From Reuters: Another by-the-book Womenpriests story

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At this point, it seems that mainstream journalists have decided that the Womenpriests movement deserves a slow-rolling wave of coverage in which (a) it will clear that the women are operating outside the official borders of the Roman Catholic Church, but (b) the viewpoints of movement leaders will be quoted as gospel truth when it comes time to discuss why the nasty male church leaders believe what they believe.

For most reporters, appears that this is now a story in which only one side needs to be approached for in-depth quotes.

Yes, there is also a possibility that Catholic officials have decided to refuse all interview requests. However, I am convinced that if this was the case, journalists would be telling us that (with the standard, “A spokesperson for Archbishop Nasty Male declined comment when asked about the courageous work of the brave women who are willing to listen to the voice of Christ Sophia”).

The other day, I took a look some of the pre-event coverage of the ordination of Rosemarie Smead in Louisville, Ky. Now, Reuters has produced a story on the ordination rite itself that is a five-star classic of the genre.

Let’s walk through the top of this story:

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters) – In an emotional ceremony filled with tears and applause, a 70-year-old Kentucky woman was ordained a priest on Saturday as part of a dissident group operating outside of official Roman Catholic Church authority.

Where did this rite take place? In a liberal Protestant Church. Readers have to dig pretty deep into the story to find that out.

Rosemarie Smead is one of about 150 women around the world who have decided not to wait for the Roman Catholic Church to lift its ban on women priests, but to be ordained and start their own congregations.

Another interesting feature of this report: The Reuters team somehow managed to avoid using the actual name of the movement behind the event — Womenpriests. The implication is that these are dissident Catholic churches, not fledgling parishes in a separate movement. This is implied, of course, in the lede with the “operating outside of official Roman Catholic Church authority” language. But why not use the actual name of this schismatic movement?

Later on, readers are told:

The ordination of women as priests, along with the issues of married priests and birth control, represents one of the big divides between U.S. Catholics and the Vatican hierarchy. Seventy percent of U.S. Catholics believe that women should be allowed to be priests, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll earlier this year.

And who are these “American Catholics”? Might they be Catholics on the fringe of the church? The key number, of course, would be the number of PRACTICING American Catholics who are in favor of changing church doctrines on the priesthood. They are out there, but much smaller in number.

Now it is time, as usual, to quote several pieces of paper representing the views of the church establishment:

The former pope, Benedict XVI, reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s ban on women priests and warned that he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings. Male priests have been stripped of their holy orders for participating in ordination ceremonies for women.

In a statement last week, Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz called the planned ceremony by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests a “simulated ordination” in opposition to Catholic teaching.

“The simulation of a sacrament carries very serious penal sanctions in Church law, and Catholics should not support or participate in Saturday’s event,” Kurtz said.

And what about this church traditions involved in this issue? What does church history say?

The Catholic Church teaches that it has no authority to allow women to be priests because Jesus Christ chose only men as his apostles.

Proponents of a female priesthood said Jesus was acting only according to the customs of his time. They also note that he chose women, like Mary Magdalene, as disciples, and that the early Church had women priests, deacons and bishops.

Wait just a minute: The advocates of the female priesthood “note” — as oppose to “claim” — that the early church had female priests, deacons and bishops? That is a statement of fact, not of opinion or interpretation? There is no need for a response from church historians on the other side?

Now, back in my Protestant days, I was an advocate of the ordination of women and I know many of these arguments inside out. Frankly, I still think that Protestants can do whatever their leaders vote to do on this issue, since they are not dealing with doctrines concerning Catholic/Orthodox sacraments and the priesthood.

In particular, I am very familiar with the literature about the history of deaconesses in the early church. This is also a topic that is very much in the news, right now, because of new statements by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, Germany. These debates are very important, but honest supporters of deaconesses know that the ancient ministries performed by these women were quite different than those performed by male deacons.

That’s a complex issue and it’s very, very important to quote informed voices on both sides. Needless to say, that isn’t going to happen in this one-sided Reuters piece.

Read the rest of the story, if you wish. You will see many familiar themes, including the now-traditional gesture of allowing local Catholics, perhaps even Catholic leaders and educators, to take part in the ceremony anonymously — since they would get in trouble if they participated openly. This guideline is clearly written in bright red ink in the Womenpriests media handbook.

This whole story is very much written by the book, and we are not talking about a mainstream journalism textbook.

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.

  • http://www.armchair-theology.net Dave Moser

    Note also the assumed inevitability of the RC Church ordaining women: “decided not to wait for the Roman Catholic Church to lift its ban on women priests.”

    • Will

      And once again, a refusal to institute something is a “ban”. (“ban on gay marriage”)

  • Joanne

    “Male priests have been stripped of their holy orders for participating in ordination ceremonies for women.”

    I’m 1000% opposed to female priests, but I wish the Church were as quick to bounce sexual predators and those who have covered up for them as they are to get rid of priests who participate in faux ordinations.

    The author’s perspective on this is an interesting one, considering his former beliefs. Thank you for this article.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It always amazes me how the mainstream media so blithely censors out information that goes against their preferred point of view. Some things I never see mentioned in media stories include the fact that deaconesses had different duties from deacons— (as pointed out in this posting)—making deaconesses loosely more the equivalent of consecrated religious. Also never mentioned is that only men were chosen to be ordained in the original group of deacons just as Christ chose only men to be apostles (and is a major reason Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not ordain women to the priesthood). Also rarely mentioned is what has happened to mainstream Protestant churches that have gone down the female ordination route–not only have their defense of traditional Christian morals collapsed, but their membership has nosedived. Also never mentioned is the attitude of Third World Catholics on such issues. Some there warn that making the Catholic Church even more” feminine” than it already is will just turn the future of the Third World over to Islam.

    • John Pack Lambert

      It is actually amazing that the person could write with a striaght face the claimed percentage of American Catholics who want this reform, and ignore what percentage of Congolese, Nigerian, Brazilian, Filipino or Peruvian catholics may want it.

  • Kyle

    “Frankly, I still think that Protestants can do whatever their leaders vote to do on this issue, since they are not dealing with doctrines concerning Catholic/Orthodox sacraments and the priesthood.”

    You lost me here, doesn’t the Bible have something to say about this as well? Why would Protestants (or Catholics) need to rely only on church traditions and sacraments?

  • http://bigpulpit.com Tito Edwards

    Terry,

    It would be helpful if you used the word, ordination, in quotes, when referring to these priestesses. It would be accurate if you did.

    Other than that, good article.

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,

    Tito

  • Another Kyle

    ” Male priests have been stripped of their holy orders ….”

    This is another error. In fact, as taught in Catholic doctrine, stripping someone of Holy Orders is not possible, since the sacrament, like Baptism and Confirmation, makes an “indelible mark” on the recipient’s soul, even for a priest who is laicized, etc.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Boilerplate. Change the names and a few facts and figures, and voila, it’s a new story.

    A few technical comments about some word choices in the article. Priests cannot be “stripped of their holy orders.” A valid ordination indelibly changes the man into a priest, and not power on earth can undo it. (Whether God ever undoes it is unknown and it may be that the change is, of its very nature, unchangeable the way a triangle cannot be made into a circle while retaining the properties of a triangle.) They can be stripped of their ministry, their faculties, their title — but the indelible cannot be deleted.

    Also, there is no “ban” per se. “Ban” implies a changeable legalistic or regulatory statute prohibiting a thing that could be done. Alcoholic beverages are banned in dry counties in Tennessee, for instance. Things that are not possible are not banned, even if there are in addition rules against it. There’s no ban on stripping priests of their holy orders – although any attempt to do so might be prohibited – because such a thing is impossible to do. The Catholic church likewise does not “ban” the unbaptized from receiving Confirmation, but has a rule against it because the latter sacrament does not occur even though all else be done correctly in such cases. What is banned in this case is the simulation (which is possible to do) of a sacrament (which cannot possibly occur in that case). “Bans” can be lifted. This rule cannot be lifted.

  • Sam Rodgers

    I have one other quibble with the statistic “70% of American Catholics believe that women should be allowed to be priests.” That is certainly true, but it wouldn’t translate that 70% of US Catholics approve of this woman’s ordination, or that they would choose to attend Mass said by her. It’s a big deal to leave the Church to be ordained, and while many might express sympathy with her feelings of prejudice and oppression, fewer would support her decision to incur excommunication in support of justice.

  • Spencerian

    “It has no sting for me,” said Smead, a petite, gray-haired former Carmelite nun with a ready hug for strangers. “It is a Medieval bullying stick the bishops used to keep control over people and to keep the voices of women silent. I am way beyond letting octogenarian men tell us how to live our lives.”
    That quote says much of the article’s slant. It’s clear that the journalist “got” religion in terms of the Catholic Church’s inability to ordain women. What the journalist refuses to tackle is the clear feminism attack shown here–by a former Catholic nun. The story is framed as a shallow old men and power story and American individualism run amuck.

    • John Pack Lambert

      The lines from Smead sound like what any other Protestant reformer would say. Why are people leaving the Catholic Church and rejecting the authority of the Pope breaking news when it has been occuring for hundreds of years?

  • Julia

    Why is this still a story for an international news organization? It isn’t a new activity anymore and no new issues are being implicated.

    It seems that these two sentences argue against each other.

    “Proponents of a female priesthood said Jesus was acting only according to the customs of his time. They also note that he chose women, like Mary Magdalene, as disciples, and that the early Church had women priests, deacons and bishops.”

    If Jesus was influenced by his culture’s customs, why would he be picking women as disciples? For that matter, why did he touch women and even allow a hemmoraging woman to touch his clothing? Both of those would still shock some Orthodox men I know.

  • Julia

    Of course, I meant Jewish Orthdox.

  • dalea

    Does WomenPriest do anything other than ordain people? Do they have actual parishes and members? What are these parishes like? Who belongs and what do they do? In short, has this movement gone beyond the abstract catagory ‘groups that meet at the Unitarian Church’? I would think that coverage could extend beyond these ordinations if there was something else going on.

    Years ago in Chicago, forruners of WomenPriests used to put up flyers about the then new Pope headlined ‘Jesus didn’t call any Polocks either’. Always got a chuckle out of that.

  • tmatt

    TITO:

    Oh these women are ordained — as clergy in a new church called the Womenpriests movement. From a Catholic perspective, I would imagine, they are as ordained as women in the Episcopal Church or any other Protestant body. Right?

  • tmatt

    DALEA:

    There are a few hints on some of those issues at the end of a previous post.

    See: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2013/04/womenpriests-again-the-people-vs-paper-scenario/

  • Veritas

    I suspect the reason the official RC doesn’t speak up is because even addressing the issue gives those women the attention they seek.

  • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com JoAnna

    I wish the reporter had asked her, “Since Pope Francis is a septuagenarian like yourself, will you listen to him?”


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