Female Catholic Priests, Again

September 5, 2010

Is there something about non-Roman Catholic churches ordaining women that makes all journalism skills fly out the window? I’m pretty sure there is some ridiculously high correlation between ordinations of women who are not Roman Catholic and poorly written stories about said ordinations. Here’s yet another example, this one from the Arizona Republic: “Catholic church ordains woman as priest.”

At some point in the week, the paper added the word “independent” to the headline. Unfortunately, they didn’t fix the story, which uses the word “Catholic” some two dozen times, as well. Here’s how it begins:

A woman was ordained as a Catholic priest in the Valley on Saturday in the kind of ceremony the Vatican recently condemned as one of the church’s most serious crimes.

Oh wow. So this isn’t any of that typical ordination of non-Roman Catholics. If this is the kind of ceremony the Vatican condemned, it must mean that it was done by actual Roman Catholics, right? Well let’s go to paragraph nine:

[Diocese of Phoenix spokesman Rob] DeFrancesco said independent churches “are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and should not identify themselves as Catholic” because of potential confusion. He had no comment on Meyer’s participation.

Elsewhere, the church has excommunicated the person ordained and those who took part in the ordination. But neither [Elaine] Groppenbacher nor [Sue] Ringler said she considered herself subject to the rules of the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore could not be excommunicated.

OK, then. So what’s the point of the story, exactly? I mean, I’m also curious about the “Bishop Peter Hickman of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, one of several liberal Catholic offshoots in the Valley” who ordained the women. Was he ordained a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church? The topic isn’t even broached.

It’s just a deeply unserious story. Even the caption, which says Groppenbacher is the fourth woman to be ordained as a priest in the Valley, is unclear. Are we just talking about women who are part of independent Catholic churches or are we including female priests in other church bodies, such as The Episcopal Church? There’s another part of the story that says Sue Ringler and her parish were “confirmed … as part of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion.” I’m not quite sure what that means but here’s some more great news writing:

“We have more problems with the church than just its treatment of women,” Ringler said.

Among those issues are lay participation, active membership for gay and lesbian members, and openness on women’s health concerns, notably birth control and abortion. The churches typically invite everyone to take communion, church members or not.

Wha-hunh? Um, there is just so much here, so much here. I have no idea at all what “issue” “lay participation” is. Reporters have to get specific about this. How, precisely, do they differ on “lay participation.” And is there not “active” membership for Catholics with same-sex attraction? That would be news to my Catholic friends who identify as same-sex attracted. But really, “openness on women’s health concerns”? Openness? That’s a perfectly fine way for a public relations shop of an independent church to characterize a position. But reporters need to cut through the euphemisms and deliver the actual news.

These stories are as predictable as they are poorly written. I’m all for writing up the ordinations of folks. Fact is, it might be nice to see some write-ups of the ordinations of people who are not females affiliated with “Catholic” churches. The tendency for only these ordinations get written up paints a really distorted picture of religious life in America.

Seriously, if I only got my news from the mainstream media, I’d assume that all ordinations in the last 10 years were of transgendered individuals, gays, lesbians, dual-religionists, and females in non-Roman Catholic churches. Let’s spread our wings a bit.


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