We have written before about Roman Catholic Womenpriests and how the media usually botch coverage of such groups. Roman Catholic Womenpriests wants the Catholic Church to allow women's ordination and claims to ordain women as Catholic priests. Reporters covering these services often take them at their word that the ordination is genuine. The problem with the stories is not that they report claims of ordination. That is an established, observable fact. The problem is that the coverage does not reflect that all the ordinations amount to are independent claims without taking into consideration that the Catholic Church does not recognize the services and finds them offensive. Your opinion on the Catholic Church's position does not matter. The church's position is a fact reporters should consider in weighing how to convey the news of an event.
A story in Monday's St. Louis Post-Dispatchobvious cheerleading. The story is even headlined with the crowd's cheers as if that was the most significant thing to come out of the story. To the credit of reporter Michelle Muntz, the story notes up front that the Roman Catholic Church does not sanction these ordinations. But she also refers to Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath the "first women ever in the city to be ordained as Catholic priests."
To members of the diverse crowd -- the dozen ministers in robes and stoles of different colors, those wearing yarmulke, and some wearing buttons saying "God loves us, just ask her" -- the ceremony showed unity and understanding.
"What a day, what an occasion, what a case, what a rabbi," said Patricia Fresen, the ordaining bishop with Roman Catholic Womenpriests, referring to the synagogue's rabbi, Susan Talve. The room boomed with applause.
The story adequately addresses the fact that the Roman Catholic Church objects to the ordinations and finds them offensive. In fact, the potential response of the ceremony could have led the story, but it's buried down near the end:
The action irked some. The Rev. Vincent Heir, who directs the Catholic Church's interfaith efforts in St. Louis, said the archdiocese will not participate in any more interfaith events if Central Reform Congregation is "a leading player." St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who has threatened to excommunicate Hudson and McGrath, asked Talve to reconsider hosting the ceremony.
Though she felt support among the throng of people there Sunday, Talve said, "There is still work to do, still conversations to have to help people to understand why we chose to do what we did. Hospitality outweighed other issues that presented a challenge."
Threats of ordination and refusal to participate in interfaith events are significant statements and could allow for follow-up stories. Instead, we get to hear about a "booming" crowd that cheered along an invalid, offensive to some, ordination service.
Reporters covering these stories should not pass up the opportunity to address the deeper theological issues involved in the Catholic Church's refusal to ordain women. Slanted coverage does not help anyone and just reinforces the view that the media have a stake in the dispute. If you watch this YouTube video, you will see a smart question from reporter Ann Rodgers at a 2006 press conference and an in-depth response that gets to the heart of the issue.