When Catholics dissent

womenpriests2 01Not all Roman Catholics agree with official church teachings. Disagreement isn’t really tolerated in the church (Happy Reformation Day, fellow Lutherans!), but conflict is embraced by many reporters. This makes sense, since we reporters love drama. Sometimes I root for political candidates to win based on nothing more than which one appears craziest.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel featured two stories this week about dissent in the church. On Friday, reporter Tom Heinen wrote about an upcoming conference of Call to Action, an organization seeking to change church doctrine on female priests and homosexuality, among other things. The conference will feature a tribute to Cindy Sheehan and a service run by women who claim to have valid, if illicit, ordinations.

Last time we looked at WomenPriests, it was because of a horrifically bad article in the Philly Inquirer. The headline to that piece (“Female Catholic Priest has first Mass”) wasn’t even the worst part of it. Compared to that, the Journal-Sentinel article does a much better job of accurately portraying the relationship between the church and those who oppose its teachings:

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan has termed such ordinations “groundless” and “invalid.” Attempting to celebrate a liturgy led by women who claim to be priests and bishops “would make any claim of Catholic identity by the group to be misleading,” Dolan wrote in his weekly Catholic Herald column in late August.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which orchestrated the ordinations and is organizing the service, rejects those characterizations. It is terming the service a Eucharistic liturgy.

“We’ve had a lot of response, e-mails and notes, from people who found this is a very hopeful sign of women now taking their rightful place,” Bridget Mary Meehan, U.S. spokeswoman for Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the woman who will preside at the liturgy, said of the ordinations.

“We know our orders are not licit; they are against (church) law. We are saying we want to confront the law,” Meehan said. “But we are claiming our orders are valid because we were ordained by Roman Catholic bishops in full Apostolic succession and in full communion with Rome.”

On Thursday, Journal-Sentinel reporter Bill Glauber wrote about a priest who opposes an amendment to the Wisconsin constitution that defines marriage as the union of one man and one women. Only one priest is named as an opponent of the measure that Wisconsin Catholic bishops support. That article, which meanders a bit, is about his views — with a couple of cursory remarks at the end from people who disagree with him:

Father Bryan Massingale, an associate professor of moral theology at Marquette University, wrote a lengthy essay in which he struggled with the idea that “the amendment, read in its entirety, poses a dilemma for many faithful people.”

“The amendment upholds certain beliefs about the uniqueness of marriage,” he wrote in the Sept. 21 issue. “But it does so at a cost, namely, potentially damaging impacts upon the welfare of individuals and their children.”

He also dealt with the issue of homosexuality.

“Too often, discussions of this issue treat ‘those’ people — specifically, gays and lesbians — as if they were an alien species,” he wrote. “They are not. They are our sons and daughters; our sisters and brothers; our aunts, uncles, and cousins; our friends, neighbors, students and co-workers; our priests, ministers and parishioners. ‘They’ are us!”

The piece reads like a puffy profile of Massingale rather than a balanced look at Catholic views on a controversial amendment. Eric Gorski of The Denver Post wrote a story using a similar hook. An organization of Roman Catholic nuns is urging Colorado voters to support abortion and gay marriage, among other issues. Whether or not you agree that groups that oppose archbishops should get as much coverage as they do, Gorski does a great job of characterizing both sides’ views, as evidenced here:

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has urged Catholics to “act Catholic” when they vote or run for office and called opposition to abortion “foundational.”

“We’re supposed to vote as our conscience tells us, not as the archbishop’s conscience tells him,” said [Sister Mary Ann] Cunningham, a member of the Sisters of Loretto. “I have great respect for the archbishop, but I think that’s kind of treating us like children.”

Jeanette DeMelo, spokeswoman for the Denver Archdiocese, said Chaput has highlighted a broad range of issues, all grounded in Catholic teaching.

“Archbishop Charles Chaput is not teaching his personal opinion,” she said. “This is the church’s teaching, and it is the responsibility of a Catholic to vote their conscience, but their rightly formed conscience, their educated conscience.”

Sometimes it’s just as easy as calling multiple sources for a story. As with these articles, which were sent to us by readers, please keep us informed of good or bad examples from your local papers.

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  • http://www.rightwingnation.com/american-orthodox/ americanorthodox

    Disagreement isn’t tolerated in the church? In what world? How many of these female priests have been ex-communicated, or how many of those who ordained them? None. The LA bishop waxes NewAge moonbatty, and nobody disciplines him.

    Disagreement is far too tolerated.

  • http://aimeemilburn.typepad.com/ Aimee

    Journalists will need to study Catholic sacramental theology, or at least interview someone authoritative about it, before they will be able to report accurately on things like this.

    Bridget Mary Meehan is quoted saying, “But we are claiming our orders are valid because we were ordained by Roman Catholic bishops in full Apostolic succession and in full communion with Rome.”

    Two problems with that:

    1. The moment the bishop set about attempting to ordain a woman he placed himself outside of “full communion with Rome,” so that part of the statement is false.

    2. In Catholic sacramental theology, every sacrament must follow proper form or it is not a sacrament: words and matter (such as bread and wine for the Eucharist. You can’t use bread and Coca-Cola). The “matter” in the case of ordination must be a man, or no true sacrament takes place. The Bishop can carry out the external words and gestures of an ordination, but no real ordination will occur.

    As an analogy, let’s say I decided to hold my own election for mayor of my town in my backyard, had my friends vote for me, and then declared myself mayor. Would I then really be the mayor? In my own mind only. And no journalist in their right mind would attempt to cover the story as if I were really the mayor. We’d both be laughingstocks.

    There are no women priests in the Catholic Church. Such “ordinations” are not ordinations at all, but mock ordinations no different from a mock election in my back yard.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “…an amendment to the Wisconsin constitution that defines marriage as the union of one man and one women.”

    FYI: the amendment is far more than that. Marriage in the Wisconsin State constitution is already defined as between a “man” and “woman”. This amendment would re-state the “man-woman” bit *and* add this…

    “and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?”

    The problem with that language is that by trying to close all loopholes that would prohibit homosexuals from gaining any legal standing “like” marriage they also create a situation in which unmarried hetero couples could be affected. While the proponents are trying to downplay the possible trouble with this language, the result has been that conservatives are splitting on whether to support the amendment (a local conservative talk-show host is leaning against it) and its going to be neck-and-neck on election night.

    I’m a Milwaukee resident, so I have been hearing quite a bit about this.

  • Maureen

    But if you want a legal state like marriage, why wouldn’t you marry? And if you don’t want to marry, why would you want the bonds of a state at all like marriage?

    Cognitive — dissonance — increasing. Must — get off — Internet.

  • Dennis Colby

    First, just a mild quibble: While it may have been true that “disagreement isn’t really tolerated in the church” back when Brother Luther was tacking up things on doors, it’s hardly the case today. The current pope has had cordial meetings with both Hans Kung and the head of the Society of St. Pius X, which hardly indicates an unwillingness to “tolerate” disagreement.

    Second, I think these kinds of stories are inevitable as long as reporters cover religion like it’s politics. A good start would be to ban all use of words like “conservative,” “liberal,” “left,” and “right” from religious reporting, since those political terms often do nothing more than muddy the waters.

  • Hans

    Dennis Colby wrote:

    A good start would be to ban all use of words like “conservative,” “liberal,” “left,” and “right” from religious reporting, since those political terms often do nothing more than muddy the waters.

    I couldn’t agree more. Such political language really fails to get at the heart of the divisions amongst church bodies and, in my opinion, completely misrepresents the issues at hand. As a Lutheran, where the terms “conservative” and “liberal” are often used, I find it far more accurate to simply replace them with “Lutheran” and “Not Lutheran”. I’d imagine there would be many Roman Catholics who would look at a story such as this and see not a conflict between conservative and liberal Roman Catholics, but between Roman Catholics and Not Roman Catholics. I would certainly never expect the press to use language such as this. But they really should. It would be much more fun.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “But if you want a legal state like marriage, why wouldn’t you marry? And if you don’t want to marry, why would you want the bonds of a state at all like marriage?”

    Unmarried couple benefits and legal status is far more complex than you make it (senior citizen co-habitation for instance). Here is a good look at some consequences of amendments like the one up for the vote in Wisconsin.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Since in Catholic Tradition and doctrine it is the pope and bishops who define orthodox Church teaching and practice– the two poles should not be liberal and conservative, but orthodox and heretical. To put up people like these pseudo-ordained as bearers of one version of orthodox Church doctrine is to “Protestantize” the news coverage. They should be portrayed as what they are in reality– promoters of another (of about 30,000 worldwide) non-Catholic denominations.

  • Bill Scott

    At the end of the second paragraph it says, “The conference will feature a tribute to Cindy Sheehan and a service run by women who claim to have valid, if licit, ordinations.” That should have said “…valid, if illicit, ordinations.” If they were licit ordinations, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We’d be discussing who the first famale bishop would be.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Bill,

    Thanks for the correction! I fixed it.

    MZH

  • Dominic Glisinski

    Is that an Eggo Waffle she’s elevating? What a sad, sad summary of Western society…


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