Lo! A better-than-average Womenpriests story

Your GetReligionistas, as the divine Mrs. MZ once stressed, are way, way, way past the point where we joyfully go out of our way to write about the journalism issues linked to the mainstream media coverage that is, from time to time, poured out on behalf of the Womenpriests movement. Some readers have been tempted to think that we do not believe that this movement is worthy of coverage. This is nonsense, of course, since GetReligion has been arguing since Day 1 that the mainstream press rarely does enough to cover doctrinal and cultural trends on the Religious Left.

Others have suggested that we only want the Roman Catholic Church's viewpoint covered on this issue. That's nonsense, as well. This is a hot-button issue and the press needs to find articulate, informed voices on both sides.

We have, however, argued that journalists have gone too far -- often -- when they describe the women ordained in these rites as Catholic priests.

The women should be quoted making their case, on this subject, but the historical reality is that the Catholic Church gets to decide who is and who is not a Catholic priest, just as the leaders at The New York Times get to determine who is and who is not a columnist for The New York Times. On one occasion I asked if journalists would call men ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention rabbis simply because the SBC said they were rabbis. President Barack Obama gets to decide who serves on his cabinet, etc., etc.

All of this raises a basic journalistic question: What does accurate coverage of a Womenpriests event look like?

Well, take a look at the following effort from The Toledo Blade, taking it, of course, from the top:

Deacon Beverly Bingle, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic woman from Toledo, will be ordained a priest by Roman Catholic Womenpriests today.

Her ordination at 2 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Toledo, 3205 Glendale Ave., will not be recognized by the Diocese of Toledo, however.

After she was ordained a deacon on Sept. 13, the diocese stated her participation “in an invalid and illicit attempted ordination” meant she was automatically excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

The diocese has released a similar statement in advance of today’s ceremony, reminding that Deacon Bingle is excommunicated and that Ann Klonowski, a woman from the Diocese of Cleveland who will be ordained a deacon at the same ceremony today, will lose her standing in the church.

However, the Reverend Bingle, as she can be called with today’s ordination by Bishop Joan Houck of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, not only will participate in the ceremony; on Sunday, she will start holding weekly services as a priest for the Holy Spirit Catholic Community, a church she’s starting that will meet at Unity of Toledo. ...

Now, the one thing that I would challenge in that material is that I think it is proper for journalists to note that the legal name of this movement, of this splinter church that is making its own claims of Catholicity, is "Roman Catholic Womenpriests." The name confuses the issue, that that's who whole point, isn't it?

So what else is right and what else, alas, is wrong in this story?

The story has a dynamite direct quote from Bingle that, for people on both sides of this story, truly demonstrates the stakes and the degree to which this fight centers on doctrinal and liturgical norms and whether Catholic authority rests in individuals and congregational bodies, rather than in church councils and the papacy.

Pay close attention, because this is excellent stuff:

“The whole excommunication thing, I don’t accept,” she said. “Neither do the members of the church. People are literally fighting over who gets to give me communion every day. It’s beautiful. ...

“I go to Mass daily, or at least try to,” she said. “That’s my most important prayer, is the Mass, the assembly of the people of God acknowledging that they are the body of Christ, and that we are called to make a difference in the world. I go various places. I normally go to Corpus Christi [in Toledo]. I’m still a member, and they can’t take away my baptism. I just go and I sit there at Mass, and and I will receive communion. Somebody will break a host and give me one surreptitiously, or I’ll receive it before or after. I drive a good distance sometimes to go to Mass where nobody knows me.”

Alas, what is missing from this story?

That's rather obvious: There is no voice from the actual Catholic Church explaining the doctrinal logic and heritage of its stance. In a controversial story of this kind, that is absolutely essential.

So this Blade story gets lots of stuff right and avoids some of the most common Womenpriests coverage errors. It simply stopped too soon and left out an essential part of a balanced, informed, accurate report.

It's better than normal, which says a whole lot about the state of "normal" coverage. Still, this is not quite good enough -- if the goal is journalism.

IMAGE: A classic image from a rite several years ago. Back by popular demand.

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