New York Post scrimps on lots of important facts in Womenpriests story


The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement is something lots of people feel strongly about. Opinions range from it being the best thing ever to happen to Catholicism, very broadly defined, to it being utter fraud.

Debates about press coverage of this movement have fueled waves of GetReligion posts over the years, far too many to list them. I am not joking. For starters, is it Women Priests, women priests, WomenPriests or Womenpriests? The group's own website says the latter. The words "Roman Catholic" are in the organization's name, even though these women have received ordination into their own movement, which has no standing with canonical Catholicism.

Partisans on both sides might agree that if a mainstream reporter writes about the movement, it helps to know the basics. A few days ago, a New York woman, who was ordained within the movement in 2014, had acid thrown in her face.

No, this was not South Asia, where such outrages happen in places like Pakistan and Bangladesh along with Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This was New York. The New York Post began as follows:

The man who attacked and seriously burned a Queens woman Wednesday night-- splashing her in the face with a Drano-like substance -- snuck up and ambushed her as she walked alone to her car, law-enforcement sources said.
“Can I ask you something?” the assailant said, before hurling an off-brand drain cleaner in the face of Dr. Alexandra Dyer, an ordained priest who has devoted her life to helping others.

The writer doesn’t identify Dyer’s denomination anywhere high in the story, leaving one to wonder if she was an Episcopalian, Lutheran or in some other category. Things get more confusing further on:

Jennifer O’Malley, Board President of the Roman Catholic WomenPriests, was also shocked to hear that someone so kind could be targeted in such a vicious attack.
“She’s a very kind, passionate, gentle woman who is following her call to God to be a priest,” she said. “I think she’s someone always willing to reach out and help somebody whose in need and to walk with them. It’s very shocking that anybody would target a human being in this violent matter.”
Describing her as a devout Catholic who loved doing ministry in the Big Apple, O’Malley explained that Dyer was someone who wasn’t afraid to help people that the Catholic Church would often turn a blind eye to.

Once again, the Catholic Church forbids women to be ordained as either a priest or deacon and excommunicates those who go the priesthood route. Chances are that Dyer was not a Roman Catholic in good standing. O’Malley represents one branch of ordained Catholic women in the United States.

The movement is a fast-growing one, I learned while in the process of researching a lengthy article on such women that got published in More magazine in May 2013. I learned it’s important to be careful of your terms while writing up this movement because even referring to such women as "ordained" angers some Catholics

The reporters went on to describe Dyer as a kind of saint who paid attention to those “the Catholic Church would often turn a blind eye to.” No matter how worthy or unworthy Dyer is of this statement, that was a cheap editorial shot at the Catholic Church. The story later explains that Dyer helped AIDS victims and the homeless. Do a search on “Catholic Church,” “ministry” and “homeless” and plenty of results show up. Has anyone at the Post heard of the Blessed Mother Teresa?

After some biographical paragraphs on Dyer, the rest of the article is free advertising for the Roman Catholic Womenpriests organization, whose board chair is allowed to speculate that the attacker may have been against their movement.

But O’Malley feels that all the good work in the world can’t change the horrible fact that some people can’t stomach seeing a woman in the priesthood.
“There’s certainly people that are very orthodox Catholics that are certainly unhappy with what we’re doing,” she said. “We are breaking Canon Law 1024, which says only a baptized male can be a priest.”
Rather than go along with the church, though, O’Malley says the Womenpriests movement believes the law is oppressive and deserves to be abolished.
“If (Dyer’s attack) was related to her being a woman priest, it fully emphasizes the need for the church to allow and accept women who are called to ordination."

That’s an awfully long reach and no police officials are quoted as speculating on the reasons behind the attack.

There was no attempt to explain that Dyer’s movement is beyond the bounds of Catholic teaching and that the denomination should not be tarred with what happened. A local ABC outlet also reporting on the crime refrained from dragging the canonical Catholic Church into it.

Far better is the National Catholic Reporter’s nuanced explanation a day later  with the headline “Attack on woman priest not thought to be theological hate crime.” Here, O’Malley is saying there’s no evidence the attack was linked to Dyer’s ordination.

So what? The progressives at the National Catholic Reporter are more committed to basic journalism than the free-market libertarian folks of The New York Post

Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, but the Post, in explaining Dyer’s occupation, should have distanced the victim from Catholicism and used additional sources to explain this movement. Three bylines are on this story, so it’s not like one lone police reporter had to throw the whole thing together in a few minutes. Still, it does look pretty rushed. The last paragraph has typos and one sentence is incoherent. 

Note to Post reporters:  When a newsmaker belongs to an unusual religious group, be extra careful that you get the details right. Or they may bite you. 

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