Lo! A better-than-average Womenpriests story

Your GetReligionistas, as the divine Mrs. MZ once stressed, are way, way, way past the point where we joyfully go out of our way to write about the journalism issues linked to the mainstream media coverage that is, from time to time, poured out on behalf of the Womenpriests movement.

Some readers have been tempted to think that we do not believe that this movement is worthy of coverage. This is nonsense, of course, since GetReligion has been arguing since Day 1 that the mainstream press rarely does enough to cover doctrinal and cultural trends on the Religious Left.

Others have suggested that we only want the Roman Catholic Church’s viewpoint covered on this issue. That’s nonsense, as well. This is a hot-button issue and the press needs to find articulate, informed voices on both sides.

We have, however, argued that journalists have gone too far — often — when they describe the women ordained in these rites as Catholic priests.

The women should be quoted making their case, on this subject, but the historical reality is that the Catholic Church gets to decide who is and who is not a Catholic priest, just as the leaders at The New York Times get to determine who is and who is not a columnist for The New York Times. On one occasion I asked if journalists would call men ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention rabbis simply because the SBC said they were rabbis. President Barack Obama gets to decide who serves on his cabinet, etc., etc.

All of this raises a basic journalistic question: What does accurate coverage of a Womenpriests event look like?

Well, take a look at the following effort from The Toledo Blade, taking it, of course, from the top:

Deacon Beverly Bingle, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic woman from Toledo, will be ordained a priest by Roman Catholic Womenpriests today.

Her ordination at 2 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Toledo, 3205 Glendale Ave., will not be recognized by the Diocese of Toledo, however.

After she was ordained a deacon on Sept. 13, the diocese stated her participation “in an invalid and illicit attempted ordination” meant she was automatically excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

The diocese has released a similar statement in advance of today’s ceremony, reminding that Deacon Bingle is excommunicated and that Ann Klonowski, a woman from the Diocese of Cleveland who will be ordained a deacon at the same ceremony today, will lose her standing in the church.

However, the Reverend Bingle, as she can be called with today’s ordination by Bishop Joan Houck of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, not only will participate in the ceremony; on Sunday, she will start holding weekly services as a priest for the Holy Spirit Catholic Community, a church she’s starting that will meet at Unity of Toledo. …

Now, the one thing that I would challenge in that material is that I think it is proper for journalists to note that the legal name of this movement, of this splinter church that is making its own claims of Catholicity, is “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.” The name confuses the issue, that that’s who whole point, isn’t it?

So what else is right and what else, alas, is wrong in this story?

The story has a dynamite direct quote from Bingle that, for people on both sides of this story, truly demonstrates the stakes and the degree to which this fight centers on doctrinal and liturgical norms and whether Catholic authority rests in individuals and congregational bodies, rather than in church councils and the papacy.

Pay close attention, because this is excellent stuff:

“The whole excommunication thing, I don’t accept,” she said. “Neither do the members of the church. People are literally fighting over who gets to give me communion every day. It’s beautiful. …

“I go to Mass daily, or at least try to,” she said. “That’s my most important prayer, is the Mass, the assembly of the people of God acknowledging that they are the body of Christ, and that we are called to make a difference in the world. I go various places. I normally go to Corpus Christi [in Toledo]. I’m still a member, and they can’t take away my baptism. I just go and I sit there at Mass, and and I will receive communion. Somebody will break a host and give me one surreptitiously, or I’ll receive it before or after. I drive a good distance sometimes to go to Mass where nobody knows me.”

Alas, what is missing from this story?

That’s rather obvious: There is no voice from the actual Catholic Church explaining the doctrinal logic and heritage of its stance. In a controversial story of this kind, that is absolutely essential.

So this Blade story gets lots of stuff right and avoids some of the most common Womenpriests coverage errors. It simply stopped too soon and left out an essential part of a balanced, informed, accurate report.

It’s better than normal, which says a whole lot about the state of “normal” coverage. Still, this is not quite good enough — if the goal is journalism.

IMAGE: A classic image from a rite several years ago. Back by popular demand.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • sg

    The reason not to cover the issue of women priests is the same as the reason to not to give much coverage to the March for Life or gay marriage: It is a teeny weeny fringe group.

    Oh, wait, March for Life represents the views of anywhere from 25% to 50% or more of the US population despite relentless cheerleading by the press for the pro-abortion on demand position. The fraction of Catholics who could care less about having women priests is about the size of the number of folks who ever came up with the gay marriage idea on their own: very close to none.

    If you are reporting what people are doing then women priests in way way down there in terms of anything actually happening. Kind of like gay marriage. Tiny tiny group of people interested or affected. On the other hand, if your purpose is to promote an idea, well then of course you will cover it non-stop. The group of people affected by abortion is huge as is the March for Life, yet those promoting ideas don’t like the idea, so they don’t report it. Hence the distinction between reporting and promoting ideas.

  • Jay

    Yea, it was an okay article. Not the best, not the worst. Whenever you get into a story that has deals with excommunication, it’s always nice to throw in a little explanation of what excommunication is. It’s one of those words that lots of people throw around, but most people really don’t know what it actually means.

  • Martha

    “People are literally fighting over who gets to give me communion every day.”

    Punch-ups in the aisles? Black eyes in the vestry? Hair-pulling in the pews? Or does she mean that people are eager to give her communion – which I ‘d like to know more about, as in “who, where and what does she mean by communion?” There seems to be an answer in that she says “I normally go to Corpus Christi [in Toledo]. I’m still a member, and they can’t take away my baptism. I just go and I sit there at Mass, and and I will receive communion. Somebody will break a host and give me one surreptitiously, or I’ll receive it before or after. I drive a good distance sometimes to go to Mass where nobody knows me.”

    Now, tiny bit of a contradiction there – if she is driving miles to go to Mass where no-one knows her (and therefore do not know that she is excommunicated), or if she is “surreptitiously” receiving fractionated hosts from other members of the congregation at her parish church, then that’s not quite “people are literally fighting to give me communion”, everyone in her own parish supports her and it’s just the mean ol’ bishop and/or mean ol’ Vatican who are behind the times when it comes to the sensus fidelium. I would also be extremely interested to know who is handing out communion hosts to her either “before or after” Mass or breaking hosts and sharing them; is it other congregants, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, or the priest himself? I bet the bishop of Toledo would like to know, too!

    As for this Unity of Toledo organisation, centre or church where she is going to start up her own Catholic Community, it seems a bit wibbly to me (to use a technical term).

    It’s a good story in that it covers the basics, gives us Mrs. Bingle’s side of the story (very much so), and doesn’t lean in the direction of “Why oh why does the repressive patriarchal church try to crush this movememt of the Spirit?” slant. It’s a bad story in that there’s nothing from the diocese or the bishop, except the acknowledgement that the diocese issued a statement; there’s not even an excerpt from this, let alone a quote from a representative of the diocese or a canonist or anyone explaining what excommunication is and why this woman has incurred it.

    It’s a horrible story when it comes to explaining that Ms. Bingle is not a deacon or a priest, even if she goes about calling herself “Reverend”, and lines like the following make me want to cry (or sack Carcassonne in a new crusade against the Albigensians):

    “Priests traditionally administer sacraments, such as blessing the host for communion, performing weddings, and leading other sacred acts.”

    Somewhat underestimating the concept of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there.

  • The True Will

    I would like to literally clout her on the head with a dictionary.

    And “Reverend” is an adjective. If she claims to be a “Catholic priest”, someone involved with writing the story should know that Catholic priests are not called “Reverend So-and-so”.

  • The True Will

    Does anyone ask “So, exactly what makes you ‘Catholic’ and not ‘Protestant’?” After all, I could go into a Catholic church where “nobody knows me” and “received communion”.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    Corpus Christi, for the interested, is the university parish for the University of Toledo (ie, dedicated to ministry to students of, not funded by). I think anyone who’s attended would agree that the long-time pastor, Fr. Bacik, is a progressive/liberal theologian and that the parish thus leans that way. Without at all implying that Fr. Bacik would encourage someone breaking Church law (he’s not that kind of guy, AFAIK), it’s not exactly surprising that there are some parishioners who might. It’s college; people do crazy things because they think they’re good things to do, or harmless, or that other people aren’t fair.

    OTOH, someone who’s over thirty is supposed to be just a tad interested in finding out why the Church teaches what she teaches, and shouldn’t be trying to shut up the Bride’s mouth in the name of Womanhood.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    Oops. I didn’t realize Fr. Bacik retired last summer, so at least this isn’t happening on his watch. Good profile on him here — a nice priest, very absentminded, very ramble-y homilies, not oppressively liberal… but sheesh, so very liberal in his influences!

    So yeah, looks like we have a classic situation where one pastor retires, some of the church ladies don’t like the new guy’s administration, and so the more panicky/stubborn church ladies do crazy dramatic things.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I think the media should, in such stories, to be fair in its coverage, mention at least one of the reasons why the pope and the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox and Coptic Churches which are never mentioned) believes it cannot ordain women to the priesthood (as in the Church lives in Imitation of Christ and Christ did not choose even His Holy and Blessed Mother to be a priest). In otherwords these women’s quarrel is not with Church leadership, but with actions–or lack of actions–by Christ and the 2,000 year old Tradition that embraces His actions. Actions which are taught and lived by the Churches of apostolic origin around the world (Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, etc.)

  • bob

    She takes (steals?) communion! What depths of integrity. So after years of laughing at old stories of people sneaking into Mass and swiping the sacrament to do God knows what with it, it turns out to be true in 2013. THAT is a religion story. THAT is that ole’ black magic. As the journalist will hasten to point out, not that there’s anything WRONG with that….

  • Tim H

    If “Rev” Bingle values her friends, she ought not be saying things like this in public. Removal of any portion of the host unconsumed from the place it was administered for any reason, much less to slip it to one excommunicated, is a serious breach of canon law which is referred directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for investigation.

  • TK

    I’m the writer of the piece. A story printed on the same page quotes the monsignor in charge of vocations: http://www.toledoblade.com/Religion/2013/02/09/Priesthood-candidates-must-prove-character-vocations-director-says.html.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X