Search Results for: WomenPriests

That Gray Lady Catholic same-sex unions scoop 2.0

It’s time for a Catholic culture wars flashback.

Let’s set the way-back machine for last summer, when the Womenpriests movement held one of its ordination rites in Baltimore. As one would expect, this event was glowingly covered — sort of — by The Baltimore Sun. I focused, in posts at the time, on this particular passage:

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.

I noted, with two clicks in Google, that one of the ordinands was a former faculty member/campus minister at one of most powerful Catholic schools in our region — Archbishop Spalding High School. This fact was not included in the news story. And what about the fact that the Sun agreed to abide by the instructions not to photograph the audience. In mean, who would be present who needed the safety of anonymity? I wrote at that time:

… (I)t 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?

I bring this up because of some of the reactions I have heard — in or comments pages and through private emails — to my post that ran with the headline, “New York Times scoop! Catholic same-sex unions!” The post focused on a story that included lots of clearly attributed quotes and information from religious leaders in quite a few churches that are being rocked or even divided by conflicts over homosexuality and the definition of marriage.

That’s good. Journalists like clearly attributed information.

But then there was this passage in the Times report:

The dividing lines are often unpredictable. There are black churches that welcome openly gay couples, and white churches that do not. Some Presbyterian churches hire openly gay clergy members, while others will not. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin, but there are Catholic priests who secretly bless gay unions.

The story offers no attribution for the final claim, which is an A1 story in the making if I have ever seen one. The story also, and this is the key, does not offer any context for this claim or information about its source, including why the source of needs to remain anonymous — or in this case, not even mentioned. The information simply shows up.

Does this matter? Well, I noted that this would appear to violate a New York Times editorial policy document that states, in part:

Readers of The New York Times demand to know as much as possible about where we obtain our information and why it merits their trust. For that reason, we have long observed the principle of identifying our sources by name and title or, when that is not possible, explaining why we consider them authoritative, why they are speaking to us and why they have demanded confidentiality. Guidance on limiting the use of unidentified sources, and on informative description of those we do use, has appeared in several editions of our stylebook, including the current one, and in our Integrity Statement, dating from 1999.

As you would imagine, conservative Catholics were not amused by this episode.

Over at the website, Phil Lawler made the following observations:

It is, regrettably, easy to believe that some Catholic priests are giving their blessing to homosexual unions. But if that is the case, these priests are clearly acting in defiance of the Church: the institution they claim to serve. That defiance would constitute a major news story, not merely an observation to be made in passing. … The Times appears to be protecting dissenting priests from ecclesiastical discipline.

Any Times reporter who actually witnessed a Catholic priest blessing a homosexual union, or heard a credible first-hand report of such an event, should have written a news story about it, and that story should have appeared on the front page. That didn’t happen. Why not? I can think of only three possible explanations:

The Times reported something as fact when it had no solid evidence. Terry Mattingly and I agree that’s unlikely.

The Times had solid evidence of priests blessing gay unions, but withheld that evidence because the priests demanded anonymity. That’s possible. But as Mattingly points out, the Times ordinarily informs readers when a report is based on information from someone who requests anonymity.

The Times knows of priests who have blessed same-sex unions, and those priests have not requested anonymity, but the Times has decided not to identify them anyway. This seems to me the most likely explanation.

My assumption is that the second option is closest to the mark, in a scenario that resembles the Sun Womenpriests story mentioned earlier. In other words, the newspaper is actively participating in the story and shaping information in a way that protects one side of the debate from retaliation by the other.

Yes, I know that this happens in political stories all the time. My office is on Capitol Hill. However, this is precisely the scenario that the Times ethics policy addresses — which is why, in order to build and retain trust — the policy requires reporters and editors to give readers as much information about confidential sources as possible (short of a clear, named attribution). Yet that did not happen in this case.

GetReligion readers have, in comments or privately, offered another interesting explanation.

The Times report clearly implies that the Catholic priests performing these same-sex union blessings are, in fact, Catholic priests in good standing. However, perhaps this is not accurate, and the priests in question are either ex-Catholic priests or members of movements (think Womenpriests) that claim to be Catholic, yet the final doctrinal authorities on this issue (as in Catholic bishops) disagree. Yet, why wouldn’t the newspaper simply state that this is the case. Why not give credit to, so to speak, this Rebel Alliance?

I want to propose another scenario, one based on my own experiences in newsrooms and past conversations with liberal Catholics, including journalists. What if the source or sources for this information are, in reality, liberal Catholics and ex-Catholics IN THE TIMES NEWSROOM? They know about these rites or have participated in them, yet they do not want to betray their own liberal priests? Thus, the reference is simply stated as fact, because the people in the know are actually involved in the news process.

Surely the Times staff includes more than its share of ex-Catholics and liberal Catholics. What was the label that former editor Bill Keller pinned on himself in his infamous post-Sept. 11 column (the one that compared the Vatican with Al Qaeda) that ran under the headline, “Is the Pope Catholic?” He said, “I am what a friend calls a ‘collapsed Catholic’ — well beyond lapsed.” I would be shocked if Keller was alone in his own newsroom.

How would a reporter include that information in a story, in an attempt to honor the Times policy?

Exciting development in Womenpriest coverage

In many ways, I’m pleased by the way that religion journalism has improved over the years, even with large cuts in newsrooms and other pressures. But if there’s one example of how religion journalism has not improved — indeed, gotten worse — it would have to be the way that the Roman Catholic WomenPriests stories are covered.

I believe I may have made a public proclamation that I will never cover another one of these stories. There have been so many, and they’re hardly ever even halfway decent, and how many times can you say that? But now that this story has been sent in by everyone and their mother, I have to take a look. “This is an article where the Indy Star failed at covering the Catholic teaching of the priesthood,” said one reader. “Ripe for your fisking: One of the most misguided Womynpriest stories I’ve ever read,” said another. “You’ve gotta love this … Not a single question about what constitutes ‘ordination’ or the validity of sacraments administered by this woman,” said another.

Could it really be that bad? Well, to judge from the headline, yes:

Indy resident is first woman in Indiana to be ordained a Catholic priest
A wife and former nun, she disobeys the church in hopes of changing it

Now, it’s clear the copywriters intend to give the impression that a woman was ordained into the Roman Catholic Church. If it were some Catholic but not Roman Catholic Church that ordains women, we wouldn’t have the subhed about how she’s disobeying the church. Were any woman to be ordained into the Catholic church, that would be huge news. It’s not even a possibility in the church, as we know, so it would be huge news. Did the Indianapolis Star stumble upon the biggest religion news story of the year?

Let’s get the details. The story literally begins with something about anonymous but armed police officers stationed outside the sanctuary in case of a protest. Needless to say, a protest didn’t happen. Why didn’t a protest happen if a woman was being ordained into the Catholic Church? Wouldn’t, like, all the Catholics in a tri-state area be there with pitchforks and stuff? Oh, what’s that you say? You say she was ordained at a Unitarian Universalist Church and that Catholics care about this ordination about as much as they care about any other ordination in a UU church? Well, then, why did the story lead with that alarming anecdote about armed police officers? You don’t know? I don’t know either.

Okay, the name of the woman who is not Roman Catholic who was ordained is Maria Thornton McClain. Here’s the point of the story:

The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the ordination of women, but more and more women are answering the call as part of a reform movement.

On Sunday, McClain, 71, a former East Coast resident, aunt to several nieces and nephews, and wife of 31 years to Ed McClain, became Indiana’s first woman to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood.

Baptized a Roman Catholic, McClain, a former nun, moved to Indianapolis in 1977 to become director of religious education at St. Pius X parish. She was ordained as a deacon last year and began preparing for the priesthood.

So to answer the question above, yes, this story is precisely as bad as everyone suggested. It completely fails to explain the office of the priesthood and there is no explanation of what constitutes “ordination” in the Catholic Church we’re being told just ordained someone. The story is a mess. We do learn that the “event went off without disturbance” (you don’t say!).

My favorite part is where the reporter says that Vatican II addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world but that earlier this month, Benedict “restated the church’s ban on female priests.” But?

We’re told, definitively, that McClain “becomes one of more than 100 Catholic women around the world ordained as a priest.” McClain herself is the source who explains to the reporter that “According to the Roman Catholic Church, we excommunicate ourselves through ordination.” So at least that perspective was included in the story. In the last line.

So congratulations, Indy Star! In a hotly contested field of awful stories about Roman Catholic Womenpriests, you have managed to publish something particularly bad.

Perhaps related, I noticed that the editor of the paper wrote a column responding to the study on religion coverage, basically saying “yeah, we haven’t done a lot on religion but we’ll think about it.” But then, separately, he announced his retirement. So I’ve decided to take his position. I talked to some people (OK, my mom and my girlfriends) and they have granted me the job. I start June 1. You can read all about it in tomorrow’s paper!

For Sun editors, this one had to hurt (updated)

There are days when the age of specialty websites and reporters are especially cruel to the old guard in the mainstream press.

This is one of those days for the leaders of The Baltimore Sun.

If you read the newspaper that lands in my front yard, this morning’s tree-pulp edition contained zero about the biggest story in town. It’s clear that the Sun has its sources in some offices in the Archdiocese of Baltimore (click here to see what I mean), but not others.

However, if you are a news fanatic who reads Whispers in the Loggia, then you heard the big news, in depth, early Monday night from the omnipresent Rocco Palmo. Yes, I know. He didn’t name his sources. However, ask The Los Angeles Times if his track record is good.

More on Palmo’s scoop in a moment.

If you read the Sun, then the following information just went up online this morning. It’s easy to note that it appears there are key elements in the life and recent career of the city’s new archbishop with which the editors are not familiar.

Yes, this is the whole report:

Bishop William E. Lori, previously of the diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., was named as Cardinal Edwin O’Brien’s replacement as head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore by Pope Benedict XVI, the archdiocese announced Tuesday.

Lori, 60, becomes the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore. He replaces O’Brien, who served as archbishop from October 2007 to August 2011 before leaving the post to become the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

Archbishop-designate Lori will be introduced at a news conference at 10:30 a.m. today at the Baltimore Basilica. Lori was ordained a priest in 1977 and a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1995, according to the archdiocese. He has served as Bishop of Bridgeport since 2001.

I am sure that there is more information to come, once the Sun folks look it up online. Meanwhile, if you read Palmo, you already know this:

From its founding in the lone American colony founded by Catholics, the Premier See of Baltimore and its illustrious occupants have stood as a preeminent icon of religious freedom in these States. And now, the golden thread of that 223-year line is set to continue with particular vigor in the choice of its 16th Archbishop.

As soon as tomorrow, sources tell Whispers that Pope Benedict will name Bishop William Lori, 60 — leader of Connecticut’s Bridgeport diocese since 2001 — as the next head of the nation’s oldest local church, first shepherded for 18 years by John Carroll, a cousin of the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and founder of the nation’s first Catholic university at Georgetown shortly after his appointment in 1789.

And the solid hard-news hook for the key words in that lede (I refer, of course, to “religious freedom”)?

The chief protege of the capital’s late Cardinal James Hickey (who ordained him a bishop at 43), Lori has come into an even brighter spotlight over recent months as the appointed head of the bishops’ newly-created ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, and thus the quarterback of the church’s recent surge against the contraceptive mandate of the Federal health-care reform law.

While the skirmishes have included Lori’s penning a widely-circulated swipe at America magazine following an editorial in the Jesuit journal lamenting the bishops’ strategy on the issue, in his most recent comments on the hierarchy’s tense face-off with the White House, Lori said he found a meeting last week with Obama administration officials “distressing” given a stance that, he said, made the policy appear “non-negotiable” and “here to stay.” The tenor of the sit-down “does not bode well for future discussions,” the bishop told Catholic News Service.

And you need more of a local news hook? Perhaps even a news hook related to the postmodern Catholic who is the apple of the Sun‘s editorial eye?

In Baltimore’s case, however, the liberty concerns aren’t limited to Washington. A concerted religious freedom push by the Maryland church failed on the floor of its state legislature last month, as the cradle of American Catholicism became the seventh US jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage. With its enactment, the bill’s lead champion, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, became the nation’s fifth Catholic chief executive to sign full recognition of gay unions into law. (For purposes of context, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage into law in 2008.)

As a binding referendum on the issue is expected to be held in November — prior to the move’s entering into force next year — any new archbishop will arrive to find his tenure’s first major battle already lined up.

So it should be a rather dark day in the Sun editorial offices. But cheer up, folks! Maybe there will be another WomenPriests exclusive to cover between now and Easter. The Sun team will hear about that — perhaps they will even help do the planning for the rites — way in advance.

UPDATE: We now have a full Sun report on the appointment and, I swear, the lede might cause the Divine Mrs. MZ’s head to explode. Are you ready?

A Catholic bishop who has been at the forefront of fighting the Obama administration’s contraception policy will lead the Archdiocese of Baltimore and replace Cardinal Edwin O’Brien.

Bishop William E. Lori of the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese, becomes the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore, a historically important seat given that the Roman Catholic Church established its U.S. base in the city.

But, but, but … What about the national leadership post he holds in the Catholic hierarchy? That shows up later and, sure enough, the same talking point defines that biographical detail, as well.

Lori heads the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ recently created ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, making him the church’s leader in the fight against the birth control mandate.

Go ahead, read it all.

No. 7,000: Please define “evangelical” — again

So, this post represents the 7,000th GetReligion offering that is still stashed on our server. That’s a landmark, of some sort or another, especially since this comes so soon after our 8th birthday party the other day.

There have, by the way, been quite a few GetReligion posts that were deleted along the way, primarily at the time when we made the jump to the WordPress software after about two years of publishing. You see, we once had a sidebar feature that offered shorter posts that kind of resembled the whole “aggregation” trend that is so hot these days on many news websites. I think we lost all of those in the software switch.

Cyberspace giveth, cyberspace taketh away. So be it.

When we started out it was just me and The Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc who were doing the writing and the goal was to get up one or two posts a day. These days, with 5.5 scribes (give or take a Hemingway), we strive for three and sometimes four — depending on what’s going on in our real jobs and the state of religion coverage on any given day. Then there’s jet planes that take us to speaking gigs, conferences, other duties, family life, etc.

Still, 7,000 articles — at roughly 700 words or so (Wait! Father George averages about 1,400 words a post!) — is just under 5,000,000 words in seven years. That’s a lot of digital ink.

So, on what should I focus this post — No. 7,000? The topic needs to be somewhat symbolic, don’t you think?

I considered having the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway do a WomenPriests post of some kind. Did you know that if you Google “GetReligion” and “Womenpriests” you get about 24,000 hits? I have no idea what that means.

No, why don’t we throw another harpoon at one of those great-white-whale topics that we’ve been studying from the get-go? So that’s ask, once again: What in the world does the oft-abused term “evangelical” mean?

Godbeat veteran Peggy Fletcher Stack of The Salt Lake City Tribune addressed that topic the other day and gave GetReligion a tip of the hat. Click here to read the version of this Religion News Service piece that ran in USA Today. Here is how that opens:

Evangelicals have been in the news a lot lately, from the Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow and his take-a-knee prayers to the Texas pastor and his wife who spent 24 hours in bed preaching the virtues of sex in Christian marriages.

Mitt Romney is struggling to gain evangelical support for his presidential bid, and Rick Santorum — a Catholic — won the blessing of more than 100 evangelical pastors gathered at a Texas ranch.

So who are these Christians? What do they have in common and how are they different from other believers? Even famed preacher Billy Graham wasn’t sure of the answer.

“Actually, that’s a question, I’d like to ask somebody, too,” Graham told religion reporter Terry Mattingly in a 1987 interview. “The lines (have) become blurred. … You go all the way from the extreme fundamentalists to the extreme liberals and, somewhere in between, there are the evangelicals.”

So there is one of the keys. If one knows what the word “fundamentalist” means — the Associate Press Stylebook is pretty clear on that, even if journalists keep ignoring its wise advice — then the key is to draw a line between the “evangelicals” and the “fundamentalists.”

Good luck with that.

You really need to read the whole piece to see how Stack addresses that, with the help of a whole bunch of folks, including Notre Dame historian Mark Noll, author of “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” and other relevant tomes.

So here is a final bite to ponder, as she chases a definition that all will embrace:

Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, expands the definition further, saying “evangelicals have always been a cultural niche/commercial product kind of thing. No set doctrines.” …

Noll: The serious answer is the ‘eye of the beholder.’ I believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ, which makes me a fundamentalist in the eyes of some people, but I take an occasional glass of wine and don’t worry about evolution, which means that, for many people, I can’t be a fundamentalist.

Anyway, your GetReligionistas will carry on for, we hope, thousands of other posts — including more on this topic, I am sure. As you know, words really matter when you’re walking the religion beat.

Stunning gap in Sun story on new cardinal

One of the major religion events of this past weekend, obviously, was the Vatican rite at which Pope Benedict XVI created 22 new cardinals, including two from the United States.

In terms of standard-issue news on the big-city religion beat, having your city’s archbishop join the college of cardinals is a mucho big deal. At the very least, it’s the kind of thing that requires the writing of a full-career feature story about the man, with a heavy emphasis on the work that he did to earn this nod from the Vatican.

The other day, I noted that then Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York City held his own when The New York Times served up its pre-red-hat feature. That fine story offered a combination of attributed material from a number of different sources — including radio broadcasts, public sermons and interviews.

The other U.S. archbishop-turned-cardinal was Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore, who currently is in a transition between his work in the nation’s oldest Catholic archdiocese and a global-level slot in the Vatican hierarchy. This means, of course, a major story in The Baltimore Sun. The result was utterly and totally predictable, other than one or two glaring oddities. Here is the top of the feature:

Even as he prepared in Rome for the weekend ceremony that will elevate him to cardinal, Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien vigorously lobbied for political issues important to the Roman Catholic Church — a hallmark of his five-year stint here.

The vocal 72-year-old O’Brien — who has been the spiritual leader of Catholics in Baltimore and nine surrounding counties — has sparred with the likes of President Barack Obama and top Maryland lawmakers. He didn’t always succeed, but he pressed on, as he has on a number of highly charged issues.

Last month, O’Brien decried a proposed federal regulation from the Obama administration that would have required Catholic hospitals and universities, among other institutions, to provide employee health insurance that covered contraception.

In recent days, the O’Brien went head-to-head with Gov. Martin O’Malley, a fellow Catholic, over the elected leader’s support for legalizing same-sex marriage. O’Brien called several state lawmakers from Rome, urging them to oppose the measure, in the hours before a crucial Friday night vote moved the measure closer to becoming law. And in one of his most criticized moves locally, O’Brien made the budget-minded decision to close 13 Catholic schools in the spring of 2010, frustrating students and parents.

Now, here is your assignment: Name a major American city in which each of these points — to one degree or another — would not apply to the work of a Pope Benedict XVI-era prelate.

As this standard-duty article rolls on, it becomes pretty clear that the Sun team faced a major problem. The bottom line: A key voice is missing from this feature. Whose?

Pope Benedict XVI could name his successor in Baltimore as early as March, O’Brien said last month. He has been traveling between Rome and Baltimore, working two jobs since August, and did not respond to interview requests for this article.

Ouch. Frankly, that is amazing. I may be wrong, but this gap has to say something about the archbishop’s attitude toward the Sun, a newspaper that never uses a fly swatter when a baseball bat will do when it comes time to cooperate with and-or to promote the views of local Catholic dissidents. O’Brien is no arch conservative, but to this newspaper he is, clearly, a fundamentalist.

Still, O’Brien preaches sermons all the time that could have been quoted in this story. He writes, too. While he declined to be interviewed, it would have been easy to find ways to feature his voice as a balancing element in this all politics, all the time report. It’s even possible that there are religious, faith-based themes in his work that could have been included. Then again, apparently not.

The Sun team did manage to reach out to a global-level expert — who promptly pointed them in the right direction (should the editors be interested in knowing more about why Rome honored this man). They turned to Rocco Palmo of Whispers Inside The Loggia. And what did he have to say?

Palmo, who has sources in the Holy See and broke the news of O’Brien’s new appointment, said the O’Brien’s strong leadership style likely contributed to his elevation and transfer to Rome, where he is expected to take on additional assignments for the pope.

“O’Brien’s always been given sensitive assignments by the Vatican,” Palmo said, pointing to O’Brien’s role as the head of an in-depth study into all U.S. seminaries, to root out the potential origins of child abuse by Catholic clergy.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Brien were called in as a troubleshooter for the Vatican, in addition to his day job,” Palmo said.

Ah, the study of the seminaries. That would be a key starting point, since it is hard to have Catholic churches without priests.

It is at this point that the Sun, once again, looks away from a major story that has been sitting in its own backyard for several decades. You see, Baltimore happens to be the home of one of North America’s most famous, or infamous, seminaries and one of the first things that O’Brien — the former leader of America’s Catholic military archdiocese — did when he came to town was attempt to change the culture a bit at St. Mary’s Seminary. All you have to do to learn more about that situation is type “Baltimore,” “seminary” and “Pink Palace” into a search engine.

Palmo did his best to underline the obvious, but it was not enough.

Basically, this Sun news feature centered on the elements of O’Brien’s tenure in Baltimore that the newspaper had, in the past, deigned to cover. One can ask (I just did) whether the actual O’Brien was missing from that earlier coverage, just as he was — by his own choice — missing from this pre-red-hat feature.

PHOTO: Cardinal Edwin O’Brien (left) and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, rocking the red.

Hotbed of womenpriest coverage

We have received many, many tips about a women priests news story that is bad even by the normally abysmal standards of women priest news stories.

One of my favorite emails was one of the first, which openly wondered whether we’ve had our fill of WomenPriests stories. Who — who, I ask you — could ever have their fill of looking at the way the mainstream media treats the movement?

I actually laughed out loud when I read the lede to this Minneapolis Star-Tribune gusher from the weekend:

Dressed in a priestly white robe and green stole, Monique Venne lifted communion bread before an altar — defying centuries of Catholic Church law.

Despite promises of excommunication from the Vatican, she and six other women in Minnesota say they are legitimate, ordained Catholic priests, fit to celebrate the mass. They trace their status through a line of ordained women bishops back to anonymous male bishops in Europe.

Oh dear. I mean, the story neglects to mention this but apparently this defiance of Catholic Church law is happening in a Methodist church in the Twin Cities. I mean, I guess in a sense you could argue that someone who is not a priest lifting “bread” before a Methodist altar is defying Catholic teaching, but boy is that a stretch.

And I do love the way that automatic excommunication is turned into “promises of excommunication.” Finally, what about the lower case mass? That’s a rather uncommon capitalization rule they appear to be using. It was also lower case in the headline.

The article fits the female-priests-who-claim-to-be-Roman-Catholic template. It reads more like a press release than an actual balanced story. Thus, it mostly avoids detail on the Catholic teachings about the priesthood or how excommunication works. Here was a favorite part:

Minnesota has emerged as a hotbed for the growing movement to ordain women as priests, with the highest per-capita number of female Catholic priests in the nation, according to the organization Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Women priests are working in the Twin Cities, Red Wing, Winona, Clear Lake and soon St. Cloud. The group claims about 70 women priests in the United States and more than 100 worldwide.

And I’m the prettiest woman in my house.

Totally true, also rather meaningless without knowing how many women reside in my house (one!). So we have at least five women in a state of 5.3 million? (Later we’re told that there are four female priests at a parish that has 15-20 attendees.)

OK? Is “hotbed” really the word we’re going for? It’s hilarious, yes, but not really appropriate for a news story, is it? Later we’re told that a majority of Catholics support letting women become priests with only a third opposed. You will not be surprised to learn that we don’t know that this poll includes both practicing Catholics and those who haven’t graced a church for decades. That’s a bigger issue when writing about a group that has a high percentage of people who identify with a particular faith without attending worship services.

It’s true that we get a quote from a spokesman for the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese on both why the church has a male-only priesthood as well as how the church views people who claim to be Catholic priests without what they deem valid ordinations. But there are no quotes from Catholic theologians or documents. There’s no discussion about why the church doesn’t consider the women to have valid ordinations. There are many quotes about boundary pushing and dignity and awesomeness.

After being told that “many” Catholics view female ordination as the answer to a priest shortage problem, we’re told:

Venne says women who work on church staffs also face the likelihood of getting fired for becoming priests.

OK, I would imagine that publicly defying your church’s doctrine — thereby getting excommunicated — might put a damper on your ability to stay on a church staff. Why is that even mentioned?

Not all the quotes put the female priests in a positive light. One female priest says she remains Catholic rather than go to a church that ordains females because she feels that her being Catholic is like her being German and Polish.

Can you spot the error here?

Women priests in Minnesota come from a variety of backgrounds: chaplain, librarian, even meteorologist. A significant number are married and have children, another forbidden activity by the church, which calls for its priests to be celibate.

All in all, just another bad story on the movement that gets more coverage relative to its actual size than most others. It’s almost like mainstream media is a hotbed of female priest coverage.

Fiery image via Shutterstock.

Do they think Catholics are stupid?

I know we’ve seen a lot of bad media coverage of the changes to the wording of the Roman Catholic liturgy in recent weeks. But could we pause for a moment to just note how awesome it is that we’re seeing coverage of this in the first place?

I know, I know, one shouldn’t be excited when reporters are simply doing their jobs. But for my house, the Lutheran liturgy is a topic of daily conversation. My children’s favorite book right now is “My First Hymnal,” which features psalms, portions of the liturgy, selected hymns and pictures that apparently provoke a thousand questions.

When Lutherans got our new hymnal about five years ago, it was a huge deal! While it involved relatively little debate, it was an adjustment for folks. In many ways, though, it brought us closer to the hymnal we used from the 1940s to the early 1980s. Bring up these three hymnals in Lutheran company and you might settle in for a healthy discussion. But near as I can tell, it received no media coverage.

You seek, liturgy is one of the things that most affects the day-to-day worship life of traditional Christian and yet this topic receives almost no coverage. I wonder how much many reporters even know about the liturgy.

For instance, in a weekend comment thread, reader Hector wrote:

Significantly, the traditional-language liturgies done by Anglicans (which were what most Anglicans were using before the 1970s) are a lot similar to the language of the ‘new’ translation. This isn’t really ‘new’ at all, it’s faithful to the tradition of English liturgy.

And reader Jon in the Nati responded:

Yeah. Across town, the Episco-Anglo-Caths are wondering what the big deal is with the new translation.

Of course, as someone part of a tradition that moved to English fairly recently, there are good theological reasons why a group might not adopt another’s translation wholesale. But one gets the feeling that this entire world of liturgy and translation is not well understood by many reporters.

In any case, a reader submitted this article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer with the note “I get the feeling the reporter is slightly disappointed there were no riots with the parishioners burning the new missal.” But the last time I analyzed a piece by Michael O’Malley and the Catholic Church, I began by writing “I don’t know what the Roman Catholic Church did to anger Michael O’Malley and the editors of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer but I am curious.” So by those standards, this piece is downright friendly. Of course, by those standards, the editors shouldn’t let O’Malley write about religion. (And just for example, I didn’t even bother analyzing a by-the-cliche-book womenpriests piece. It was just that bad. But not even in an original way.)

If you go to the front page of, the top story after the Browns’ loss to the Bengals is the wording change:

Cleveland Catholics struggle with new, more formal words at Mass
New words for various liturgical services include “consubstantial,” “ineffable,” “incarnate” and “ignominy.” Archaic words like “shall,” wrought” and “thwart” are also employed in the new translation.

No! Oh the humanity! Oh the humanity! I can’t be the only one that gets a kick out of the idea that no one understands the words “shall,” “wrought” and “thwart.” I mean, I was going to make a joke about how maybe the words are too difficult for newspapers to use but a quick Google search shows that even that’s not true within the last day or so! See: shall, wrought, thwart. Even the sports pages use these! (Hey, how about my Broncos? Sorry, tmatt.)

Anyway, the breathless reportage continues.

The new English translation of the Roman missal — closer to the original Latin version written centuries ago — went into effect this past weekend, the beginning of Advent.

It is the first major change in Mass prayers since the 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council ordered a loose translation of the Latin into common tongues.

So after nearly a half-century of sacred praise in the vernacular, Catholics are now trying to adjust to a loftier lexicon that’s meant to inspire a greater reverence for the Mass.

I assume the reporter is trying to articulate that the changes are “more faithful” or something like that rather than “closer” to the original Latin. But there’s just a general lack of precision in these lines. The mass is still in the vernacular, even if it uses words that fancy newspapers such as the Palm Beach Post use, you know?

Side note, I was wondering if anyone had seen a report that explained why the changes were happening on the first Sunday of the church year. I have been a bit behind in my reading so perhaps we’ve even covered that here, but it seems interesting that these stories don’t mention that the beginning of Advent is also the beginning of the church year.

Here’s a sample of the Cleveland take on the reaction:

“My brain was going back to the old words,” said John Sheridan, 61, of Cleveland Heights, following Mass on Sunday at Communion of Saints. “It’s habit.”

Sheridan said he liked the new changes because he studied Latin in high school. He remembers “Et cum spiritu tuo,” which, in English, is “And with your spirit.”

Sandy Pierre, 65, of Cleveland, was one of those at St. Ignatius on Saturday who uttered the old, “And also with you.” But, she said after Mass, she did it intentionally because she doesn’t like the word “spirit,” believing it conjures a dead person. The old response, “also with you,” she said, speaks to the living.

“I’m not going to say, ‘And with your spirit,’ ” she said. “I’m a stubborn Hungarian, and I refuse to say ‘spirit.’ ”

Pierre’s husband, Fred, 67, said he was not pleased with the missal changes because the words are too formal. “When Jesus walked the Earth, he talked in simple language,” he said. “You don’t need $3 words to pray.”

New words for various liturgical services include “consubstantial,” “ineffable,” “incarnate” and “ignominy.”

Archaic words like “shall,” wrought” (sic) and “thwart” are also employed in the new translation.

Isn’t it kind of comforting to know that there are stubborn Hungarians in every congregation? In any case, I still just get such a kick out of the attempt to make “shall,” “wrought” and “thwart” into a controversy.

Having said this, and I noted this in a comment thread to a previous wording change story, but my 4-year-old knows — along with everyone else in her class — hymns with words like the ones mentioned above as well as a Kyrie hymn with words such as “mediator” and “supplication.” My 2-year-old already knows a good portion of the prayers and liturgy we use regularly in our Divine Services.

This whole media narrative of “Catholics can’t figure out these tough words” is part of a larger media template, one that paints many Christians as yokels and idiots. I wonder if this particular approach to the wording changes doesn’t just perfectly showcase how silly that template is. Or maybe it shows how stupid journalists think all of their readers and viewers are. I don’t know, but I do find the whole thing fascinating.

I will say that I came across a couple of very well done articles that managed to avoid this overdone template. I’ll highlight them later if another GetReligionista doesn’t get to them first.

Times and Catholics: Call to journalistic action

Once again, we face the same question when discussing a New York Times news feature about the Church of Rome.

I get the Times on tree pulp on weekdays at my office on Capitol Hill, but not on weekends. The rest of my interaction with the world’s most powerful newspaper takes place online. This sometimes leaves me wondering precisely how certain news stories were played in the analog edition.

For example, can someone out there in reader-land tell me if an “analysis” label graced the Times print edition of the recent story that ran under this headline: “Catholic Group Based in Chicago Leads Protest Against Church.” Surely it ran with an “analysis” tag, because it certainly isn’t a traditional, American model of the press news report. At times, it reads like a public relations release.

I just love the cutline on the main photo, which is a totally stereotypical pic of Catholic hands holding a rosary. No, it’s not the photo with this post, but it’s one totally like it. The cutline says:

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is divided on the ordination of women. The group Call to Action, based in Chicago, supports such a policy.

Actually, Catholics in America are somewhat divided on the issue of the ordination of women (much more so the ordination of married men) but the Catholic CHURCH in the USA, in terms of its governing institutions, is not divided on the issue. If one includes seminary faculty, there are some cracks. But the cutline makes this sound like, oh, the Anglican Church’s local, national and global wars about the moral status of sex outside of the sacrament of marriage.

The story flies its PR flag high, right at the top:

It’s a long way from the Vatican to Roscoe Village, but a group based in that North Side neighborhood is leading a high-profile protest among American priests that challenges the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on ordination of women.

The group, Call to Action, an organization for reform-minded Catholics, has collected signatures of more than 150 priests — including 8 in Chicago — on a petition defending a liberal priest, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who is being threatened with dismissal for his public support for ordaining women. In an increasingly conservative church, the rebellion has been hailed as a remarkable moment for liberals in the church.

“We just got on the phones and started telling priests, ‘We’ve got to support Father Roy,’ ” said Nicole Sotelo, 33, a leader of Call to Action, which bills itself as the nation’s largest organization for reform-minded Catholics.

Two things, out of many:

(1) “Reform” is one of the most loaded words in the journalism dictionary, because it already assumes that one side is right and the other wrong. “Reforming” financial practices is one thing. Certainly, reforming clerical policies that protect lawbreakers is an appropriate use of the word. But “reforming” the doctrine of the male Catholic priesthood, which is unbroken in the ancient churches of the east and west?

Now this is an issue that journalist must cover fairly and accurately, because debates are taking place in some circles. But who gets to decide who is “reforming” who? Unbiased language is urgently needed there, rather than simply using Call to Action’s own pet phrases.

(2) The story states this as fact: “In an increasingly conservative church, the rebellion has been hailed as a remarkable moment for liberals in the church.” Let’s simply nod at the passive voice sourcing. Nod. Now, what does the word “church” mean in this sentence? Is this the whole global Catholic Church? Is it the American church culture? Are we talking about Chicago?

It is significant that a small number of priests are putting their names semi-publicly on the record in support of the Womenpriests movement. That’s a story. It’s important that some priests are doing that (especially if they are not retired). Now, assemble a list of bishops — the only people who can ordain priests — who are signing on with the Womenpriests movement and you will have a “rebellion” in an accurate sense of the word.

The story includes a long unattributed summary of Catholic activism in Chicago, a city with a rich history in this regard. It is, of course, a totally one-sided list, ending with:

In the ’80s and ’90s, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was a leading national voice in opposition to the death penalty.

These days, the Rev. Michael Pfleger invokes the Catholic mission and obligation in pushing for social causes that serve the poor and reach out to blacks, even as his style sometimes draws the wrath of his boss, Cardinal Francis George.

Smooth, isn’t it. The former cardinal was a good man (opposition to the death penalty, of course, is common among many conservative and orthodox Catholic bishops, as well) and the new one is, well, sort of a racist for opposing the “style” of a priest who reaches out to African Americans?

So what else is Call to Action up to?

Besides the ordination of women, the group calls for equal rights for gay men and lesbians, giving priests the option to marry and accepting back into the fold divorced Catholics who have remarried.

Call to Action has also focused on protecting church workers, citing cases of Catholic employees’ being dismissed for holding views contrary to Vatican orthodoxy or belonging to organizations like Planned Parenthood deemed unacceptable by the hierarchy.

Gasp. You mean that Catholic organizations might have a right to hire workers who do not actively oppose “Vatican orthodoxy,” which I assume would mean centuries of church teachings? The church may want to opt out of employing those who oppose what it teaches to be truth? I am sure that academic groups, scientific groups and political groups would never do such a thing.

From a strictly journalistic perspective, note the paragraphs rolling by in opinion essay form, almost totally free of attribution to on-the-record voices.

But wait, there is one conservative voice:

Although many Chicago priests and nuns belong to the group, Cardinal George has kept his distance. “The archdiocese has no relationship with Call to Action,” said Susan Burritt, the spokeswoman for the Chicago Archdiocese, “and therefore has no comment on Call to Action’s policies or statements.”

Unlike, of course, Bernardin. There is no discussion of the facts about how the late cardinal did or did not support this particular group. The implication is that he backed them.

Later on, there is a fact paragraph that also deserves some two-sided unpacking:

The organization has 57 chapters and 25,000 members nationwide. Nuns and priests account for about 30 percent of the members who attend the group’s annual conference.

How many people attend those conferences? How many nuns and priests are we talking about and, oh, what is the average age in this crowd?

Toward the very end, another conservative does appear (not counting Pope Benedict XVI). This produces the ultra-strange ending to this essay:

The Rev. Anthony Brankin, the longtime pastor at St. Thomas More Church who now serves at St. Odilo Church in Berwyn, is an outspoken conservative and critic of Call to Action. Father Brankin describes members of the liberal Catholic movement as lost souls, disenfranchised by both their own church and a larger society that views Catholicism as largely irrelevant.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of a more faithful church, even if that means it becomes smaller.

Father Brankin said: “Really, when you think about what has happened in modern society, who but aging feminist nuns and their hangers-on clerics even cares whether women should be priests or not?”

But the activists at Call to Action note that while church leaders might not be open to dissent, they seem to be paying attention.

So conservative dioceses are shrinking and the progressive ones growing, right? The orders led by liberal nuns have waves of young sisters and the conservative orderss are shrinking and aging, right? The same thing is true with priests, from diocese to diocese?

This story, in other words, covers one half of a debate, while using very few on-the-record facts on that side. The viewpoint of pro-Vatican Catholics is totally missing. There are facts over there, too, that needed to be included. What we need here is some additional journalism to complete the picture. The reporter could even attempt to report facts that would make activists on both sides upset or nervous.

That is, if this is a news story, as opposed to an “analysis” essay or even an editorial.

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