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Media ordains female priests

Woman with Clerical Collar

Time has an interesting story. Here's how it begins:

Alta Jacko is the mother of eight children. She is also a starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. Jacko says that playing baseball is what she was born to do.

Just kidding.

Here's how it actually begins:

Alta Jacko is the mother of eight children. She is also an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Jacko, 81, who earned her master's degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, a Jesuit Catholic school, says that being a priest is what she was called to do.

Really. That's REALLY how the article "Efforts Rising to Ordain Women as Roman Catholic Priests" by Dawn Reiss begins. I could not make that up.

What to say other than ... this is not true. There is no mother of eight children who is an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. How do I know this? Because I know that the church doesn't ordain any female, whether they've gotten a degree from a Catholic university or not. Whether or not you are an "ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church" is similar to whether or not you are a starting pitcher for the Yankees. It's not about what you feel called to do. It's not about feelings at all. And a journalist can check out this fact just as easily as she can check out the roster for a baseball team.

Even the caption is a joke:

Alta Jacko's (third from left) ordination to be a deaconate on Nov. 1, 2008. She would later be ordained as a priest in 2009.

Time managed to not just misuse the word diaconate but misspell it, too.

Unfortunately, the story is just a complete train wreck. The reader who submitted the story described it as "the usual thread of 'These women are priests already, regardless of Vatican policy. Speaking of which, why doesn't the Vatican change its policy?'" And that's an understatement.

Last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver addressed religion news writers at their conference there. Among other things, he said:

[T]he Christian story now told in mainstream media often seems to be a narrative of decline or fundamentalism, or houses divided against themselves along predictable lines of sex and authority. It's a narrative of institutions and individuals that -- insofar as they stay true to their historic beliefs -- act as a backward social force and a menace to the liberty of their fellow citizens.

I imagine that if Chaput attempted to satirize the way the media write up stories about female ordination and Catholicism, he could not have done better than the actual story Time published.

After the horrible lede and problematic caption, we learn that there is "a movement against the no-women rule." We hear from a variety of people opposed to the rule. We hear from no one who can articulate, much less support the reason for not having female priests. Instead we get a quote from a priest whose previous opposition to female priests was based, apparently, on nothing more than emotion. But now his views are "complicated" and he helps her learn how to say the liturgy. He is presented as a hero facing the loss of his job, his pension and his home. And then we get this, which shows the combined problem of too little understanding of doctrine and a complete mangling of doctrine:

It is a question that more and more members of the flock are asking. Many have begun to publicly challenge the church's stance, especially after the Vatican decreed in July that ordaining female priests was a "grave" crime, on par with pedophilia. Biblical passages refer to female clergy, including an apostle named Junia in Romans 16:7. On Sunday, Sept. 26, thousands of Catholics around the world plan to protest, either by boycotting Mass or by showing up wearing green armbands that say "Ordain Women." "Women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens in the church," says Jennifer Sleeman, an Irish Catholic who turns 81 on Sunday and is helping champion the Sunday Without Women demonstration organized by Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW).

It's like the reporter was engaged in a contest to see how much she could fill a paragraph with weasel words, unsourced claims and other silliness. For starters, the use of "more and more" and "many" to quantify the movement is a bit much. I know journalists are always trying to suggest a trend -- but at least attempt to provide some data. Assuming you're not writing a press release, that is. And I'll skip the obligatory reference to the Vatican statement in July. But what's this about the Bible referring to female clergy including an apostle named Junia?

OK, that is certainly one view, a view espoused by the folks trying to get the Vatican to change traditional Christian teaching. They say that Junia/Junias was a female apostle in the Early Church but that male clergy conspired to cover up her legacy and the legacy of other female ministers. The argument goes that since Junia/Junias was a female apostle, women should be ordained as pastors. The verse, for those who are interested, reads:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

The view espoused by those who support female ordination is not shared by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox or confessional Lutherans, to name a few. To begin with, there is some debate about whether Junia is being called an apostle, and even whether Junia is a male or female name (to be fair, even the early church fathers took opposing sides on just that issue). But keep in mind that this "smoking gun" passage is in Romans. The book written by none other than St. Paul. It's not like his views against female ordination aren't known. Normally he's getting in trouble for the many passages he wrote about the roles for men and women.

Anyway, the issue has adherents on varying sides. Unless reporters are confused about their job or have an inflated view of their understanding of Scriptural controversies, they probably should not come down on one side or another. That's not good reporting. The Sleeman quote above is followed by another quote from someone identified as "Chicago's first ordained Catholic female priest." She says that "many" male priests are all for the movement.

Then we learn of a documentary about women's ordination called "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican," followed by dramatic quotes from people who refuse to give their names. But the worst part is that it keeps going -- there are many more quotes from people, all from one side, all saying horrible things about the Catholic Church.

Perhaps the story is so laughably bad, so unbelievably silly, because the reporter failed to speak with anyone she disagreed with. That's bad enough in a story that quotes only one or two people. But in a story of this length, in this high profile of a publication, it's an embarrassment. It's as if Time is going after the Newsweek demographic.

Also, these stories are so routinely and increasingly bad that I'm almost beginning to wonder if there's some kind of Bulwer-Lytton-type contest for who can come up with the worst.

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