Fox station interviews liberal 'Roman' Catholic, except he's not

Want some refreshment?  Here, have a nice, juicy Florida orange.

What? The store says they're California oranges? Well, what do they know?

That's often the attitude when secular media touch on -- more like skip along the surface of -- religious divisions. Case in point: a report from Fox 5 TV in San Diego on Wednesday about a new parish for people "from all walks of life, including divorcees, remarried people, the LGBTQ community and female ordained priests."

The story quotes Bishop Dermot Rodgers mouthing a grab bag of liberal bromides like "Judge none, love all" -- in the story and accompanying video. Four times, including the headline, the story identifies him as Roman Catholic, even saying he lives by Pope Francis' philosophy:

"One of the earliest statements the Holy Father made about equality and about gays and lesbians in the world is, ‘Who am I to judge?’” Rodgers said. “And a whole theology is being formed from that very statement, so not only to affect the LGBTQ community, but also divorced and remarried people and other people who feel excluded from the traditional Catholic Church."

Fox muddles on in the story, saying the Vatican gave VIP seating this week to a group called "American Gay and Lesbian Catholics" at the pope's weekly general audience. I'm guessing they mean New Ways Ministry, which serves gay Roman Catholics.

The TV station did ask the Diocese of San Diego about Rodgers, and that's where this report headed south. Rodrigo Valdivia, the chancellor, tells Fox that the bishop and his followers are not affiliated with the diocese. Even for someone with little experience in religion reporting, that should have set off a number of other questions.

If Rodgers isn't with the diocese, who is he really with? How is he Catholic? And for that matter, how many priests, parishes and members does he speak for? (For the record, the Roman Catholic diocese claims 986,499 members of 98 parishes.)

At the very least, Fox could have tried some googling. It would have helped them connect Rodgers with the Evangelical Catholic Church, where he runs the Diocese of the Southwest. According to his bio, Rodgers was ordained by Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh. In 2007, however, Rodgers left the Roman Catholic Church for the Independent Catholic Movement. Then he joined the Evangelical Catholic Church six years later.

The ECC is only one of a lot of such groups. Just plug "non roman catholic churches" into Google. You'll read about American Catholics, Reformed Catholics and the Old Catholic Church. Also, of course, the Womenpriests movement, which has gotten years of GetReligion commentary. Each group has its own quirks, but they all have one thing in common: claiming to be Catholic but not the Roman kind.

I think Fox's newsfolks just confused themselves. Neither in the story nor the video does Rodgers call himself Roman Catholic.  They probably just assumed he was, because he wears a Roman collar. But they could have asked an obvious question: Why does Rodgers quote Pope Francis for inspiration and follow his example -- even calling him the Holy Father -- but reject his leadership?

Frankly, if Rodgers hadn't brought up divorce, remarriage, women's ordination and LGBTQ people, I doubt he would have gotten on TV at all. It was clever of him to relate to topics that hold the interest of news media more than religion.

But it wasn't smart of Fox 5 to give him a platform -- even adding his phone number and Facebook link to the article -- without clarifying just whom he represents and where he belongs.

When you identify someone as a Roman Catholic bishop, even after the local diocese says he isn't, it may be still worse than confusing Florida with California. Maybe more like mixing oranges and apples.

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