We have received many, many tips about a women priests news story that is bad even by the normally abysmal standards of women priest news stories. One of my favorite emails was one of the first, which openly wondered whether we've had our fill of WomenPriests stories. Who -- who, I ask you -- could ever have their fill of looking at the way the mainstream media treats the movement?
I actually laughed out loud when I read the lede to this Minneapolis Star-Tribune gusher from the weekend:
Dressed in a priestly white robe and green stole, Monique Venne lifted communion bread before an altar -- defying centuries of Catholic Church law.
Despite promises of excommunication from the Vatican, she and six other women in Minnesota say they are legitimate, ordained Catholic priests, fit to celebrate the mass. They trace their status through a line of ordained women bishops back to anonymous male bishops in Europe.
Oh dear. I mean, the story neglects to mention this but apparently this defiance of Catholic Church law is happening in a Methodist church in the Twin Cities. I mean, I guess in a sense you could argue that someone who is not a priest lifting "bread" before a Methodist altar is defying Catholic teaching, but boy is that a stretch.
And I do love the way that automatic excommunication is turned into "promises of excommunication." Finally, what about the lower case mass? That's a rather uncommon capitalization rule they appear to be using. It was also lower case in the headline.
The article fits the female-priests-who-claim-to-be-Roman-Catholic template. It reads more like a press release than an actual balanced story. Thus, it mostly avoids detail on the Catholic teachings about the priesthood or how excommunication works. Here was a favorite part:
Minnesota has emerged as a hotbed for the growing movement to ordain women as priests, with the highest per-capita number of female Catholic priests in the nation, according to the organization Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Women priests are working in the Twin Cities, Red Wing, Winona, Clear Lake and soon St. Cloud. The group claims about 70 women priests in the United States and more than 100 worldwide.
And I'm the prettiest woman in my house.
Totally true, also rather meaningless without knowing how many women reside in my house (one!). So we have at least five women in a state of 5.3 million? (Later we're told that there are four female priests at a parish that has 15-20 attendees.)
OK? Is "hotbed" really the word we're going for? It's hilarious, yes, but not really appropriate for a news story, is it? Later we're told that a majority of Catholics support letting women become priests with only a third opposed. You will not be surprised to learn that we don't know that this poll includes both practicing Catholics and those who haven't graced a church for decades. That's a bigger issue when writing about a group that has a high percentage of people who identify with a particular faith without attending worship services.
It's true that we get a quote from a spokesman for the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese on both why the church has a male-only priesthood as well as how the church views people who claim to be Catholic priests without what they deem valid ordinations. But there are no quotes from Catholic theologians or documents. There's no discussion about why the church doesn't consider the women to have valid ordinations. There are many quotes about boundary pushing and dignity and awesomeness.
After being told that "many" Catholics view female ordination as the answer to a priest shortage problem, we're told:
Venne says women who work on church staffs also face the likelihood of getting fired for becoming priests.
OK, I would imagine that publicly defying your church's doctrine -- thereby getting excommunicated -- might put a damper on your ability to stay on a church staff. Why is that even mentioned?
Not all the quotes put the female priests in a positive light. One female priest says she remains Catholic rather than go to a church that ordains females because she feels that her being Catholic is like her being German and Polish.
Can you spot the error here?
Women priests in Minnesota come from a variety of backgrounds: chaplain, librarian, even meteorologist. A significant number are married and have children, another forbidden activity by the church, which calls for its priests to be celibate.
All in all, just another bad story on the movement that gets more coverage relative to its actual size than most others. It's almost like mainstream media is a hotbed of female priest coverage.
Fiery image via Shutterstock.