Your GetReligionistas received several angry emails this past week about the following Associated Press story, each of them triggered by a single unattributed term in the piece. In The Washington Post, this piece ran under the following headline:
Pope: Women should play expanded role in Church
Nothing unusual there of course, unless you, like me, were surprised to see the Post copy desk go with an upper-case “C” on the word Church, which is Catholic tradition but not AP style.
No, what set our readers off — some of them non-Catholics, by the way — was a pair of words near the top of this alleged work of straightforward news copy.
Can you spot the red flag?
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis … lauded women for their sensitivity toward the society’s weak and “gifts” like intuition, insisting they take on greater responsibilities in the Catholic church, as well as in professional and public spheres.
Francis was full of praise about female talent and untapped potential in a speech at the Vatican to an Italian women’s group. But the pope gave no sign that the Vatican glass ceiling against ordaining women for the priesthood might see some cracks during his papacy.
From day one of his papacy in March, Francis has been trying to make the Catholic church more welcoming, but it forbids women from becoming priests, arguing among other things, that Jesus and his apostles were men.
Actually, there are several groaners in there, including the fact that anyone would need to argue about the fact that Jesus and the 12 apostles were all males.
Argue? Isn’t that something like someone needing to “argue” about whether the moon travels around the earth or that the Mother of God was a woman? (Personal note: Yes, I am an Eastern Orthodox layman and accept the teachings of the ancient church on this matter, although that was not the case when I was a Protestant.)
What the AP team meant to say is that arguments about women serving as priests center on what that historical fact MEANS and whether or not 2,000 years of tradition in the ancient churches is still binding on modern believers.
No, the words that slapped some of our readers (and more than one former GetReligionista) were these — “glass” and “ceiling.” That the church’s doctrine on this issue constitutes a “class ceiling” — in the corporate sense of the word — is stated as fact and presumes that the church is nothing more than a corporation.
What happened here? Well, the story does note — with a digital sigh of disappointment — that the heroic Pope Francis has already affirmed that only males can serve as spiritual fathers.
Otherwise, Francis has simply stated that many of the roles that women are playing in some parts of the church should be extended to women everywhere. Here is the AP summary of that:
… Francis told his audience that he had stressed “the indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected.” He said he has been heartened that “many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups” and he said he had hoped that “the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded.”
In some parishes, women visit parishioners too frail to come to church, run prayer groups and outreach programs to the poor, as well as help distribute communion to the faithful at Masses, especially in churches with large congregations.
“These new spaces and responsibilities that have been opened, and I strongly hope that they can further be opened up to the presence and activity of women, both in the church environment as well that of the public and professional” spheres, Francis said, “cannot make us forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family.”
Right after that, AP notes that these words from Pope Francis must be seen in the context of the “Vatican’s stress on so-called traditional families.” To whom is the “so-called” slap attributed? No one, of course.
So what is missing? With one or two extra sentences, the story could have noted that women serve as Catholic theologians and some have filled the chancellor role in key dioceses, serving as the top administrator. Women, of course, serve as missionaries and rise into the ranks of the saints. St. Mary is the patron saint of the whole church.
The point is not that AP scribes need to back the ancient teachings of Catholic/Orthodox Christianity or slant their copy in that direction. The point is that someone in the process needs to understand what the ancient churches are actually teaching so that this information can be accurately reported as part of a debate that has two sides. You know, like real journalism.
Has the AP leadership created a glass ceiling that prevents people who can read a page or two of church history from rising to the rank of copy editor?