in Google. Thank you also for the very sad but needed heads up. Our Lord Jesus bless you.

  7. Please be advised that anyone who is a shut in may receive ” Mass for Shut ins” from a Passionist Chapel on their computer if one is available to them. The mass can be received on the following website:


    I just hope this will be of assistance to some of the shut ins as I know I really appreciate having
    this available to me.

    Yours truly, HSO.

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