Search Results for: Womenpriests

Ordination by media

womenpriests2Here at GetReligion, we’re fond of highlighting danger zones where the media struggle to understand religious issues. And we try to help reporters see nuance, or find angles they may not have considered.

But sometimes a story is so poorly written and reported that one look at the headline brings forth waves of despair and exasperation. Such was the case with a puff piece by Philadelphia Inquirer writer and editor (for 23 years!) Edward Colimore. The headline? “Female Catholic priest has first Mass.”

Colimore writes about a woman who was ordained by a non-Roman Catholic group to become a priest in a non-Roman Catholic church. He quotes only supporters of the woman, including her son. Nobody who frowns on the practice or advocates for the Roman Catholic teaching on female ordination is included in the story. Nobody. He cheerleads her throughout the entire article. He implies, repeatedly, that she is Roman Catholic. Here’s how it began:

Eileen DiFranco sang the hymns, prayed and took Communion as she had done at countless other Catholic Masses.

But yesterday, for the first time, she led the service as an ordained priest — and received a warm reception from hundreds of Catholics and others.

It’s hard to pick what to pull out from the story because it is so consistently bad, congratulatory and misleading. He mentions that DiFranco was ordained by a group calling itself Roman Catholic Womenpriests and that dioceses have pronounced such ordinations invalid, but it’s cursory. He then goes right back to rah-rahing DiFranco. This was one of my favorite quotes for him to include in a contentious news piece:

DiFranco’s son, Ben, 17, who attends La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, said his mother’s service as a priest “is going to be a catalyst for women being ordained in the church.”

“A couple of my friends say she is not a priest, that her ordination was not valid,” said Ben DiFranco, who assisted his mother at the altar during the Mass. “But I also have friends who are really for it.”

Oh, well, I guess if DiFranco’s son and his friends are for it then we don’t need to talk to anyone else. Good reporting there, Skipper! The thing is that Colimere’s readers destroyed his article in a series of questions to him that were posted in an online forum. Kudos to the Inquirer for making such responses possible. Each reader who complained about the article did so in unbelievably cordial terms. And in each case, Colimere flubbed his response, avoided responsibility for his errors and generally didn’t get it. Here are two questions, one response:

[Question:] About your story on the woman, claiming to be a Catholic priest, having her first “Mass.” I don’t want to beat you up; I assume you’re trying to be fair in this. But I’d ask you to appreciate that the validity of her ordination is akin to someone, showing up in the United States, claiming to be ambassador from Britain — only that’s not what the Foreign Office in London says. For that matter, it is akin to someone claiming to be a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter; only the Philadelphia Inquirer says otherwise. . . .

[Question:] In your answers above, you say that you make it clear that Mrs. Difranco isn’t a Roman Catholic and belongs to a community of 20 people who aren’t Roman Catholic and which rents space in a church that is not Roman Catholic. Why is it newsworthy, then, that someone who isn’t a Roman Catholic has been part of some sort of service that is not part of the Roman Catholic Church?

[Answer:] Though not Roman Catholic under Vatican authority, the Old Catholic Church of the Beatitudes in Lansdowne conducts itself largely as a Roman Catholic church — with the same sacraments, liturgy and confession. It also has drawn members/visitors from other Roman Catholic churches and Sunday’s Mass was attended by many from a Roman Catholic church in Germantown. The ordination and first Mass — though not recognized by dioceses across the country — was of interest to a segment of readers. We reported the event and left it up to people to make their own judgments about its value. As you point out, we indicated that the members of the Church of the Beatitudes rent space in a United Methodist church and held the Mass in another United Methodist church. Readers will make up their own minds about the issues involved.

The questions and answers are all very interesting — particularly because after writing an article that blatantly diminishes the fact that no Roman Catholic organization was involved in the ordination of the woman, Colimere acts as if he had made that perfectly clear. As if the readers were to blame for not picking up on the facts.

And I also love his line alleging that Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics use the same sacraments. I suppose the reporter means that both the Womenpriests and the Roman Catholic church administer Holy Communion and Baptism, etc. But to toss it off as the same sacraments, when Rome obviousy doesn’t consider the Womenpriests to be administering valid sacraments, is to be ignorant or to be taking sides in this story, which is not Mr. Colimere’s place. Where are the voices for the other side?

This really was a low point for coverage of this issue. I’m not familiar with Colimere, but I hope this isn’t normal. The kind way in which his readers tried to correct him makes me think he makes mistakes like these infrequently. Either way, I hope he isn’t so quick to dismiss his readers next time they offer such gentle words of wisdom.

It’s also worth noting that Inquirer reporter Susan Snyder wrote about the ordination of eight women by the organization. Her reader responses are also interesting.

It’s not anchorlady, it’s anchorman. And that’s a fact.

womenpriests2A few readers sent along Kim Vo’s Mercury News piece about a renegade group of Roman Catholic women who have been ordained.

The fledgling congregation gathered in a circle at Sunday Mass at Spartan Memorial Chapel to introduce themselves. A woman in a long, white robe spoke first.

“My name is Victoria Rue,” she said. “And I am a Roman Catholic woman priest.”

Rue belongs to a renegade movement that is ordaining women as Catholic priests, in defiance of the Vatican. Today, Rue celebrates Mass at the non-denominational chapel at San Jose State University.

Joining her at the altar on Sundays — also in clerical robes — have been a married man, his wife and another woman. The ceremonies prompted the Diocese of San Jose this month to warn Catholics that the sacraments there would be invalid.

Vo says increasing numbers of women are joining the ordination movement, citing the dozen who will be ordained in Pittsburgh on July 31 as part of a program called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. There are actually a number of groups with historic or current roots in Rome that have ordained women or advocate for it. The history of the Old Catholic Church is particularly interesting for more on this.

The piece is frustratingly low on proper nouns and other specifics, but Vo sums up the church’s opposition in an abbreviated, easy-to-understand way:

The church says the movement is built on a falsehood: Women can’t be priests, so whatever ceremonies they hold are moot.

The women say they’re reforming the church by defying it, hoping to bring about a more inclusive institution that welcomes women, married men and gays in all of its ranks.

Vo says that the program to ordain women gained notoriety when a sympathetic bishop ordained seven women in 2002. She doesn’t mention it but the bishop, Romulo Braschi of Argentina, was not Roman Catholic at the time he ordained the women. She mentions that the women were excommunicated. This is important, so bear with me:

Still, some bishops went on to illicitly ordain two of those women as bishops, and they in turn have ordained other women. Local dioceses say those ordinations are hollow, citing canon law and the Vatican’s actions against the original seven.

Both sides turn to historical precedent and theology to support their views.

The group claims that because the women were initially ordained by bishops in good standing, their own ordinations are valid. Supporters say their stance has precedent in the early church, citing artifacts showing women at the Eucharist table and references to presbytera or episcopa — feminizations for priest and bishop.

Valid ordination is such an important issue in the Roman Catholic church that Vo’s line that “some bishops went on to illicitly ordain two of those women” needs to be parsed. Only bishops can validly administer the sacrament of holy orders. To this day, no one knows who ordained these excommunicated women or whether it even happened. There are no public witnesses. Since she is just taking the women’s ordination people at their word, she should note that. Not that it really matters from a Roman Catholic view, which she just presents as one of two sides in the ordination debate.

Now, as to the line about the women being ordained by bishops in good standing . . . Braschi was ordained in 1966 but left Rome to work with the Charismatic Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. He then, he says, received another ordination from Bishop Roberto Padin, who left the church but whose roots trace back to the 15th century. Braschi says he was ordained again by Jeronimo Podesta, an Argentinian bishop who served a few years in the 1960s before being removed as bishop. He continued to serve as priest until he married in 1972. Braschi also married. But the organizers say he’s a bona fide bishop since he can validly claim apostolic succession — even though the Vatican doesn’t recognize him.

Braschi, for his part, says he never presented himself as a Roman Catholic bishop. Again, not like this matters since Rome doesn’t consider ordinations of women to be valid. Back to Vo:

Polls show that a majority of American Catholics support women’s ordination, he said, but it’s unclear if they would support a maverick movement to bring it about.

What polls are these? I looked a bit and couldn’t find any. Which is why the reporter should specifically name the multiple polls she is summarizing.

Again, though, the presentation of this story fails to educate readers about how little renegade ordination activity really changes the church. As a result, the story reads a bit like a Womenpriests press release.


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