28 April 2020

No #surprise – Another Womenpriests Story Offers Public-Relations Ink Instead of News

Why don't these heretics just leave? The Episcopalians are very open to priestesses and bishopettes.

From Get Religion

By Terry Mattingly

How many times have your GetReligionistas written about one-sided mainstream press coverage of the tiny Womenpriests church, or movement, or association, or denomination, or independent church?
We have already noted that no one seems to know if the proper journalistic style for the movement’s name is Womenpriests, WomenPriests or Women Priests. Wait, are there now two organizations at work here, Roman Catholic Women Priests and the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, Inc.? What’s up?
We have already published a post (“Surprise! It's time for another one-sided look at the birth of a new church — the Women Priests”) that opens with six essential journalism problems to look for when evaluating mainstream media coverage of this issue. Here are the first two and, yes, (2) is really a two-fer:
(1) As Mollie “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway used to say, just because someone says that he or she plays shortstop for the New York Yankees does not mean that this person plays shortstop for the world’s most famous baseball team. Only the leaders of the Yankees get to make that call.
(2) The doctrine of “apostolic succession” involves more than one bishop laying hands on someone. Ordination in ancient Christian churches requires “right doctrine” as well as “right orders.” Also, it helps to know the name of the bishop or bishops performing the alleged ordination. Be on the alert for “Old Catholic” bishops, some of whom were ordained via mail order.
Also, we have issued this challenge to readers, which — so far — has drawn zero responses:
Would your GetReligionistas praise a mainstream news story on this movement that offered a fair-minded, accurate, 50-50 debate between articulate, informed voices on both sides? You bet. Once again: If readers find a story of this kind, please send us the URL.
We are still waiting. However, a reader recently sent a URL for yet another story that repeats almost all of the errors we have seen so many times. It is clear that, while the Womenpriests church is small, it has a fabulous press-relations team.
This latest Gannett press release on this subject was published by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, under a very typical headline stating, “Defiance in DeLand: Woman ordained Roman Catholic priest.” The reader that sent this in noted:
Ugh. I've already been going back and forth with the author. Like talking to a wall.
NO, this was not an "ordination," as the headline says. Even the article admits Rome does not recognize it.
I told the writer, "The next time you meet a group of women playing dress-up and pretending that they're Catholic priests, you might want to ask them why they simply don't go down the road and join the Episcopalians or the Universalists or something.
Actually, there was an ordination — into an independent Protestant body with its own history of ordinations of clergy to serve in its own communion. There was plenty of room in this 1,100-word piece to deal with serious debates about the importance of this new church and its network of tiny parishes, which usually worship in facilities on loan from sympathetic Protestant denominations.
The key is the clash between the headline, with its “Woman ordained Roman Catholic priest” language and the obligatory note in the story that these women are, well, no longer Roman Catholics, according to the Roman Catholic Church. Here is what that looks like in print:
The 21st century effort of ordaining women began in Europe in 2002 on a boat on the Danube river when two male bishops ordained seven women as Roman Catholic priests. …
In the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, it doesn't matter if you're married or divorced or unmarried or a member of the LGBTQ community. …
While more than 265 women worldwide have been ordained as Roman Catholic priests since that day in June 2002, the Catholic Church has yet to get on board.
Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, have repeatedly denounced the idea of women becoming priests, with Francis reportedly saying "that door is closed." Women who become ordained and those who do the ordaining are considered excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
In other words, ordination to serve as a “Roman Catholic priest” has nothing to do with being recognized by the pope of Rome, or accepting 2,000 years of Catholic moral theology or even being a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
Also, readers have every right to note that those unnamed male bishops did have the theoretical power, back in 2002, to ordain the original set of irregular priests for this movement. (Rome would still have to recognize these ordinations at some point — as Anglicanism has done — for these female clergy to be considered as functioning priests.)
However, informed readers will know that it takes three bishops — in communion with Rome — to consecrate a bishop. Thus, the bigger question is how the Womenpriests view the validity of their female bishops who are doing ordinations. Of course, asking that question would require reporters with (a) a basic grasp of church history or (b) a willingness to interview a Catholic official who is willing to defend church traditions.
The News-Journal story does not contain a single quote from any Roman Catholic official nor evidence that an attempt was made to conduct an interview of this kind. Normally, these one-sided features include a quote from a Catholic website or an email from some church media spokesperson stating the church’s teachings on ordination.
In this story, information about church history and tradition was provided by a representative of the People's Catholic Seminary. That’s a new twist. It is interesting to examine the academic backgrounds of the faculty members.
So that is all for now. This was business as usual, in terms of mainstream news coverage of this issue.
I will add this: We need to add this — a point No. 7 — to that earlier list of journalism errors and issues in stories of this kind.
It’s crucial for reporters to note whether there are any Catholic leaders — women and men from actual Catholic schools or institutions — present in the congregation for one of these ordinations. Who had the courage to openly back these efforts?
I am thinking back, almost a decade, to GetReligion posts about the Baltimore Sun coverage of another ordination (“If Womenpriests were rabbis?”). Our critiques at that time noted this language in The Sun:
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.
As I noted back then:
… 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?
Can you think of another situation in which newspaper editors would cut this kind of deal or be willing to embrace this kind of limitation on news coverage?
In other words, what we are dealing with, over and over, is evidence of a public-relations campaign — not news coverage. The goal here is basic journalism, not PR for either of these two churches.
So here is our challenge/request once again:
Would your GetReligionistas praise a mainstream news story on this movement that offered a fair-minded, accurate, 50-50 debate between articulate, informed voices on both sides? You bet. Once again: If readers find a story of this kind, please send us the URL.

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