When Catholics dissent

womenpriests2 01Not all Roman Catholics agree with official church teachings. Disagreement isn't really tolerated in the church (Happy Reformation Day, fellow Lutherans!), but conflict is embraced by many reporters. This makes sense, since we reporters love drama. Sometimes I root for political candidates to win based on nothing more than which one appears craziest. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel featured two stories this week about dissent in the church. On Friday, reporter Tom Heinen wrote about an upcoming conference of Call to Action, an organization seeking to change church doctrine on female priests and homosexuality, among other things. The conference will feature a tribute to Cindy Sheehan and a service run by women who claim to have valid, if illicit, ordinations.

Last time we looked at WomenPriests, it was because of a horrifically bad article in the Philly Inquirer. The headline to that piece ("Female Catholic Priest has first Mass") wasn't even the worst part of it. Compared to that, the Journal-Sentinel article does a much better job of accurately portraying the relationship between the church and those who oppose its teachings:

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan has termed such ordinations "groundless" and "invalid." Attempting to celebrate a liturgy led by women who claim to be priests and bishops "would make any claim of Catholic identity by the group to be misleading," Dolan wrote in his weekly Catholic Herald column in late August.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which orchestrated the ordinations and is organizing the service, rejects those characterizations. It is terming the service a Eucharistic liturgy.

"We've had a lot of response, e-mails and notes, from people who found this is a very hopeful sign of women now taking their rightful place," Bridget Mary Meehan, U.S. spokeswoman for Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the woman who will preside at the liturgy, said of the ordinations.

"We know our orders are not licit; they are against (church) law. We are saying we want to confront the law," Meehan said. "But we are claiming our orders are valid because we were ordained by Roman Catholic bishops in full Apostolic succession and in full communion with Rome."

On Thursday, Journal-Sentinel reporter Bill Glauber wrote about a priest who opposes an amendment to the Wisconsin constitution that defines marriage as the union of one man and one women. Only one priest is named as an opponent of the measure that Wisconsin Catholic bishops support. That article, which meanders a bit, is about his views -- with a couple of cursory remarks at the end from people who disagree with him:

Father Bryan Massingale, an associate professor of moral theology at Marquette University, wrote a lengthy essay in which he struggled with the idea that "the amendment, read in its entirety, poses a dilemma for many faithful people."

"The amendment upholds certain beliefs about the uniqueness of marriage," he wrote in the Sept. 21 issue. "But it does so at a cost, namely, potentially damaging impacts upon the welfare of individuals and their children."

He also dealt with the issue of homosexuality.

"Too often, discussions of this issue treat 'those' people -- specifically, gays and lesbians -- as if they were an alien species," he wrote. "They are not. They are our sons and daughters; our sisters and brothers; our aunts, uncles, and cousins; our friends, neighbors, students and co-workers; our priests, ministers and parishioners. 'They' are us!"

The piece reads like a puffy profile of Massingale rather than a balanced look at Catholic views on a controversial amendment. Eric Gorski of The Denver Post wrote a story using a similar hook. An organization of Roman Catholic nuns is urging Colorado voters to support abortion and gay marriage, among other issues. Whether or not you agree that groups that oppose archbishops should get as much coverage as they do, Gorski does a great job of characterizing both sides' views, as evidenced here:

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has urged Catholics to "act Catholic" when they vote or run for office and called opposition to abortion "foundational."

"We're supposed to vote as our conscience tells us, not as the archbishop's conscience tells him," said [Sister Mary Ann] Cunningham, a member of the Sisters of Loretto. "I have great respect for the archbishop, but I think that's kind of treating us like children."

Jeanette DeMelo, spokeswoman for the Denver Archdiocese, said Chaput has highlighted a broad range of issues, all grounded in Catholic teaching.

"Archbishop Charles Chaput is not teaching his personal opinion," she said. "This is the church's teaching, and it is the responsibility of a Catholic to vote their conscience, but their rightly formed conscience, their educated conscience."

Sometimes it's just as easy as calling multiple sources for a story. As with these articles, which were sent to us by readers, please keep us informed of good or bad examples from your local papers.

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