Detroit (Free Press) -- As a Michigan-based Catholic TV station becomes increasingly popular around the world, church officials are trying to tell the public that the media outlet does not represent Catholicism.
In two public statements, the Archdiocese of Detroit has taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing Real Catholic TV, saying "that it does not have the authorization required under church law to identify or promote itself as Catholic."
The dispute comes as the TV station, which operates mainly over the Internet, has exploded in popularity since it started in 2008. Its videos attract 10 million views on YouTube and its public face, Michael Voris, has become a well-known, aggressive global advocate for conservative Catholics.
Voris returned from Nigeria last Monday, where he visited the church that terrorists attacked on Christmas Day. And on Friday, he left for the Philippines to help make the case against contraception use.
But as Real Catholic TV's popularity rises, the station is facing its share of detractors concerned about how its traditional views are sometimes expressed in a blunt manner.
"The only way to prevent a democracy from committing suicide is to limit the vote to faithful Catholics," Voris said on a show that stoked controversy.
Not afraid to offend
For much of his life, Michael Voris of Ferndale, Michigan was a lukewarm Catholic, someone who usually just went through the motions at church.
But after the sudden death of his brother in 2003 from a heart attack and the death of his mother from stomach cancer the following year, the former TV reporter became a changed man.
"Her dying really kind of started to wake me up," Voris recalled. "You have to face mortality. And then the questions came pouring in: What is the meaning of life? Who are we as human beings? Is there life after death? Those are fundamental questions everyone has to look for."
Voris found those answers in the Catholic Church. In 2006, he formed St. Michael's Media, a Catholic TV production company and studio in Ferndale. And in 2008, he helped launch Real Catholic TV. Today, the never-married 50-year-old is consumed by his passion to promote what he considers the one true faith. Working up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, Voris is on a burning mission to save Catholicism and America by trying to warn the public about what he sees as a decline of morality in society.
But it's a vision that has rubbed some the wrong way. His critics said his remarks, at times, promote division and extremism. Catholic officials from Pennsylvania to Spain to Detroit have warned people that he doesn't speak for the Catholic Church.
The Archdiocese of Detroit released two public statements on Voris, saying in December that the TV station was not permitted to have the word "Catholic" in its title. After receiving complaints from Voris' supporters, it sent out a second release last month reiterating its stance.
But Voris and his supporters said it's their critics who violate the core teachings of the church. They're not surprised by the attacks because they see them as part of an effort to water down the faith.
"Chaos has run through the church for the last 40 to 50 years," Voris said. "For people who are faithful Catholics, it's a source of great sorrow. It's definitely broken."
The Catholic divide
The tension between the two sides reflects an intense debate among Catholics over how to stem the number of Catholics leaving the faith. Liberals argue that people are leaving because the church is too strict and outdated, but conservatives such as Voris say the opposite is true.
Voris said the church's liberal tilt in the years after the 1960s reforms of the Second Vatican led to declining mass attendance and the decline of morality in the West. In his videos -- which on YouTube have drawn more than 10 million views -- Voris criticizes everything from abortion (comparing it to a holocaust) to contraception to liberal Catholics who promote feminism and homosexuality.
In one of his more controversial videos, Voris said:
"The only way to run a country is by benevolent dictatorship, a Catholic monarch who protects his people from themselves and bestows on them what they need, not necessarily what they want."
After an uproar, Voris apologized, saying that he misspoke but he stands by his larger point, which is that a society needs strong morals in order to survive.
Defending the faith
Last April, the diocese in Scranton, Pa., banned him from speaking in its facilities after it received complaints about his comments on other faiths.
In response to the criticism, Voris told the Detroit Free Press:
"Current culture doesn't let things be said plainspokenly. It's ... political correctness. Anything somebody takes offense at, whether it's true or not, seems to be out of bounds."
Despite the controversy, Voris travels the world to promote the Catholic faith. He has done shows in Nigeria, the Philippines, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and Germany and has upcoming trips to New Zealand and Australia.
Voris' efforts are financed by Marc Brammer, a business developer for Moody's who lives in South Bend, Ind., and is a member of Opus Dei, a somewhat controversial group known for its traditional views.
Voris started and owns a media company, St. Michael's Media, which Brammer contracts to produce Real Catholic TV.
Like Voris, Brammer is concerned about what he feels is the liberal shift of the Catholic Church. They both criticize what they call "Americanism," a term they use to describe a post-1960s culture that they say has negatively influenced Catholics.
"Our Catholic Church is infected with Americanism that has gone wrong," said Brammer. "Not that America is wrong. But America's best days are not today; it was in the past, just like the Catholic Church."
While in Madrid, Voris bemoaned the American Catholics who attended, saying they were dressed immodestly.
"It made you downright cringe to see so many Americanized Catholics standing there at mass half-naked," he said in a video.
Voris and his backers are committed to forging ahead on a mission to save the Catholic Church and the U.S.
Many current church leaders are "namby-pamby," Voris said. "It's all about, 'Love your neighbor.' "
What's needed instead, he said, is a muscular Catholicism that isn't afraid to encourage battle and sacrifice.
"Sometimes, you have to provocative," Brammer said.
Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press