Search Results for: Womenpriests

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:

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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?

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Womenpriests again: The people vs. paper scenario

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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:

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Womenpriests: Press coverage in a familiar, strange mold

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To be honest with you, I feel like taking a short break from the Vatican beat — sort of. I predict news from Rome sooner rather than later. You think?

In the meantime, let’s flash back a bit to a recent post in which I praised The Toledo Blade for a better than average story on the WomenPriests movement (and better than average is not, alas, saying a whole lot).

The WomenPriests movement is, of course, is 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.

So what did the Blade do that drew our mild praise? It offered the following statement of the facts at the top of its report:

Deacon Beverly Bingle, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic woman from Toledo, will be ordained a priest by Roman Catholic Womenpriests today.

Her ordination at 2 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Toledo, 3205 Glendale Ave., will not be recognized by the Diocese of Toledo, however. After she was ordained a deacon on Sept. 13, the diocese stated her participation “in an invalid and illicit attempted ordination” meant she was automatically excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, recall that I noted that the movement is formally called the “Roman Catholic Womenpriests,” which means the newspaper was right to pass along the claim of authority present in its name. However, the Blade also immediately noted that the Womenpriests deacon was, in fact, no longer a Catholic at all, according to the laws of the Catholic Church. The Womenpriests determine who is a Womenpriests priest and the Catholic Church determines who is a Catholic priest, in communion with Rome. That’s the facts of the matter.

So, it is important to note that the Blade followed this story to its liturgical end and covered the rites at First Unitarian. How did that turn out?

The basic facts, once again, were pushed to the top of the story:

More than 100 people were in the pews Saturday when Roman Catholic Womenpriests ordained the Rev. Beverly Bingle of Toledo a priest, an act not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Ann Klonowski of Independence, Ohio, was ordained a deacon at the same ceremony at First Unitarian Church of Toledo.

Seventeen women from Roman Catholic Womenpriests, including ordained priests, deacons and a bishop, as well as candidates and applicants for ordination, stood at the end of the service to show their numbers.

Once again, that’s the basic facts of the matter.

This is where things get rather interesting.

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Lo! A better-than-average Womenpriests story

Your GetReligionistas, as the divine Mrs. MZ once stressed, are way, way, way past the point where we joyfully go out of our way to write about the journalism issues linked to the mainstream media coverage that is, from time to time, poured out on behalf of the Womenpriests movement.

Some readers have been tempted to think that we do not believe that this movement is worthy of coverage. This is nonsense, of course, since GetReligion has been arguing since Day 1 that the mainstream press rarely does enough to cover doctrinal and cultural trends on the Religious Left.

Others have suggested that we only want the Roman Catholic Church’s viewpoint covered on this issue. That’s nonsense, as well. This is a hot-button issue and the press needs to find articulate, informed voices on both sides.

We have, however, argued that journalists have gone too far — often — when they describe the women ordained in these rites as Catholic priests.

The women should be quoted making their case, on this subject, but the historical reality is that the Catholic Church gets to decide who is and who is not a Catholic priest, just as the leaders at The New York Times get to determine who is and who is not a columnist for The New York Times. On one occasion I asked if journalists would call men ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention rabbis simply because the SBC said they were rabbis. President Barack Obama gets to decide who serves on his cabinet, etc., etc.

All of this raises a basic journalistic question: What does accurate coverage of a Womenpriests event look like?

Well, take a look at the following effort from The Toledo Blade, taking it, of course, from the top:

Deacon Beverly Bingle, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic woman from Toledo, will be ordained a priest by Roman Catholic Womenpriests today.

Her ordination at 2 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Toledo, 3205 Glendale Ave., will not be recognized by the Diocese of Toledo, however.

After she was ordained a deacon on Sept. 13, the diocese stated her participation “in an invalid and illicit attempted ordination” meant she was automatically excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

The diocese has released a similar statement in advance of today’s ceremony, reminding that Deacon Bingle is excommunicated and that Ann Klonowski, a woman from the Diocese of Cleveland who will be ordained a deacon at the same ceremony today, will lose her standing in the church.

However, the Reverend Bingle, as she can be called with today’s ordination by Bishop Joan Houck of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, not only will participate in the ceremony; on Sunday, she will start holding weekly services as a priest for the Holy Spirit Catholic Community, a church she’s starting that will meet at Unity of Toledo. …

Now, the one thing that I would challenge in that material is that I think it is proper for journalists to note that the legal name of this movement, of this splinter church that is making its own claims of Catholicity, is “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.” The name confuses the issue, that that’s who whole point, isn’t it?

So what else is right and what else, alas, is wrong in this story?

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Womenpriests in the balance

I would love to stop covering Roman Catholic Womenpriest stories but in order to do that, they have to stop being written in such hacktastic manner. Take this one from the Fort Myers News-Press, headlined “Fort Myers woman defies church to become priest.”

The captions accompanying the story are my favorite. I’m not sure which one is the best. Perhaps:

Judy Beaumont, 74, will be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest Saturday.

Or perhaps:

Judy Beaumont risks the loss of her soul by being ordained, says Diocese of Venice Bishop Frank Dewane. Beaumont says she is following her conscience.

Except for the parts about how Beaumont will not be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest and the bishop never said what he’s accused of, these are excellent captions.

A commenter to the article writes “Journalists need to develop some critical judgement. She and the others can’t become ‘Catholic priests’ simply by calling themselves that. If I decided I wanted to become a supreme court justice and phoned up my local news station and announced that I was being sworn in as a judge at a local church hall at the weekend what would journalists do? They would laugh and throw the story in the bin – where this one should go.” Except that reporters could not love these stories more. And they’re somehow led into writing these stories up in the least evenhanded manner possible. Take the lede (please!):

Judy Beaumont plans to take a historic step Saturday, one that will jeopardize her immortal soul.

Beaumont, 74, of Fort Myers, is defying centuries-old doctrine in becoming the first woman in Southwest Florida to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest. The church decrees this role is reserved for men. Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice, which oversees the Catholic faithful in 10 counties, including all of Southwest Florida, has warned her not to cross that patriarchal line.

Historic in what sense? Is the reporter signaling to us that she thinks this is “important” or “likely to be famous”? And “patriarchal”? The bishop told her not to cross a patriarchal line? Because in his letter, mentioned below, it sounds like a “doctrinal” one. Perhaps that would be a better and more neutral word to use.

The story does quote from the letter before telling us that Beaumont “will follow her conscience and take the consequences.” And, further, that she thinks excommunication is a “man-made rule.” So let’s see, female going for ordination at a Lutheran-Episcopal hybrid congregation who doesn’t recognize any church’s authority to excommunicate. Hmm. It’s almost like the reporter could figure out from her own reporting that the language “will be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest” is in error.

Or maybe I’m expecting too much. Check out this choice line:

The movement has generated controversy and debate between traditional and progressive Catholics who favor the concept of “inclusion,” embracing women priests, married priests, gays and others not accepted by the church.

Ooft. The sentence construction on that one is rough, eh? And why the scare quotes around “inclusion”? Also, to which doctrine is the reporter referring when she writes that the gays are not accepted? That last line, by the way, is the final line to the story. There’s also a video accompanying the article featuring the subject of the story talking. You know, for balance.

Off-balance woman photo via Shutterstock.

What I am is what I am — Womenpriests and The Age

A story this week in The Age, Melbourne’s major daily newspaper, leaves me puzzled. I am not sure what the paper’s religion editor, Barney Zwartz is doing in his article “Ex-nun a cardinal sinner in the mind of the church“. Read at one level, it c0uld be a silly puff piece. Yet there are hints the story could have a deeper meaning–wheels within wheels–where The Age‘s editorial voice is heard by its allowing the subject to impeach herself.

It also raises the philosophical question for journalists: to what extent may a person identify themselves? What shapes reality? The social construction given by the subject of a story, or an outside arbiter–an eternal truth, natural law, the AP style book?

Take a look at The Age story. Is it a puff piece, or absurdist fable? “We report, you decide” as Fox likes to say.

The subject is the visit to Australia of one of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a group that defines itself as an:

international movement .. [whose purpose is] .. to primarily spiritually prepare, ordain, and support women from all states of life, who are theologically qualified, who are committed to an inclusive model of Church, and who are called by the Holy Spirit and their communities to minister within the Roman Catholic Church.

The gist of the article is that one of its leaders, Bishop Patricia Fresen, is visiting Australia to build support for the organization in hopes of expansion down under.

The article begins with a flourish:

Patricia Fresen prefers being quietly subversive to openly confrontational, but the 70-year-old former Dominican nun is like a purple rag to a bull to the Vatican.

She says she is a Catholic woman bishop, properly ordained by a male bishop in the sacrament passed down by laying on hands from the first apostles. The official church says that by that act she ceased to be a Catholic and it has excommunicated her (banned her from the church).

Bishop Fresen – now a bishop in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests church – rejects the excommunication.

Cute. I confess I had to think for a moment before I got the color joke, (e.g., substituting purple, the color associated with a bishop, for red), but the meaning is clear, Bishop Fresen is an irritant to the Roman Catholic Church.

The language in the second sentence however begins to cloud the issues. Bishop Fresen says she is a “Catholic woman bishop”–the word “Roman” being conspicuous by its absence–while the “official church”, which one presumes is the Roman Catholic Church due to the reference to the “Vatican” in the first sentence, says ‘no she’s not’ and has excommunicated her. The bishop responds by saying she rejects this rejection and the author’s voice identifies the former Dominican nun as “now” being a bishop in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests church–note here we have the first use of the “Roman” descriptor.

Follow me so far? Former nun c0nsecrated a bishop for a dissident group/sect rejects her excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church for having participated in the consecration service.

The article continues with the information that Bishop Fresen is South African by birth, and thus may cloak herself in the mantle of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Stirring justice quotes inserted here: “An unjust law must not be obeyed but broken.”

The bishop also adds that she is not alone in being a rebel, gathering those who use birth control, the divorced and remarried, and sexually active gays into her camp as fellow excommunicates from the Roman Catholic family.

A historical note is offered, as is a word about the church’s present size and the sort of people it has attracted:

[History] Roman Catholic WomenPriests was launched in 2002 when an anonymous Catholic bishop ordained seven women secretly on a boat on the Danube. Bishop Fresen was ordained a priest in 2003, a bishop in 2005 and excommunicated in 2007. .. [Numbers] Now the group has nearly 200 women priests in North America and Europe, .. [Members] “Nearly all are people on the fringes of the church, who want to be Catholic but are very critical of some aspects. They are forming churches with much more communitarian structures, much more accountability on the part of the leaders.”

The article closes with Bishop Fresen’s belief the Petrine system is on its last legs.

“Benedict, a German Pope, is very unpopular in Germany. He’s become a figure of fun. I think he’s bringing the papacy to a quick end, and I don’t think there will be many more popes elected this way,” she says.

The authoritarian structure based on the Pope and Vatican bureaucracy is collapsing, she says, and soon the Bishop of Rome will be just another Italian bishop. But the church will survive, and she will be a part. ”I am still a Roman Catholic, very much on the edges. They don’t want me, but I’m not going. As [theologian] Hans Kung says, ‘Less Pope, more Jesus.’ “

That’s the story. Read on one level, it comes across a being more of a press release on behalf of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement than a news story. Bishop Fresen speaks, but no voice from the “official” Roman Catholic Church is heard to give these claims context.

Why can women not be priests in the Roman Catholic Church? What does it mean to be excommunicated? Is the bishop an irritant to the Roman Catholic Church, or is she even on its radar? No answers here to these questions.

The statement that a Catholic bishop consecrated the first Womenpriests needs to be expanded. Yes, a Catholic bishop did consecrate seven women priests on Aug 5, 2002 at a ceremony held on a Danube steamer. The catholic bishop in question, Rómulo Antonio Braschi, is a bishop of the Charismatic Catholic Church of Christ the King in Argentina.

All Roman Catholics are Catholics but not all Catholics are Roman Catholics. Old Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and host of other groups lay claim to the moniker ‘catholic’. You can even listen to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, the noted Presbyterian preacher and popular radio Bible teacher, preach on this point in his sermon: “You are a Catholic priest”.

A superficial reading shows it to be an incomplete, rather one-sided mess. But could there not be more to it than this? Perhaps The Age is giving the bishop a pulpit and thereby allowing her to impeach herself. No contradictory voice is needed because the subject’s views are so extraordinary.

Support for this view could be derived from the structure of the article. In the closing paragraphs Bishop Fresen makes her strongest statement about Benedict being a “figure of fun” and the imminent collapse of the Petrine system that will leave the pope as “just another Italian bishop.”

This is great stuff for a reporter, yet it is buried in the closing paragraphs. The Age starts out with who she is and ends with what she believes, when what she believes is more newsworthy. Could it be the story is setting is subject up for a fall by closing in this manner? Or is The Age content to let Bishop Fresen craft her own identity?

As thinkers from John Locke to Margaret Mead and today’s many “social constructionists” like to say, people are simply whatever they are conditioned to be. Bishop Fresen believes the church’s construct of gender being determinative as to ordination violates the deeper meaning of Scripture.

The Roman Catholic Church takes the opposite view, believing it is not possible for women to be priests because Christ himself chose no women to serve among the Apostles. It lacks the authority to contravene Christ’s example. Its precise position is that articulated by John Paul II in 1992: “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

How then should a journalist approach these competing claims? “I am what I say I am” vs. “You are what you are.”

Daring to cover the Womenpriests camp

Please grant me a moment to help readers flash back to a few recent GetReligion posts focusing on mainstream news media coverage of the Womenpriests movement. It focused on an event in Baltimore, a public rite in which four women were hailed as Roman Catholic priests.

A key passage in the Baltimore Sun‘s celebratory coverage noted:

Andrea Johnson, presiding as bishop, ordained two women from Maryland, Ann Penick and Marellen Mayers, one from Pennsylvania and one from New York in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ. The church was filled with family members — including husbands of three of the ordinands — and friends, including some who are employed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore but who support the ordination of women. Photography was limited to protect the privacy of those attending the ceremony.

The key fact there was that the newspaper’s editors appear to have agreed to help shield some local Catholic leaders from the scrutiny of their superiors. In other words, the Sun team agreed to ignore a national or even global news story that took place in its own backyard.

At the time, I wrote:

… (It) sounds like the Sun agreed not to photograph the congregation in order to protect the privacy of Catholics — Catholic educational leaders or diocesan staff, perhaps — who could not afford to make public their support of the Womenpriests movement. I don’t know about you, but that seems strange — unless editors had decided to protect those individuals as sources for the story. If that’s the case, perhaps that should be stated?

Why do I bring this up?

Here’s why. The New York Times recently published a fascinating (it, as is the newroom’s new Catholic norm, highly unbalanced) story indicating that a small number of Roman Catholic priests are beginning to go public with their support for the ordination of women to the priesthood, or, at least, are daring to show public support for priests who are willing to protest Vatican teachings on that issue.

Here’s the top of this global-level story:

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony that purported to ordain a woman as a priest, in defiance of church teaching.

The American priests’ action follows closely on the heels of a “Call to Disobedience” issued in Austria last month by more than 300 priests and deacons. They stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” After an investigation, the Vatican forced him to resign.

What is the link to the Baltimore story? I believe the journalistic link is pretty clear.

I’ll make my point with a series of questions: Were there Catholic priests in the audience that day for the Womenpriests ordination rite in Baltimore? Were any dressed in clerical garb? To raise the stakes, were any dressed in vestments? Did one or more of these priests make symbolic gestures, such as blessing these women or greeting them as priests?

This may sound like wild speculation. However, the Times reports otherwise, focusing on actions taken in another case in another place and time:

Church experts said it was surprising that 157 priests would sign a statement in support of the American priest, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, because he did much more than speak out: he gave the homily and blessed a woman in an illicit ordination ceremony conducted by the group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests. That group claims to have ordained 120 female priests and five bishops worldwide. The Vatican does not recognize the ordinations and has declared the women automatically excommunicated.

Once again, we face the key question in the earlier posts: To what degree did editors and other members of the Sun team intentionally participate in the hiding of a national or even global news story by agreeing to shield Catholic staffers and, perhaps, clergy who participated in the Womenpriests rite in Baltimore?


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