That deacon and CBS veteran sacks a Womenpriests ‘story’

Should visitors to GetReligion choose to search our archives for the term “Womenpriests” they will find eight pages of results, most of them dedicated to dissecting alleged news reports about this tiny splinter movement on the left side of the world of American Catholicism.

I say “alleged” because most of these stories resemble public relations essays, rather than news reports that take seriously the beliefs of people on both sides of this issue. In at least one case (“If Womenpriests were rabbis“) it appeared that the Baltimore Sun team actually cooperated with the organizers of a Womenpriests ordination rite to help protect local Catholics (some on the payroll of the real church) who attended the event. For a few other hot links to past coverage, including the work of GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway, click here, here, here and here.

Now, Deacon Greg Kandra — scribe at the fine weblog “The Deacon’s Bench” — has taken his turn at pounding his head, as a veteran journalist, on this particular wall. For those not familiar with his work, Kandra is a former CBS Evening News writer with 26 years, two Emmys and two Peabody Awards to his credit. So when this Catholic clergyman chooses to dissect a report from a CBS affiliate, his commentary has a unique level of clout.

This is poor on so many levels. Reporter Maria Medina should be embarrassed. My only conclusion is that it’s sweeps month and the affiliate is desperate for ratings.

Offered as another in his occasional series called “Great moments in journalism,” Kandra called this post, “How NOT to report on women priests.” It helped that the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, Calif., published a transcript of its alleged news story on the movement officially known as “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.”

Let’s let the deacon walk readers through this primer on how not to do this job. Here’s a few choice samples:

1. There’s the hyperbolic writing: “ … a new practice emerging that could change Catholicism forever.”

Well, actually, no. It’s not a practice, and it’s not really new. It’s a splinter movement by a small minority of dissident Catholics who are not recognized by the Catholic Church and, in fact, are automatically excommunicated for attempting ordination. And what is the evidence, please, that this “could change Catholicism forever”?

2. There’s the freaky lack of logic: “She’s one of a very small, yet growing group of women ordained in the United States to be a priest. But being ordained isn’t easy since the church refuses to ordain women.”

That last sentence makes no sense.

There’s the central point, once again. The women are ordained, but they are being ordained into a small, functionally Protestant body known as “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.”

Now there is a potential story for journalists to follow up on, should they be interested in the status of this new denomination. Has any liberal mainline Protestant body that ordains women — The Episcopal Church leaps to mind — formally recognized the apostolic succession of the female bishops who are claiming to ordain these female priests? Should liberal Protestant bodies take this step, how would that affect their ecumenical relationships with the real Church of Rome?

Back to the deacon:

4. There are the fuzzy, unverifiable statistics: “There are now 124 woman priests worldwide according to the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.”

That’s a best estimate from a biased source. Which means, optimistically, a little more than a hundred women in a church with a billion members and a worldwide priesthood numbering over 400,000, according to the most recent figures. Significant? Hardly.

5. There’s the sloppy, irresponsible reporting. At no point in the story is there even an attempt to offer balance. We never hear from a spokesperson for the Diocese of Sacramento, who can offer the official church response, refute their contention that they are ordained and explain why the church does not recognize these ordinations; we never hear from an expert in canon law, who can put this event into canonical context; we never hear from a historian or scholar who can add perspective; we never hear from any tradition-minded Catholics who can offer another point of view.

At the end, Kandra sums this matter up:

If the reporter had presented this story to me, I’d ask a number of questions:

What is the official church’s response to this? Did you interview a spokesperson for the Diocese of Sacramento? What is the official Catholic teaching about ordaining women? How many people do these women serve? Haven’t they been excommunicated? How do they feel about that? Are the people they serve concerned at all about the fact that they’ve also been excommunicated? Has Pope Francis said anything explicitly about the ordination of women? What’s the median age of these women? Where do they come from?

His final kicker is bit too brutal for GetReligion’s taste. You can read that one on your own.

Ouch.

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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.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    Who am I to judge?

    • Julia B

      It’s not up to you.

    • Jacob Suggs

      I dunno, you tell us. Do you have some knowledge and critical thinking skills? If so, then you are certainly capable of making some judgements, but if not, then perhaps you ought to avoid the issue altogether.

  • Julia B

    Observation: early in the video (while the narrative is going in the background) there is reference to one of the oldest churches in the diocese with a priest who is obviously male saying Mass. Later they show a womanpriest purporting to say Mass in her home. Which is it? Do they have a church where they are welcome to say Mass or don’t they? Very sloppy use of images.

  • FW Ken

    Deacon Greg rocks.

  • fredx2

    I suppose if the media can routinely ignore the 300,000 people that gather for the yearly March for Life in Washington DC, then we should just expect that they would give extensive coverage to a tiny group of people setting up their own religion.

  • fredx2

    It’s kind of interesting that the reporter was reduced to lying half the time:

    Inside one of the oldest churches is a new practice emerging that could change Catholicism forever.”

    Obviously, this is not happening “inside” the Catholic church, but far, far outside of it. Why would the reporter take seriously any group of oddballs that pretends to ordain themselves IN THEIR HOME since they cannot get a congregation to support them? Shouldn’t that have been a tip off?

    “Juanita Cordero is a woman priest, but some would call her a rebel committing a crime against her own religion.”

    But no, she is NOT a woman priest. She Calls herself a woman priest. There is a big difference.

    “She’s one of a very small, yet growing group of women ordained in the United States to be a priest.”

    No, you aren’t really “ordained” if you and your friends ordain you. Obviously, the word “ordain” is commonly used in connection with established churches that ordain priests. It has no real meaning in the context of a small group of people setting up their own church IN THEIR HOME because they cannot attract a congregation. A group that is obviously just making things up as they go along. All they are doing is putting on a bit of performance theater for the media, nothing else.

    So the media plays along, because it is a weird story – it’s like a UFO story or a chupacabra story.

    ““Some European bishops, we can’t name these two, said if we don’t ordain some of you women as bishops, and they found out who we are, the movement will stop,” she said”

    So with no evidence whatsoever, someone says that mysterious unknown bishops made some woman bishops so that these women bishops could make more women priests. And these mysterious bishops supposedly don’t want to be known, so no one can reveal their names.
    Sound plausible, or sound like it is made up?

    By that standard, an unkown conclave of all the cardinals in the world has appointed me Pope, just the other day.

    I eagerly await my interview with Maria Medina and my TV news debut, in which they will inform the world that a new Pope has been elected. All they will say is that the Vatican “refuses to recognize” my appointment as Pope, however a growing number of people (me and my friends) have acknowledged me as the legitimate Pope.

    • http://acatholicviewoftheworld.wordpress.com/ Roki

      But no, she is NOT a woman priest. She Calls herself a woman priest. There is a big difference.

      One of the biggest problems with reporting on this (and many other) issues is the lack of distinctions. The woman is a WomanPriest, even a Roman Catholic WomanPriest. That is, she is ordained as such by a group called Roman Catholic WomenPriests.

      But she is not a Roman Catholic Priest, and is not a minister of the Roman Catholic Church.

      And this is exactly where the controversy lies – a controversy which is in fact newsworthy. The WomenPriests organization claims that they are valid Roman Catholic Church ordinations, while the Roman Catholic Church notes that the ordinations lack legal, theological, and sacramental basis. This argument is worth reporting on. Yet this argument is rarely if ever acknowledged. Rather, the WomenPriests’ position is taken for granted, and the Catholic Church’s position is ignored or treated as “refusal to recognize”. Neither side’s position or arguments receive actual description or analysis. Rather, the stories act as cheerleading human interest profiles about the women seeking or receiving the WomenPriests’ ordination.


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