FYI: I am now a Herald-Tribune reporter

RCCYou may have heard of the Herald-Tribune, a New York Times Co. paper in Florida. The Herald-Tribune Media Group includes a daily newspaper with six daily zoned editions for various Florida communities. It also has a 24-hour cable news station, an internet site, three magazines and a direct-mail business.

What you may not know is that you can claim you are a reporter for the Herald-Tribune and the company won’t care at all. That’s right, the suits at the Herald-Tribune don’t believe they have the right to credential employees (wait for it).

At least, that’s what I assume is the case after hearing about how the paper is handling a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church.

Apparently the paper runs announcements of religious services. One of them lists a Mass for a church that goes by the name Mary Mother of Jesus Catholic Community House Church. The announcement appears under the heading “Inclusive Catholic Mass.” But there’s more:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice has asked the Herald-Tribune to stop running a certain religious service announcement, or at least remove some words.

Sorry, but editors have decided not to comply. … The problem? The pastor is listed as “Bridget Mary Meehan, ordained R.C. female priest.”

Why on earth would the Venice Diocese have a problem with the newspaper publishing an announcement for a church claiming its female priest is ordained in the Roman Catholic Church?

Anyway, the excerpt above comes from columnist Tom Lyons. It’s a column, so it’s fine that he advocates in favor of the group with which we’ve become familiar over the last few years — Roman Catholic WomenPriests. The entire column is basically a puff piece on Meehan which is, again, fine. But the column does say quite a bit about how these issues were debated in the newsroom.

Here is how it ends:

The worshippers are enthusiastic, Meehan says. Some have recently been regular attendees at mainstream Catholic churches, others had long felt alienated from the church, she says. But even though a feature story in the Herald-Tribune 10 months ago helped double the attendance, 20 people is still a good turnout.

So I think the Diocese will survive the challenge. And really, everyone should be glad that newspaper employees will not be deciding who is right or wrong theologically.

The only definitive source a journalist could use to confirm or deny the validity of Meehan’s standing is really hard to reach by phone, fax or e-mail, and has not announced a press conference.

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I actually think this is a journalism question, not a theological issue. But even so, it seems to me that the paper did take sides on a theological issue. The Roman Catholic Church says that Sheehan is in no way an ordained Roman Catholic priest. The organization Roman Catholic WomenPriests says she is. By publishing an announcement that says she is an ordained Roman Catholic priest, it’s hard to say that the paper is not deciding who is right or wrong.

So how to handle this? I think that, as with many issues we come across here, more explanation is in order. And papers better get their policies in order before more independent Catholic churches crop up. Or consider the case of St. Stanislaus in St. Louis. Archbishop Burke recently excommunicated the parish priest there but obviously he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. How do newspapers describe such situations?

The question is, basically, who has the right to determine credentials? Do church organizations have the same right to determine who is a credentialed member as other academic or professional organizations?

Why not just announce that Sheehan was ordained by the group called Roman Catholic WomenPriests? Perhaps the Herald-Tribune could consider how St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Tim Townsend handled the matter a few months ago:

The two women will be ordained as priests of an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which, in its constitution, defines itself as “an international initiative within the Roman Catholic Church.”

The group was founded in 2002, when seven women were ordained aboard a boat on the Danube River in Germany. All of them were later excommunicated. The organization says other women have since been ordained by male Roman Catholic bishops, including Patricia Fresen, a former Dominican nun and Roman Catholic Womenpriests bishop, who will ordain Hudson and McGrath.

The group insists that it is Roman Catholic, but the church says it is not.

An explanation doesn’t need to be that long, but it helps to have more context.

What do you think about he way the Herald-Tribune handled the conflict? Do you have any suggestions for how they could have done better?

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  • Thom

    Catholic priests need more than ordination to practice public ministry. They act under the authority of their diocesan bishop or religious superior. To list this church with no disclaimer is inaccurate and misleading on the part of the newspaper. Are the church listings divided by religious affiliation? If so, this housechurch should be listed under “Independent,” because it is NOT a RC church.

  • Matthew

    So there is one thing I am unclear on. Does Roman Catholic doctrine require that the recipient of ordination be male in order for the ordination to be valid? Or does it merely require that the recipient be male in order for the ordination to be licit? i.e., according to the Catholic Church, is a women who has had an ordination performed on her capable of celebrating Mass? Is an ordination of a woman inefficacious by virtue of the recipient being female, or is it merely prohibited?

  • Thom

    Ordination conferred on a woman brings automatic- self- excommunication.

  • Matthew


    Sure but that doesn’t address whether or not she is a priest according to the R.C.C.

  • Jerry

    How about:

    “The wording of religious service announcements are provided by the religious organization. The paper takes no editorial position on their content.”.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A woman is incapable of celebrating Mass (except as play-acting which WomenPriest members regularly do) no matter what words are said over them purporting to be an ordination. It is the same as if an ordained RC priest said the words of consecration over a Taco and a Coca-Cola: afterwards nothing will have changed: they will not have become the Body and Blood of Christ.

  • tmatt

    Wanted: New pictures of the women in red tarps.

    This is a great picture. There have to be more somewhere.

    And I have never noticed this before: Is she holding half of a frozen waffle?

  • Thom

    No, Matthew, a woman is not seen as a priest in any way.

    tmatt: Those are rockin’ pictures. Incidentally, those vestments placed pretty high in an “Ugliest Vestment Contest” a couple of months back.

  • Hans


    I believe the practice of using the frozen waffle comes from a recent translation of 1 Corinthians 11:

    Our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the night when shim [gender neutral pronoun] was betrayed took waffle, and when shim had given thanks, shim broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “leggo my Eggo”. In the same way also, shim took the carafe after supper, saying, “this cup of Arbor Mist Cherry Rasberry Blast is the new covenant…”

  • Michael

    It seems their dispute is with the church, not the newspaper. It really isn’t the newspaper’s role–in providing free listings for the benefit of the public–to censor the listing of a church because of the pressure from another church.

    If the newspaper starts editing the listings of churches based on pressure from other groups, where does it begin and end? if the church says their priest is an ordained R.C. priest, is it really the newspaper’s obligation to fact-check a free listing in the church? Would it be different if it was a paid ad? What happens when the local megachurch decides to challenge something in the listing of diocese parishes?

  • tmatt


    You are so funny.

    Two words.

    Messianic Judaism.

    Check out the controversies on THOSE ads and listings.

  • Dale

    Is she holding half of a frozen waffle?

    It looks like a super-sized Triscuit to me. I second the plea to find another picture; this one looks ridiculous and distracts from the issue at hand. The Church’s problem with these women has nothing to do with funny-looking vestments. God help me if my cause was represented by some of the ill-fitting, moth-eaten choir robes I’ve worn.

  • Dale


    It really isn’t the newspaper’s role—in providing free listings for the benefit of the public—to censor the listing of a church because of the pressure from another church.

    So, for example, if a newspaper ran a listing of local abortion clinics, and included a “crisis pregnancy” center run by Right to Life without any comment, that’d be O.K.?

  • Michael

    So TMatt, if the powerful diocese and a small “Catholic” church disagree over the contents of a free listing, the newspaper is supposed to bow to the pressure of the one with the largest pockets?

    If a dissident church continues to use the word “Episcopal,” should the ECUSA pressure a newspaper to drop a free listing because they contend the church is no longer Episcopal? If the local Jews for Jesus has a listing, should the Orthodox Jewish Congress ask the newspaper to edit the ad?

    What’s the basis for the newspaper editing a free listing where the parties disagress over the content of the ad?

  • Michael

    if a newspaper ran a listing of local abortion clinics, and included a “crisis pregnancy” center run by Right to Life without any comment, that’d be O.K.?

    Actually, sure. The newspaper is offering a service by proving the listings. If a “crisis pregnancy center” wants to be described as an abortion clinic and it meets the newspaper’s standards (if any), then I’m not sure it’s the newspaper’s responsibility to enter into a disagreement between the clinics and pregnancy center.

  • Michael

    If the school puts out a menu for listing that says “sausage pizza,” is it the newspaper’s responsibility to determine whether it is really “sausage.” If the local vegan group asks for the newspaper to edit the listing, should the newspaper edit the listing at the behest of the powerful vegan group who contends the listing is a lie?

  • Mollie

    The dispute isn’t over the use of the word Catholic. The dispute is over the allegation that the priest in question has been ordained by the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Roman Catholic Church says she has not.

    She says she has.

    That is the dispute.

  • Michael

    I understand the dispute. I just don’t think it’s the newspaper’s responsibility to delve into the minutae of whether she is ordained or not for a free listing. If the diocese says she isn’t, then they can insist that she no longer call herself that. If she refuses, is it the newspaper’s job to mediate the conflict or pick sides?

  • tmatt


    Newspapers make decisions all the time about the quality or accuracy of listings and ads. And they have made editorial judgments about the Messianic Jewish issue. Some compromise wording or listing is in order.

  • Chris Bolinger

    This is funny:

    But even though a feature story in the Herald-Tribune 10 months ago helped double the attendance, 20 people is still a good turnout.

    But Hans’s “leggo my Eggo” is an instant classic.

  • C. Wingate

    15: I note that directories routinely announce that “crisis pregnancy centers” do not provide abortions. There’s no reason that newspapers have to take these institutions’ word on their affiliation– they’re newspapers for crying out loud, whom we expect to investigate this sort of stuff!

  • Maureen

    The ad isn’t deceptive, except to non-Catholics. Few indeed are the Catholics who would willingly describe themselves as “R.C.”. To us, R.C. is either historically meaningless (and hence, referring solely to the name of a delicious cola) or an abbreviation with historically insulting connotations. The female priest thing just confirms that one’s doubts of the church’s Catholic status are correct.

    It’s kinda like advertising, “our shul’s kosher pork BBQ”.

  • AmaniS

    No, the paper normally would not be responsible for free listings, but she is saying she has received ordaination from an organisation that says she has not. There are no women Roman Catholic priest. Period. They are advertising a lie. It has nothing to do with whether the RC policy is wrong or not. This is a no brainer. If you had an ad saying you have an approve of a certain company or group and the group calls and says it has not approved me or my item the should pull the ad.

  • Dennis Colby

    This is a fascinating issue for journalists, and Tmatt mentions perhaps the most difficult situation: Messianic Jewish groups. Journalists can’t cover these folks without taking a side, since just giving them a name is to do so.

    Catholics, though, present a much simpler alternative. There are many churches that call themselves Catholic, but only one based on communion with the bishop of Rome. Anyone not in communion with him is not part of that organization (see: Mel Gibson, SSPX).

    I like the way Townsend handled it, but that’s probably a bit wordy for free listings in Saturday’s paper. Still, the newspaper should recognize that in this case, there is a way to objectively determine the validity of a particular claim, and make changes accordingly. Maybe they could drop the “R” or identify the church as an Independent Catholic church, as someone suggested above, but the current listing is inaccurate.

  • Martha

    Looks like some guys really are more Catholic than the Pope!

    “The only definitive source a journalist could use to confirm or deny the validity of Meehan’s standing is really hard to reach by phone, fax or e-mail, and has not announced a press conference.”

    No, but he did leave a document addressing this very issue:

    “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

    Invoking an abundance of divine assistance upon you, venerable brothers, and upon all the faithful, I impart my apostolic blessing.

    From the Vatican, on May 22, the Solemnity of Pentecost, in the year 1994, the sixteenth of my Pontificate.”

    So does this mean if anyone takes out an advertisement in the Herald-Tribune describing him or herself as a fully licenced doctor, and the Medical Council asks the Herald-Tribune “to stop running a certain…announcement, or at least remove some words” because that person is not, in fact, licenced by the Medical Council, the editors will tell them blow it out their ear because who are they to say who is or is not a proper doctor? Hmmmm?

  • Martha

    Michael, come on. This is not McHotDogTaco MegaCorp trying to crush the local sausage-onna-stick vendor by using its clout to get the newspaper to pull advertising.

    This is a person claiming an office to which she is not entitled and claiming that she has undergone a valid rite of ordination in a certain church which that church denies. If Pastor Bridget wasn’t a Catholic but instead was saying that she was an ordained Jewish female Rabbi (and I know ‘ordained’ is not the correct term but not what is), and the local synagogue says “Not by us she wasn’t”, do you really think we’d get a column tut-tutting the closed-mindedness of these people?

    It’s not a question of asking the paper to decide theology, or what is their position on women’s ordination, or who’s on first – it’s merely asking for a correction of fact.

    If they printed her name as Brigadoon Meehan, I’m dang sure she’d ask for a correction. I don’t think we’d get a column on how it was not the job of the editors to rule on orthography and so they’re sticking with Pilate’s Rule of ‘what I have written, I have written’.

  • Ann Rodgers

    One of the women ordained in the same ceremony is a Pittsburgher. Although she is a wonderful person who seems to do good ministry, our paper does not use “the Rev.” before her name when we quote her. The reason is that these women claim to have been ordained for the Roman Catholic Church, which does not recognize them. Had they claimed to be ordained into an independent “Catholic” church — and there are dozens of them — “the Rev.” would be no problem.
    My paper doesn’t do church listings — excpet maybe in one of our suburban editions. However, over the years I’ve advised a number of other religion journalists about listing disputes including Messianic synagogues and Mormons. In this case I would advise listing the church as “Independent — Liturgical.”
    Truth in labeling is important. We don’t have to vet every listing sent to us, but it’s wise to listen to the concerns when they are brought to our attention. For instance, someone who sought marriage in this church believing that it was a valid ceremony could run into great problems later if they moved back to an actual Roman Catholic parish and wanted to get their children baptized or to act as a godparent for someone.
    The truth-in-labeling issue becomes even more important when there’s an issue of possible harm involved. I’m aware of at least one situation in which a former Catholic priest with a history of financial impropriety set up a private church in a tourist area, and doesn’t bother to tell the people who flock to it that it’s not Catholic. I suspect that some of the child molesters may try something similar — we had one notorious pedophile who kept getting gigs as a cruise ship chaplain years after the bishop banned him from ministry.
    Clarity is an important goal of journalists, including in church listings.

  • Martha

    Mollie, how could I forget?

    Congratulations on your new job! ;-)

  • Colm

    Thank you, Ann Rodgers!

    The HT wouldn’t have printed a listing for a seminar to be given by a someone claiming to be Bill Gates’ head of computer development without vetting it first.

  • Will

    Would the Tribune refer to “Pope Michael” and “Pius XIII” as “Roman Catholic popes”? If not, what is the difference.

    Whether or not a ceremony makes Meehan a priest, it does not make her a ROMAN CATHOLIC priest any more than my ULC credentials, or than a commission from some “militia” leader makes someone “an officer of the US Army”.

    Would the paper run an ad from someone with a mail-order diploma claiming to be “an ACPS-certified physician”?

  • Sarah Webber

    Hans and tmatt–

    Your waffle comments had me laughing so hard I was crying. I really needed that. Thanks!