I’ve been named a PBS reporter!

This story came to my attention via the great, seemingly omnipresent Rocco Palmo, who tweeted out:

PBS “report” declares Womenpriests as “Catholic priests”: http://to.pbs.org/V2y2BB  On a related note, we’re all PBS reporters.

We’ve seen lesser media outlets decide that various women are “Catholic priests” (in a way that we can only assume they wouldn’t also decide that I’m a Yankees pitcher or the about-to-be inaugurated president of the United States even if groups were calling me such). But PBS? And not just PBS but the usually fantastic Religion & Ethics Newsweekly? Say it ain’t so!

The hard-hitting report begins:

SAUL GONZALEZ, correspondent: At a Los Angeles ceremony, a group of Catholic women is about to commit an act of religious faith, but because they are women it’s an act the Vatican has condemned as a grave crime against the Roman Catholic Church and what the church sees as its divine laws.

“Bishop Olivia and members of the community, I am honored to testify on behalf of Jennifer’s readiness to be ordained to the priesthood.”

GONZALEZ: In a faith that prohibits females from becoming priests, these women are rebels, gathering here this afternoon to ordain this woman, Jennifer O’Malley, as a Catholic priest.

(to Jennifer O’Malley): Do you love the Catholic Church?

JENNIFER O’MALLEY: I do. It’s who I am, so I can’t leave. You know, I’ve gone to other churches and they’re beautiful, but I’m Catholic, and I can’t separate myself from that.

Oh wait, what’s the opposite of hard-hitting?

I would not be entirely surprised if this was run as a press release, rather than a news report. It’s actually even more of an advocacy piece than I’m accustomed to from lesser media outlets. It rivals this Scientology “sponsored content” that ran in The Atlantic. But at least that was marked as sponsored content and not passed off as news.

“Do you love the Catholic Church?”

I never went to journalism school, but I imagine you could teach for an entire day on why that’s not a very good question for a journalist to ask. But if you do, and if the interviewee responds in the way she does, you should be prepared for some good follow-ups. Wouldn’t, for instance, everyone interested in this topic (no matter there doctrinal views) want to know what she means when she says “I’m Catholic”? I know I would.

If, for instance, I was claiming to be a PBS reporter and PBS didn’t agree, I’d expect, say, a PBS reporter interviewing me about just that to ask me what I meant.

The other big weakness for this story is in who the reporter chose to defend church doctrine. He could have just as easily been chosen to affirm the women’s ordination movement. He says, for instance:

REV. THOMAS RAUSCH (Professor of Catholic Theology, Loyola Marymount University): The Catholic Church is not ready for the ordination of women right now.

Now, maybe this is just a quote taken out of context in a way that changes it, but this isn’t the Roman Catholic Church’s position. Their position, in fact, is that the church has absolutely no authority to ordain women to the priesthood. Rausch goes on to talk about the church being “male-centered” and that male ordination is based in “cultural reasons” and patriarchy and so on and so forth.

It is, of course, perfectly fine to have such a perspective. But particularly if you’re going to be putting out as puffy a piece as this, even a token of a response from someone who enjoys defending the Vatican might be in order.

As one of the commenters to the piece opined:

Please PBS, if you are going to publish a story on something, do your research. From reading this it’s obvious the only research done was talking to these women. The actual Church’s position was not represented adequately for the level of professionalism you claim to have.

Exactly. If we wanted to read an advocacy piece, we could get that from the group involved. Do a little research. Adequately present the positions of the key players. Just basic diligence would be helpful.

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  • Jerry

    This post gets an award for the most misleading headline I’ve ever read here. Sarcasm in headlines does not work, at least for me. My first thought was “wow”. My second was “huh”? And my third “ugh”.

    • Martha

      Jerry, if Mollie feels called by the public interest to be a PBS reporter, and she has studied journalism courses that are the same as or similar to those studied by PBS reporters, and she has experience as a reporter or journalist, and if we the community of GetReligion readers and commenters acknowledge her vocation as a PBS reporter –

      - how can you deny her the right to be a PBS reporter, unless you are defending the closed-shop mindset of the exclusionary past? If one feels a burning vocation to be a reporter for PBS, one is a reporter for PBS!

      ;-)

  • Will

    I am waiting for someone to ask these people who “love the Catholic church” WHAT it is they value about the Catholic church, other than the name? Obviously, it is not the magisterium. So, how about a reporter asking “And what is it that you find in the Catholic Church, that you could not find in the Anglican or Old Catholic or Liberal Catholic churches, or in Protestant churches? Some of us have trouble understanding that, and would like you to help us know.
    “And exactly what is it that you claim makes you “Catholic” rather than “Protestant’?

  • Julia

    A large part of reporters’ difficulties seems to be misunderstandings of 1) what “priest” is thought to be in the Catholic Church. and 2) the nature of leadership in the Catholic church.

    Catholic Mass and the priest’s role in it is not analogous to Protestant services and preachers. The core service of the Catholic priest is to offer Mass, consecrate the Eucharist, hear confessions, and involvement in the other sacraments. Deacons can do baptism, weddings and funerals. It’s possible there may one day be women deacons. Unlike Protestant services, many, many Masses do not have homilies or sermons, because that’s not the focus of the Mass. Outside the Mass, women teach and give talks on the gospels in schools and other venues – and even in church before or after Mass is conlcuded. Mass, and all it involves, is not analogous to Protestant services.
    There are many priests who have no leadership role whatsoever. Many women do have leadership roles in the Catholic Church – running universities, religious orders, hospitals, serving as chancelors of dioceses. It’s true that women can’t be bishops and therefore cannot be Cardinals who help the Pope run the church in Rome. But there is no requirement that women cannot be part of the Curia – lots of laymen hold such positions and women are beginning to also hold such positions. That’s where the improvement in leadership opportunities for women will increase. At the local level, there are quite a few parishes without priests these days (which only have Mass when a priest visits) that are led by women administrators. If this isn’t leadership, I don’t know what is.

    The reporters are being led astray by the feminist focus on male leadership and power issues instead of central issue of what is a priest.

  • Julia

    There is also some talk about the possibility of lay Cardinals, which might include women, giving them the ability to vote for the Pope. [The Pope will probably always have to be a priest] I think there have been laymen named as Cardinals in the past, although they were usually ordained soon afterwards. It’s the “priest” issue that is closed -not all forms of leadership in the Church. In fact, the Cardinals are each given a titular church in Rome because they have taken over the voting rights of the ancient parishes in the city of Rome. So having Cardinals from far-flung localities was not always the case. There also may be no theological reasons why lay people cannot serve as Cardinals; that has not been sorted out to my knowledge.
    A reporter needs to know about the ideas floating out there that would give women more leadership in order to ask knowledgable people the right questions. That requires knowing what “priest” signifies as opposed to who has power in the Church. That would make a more interesting story than just asking another professor the usual questions.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Julia did a good job of “filling in the blanks” –with suggestions for coverage the media often ignores.
    On the pope and priesthood, I presume that not even a priest can be pope for the pope is pope by virtue of his position as Bishop of Rome. And the point about the many other avenues to leadership and power in the Catholic Church other than the priesthood is well taken. Look at Mother Teresa and her charismatic power in the Church. And then there are at least 3 women “Doctors” of the Church whose teachings are revered and promoted by the Church. (St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese of Liseux). And there probably will be a lot more in the future like St. Edith Stein.

    • Leo Schwartz

      Saint Hildegard of Bingen is a Doctor now, as well.

  • FW Ken

    Indeed, I was shocked to think that Mollie had gone over to the dark side, and scarely thought that 1.) They would hire her, or 2.) they would let her continue to write for GR. The latter thought was to much.

    Ok, enough of that. An accurate, simple definition of “Catholic” (capital C) wouldn’t solve a lot of problems journalists have with Catholic matters. Though out would not be nearly the fun.

  • Julia

    “On the pope and priesthood, I presume that not even a priest can be pope for the pope is pope by virtue of his position as Bishop of Rome.”

    According to the Catholic encyclopedia: “an election to the papacy is, properly speaking, primarily an election to the local bishopric” The Pope these days is already a bishop or Cardinal, but there seems no theological reason why a simple priest could not be elected as Bishop of Rome.
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12270a.htm

  • Martha

    “commit an act of religious faith”? Has anyone every described anything in such a fashion before? You can commit a crime; you can perform an act; you can have, demonstrate or lose religious faith – and thanks for clarifying that this was religious, as opposed to scientific, hairdressing or how to grow giant cucumbers faith – but I’ve never heard of anyone committing an act of faith.

    Hard-hitting? More like pelted with marshmallows. And even the “spokesman for the official doctrine” was, as you point out, very wobbly on the subject; he came across as “Yeah, these women are completely correct in all the criticisms they make of why the Church doesn’t ordain women but, y’know, they’re just ahead of their time unfortunately.”

  • tmatt

    “If one feels a burning vocation to be a reporter for PBS, one is a reporter for PBS!”

    The key, of course, is that the mere opinions of the narrow, old-fashioned PBS hierarchy have nothing to do with the validity of her new vocation. Who are they to think that they get to make such a value judgment?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Julia- yes-a priest could probably be elected, but I think he would then have to be ordained a bishop to be bishop of Rome and thereby pope. In fact, around the 6th and 7th centuries—according to one Catholic web site– out of 37 men elected pope 34 were only deacons at the time of their election, but were quickly ordained priest and then bishop so as to be bishop of Rome.

  • FW Ken

    I was going to correct the mangled comment from lunch (never post over pizza), but Martha has left me silent in admiration. I am not worthy.

  • http://www.juliaduin.com Julia Duin

    Did all of you commentators actually watch the whole broadcast? I thought it was very balanced. The script says, within its first few sentences, that the Catholic Church disagrees with all this and doesn’t count these women as priests. Several times it cut in with the Catholic Church’s point of view. You might not have liked the priest they interviewed but a lot of dioceses and bishops refuse to comment on this. So the reporter is reduced to finding someone at a Catholic university, usually, who’ll talk. Fr. Ron Lengwin of the Pittsburgh diocese will also give comments. But a lot of officials won’t. PBS might have explained better the reason for the broadcast; that it has been 10 years since the ‘Danube 7′ were ordained. But broadcast is not a great medium for theological detail so it’s nitpicking to insist they sound like ‘Summa Theologica.’

  • Julia

    “The script says, within its first few sentences, that the Catholic Church disagrees with all this and doesn’t count these women as priests.”

    But the reporter keeps calling them priests – as if they are Catholic priests in poor standing with the Vatican – like the SSPX. It’s like me calling myself a Washing Post reporter, the Washington Post says I’m not one of their reporters, and a PBS program notes the newspaper’s position, but nevertheless keeps saying I’m a Washington Post reporter .

  • Greg

    Julia Duin: “Several times it cut in with the Catholic Church’s point of view. ”

    But this isn’t really a “point of view” thing. If the RCC says that you are not an RCC priest, then you are not an RCC priest. Just as if PBS says that you are not a PBS reporter, then you are not a PBS reporter. There isn’t any “point of view” about it.

  • Daniel

    a lot of dioceses and bishops refuse to comment on this. Maybe if they were interviewed for better crafted stories, by reporters, magazines, TV shows and papers with reputations for writing better crafted stories, they would be willing to comment. Could that be?

  • Julia

    Daniel: perhaps they are refusing to comment, because their previous comments are still operative. It gets tiresome to keep repeating that – no, the church has not changed its position on ordination of women since the last time you asked.


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