Return of the Womenpriests

womenpriestCongratulations are in order for Jessica Rowley, a St. Louis woman on the verge of giving birth to her first child. The pregnancy was deemed newsworthy by a St. Louis alternative paper called the Riverfront Times:

A little over a year ago, 26-year-old Jessica Rowley shattered the stained-glass ceiling, so to speak, by being ordained a Catholic priest. Now the St. Louisan is on the verge of giving birth to her first child, and a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for women's ordination says that makes Rowley the world's first pregnant Catholic priest.

"I'm due November 19, but the doctor believes it could be any day," says Rowley. "I'm feeling very ripe."

Rowley is one of roughly a dozen pastors with two X chromosomes presiding over churches in the Ecumencial Catholic Communion, a splinter group of the Roman Catholic Church.

This is an alternative paper, so it's allowed some liberties. But there are at least two factual problems. The first, obviously, is implying in the lede that Rowley was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, which does not ordain women. The second is stating the Ecumenical Catholic Communion is a splinter group of the Roman Catholic Church. Both the ECC and the Vatican would say that's incorrect. The group claims, as one clergy member says, to be part of smaller, ancient and non-Roman branch of Catholicism. So rather than go for the drama, let's try for the facts.

This week the Chicago Tribune ran a story about Roman Catholic Womenpriests that was better, factually speaking, but had a horrible headline:

Woman hears call to priesthood But in Catholic Church, price is excommunication

The Catholic Church would not agree that Barbara Zeman, the subject of the article, heard a call to the priesthood. And either way, the headline replaces the facts of the situation with emotion and drama that makes the church look bad. It's not the job of the Tribune to make the Catholic Church look bad.

Here's the lede:

On the window ledge of her Edgewater apartment, where she prays, Barbara Zeman keeps a cross, a pile of sacred books and a small, plush black sheep. Zeman said the sheep is a symbol of women's exclusion from priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

But Zeman and others are fighting to change their black-sheep status by taking the bold step of ordaining themselves.

Again, the reporter is doing her job when she reports Zeman's views. But there's a difference between Zeman saying she feels like a black sheep and the reporter writing that women have black-sheep status in the church. This isn't that difficult to understand, is it?

The article does handle the competing claims of Zeman and the church fairly well:

On Saturday, an activist group hoping to pressure the church into dropping the ban on women's ordination will hold a ceremony at a Protestant church where they will declare Zeman a Catholic priest. The Vatican has warned that participants in such ordinations are automatically excommunicated. . . .

The ceremony, to be held at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Lincoln Park, is being organized by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that is not recognized by the Catholic Church. The group, which began in 2002, also will ordain three women as deacons in preparation for priesthood.

It also explains why the Vatican says only men may be ordained priests and what excommunication means for Catholics. The stance of the archdiocese is included. So the article could be worse.

There was another line that jumped out:

After ordination, she plans to become a hospital chaplain and is considering starting a congregation for disenfranchised Catholics that would include gays, lesbians and clergy who have left priesthood to marry.

Disenfranchised means to deprive of a franchise, a legal right or some privilege or immunity. What does that word mean in this sentence? What franchise have gays and lesbians been deprived of in the Catholic Church? And in answering that question, is this word really fair to use in this context?

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