What makes someone a 'Catholic priest'?

NPR.com is teasing a story with the following words:

Female Priests Defy Catholic Church At The Altar Four more women were recently ordained as priests in the Catholic Church, risking excommunication.

Except that at the very least that ordination is in dispute. And since one of the disputing parties is, well, how do we put this, the "Catholic Church," the whole story is oddly phrased. Even this caption:

Roman Catholic "Womenpriests" on their ordination day, June 4, at St. John's United Church of Christ in Catonsville, Md.

Why is "Womenpriests" in quotations but not "Roman Catholic"? The group calls itself not "Womenpriests" but "Roman Catholic Womenpriests." And, again, the Roman Catholic Church denies any involvement with the group. The caption is also misleading.

As for the story, it starts off with a bang:

In 2002, seven women were secretly ordained as priests by two Roman Catholic bishops in Germany. After their ordination, a kind of domino effect ensued.

Those seven women went on to ordain other women, and a movement to ordain female priests all around the world was born. ...

On a recent June day in Maryland, four more women were ordained as priests. The gallery at St. John's United Church of Christ was filled with Catholic priests and nuns, there to support the women and the ordination movement — though visitors were asked not to photograph them. Witnessing the ceremony was enough to risk excommunication.

Who were these two Roman Catholic bishops, I wonder. When tmatt critiqued a Baltimore Sun version of this story last week, it was three bishops.

But as is the problem with the previous version of this story, ordination in the Roman Catholic church doesn't happen via priests but, rather, bishops. While any denomination can ordain people however its leaders and adherents want, the central claim to this story is that these rites are done in accordance with the Vatican. So such claims need to be tested.

The story explains some of the mysteries with the previous Baltimore Sun account. Apparently media outlets are respecting a request for privacy in coverage of the story so that visitors aren't photographed. Everyone asserts, though, that visitors included members of the Catholic church. I would love to know a bit more about how such claims were verified.

This line is curious, though:

As members of the Roman Catholic Church, these female priests are all breaking church rules, which allow ordination only to baptized males. No member of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests has been excommunicated by the Church, but they have felt repercussions. They've not only been threatened but also have lost friends and colleagues within the Church -- many of whom fear they will lose their jobs if they support the women's ordination movement openly.

Is that true? What type(s) of excommunication are we referring to here. Is this what the Catholic Church itself would say? That performing an ordination rite such as this is not grounds for automatic excommunication? And what threats are we talking about? And who is issuing these threats? And did we speak with the people who we're claiming made threats?

Did I mention that nowhere in the entire story is an official within the actual Roman Catholic Church quoted? Isn't that weird?

I know that stories about Roman Catholic Womenpriests and other similar groups are like catnip for reporters, but we shouldn't just throw out all of our reporting principles. When the whole point of the story revolves around a disputed claim, it's usually not a good idea to ignore one side.

This isn't about picking sides or favoring one group over another but, simply, giving readers information. It's a journalism thing.

Please respect our Commenting Policy