Another day, another mainstream news report on the Womenpriests movement that seems to have been written with the assumptions that (a) people are Roman Catholics if they say they are Roman Catholics (as opposed to being believers who are in sacramental Communion with the Church of Rome) and (b) that the Church or Rome is, or should be, operating on organizational principles that are much looser than, say, the Church of England. Yes, the Baltimore Sun story referenced here is full of the same kind of PR stuff that the Divine Ms. MZ has dissected many times at this here weblog. The story does, at least, make it clear what the Catholic Church teaches on the key issues here -- by quoting the key doctrinal statement. After all, you have to have that Vatican quote in order to have a point of reference for the quotations from the dissenters.
Would we praise some kind of mainstream news story on this issue that offered a true, 50-50 debate between articulate, informed voices on both sides? You bet we would. If someone out there in readerland finds one, please send us the URL.
In terms of essential errors about Catholic tradition, here is a key passage in the story:
Roman Catholic Womenpriests traces its origins to the so-called Danube Seven, a group of women who were ordained aboard a ship in the river in 2002 by three male bishops. Two of those bishops were never publicly identified, while the third, an Argentine named Romulo Braschi, was called a "founder of a schismatic community" by the Vatican. The seven women were excommunicated, but RCWP believes their ordinations were legitimate, providing the "apostolic succession" that made all subsequent ordinations legitimate.
Andrea Johnson, the woman who presided at Saturday's ordination, was ordained a bishop by a woman who traces her legitimacy to the Danube Seven. RCWP claims more than 40 ordained priests and four ordained bishops in the United States, and more in Canada and Europe.
OK, I know that this is a much more complicated situation than what is described here. I know, for example, that there are "Old Catholic" bishops out there with very marginal claims of apostolic succession who will ordain almost anyone. That may or may not play a role in this story.
But the simple fact is that it is alleged that three Catholic bishops, in the Danube case, ordained some female priests. I get that. But priests cannot ordain bishops. It is bishops who ordain priests. Thus, the crucial question, if the women featured in this Sun story are claiming to be ordained, does not concern the "Danube Seven" at all.
Instead, the key question for journalists to ask is, "Where are the three valid, Roman Catholic bishops -- bishops in Communion with Rome -- who made Andrea Johnson a bishop?" Johnson must be a Catholic bishop to ordain Catholic priests. Otherwise, this is simply another rite in, yes, what practicing Catholics must consider a "schismatic community." If Rome gets to define the rules for Roman Catholics, then that's the facts.
That said, here is the other passage that really jumped out for me, as a journalist:
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.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II said the church has no authority to ordain women, "and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." In 2008, the Vatican further decreed that women who seek ordination or any bishop who attempts it immediately excommunicate themselves from the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, I don't know how readers will respond to that, but 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?
After all, a few paragraphs later readers learn:
"And we don't believe we can excommunicate ourselves," said Mayers, who was employed as a campus minister and religion instructor at a Catholic high school until her superiors learned of her affiliation with RCWP last year. By then, she was well on her way toward the priesthood. "We are still Catholic. We do not choose to separate ourselves from the church."
Mayers, who grew up in Chicago and Baltimore, worked for more than two decades in campus ministry.
OK, I'll ask. She was the campus minister at what school? It seems that the Sun editors agreed to leave that out of the report, as well. That sounds like crucial news material, to me. It shows that, in the context of Baltimore Catholicism, the Womenpriests movement may have some important connections. It may be surprisingly mainstream in this very symbolic city for American Catholics.
That sounds like an important fact to leave out. It almost seems as if Sun editors were involved in making sure that the service went off well, without any key local Catholic voices or sources being "outed" as dissenters. You think?