a Bad Story Gets Better

By by Mollie

Juky 22, 2008

Many readers submitted a piece from the Boston Globe this weekend about the ordination of women claiming to be Roman Catholic priests. Some said the story was horrific. Others said it was fantastic. Turns out there were two stories. The first is not so good.

Reporter Michael Paulson’s piece was headlined in the manner to which we’ve become, sadly, accustomed with these stories:

The subhead is fine and good. The main headline has problems. Will these women be ordained Catholic priests or does a group claim that they will be ordained Catholic priests? The lede compounds the problem:

3 women to be ordained Catholic priests in Boston Excommunication automatic, church warns

Three aspiring Catholic priests will be anointed and prayed over this weekend in an ordination liturgy that will resemble the traditional in most ways but one: The three being ordained are women.

It isn’t until the 9th paragraph that we’re told that the ordinations are being done by Roman Catholic Womenpriests. And the article, while mentioning that actual Roman Catholic officials oppose the ordinations, doesn’t do a good job of explaining that such ordinations are not considered valid, licit, legal, etc. So, for instance, we get one-sided perspective such as this:

"We’re part of a prophetic tradition of disobeying an unjust law," said Gabriella Velardi Ward, a 61-year-old Staten Island architect with two children and five grandchildren, who will be ordained along with Gloria Carpeneto of Baltimore and Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly of Newton, N.J.

Ward said she has wanted to be a priest since age 5, and that she actively considered becoming a nun before deciding that the priesthood was her calling because she wants to be able to celebrate Catholic sacraments.

"Excommunication or not, I will still be a validly ordained priest and still will be able to serve the people of God," she said.

The women are to be ordained by Dana Reynolds, a California woman who was consecrated as a bishop in Germany in April.

It’s not that the Vatican perspective isn’t included. It is — particularly at the end of the article. It’s just that the information is presented as if the ceremony will create ordained female Catholic priests who will then be excommunicated from the church. In fact, the organization that ordains these women is not recognized by the Roman Catholic church and their ordinations are essentially considered to be pretend.

To their credit, the Globe later ran a clarification of the headline:

Paulson, the long-time religion reporter who spent more than a few years on the clergy sex abuse scandal story in Boston, published some of the emails he got from readers after the story. Some do a great job of thoughtfully explaining why they think he got the story wrong. Either way, he got a ton of correspondence on the story.

And the discussion with readers seemed to have an effect because the follow-up story corrects some of the problems with the initial account. Here’s the new and improved headline:

Group claims to ordain women priests in unsanctioned ceremony

By incorporating the competing claims, the headline is pithier and more accurate. Here’s the lede:

Paulson nicely framed the competing arguments as just that — competing arguments. One group says this, the other group declares that. The separation between Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the Roman Catholic Church was clearly explained. Here, for instance:

But the women who participated in the event, along with the several hundred people who spent nearly three hours in the sweltering, non-air-conditioned Church of the Covenant, said they rejected the excommunications, and believed that the women had been validly ordained. The women were vested with white chasubles and red stoles and greeted with a standing ovation as they were declared to be priests; they then helped preside over a service at which they declared bread and wine to be consecrated and offered what they said was Communion to anyone who wished to receive it.

The ceremony was organized by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that is not recognized by the Roman Catholic church. Catholic church officials say the women are not Catholic, their ordinations are not real, and any sacraments they attempt to celebrate, including today’s Eucharist, are invalid.

Paulson gives the Womenpriests’ argument about why the ordinations are legitimate as well as some retorts from Catholics in Boston. Take this colorful quote from C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts — one of many that Paulson found for his followup:

"One must not only be a male to be a Catholic priest, one must be a Catholic," Doyle said. "The performers in this theater of propaganda are neither. These women ought to have the intellectual honesty to admit that they left the Catholic Church some time ago. Whatever publicity value today’s exercise has, it must be measured against both the manifest fraudulence and the irredeemable hopelessness of their cause."

The followup is long, meaty and interesting. Just the kind of story that’s nice to read on the religion beat. The Associated Press’ Steve LeBlanc also had a fantastic report on the events in Boston. The headline doesn’t take sides on the ordination. Early on he notes that the ordinations are not officially sanctioned. He explains the process of excommunication and puts it in context of Roman Catholic doctrine on the priesthood. My favorite part was the last line, which explained what happens to people who are excommunicated and how the penalty can be lifted.


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