Concerning AP and the Vatican’s ‘glass ceiling’ for women

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.

So there is that.

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?

Just asking.

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.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    What was astounding to me about this story is how much AP and the others who reported on it left out of the discussion. The reason AP put in that slap on “so-called traditional families” is because Pope Francis sounded very much like Benedict XVI and John Paul II and Paul VI and John XXIII…. Stick parts of the Pope’s talk (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/speeches/2014/january/documents/papa-francesco_20140125_centro-italiano-femminile_it.html) into Google translator and this is what you get:

    If the world of work and in the public sphere is important the
    contribution of the stronger female genius , this contribution is an
    essential part of the family , which for us Christians is not simply a
    private place, but the “domestic Church” , whose health and prosperity is a condition for the health and prosperity of the Church and of society itself. We think of the Madonna: the Madonna in the Church creates something that can not create their priests, bishops and popes. She’s the true genius of women. And think of the Madonna in families. What does the Virgin Mary in a family. The presence of women in the home proves more than ever necessary,
    therefore, for transmission to future generations of sound moral
    principles and for the transmission of the faith itself .

    At this point the question arises: how you can grow in the presence
    effective in many areas of the public sphere in the world of work and in
    the places where decisions are most important, and at the same time
    maintain a presence and preferential attention and all special in and for the family? And here is the field of discernment that, in addition to the
    reflection on the reality of women in society, requires assiduous
    prayer and persevering.

    (Doggone it — I can’t get an indentation to work. The two paragraphs above are Pope Francis). Ah, there it is — the woman’s indispensable role in the family, the domestic Church — not something the MSM really like to talk about, especially since it doesn’t comport with their notion of who Pope Francis is and what he teaches.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    The problem with this article is clericalism: that power in the Church depends on being ordained clergy. There are many positions that could usefully be looked at in the light of “Can this be done instead by professed religious, or laypersons – both men and women – either from the parish or from lay ecclesial associations?”

    This does not mean that the answer is to make everyone a priest – ordination for all! The trouble is that reports like this look at the Church as if it is run on the lines of a business, so from that point of view, because women can’t be priests, they can’t be bishops, where is where the real clout lies. It’s the model of “Ambitious young executive Suzy Jones is blocked from becoming a Regional Manager of Vatican, Inc. solely due to the ‘glass ceiling’. Even women with what seem like higher pay grades, such as Sister M. Anne of the Stigmata or Sr. Daisy Lewis, can advance no higher to reach one of the coveted Vice Presidencies (North American Division) purely due to their gender.”

    What would have been more germane to a real discussion about clerical ambition and advancement is the news that Pope Francis has put a severe limit on the creation of new monsignori, a rank fiercely sought after and coveted by those wishing to climb the career ladder within the administrative ranks of the Church. But since that is only about “male priests get reminded what their purpose in being clergy really is, and it’s not about the colour of your fascia”, I imagine it’s not interesting enough.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    What the media doesn’t understand is the word “Tradition.” In the eyes of the media everything is always and everywhere up for grabs. Yet it is the churches which have stuck by their Traditions (Catholic/Orthodox/Coptic/ Syrian) which have survived for 2 millennia. Just because some activists seduced by modernity want to get rid of the churches of Tradition doesn’t mean those churches should comply and commit suicide.
    “Liberals” in religion have a choice today as do those who believe in the value of Tradition. But “Liberals” don’t want people to be able to choose a Church of Tradition.— One that follows the values and doctrines it has had passed down to it and has not become a parrot for the editors of the NY Times.
    Besides , they already have their church–it is called the Episcopal Church.


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