Anyone who has ever worked on the religion beat knows the drill.
You are writing a story about a controversial topic, a topic that people in the establishment of a religious body are not anxious to talk about. The rebels, on the left or the right, are anxious to tell their story.They will talk your ear off, as long as you don’t ask them any challenging questions.
Meanwhile, the establishment leaders — on the left or the right — just want the subject to go away. Rather than granting an interview or two, they hand out a printed press release making the usual old arguments against the rebels.
In other words, you end up with a story in which real people get to debate a piece of paper. It is rarely a fair fight.
I think this is what happened in the following Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal story about another ordination in the Womenpriests Movement, but I am not sure about that.
(By the way, the movement’s website spells their name “Womenpriests,” as opposed to “Women Priests” or “WomenPriests.” I keep seeing variations, but, in the future, “Womenpriests” it will be here at GetReligion — unless they change it again.)
The top of this story hits all the familiar points, in a people vs. paper scenario. But here is my question: Did the real Catholic officials refuse to tell their side of the story or did the newspaper’s leaders make a decision to turn this into a people vs. paper scenario? In other words, did the Courier-Journal team refuse to talk to the Catholics, or did the Catholics refuse to talk to the Courier-Journal? More on that later.
But here is the usual personal-voice opening for a Womenpriests story:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rosemarie Smead sees herself as preparing all her life for the step she’s about to take.
She was brought up a devout Catholic. She lived for a short time as a cloistered nun. She has theology and counseling degrees. She marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala. — then worked with troubled children there for years. She forged a career as an Indiana University Southeast professor, training school counselors.
Now the petite 70-year-old from Bedford, Ky., is preparing for what she freely admits is a flagrant defiance of Roman Catholic law — specifically Canon 1024, which restricts the priesthood to baptized men. …
Smead is scheduled to be ordained by the dissident Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The service will take place in a Protestant sanctuary.
It will be the first such ordination in Louisville by the decade-old Women Priests group, which has been holding such services around the world.
“It’s illegal, but it’s valid,” said Smead. “In order to challenge this law, we have to break it.”
The story includes other information. Active Catholics support church teachings on this subject, while inactive Catholics want to see women ordained. And the pieces of paper from the local archbishop say what they say. No humans are interviewed on the side of the church.
It is also interesting to note — once again — that the story does not question in any way the apostolic succession of the women bishops, nor does it talk about the role of Old Catholic splinter groups in the history of the Womenpriests ordinations.
Instead, readers are simply told:
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests traces its roots to 2002 and says it has ordained about 100 women priests worldwide, including several bishops, many leading small congregations independent from Vatican authority.
Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the association said its first bishops were ordained by a Roman Catholic bishop whose name has not been disclosed, giving them valid orders in the line of succession from the apostles.
Anyone who knows Catholic tradition can see the problem there. It takes THREE valid bishops taking part in the rites to yield a valid bishop — not one. A single bishop can ordain priests, but you need three sets of hands in a rite for a bishop.
Where did the Womenpriests get their other bishops? That’s where reporters — like it or not — simply have to dive into the Old Catholic splinter world. Here’s the wording that I used in a previous post on the topic:
The Womenpriests movement is, of course, the latest in a long, long, long line of Catholic splinter churches built on extra-legal ordinations that can usually be traced to rites allegedly performed by anonymous bishops, splinter Old Catholic rites, or both. From the viewpoint of the Catholic Church, these women are simply liberal Protestants and, like it or not, the Vatican is in charge of determining who is and who is not a Catholic priest.
The Courier-Journal report is also silent on another crucial topic — the theological orientation of this flock. There is one hint near the story’s end (and in the dizzy video at the top of this post):
Many women priests host small churches, as Smead has begun doing in recent months, calling it Christ Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community. Starting May 11, she’ll be leading monthly services, using space at St. Andrew.
St. Andrew’s pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Watson, said hosting the service was natural for a congregation that welcomes openly gay members and whose denomination was a pioneer in ordaining women. “These acts reflect the United Church of Christ’s extravagant sense of hospitality and inclusion,” Watson said.
So who, precisely, is “Christ Sophia”? What is the content — doctrinally speaking — of the word “inclusive” in that parish name?
These questions open a door into a much, much wider debate about Christology, God and the Goddess, feminist theology and, well the Vatican’s current concerns that many women on the Catholic left have proudly moved beyond Nicene Creed, beyond Jesus and into a brave new theological world.
Should the real, live people interviewed in this story have been asked about all of that? Yes.
Were the traditional Catholic leaders offered a chance to discuss these topics, as opposed to being limited to paper responses? I cannot tell.