Return of the Womenpriests

Woman with Clerical Collar

Only yesterday I was happily writing about how great it is when media coverage of a given topic improves over time. But then you read a story like this one from the San Diego Union-Tribune and you wonder if things are actually going downhill. At least as it relates to the perennial issue of how to talk about the ordination of women in church bodies that are not Roman Catholic, that is. Reporter Christopher Cadelago wrote a somewhat incomprehensible puff piece that begins:

Congregation ordains Catholic female pastor

Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community ordained a female pastor Saturday, risking excommunication despite assertions that it represents the true roots of Roman Catholicism.

Nancy Corran was ordained by roughly 150 parishioners rather than a bishop. The ceremony at a rented church in Serra Mesa hearkened back to ancient communities that called forth and ordained women, some religious scholars said.

Associate Pastor the Rev. Rod Stephens opened the evening with a warning: Any woman attempting to be ordained, or anyone who ordains a woman is automatically excommunicated. "Right on!" one woman cried out.

The ordination of Corran, 37, dramatically revealed the state of moral disorder in the Vatican, Pastor Rev. Jane Via said.

Um, okay. I honestly have no idea what's going on. The headline is the typical bait and switch we've grown accustomed to with these stories. We know that "Pastor Rev. Jane Via" is not a Roman Catholic priest. Is Rev. Rod Stephens? I doubt it but we never get that clarified. Is Nancy Corran even Catholic? No -- we learn later that she graduated from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and was certified for ordination by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Are any of these people Catholic?

This seems like such a simple thing but apparently it's not: In order to be excommunicated by a given church, you have to first be a member of that church. The Diocese of San Diego has no more jurisdiction to excommunicate Nancy Corran than I do. But the first line was actually that the "Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community" risked "excommunication." It didn't explain who or what might excommunicate the community and from what they would be excommunicated. The follow-up quotes do not clarify.

Unfortunately the whole story is just as ridiculous as the lede.

There are lots of quotes or summations like the ones in the excerpt above, giving it a very one-sided feel. Now, if this were just a story about a woman being ordained in a given parish, that would be fine. No need to introduce controversy. But the whole point of this story is that supposedly we have a Roman Catholic female priest. We don't. But that hook requires a much more rigorous discussion of the topic. The main expert brought in to discuss the topic says the ideal situation would be for the bishop to "recognize and do" this ordination and that the views of the Mary Magdalene Apostle church and the archdiocese are "very similar."

I mean, this isn't news so much as fantasy. I've covered events where I totally get caught up in the excitement. But at some point you have to buck up and get the facts down. For instance, this wasn't even a typical "Roman Catholic Womenpriests" ordination in that there was no bishop involved. How does that affect the competing claims? Or what happened to Pastor Via? Apparently she was a Roman Catholic prior to her ordination in 2006. What happened with regard to her church status? I know that the church talks about how such moves can lead to automatic excommunication but how do you know if that's official? I want details, rather than truisms about a "discipleship of equals, democratic governance and inclusivity."

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