You may have heard of the Herald-Tribune, a New York Times Co. paper in Florida. The Herald-Tribune Media Group includes a daily newspaper with six daily zoned editions for various Florida communities. It also has a 24-hour cable news station, an internet site, three magazines and a direct-mail business. What you may not know is that you can claim you are a reporter for the Herald-Tribune and the company won't care at all. That's right, the suits at the Herald-Tribune don't believe they have the right to credential employees (wait for it).
At least, that's what I assume is the case after hearing about how the paper is handling a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church.
Apparently the paper runs announcements of religious services. One of them lists a Mass for a church that goes by the name Mary Mother of Jesus Catholic Community House Church. The announcement appears under the heading "Inclusive Catholic Mass." But there's more:
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice has asked the Herald-Tribune to stop running a certain religious service announcement, or at least remove some words.
Sorry, but editors have decided not to comply. ... The problem? The pastor is listed as "Bridget Mary Meehan, ordained R.C. female priest."
Why on earth would the Venice Diocese have a problem with the newspaper publishing an announcement for a church claiming its female priest is ordained in the Roman Catholic Church?
Anyway, the excerpt above comes from columnist Tom Lyons. It's a column, so it's fine that he advocates in favor of the group with which we've become familiar over the last few years -- Roman Catholic WomenPriests. The entire column is basically a puff piece on Meehan which is, again, fine. But the column does say quite a bit about how these issues were debated in the newsroom.
Here is how it ends:
The worshippers are enthusiastic, Meehan says. Some have recently been regular attendees at mainstream Catholic churches, others had long felt alienated from the church, she says. But even though a feature story in the Herald-Tribune 10 months ago helped double the attendance, 20 people is still a good turnout.
So I think the Diocese will survive the challenge. And really, everyone should be glad that newspaper employees will not be deciding who is right or wrong theologically.
The only definitive source a journalist could use to confirm or deny the validity of Meehan's standing is really hard to reach by phone, fax or e-mail, and has not announced a press conference.
I actually think this is a journalism question, not a theological issue. But even so, it seems to me that the paper did take sides on a theological issue. The Roman Catholic Church says that Sheehan is in no way an ordained Roman Catholic priest. The organization Roman Catholic WomenPriests says she is. By publishing an announcement that says she is an ordained Roman Catholic priest, it's hard to say that the paper is not deciding who is right or wrong.
So how to handle this? I think that, as with many issues we come across here, more explanation is in order. And papers better get their policies in order before more independent Catholic churches crop up. Or consider the case of St. Stanislaus in St. Louis. Archbishop Burke recently excommunicated the parish priest there but obviously he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. How do newspapers describe such situations?
The question is, basically, who has the right to determine credentials? Do church organizations have the same right to determine who is a credentialed member as other academic or professional organizations?
Why not just announce that Sheehan was ordained by the group called Roman Catholic WomenPriests? Perhaps the Herald-Tribune could consider how St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Tim Townsend handled the matter a few months ago:
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.
An explanation doesn't need to be that long, but it helps to have more context.
What do you think about he way the Herald-Tribune handled the conflict? Do you have any suggestions for how they could have done better?