Great moments in journalism: how NOT to report on women priests

First, check out this video from the CBS affiliate in Sacramento:

 

You can read the transcript here.

This is poor on so many levels. Reporter Maria Medina should be embarrassed. My only conclusion is that it’s sweeps month and the affiliate is desperate for ratings.

Some observations:

1. There’s the hyperbolic writing: “…a new practice emerging that could change Catholicism forever.”  Well, actually, no.  It’s not a practice, and it’s not really new.  It’s a splinter movement by a small minority of dissident Catholics who are not recognized by the Catholic Church and, in fact, are automatically excommunicated for attempting ordination. And what is the evidence, please, that this “could change Catholicism forever”?

2. There’s the freaky lack of logic: “She’s one of a very small, yet growing group of women ordained in the United States to be a priest. But being ordained isn’t easy since the church refuses to ordain women.” That last sentence makes no sense.

3. In fact, the women are not validly ordained. It’s an attempted ordination.

4. There are the fuzzy, unverifiable statistics: “There are now 124 woman priests worldwide according to the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.” That’s a best estimate from a biased source. Which means, optimistically, a little more than a hundred women in a church with a billion members and a worldwide priesthood numbering over 400,000, according to the most recent figures. Significant? Hardly.

5. There’s the sloppy, irresponsible reporting. At no point in the story is there even an attempt to offer balance. We never hear from a spokesperson for the Diocese of Sacramento, who can offer the official church response, refute their contention that they are ordained and explain why the church does not recognize these ordinations; we never hear from an expert in canon law, who can put this event into canonical context; we never hear from a historian or scholar who can add perspective;  we never hear from any tradition-minded Catholics who can offer another point of view.

6. There’s the subtext of heroic victimhood that places all the sympathy in the story with the “women priests.” The reporter notes: “They exist because of two male bishops who believed in them more than 10 years ago” and “More and more are being ordained and gaining support from parishioners as they answer what they say is a call from God into priesthood.” There’s no sense that these women are violating church law and hold no status within the church at all (and that any sacraments they confect are invalid.)  And the church’s response to any of this?  Crickets.

If the reporter had presented this story to me, I’d ask a number of questions:

What is the official church’s response to this? Did you interview a spokesperson for the Diocese of Sacramento? What is the official Catholic teaching about ordaining women?  How many people do these women serve?  Haven’t they been excommunicated?  How do they feel about that? Are the people they serve concerned at all about the fact that they’ve also been excommunicated?  Has Pope Francis said anything explicitly about the ordination of women?  What’s the median age of these women? Where do they come from?

And finally, Maria: having turned in this slipshod, badly written, unbalanced and biased piece of reporting, have you updated your resume?

Because I think you should.  Sacramento can do better.


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