WABAC: How to cover a priestess story

wayback400The Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway has, through the ages, written more than her share of posts on this blog about the women who are holding ordination rites and then proclaiming that they are now Roman Catholic priests. So, this time around, I thought I would take a shot at one of these stories. However, I was slow at the switch and young master Daniel jumped in front of me with some comments focusing on new coverage of a controversial ordination service in St. Louis.

This is going to be strange. But I want to jump in the WABAC machine and take a look at an earlier news feature that Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about the controversy that led up to the actual ordination service.

If you want to know how to cover a story rooted in an obvious clash between liberal and traditional groups, this is the way to do it. Welcome to "How to cover a priestess story 101." The tensions are there, of course, between the local Roman Catholic leadership and their friends in the Jewish community. But that is not the real issue. Townsend makes sure that everyone knows who is who and who is not who.

Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath want to be Roman Catholic priests. Their ordinations will not be recognized by the church, which does not ordain women as priests.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has reacted strongly, and Jewish leaders are questioning the synagogue's decision to host the ceremony.

The president of the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis, who is Jewish, said the decision by Central Reform Congregation may have been a mistake.

Now that wasn't all that hard, was it? A woman cannot be ordained a priest in a global Communion -- built on a clear chain of authority -- that does not ordain women to the priesthood. It's kind of like this: The folks at Apple cannot hold a meeting and elect Steve Jobs as the new CEO of Microsoft (not that he would want the job).

Masthead RCWP 700However, Townsend's reporting includes the kinds of details that let us know this fight isn't between the Catholic establishment and the local Jewish community. No, this is a fight inside the local Catholic community -- as is the case all across America. This was a case of some active local Catholics deciding that enough was enough. They were going to act on the convictions they had been expressing in other channels for a long time.

Thus, we read:

Hudson, 67, is a grandmother of 11 from Festus who retired three years ago after 40 years as a teacher, the last 21 in the St. Louis public school system. McGrath, 69, of St. Louis, has eight great-grandchildren and recently retired after a dozen years as an editor at a Catholic publishing house. Before that, she was a campus minister at St. Louis University.

After their ordination Sunday, Hudson and McGrath say that they will co-pastor a faith community and that they will celebrate Mass each Saturday at the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis in the Central West End.

I was left with one or two questions. Before she moved to the public schools, was Hudson a teacher in Catholic schools? That detail would have provided one more piece in the puzzle. Also, what was the name of the Catholic publishing house at which McGrath was an editor?

Meanwhile, the key details on the Womenpriests group have not changed. We are still looking for the names of the Catholic bishops who are supposed to have ordained the first women back at the head of this chain reaction. Catholicism -- like Eastern Orthodoxy -- has a two-step test for ordination, requiring right orders and right doctrine. Something tells me that Rome would have questions about the right doctrine of any bishop who ordained women to the priesthood.

The two women will be ordained as priests of an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which, in its constitution, defines itself as "an international initiative within the Roman Catholic Church."

The group was founded in 2002, when seven women were ordained aboard a boat on the Danube River in Germany. All of them were later excommunicated. The organization says other women have since been ordained by male Roman Catholic bishops, including Patricia Fresen, a former Dominican nun and Roman Catholic Womenpriests bishop, who will ordain Hudson and McGrath.

The group insists that it is Roman Catholic, but the church says it is not.

That's stating the matter rather clearly.

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