Hotbed of womenpriest coverage

We have received many, many tips about a women priests news story that is bad even by the normally abysmal standards of women priest news stories.

One of my favorite emails was one of the first, which openly wondered whether we’ve had our fill of WomenPriests stories. Who — who, I ask you — could ever have their fill of looking at the way the mainstream media treats the movement?

I actually laughed out loud when I read the lede to this Minneapolis Star-Tribune gusher from the weekend:

Dressed in a priestly white robe and green stole, Monique Venne lifted communion bread before an altar — defying centuries of Catholic Church law.

Despite promises of excommunication from the Vatican, she and six other women in Minnesota say they are legitimate, ordained Catholic priests, fit to celebrate the mass. They trace their status through a line of ordained women bishops back to anonymous male bishops in Europe.

Oh dear. I mean, the story neglects to mention this but apparently this defiance of Catholic Church law is happening in a Methodist church in the Twin Cities. I mean, I guess in a sense you could argue that someone who is not a priest lifting “bread” before a Methodist altar is defying Catholic teaching, but boy is that a stretch.

And I do love the way that automatic excommunication is turned into “promises of excommunication.” Finally, what about the lower case mass? That’s a rather uncommon capitalization rule they appear to be using. It was also lower case in the headline.

The article fits the female-priests-who-claim-to-be-Roman-Catholic template. It reads more like a press release than an actual balanced story. Thus, it mostly avoids detail on the Catholic teachings about the priesthood or how excommunication works. Here was a favorite part:

Minnesota has emerged as a hotbed for the growing movement to ordain women as priests, with the highest per-capita number of female Catholic priests in the nation, according to the organization Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Women priests are working in the Twin Cities, Red Wing, Winona, Clear Lake and soon St. Cloud. The group claims about 70 women priests in the United States and more than 100 worldwide.

And I’m the prettiest woman in my house.

Totally true, also rather meaningless without knowing how many women reside in my house (one!). So we have at least five women in a state of 5.3 million? (Later we’re told that there are four female priests at a parish that has 15-20 attendees.)

OK? Is “hotbed” really the word we’re going for? It’s hilarious, yes, but not really appropriate for a news story, is it? Later we’re told that a majority of Catholics support letting women become priests with only a third opposed. You will not be surprised to learn that we don’t know that this poll includes both practicing Catholics and those who haven’t graced a church for decades. That’s a bigger issue when writing about a group that has a high percentage of people who identify with a particular faith without attending worship services.

It’s true that we get a quote from a spokesman for the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese on both why the church has a male-only priesthood as well as how the church views people who claim to be Catholic priests without what they deem valid ordinations. But there are no quotes from Catholic theologians or documents. There’s no discussion about why the church doesn’t consider the women to have valid ordinations. There are many quotes about boundary pushing and dignity and awesomeness.

After being told that “many” Catholics view female ordination as the answer to a priest shortage problem, we’re told:

Venne says women who work on church staffs also face the likelihood of getting fired for becoming priests.

OK, I would imagine that publicly defying your church’s doctrine — thereby getting excommunicated — might put a damper on your ability to stay on a church staff. Why is that even mentioned?

Not all the quotes put the female priests in a positive light. One female priest says she remains Catholic rather than go to a church that ordains females because she feels that her being Catholic is like her being German and Polish.

Can you spot the error here?

Women priests in Minnesota come from a variety of backgrounds: chaplain, librarian, even meteorologist. A significant number are married and have children, another forbidden activity by the church, which calls for its priests to be celibate.

All in all, just another bad story on the movement that gets more coverage relative to its actual size than most others. It’s almost like mainstream media is a hotbed of female priest coverage.

Fiery image via Shutterstock.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Just another example of why the mainstream media is doing a swan dive into oblivion—on too many topics they have become cheerleaders and propagandists for leftist and radical causes.
    Last Sunday’s Boston Globe took the top third of its front page (and two full broadsheet pages inside) promoting sex change (or is it now called re-assignment) operations (with every “sidebar” story gushing approval).
    The Globe also gave mountains of praise to the “occupy” movement starting on the front page and taking 2 inside broadsheet pages replete with more “sidebars” to gush approval. Never mind that even here in the people’s republic of Mass. polls show the people are sick and tired of “occupy” antics and violence, and destroying people’s livelihoods in their “occupied” areas. No wonder the Globe Sunday edition is looking more and more anorexic in size. You used to have trouble lifting it– butnot today.
    Even more telling, when the “occupy” movement started, the Democratic left’s chosen candidate for U.S. Senator– (everyone else has been quietly driven from the race by liberal Big Bucks)– Professor Elizabeth Warren of Harvard U.–bragged all over the media about how the “occupiers” were putting into action her ideas and platforms.
    But as it degenerated to the point even liberal Democratic mayors wanted them gone–suddenly the local media got amnesia about her role in publicly egging on the “occupiers.” No questions, no follow-up, no probing queries, no bevy of microphones demanding comments. George Orwell’s memory hole seems to have swallowed up her radical cheerleading now that some of it has turned violent, nasty, or destructive of jobs and businesses.
    One wonders what kind of media torture Sen. Scott Brown would have been put through by the media if any local conservative groups (like the Tea Party) had gone so off the tracks of civility as did Elizabeth Warren’s self-embraced foot soldiers and class warriors.

  • Beate

    Wow, so being married and having children is a “forbidden activity?” Here I thought it was one of the seven sacraments ;-) Not to mention, there are priests who are married and have children – gasp!

  • Julia

    Since they are not really priests, there is no problem with them being married with children.

  • Passing By

    As expected, the comments under the story in the ST are a toxic brew, but I think they give a clue to why newspapers publish these patently stupid stories : there is a real market for them. People like opportunities to pontificate on the Catholic Church, whether pro or con. Secularists can feel smug and superior, liberal Catholics can feel vindicated, Protestants can take their shot at trashing Catholicism, and conservative Catholics can indulge any of several reactions.

    There is certainly no rational basis for these dishonest stories, but I think they say something about journalism and our culture. Not something nice about either, unfortunately

  • Peggy R

    The funny thing about this story and the transgender person who wanted to use the women’s dressing room at Macy’s is that the media seem to accept that people are who they say they are. “I am a priest.” Bing! “I am a woman.” Bing!

    Of course, Julia is right. As they are not priests, their marriages and children are no problem, as if that’s a real shock, that Catholic women are married with kids. Beate is also right that some convert clergymen are accepted as married Catholic priests with children. Watch out as the Anglican Use ordinariate is established this next year.

  • Bill

    What Peggy #5 said. When I read the Macy’s story, I too thought of the womenpriest business. Despite my mother’s wishes, I never wanted to be a priest. But being Emperor of the Four Winds and Seven Seas has always appealed to me. I think I’ll get some business cards printed.

  • Cassius Zedaker

    As Humpty Dumpty said in Wonderland,”Words mean what I say they mean. Nothing more and nothing less.”

    As soon as we reach this point communication is irrevocably broken. Not even all the Kings horses and men can restore it. This is what is happening with the “priests” as well as the transgendered among countless other examples of self-inflicted solitary confinement, if you will.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Obvious question in any apostolic succession claim that didn’t get asked: “who is your bishop, and what church is he in?”

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Pardon me while I pick a nit:

    Anglican ministers have been ordained Catholic priests, often presented by their wives and children, in the Anglican Use for 30+ years now. I think it’s about a 100 or so, although some were Lutherans and maybe a Methodist or two. Many of these men (including my own pastor) serve in regular Latin Rite parishes, there being only a half dozen Anglican Use parishes.

    The new Anglican Ordinariates being formed under the authority of Anglicanorum Coetibus will, I expect, replace, and probably absorb the Anglican Use, but married priests will be nothing new.

    Not that they were anyway: the Eastern Catholic Churches have had married priests all along.

  • Jimmy Mac

    But, Passing By: we all know that they aren’t REAL priests.

  • Jimmy Mac

    I hit the send button too soon. If these Anglican boyz were REAL priests, they wouldn’t have to be re/conditionally/whatever ordained once they swim the Tiber.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I’m probably courting the Spike Patrol, but it isn’t only the womenpriests playing dress-up. I love Damian Thompson!

  • IC

    Thanks, I read this over the weekend and snorted at the 4 womenpriests at a parish of 15-20 people. Hot news, I tell you! I told my husband *I* could get 20 people in a room for truly scandalous reasons and never get this kind of coverage, complete with mega photo of woman in Catholic vestments (fawning coverage or not!).

  • Julia

    These stories attract hits, which is how advertising rates are set. Kind of like Nielson ratings for TV.

  • Will

    The funny thing about this story and the transgender person who wanted to use the women’s dressing room at Macy’s is that the media seem to accept that people are who they say they are. “I am a priest.” Bing! “I am a woman.” Bing!

    I am a Moslem. Just because I do not recognize the authority of the Koran or the prophethood of Mohammed, you can’t tell me I’m not.

    Of course, in the real world, no one making such a claim would be taken seriously, any more than Roberto Adames is when he proclaims that he is the “real” Mayor of New York.

  • Maureen

    The difference is that, if you say you’re Muslim, you immediately come under the self-appointed or Quran-appointed purview of other Muslims to punish you or kill you dead, for any such opinions of Mohammed or the Quran.

    The Catholic Church just doesn’t want you receiving Communion or taking Catholic religious posts, in such a situation. There’s no civil consequences.

    The closest civil equivalent would be saying you’re a physician and practicing as one, without a license. Immediately you would become eligible for punishment by real doctors and the state.

  • Maureen

    Anyway, my point is that every Muslim in the world would take your claim seriously, but it wouldn’t be good for you that they did.

    It’s actually difficult to claim Catholic things in such a way as to become eligible for even religious sanctions. I’m not sure why these women are so hot to achieve latae sententiae status fun, but so it is.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    I’m not the one to tell anyone how to run a blog — especially one that gets waaaaaay more traffic than mine — but I wonder if GetReligion could develop a new category of entries that offers a weekly roundup of quickie links to some of the stories about which there really isn’t much more to say but which continue to crop up time and again, like these “womenpriests” stories.

    I doubt we’ll ever see a story on this issue (as well as some others) that’s going to get anything other than cheerleading or press release-styled coverage. The entries on them seem to rehash the same points and draw the same non-journalism-related comments.

    There may be great reasons not to do this that I’ve completely overlooked, so my apologies if I’m rehashing old matters.

  • Bain Wellington

    An increasing number of Catholics disagree with the church on this. In a poll last year by the New York Times and CBS, 59 percent of U.S. Catholics favored letting women become priests, with 33 percent opposed

    Leaving aside rooted objections to settling theological issues by means of opinion polls, an increasing number of Catholics?

    First, the NYT/CBS News poll was conducted among 412 Catholics (and in the US only, please note), of whom 44% admitted (Q.12) that they were “not very strong” Catholics – compare the 30% who admitted (Q.78) that they went to Mass “a few times a year” or “never”. That’s your point, Mollie, and a very relevant one.

    Next, the question (Q.17) was: “Are you in favor of or opposed to letting women be ordained as priests?” Don’t let’s paraphrase poll questions, please, MST.

    No less pertinently, the 2010 poll includes results for the same question as asked in 2005, 2002, 1995, 1994, and 1987. Compared with 1987, the percentage of those saying they are in favour is up (from 56% to 59%); but compared with 2005, 2002 and 1995 it is down (60%, 63%, and 60% respectively), and compared with 1994 it is the same (59%).

    Actually, the margin of error is said to be 5%, which (on a sample of 412) means . . well, not a lot.

  • Marty Dancy

    Every time I see an article about so called “women priests” I get bored. Why keep yapping about this silly topic? Other churches don’t ordain women–the Orthodox, the Mormons, and some other ones. They don’t get the publicity on these matters. It is just that some people have it in for the church and, no, one cannot be a real Catholic by just saying you are. One has to believe what the church teaches or he/she is a heretic and truly outside the church.These womens’ so called “ceremonies” mean nothing, espescially since they are not in catholic churches. These women are just protestants or new agers and the fact that they don’t get honest and go to another religion proves how immature they are.They are wasting their time.
    Marty

  • Will

    Well, I don’t think my cousin the dervish would take it seriously.

  • Vin

    What nonsense! I would like to be what? maybe more tolerant of these poor misguided women. God give me the grace to pray for them. They sure need it.

  • Martha

    Do any of these news reports ever put the question to this organisation: “How can you say, on the one hand, that Rome cannot impose rules on you and, on the other hand, that Rome must accept your ordinations as valid since they were performed according to the rules?”

    Although there may be hope when it comes to these stories; according to Fr. Z’s blog, the “Star-Tribune” have an opinion piece in response to this story, by a young Catholic woman who is not desirous of ordination and thinks the WomenPriest ladies are mistaken. Mirabile dictu!

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Dressed in a priestly white robe and green stole, Monique Venne lifted communion bread before an altar — defying centuries of Catholic Church law.

    I suppose it would be hoping for too much to think that the reporter phrased it this way knowing that the bread has failed to transubstantiate and so Monique is indeed lifting bread rather than the Body of Christ. (Assuming it’s referring to the elevation of the host after consecration.)

  • Jon in the Nati

    While I do not think it is irrelevant at all, I always wonder why people are so quick to point out that the Eastern Rite Churches have married clergy. True, it is a point that is almost always overlooked by the media in coverage of this stuff.

    Realistically though, there are 409,000-some Catholic priests in the world, and according to the available data there are roughly 5,400 Eastern Rite priests in the world. Add to that maybe a few hundred former protestants who have become Catholic priests (the Ordinariate and whatnot). Assuming every one of those priests is married, that means that roughly 1.3% of the world’s Catholic priests are married. Celibate clergy make up 98.7% of the church’s priests.

    Celibate clergy may not the absolute rule, but it is close enough to an absolute rule that I’m not sure it makes sense to constantly bring up the exception like it has a great deal of significance.

  • bob

    Are there five of anything else that gets coverage in Minnesota? I mean anything that means so very little except to themselves? This isn’t religious coverage it’s just notable narcicism. Maybe newsworthy but only like a two headed calf. And, there are *real* two headed calfs.

  • Mike O.

    I suppose it would be hoping for too much to think that the reporter phrased it this way knowing that the bread has failed to transubstantiate and so Monique is indeed lifting bread rather than the Body of Christ.

    How do you know that it failed to transubstantiate?

  • http://!)! Passing By

    it is a point that is almost always overlooked by the media

    Which is a pretty good reason to mention it. And more than that: the discipline of priestly celibacy is too often mis-represented as doctrine; that needs to be challenged.

    Anyway, the influence of Anglicans-turned-Catholic, and particularly those ordained to the Catholic priesthood, is much greater than their small numbers. That’s a missed story, for my money, that will become more acute as the Ordinariates come into being and mature.

  • Mike O.

    I want to clarify my last post and put it more into the realm of religious journalism. Joel half-jokingly asked if the writer referred to it as communion bread since it had not undergone transubstantiation. As the folks at GR have noted before, one of the purposes of religious journalism is to accurately state what the beliefs are of the people contained in these articles. For example, when the Catholic Church talks about transubstantiation the writer should fully and correctly write what they believe.

    Now for the most part when these woman priest stories have popped up on GR, the point of contention as to what they can correctly call themselves. And I’ve agreed each time that you can’t just call yourself a Catholic priest without the say-so from the church.

    But in my opinion Joel’s comment goes beyond questioning how they identify themselves to questioning their beliefs. The Catholic Church does not have a patent on transubstantation. While they are the ones most identified with that belief it is not theirs alone. To bring it back around to GR, a journalist can not outright say that if these women believe that their blessing will transubstantiate the bread and wine that it’s not true. It is a point of faith absolutely and completely no different than when a member of the Catholic Church says the exact same thing.

  • Jon in the Nati

    And more than that: the discipline of priestly celibacy is too often mis-represented as doctrine; that needs to be challenged.

    I wouldn’t disagree with that, although for practical purposes I think it is a distinction without a difference. What good does it do to tell people that priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite is a discipline, the obvious implication being that it could one day be changed, when the leadership of the church has been uniform in its stance that it will not be changing?

  • Susie Rabatine

    People like opportunities to pontificate on the Catholic Church, whether pro or con. Secularists can feel smug and superior, liberal Catholics can feel vindicated, Protestants can take their shot at trashing Catholicism, and conservative Catholics can indulge any of several reactions.

    First, I like the pun – lol!

    I am a Lutheran who periodically does like to take some “pot shots” at the Catholic (Roman Catholic, that is) Church but this story doesn’t point me down that road :d.

    The media has become certifiably great at spin and the public just certifiable at times. Not once does the story say that these women are ordained Roman Catholic priests. They use the word “priest” and leave us to assume they mean Roman Catholic so that later they can honestly state that they never said these were Roman Catholic priests.

    So from this Protestant comes a request that we all just re-learn to actually read and comprehend what is written before we go off on tangents. The story is nonsense – like it was originally presented. It’s not even about the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings. It’s about a few women who have decided to call themselves “priests” – never said they were ordained in the RCC. They could not be. Period.

  • Hector

    Re: To bring it back around to GR, a journalist can not outright say that if these women believe that their blessing will transubstantiate the bread and wine that it’s not true.

    Agreed- if they are going to be objective, journalists ought not to take a possition on whether the bread is transubstantiated when a woman ‘priest’ celebrates.

  • Will

    Jon, the point is that it COULD be changed. This is constantly misrepresented by TheMedia depicting the “ban” on married clergy and the “ban” on ordaining women as the same thing, either both crudeandobsolete dogmas, or both mere “policies” which can be changed at will.

    Chesterton wrote about this in “What Do They Think?”, dealing with a journalist who cried that “Rome tolerates, in her relation with the Russian Uniats, “strange heresies and even bearded and wedded clergy.”

    What is the good of laboriously beginning to explain that a married clergy is a matter of discipline and not doctrine, that it can therefore be allowed locally without heresy–when all the time the man thinks a beard as important as a wife and more important than a false religion?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Agreed- if they are going to be objective, journalists ought not to take a possition on whether the bread is transubstantiated when a woman ‘priest’ celebrates.

    That’s true. I was speaking tongue-in-cheek, mostly riffing on the journalist’s probable lack of familiarity with transubstantiation. But you and Mike are right, the womenpriests’ theology should be reported as it is, without running it through an orthodox Catholic lens.


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