Get the Plain Dealer a rotary phone

I don't know what the Roman Catholic Church did to anger Michael O'Malley and the editors of Cleveland's Plain Dealer but I am curious. The reader who passed the story "Breakaway Catholic flock flourishing in New York" along wrote:

The linked article almost seemed to me to be the most perfect example of how a journalist does not "get" what makes a Catholic church Catholic. So close to April Fools, I had to check the date.

I read it and then tried to figure out if it was just a 1,600-word op-ed.

No, it really does appear that the paper has decided to write a lengthy article about how awful the Roman Catholic Church is and, by contrast, how wonderful a Protestant sect of one congregation, located in a different state, that broke away from the church is. Contained below is the pretext for why an Ohio newspaper would be writing about a church in Rochester, New York.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- At Spiritus Christi Church, the choir at Saturday night Mass sings the lyrics of "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun" -- a song about a brothel.

Surely, such a tune for a sacred service would never meet the approval of the Rochester Roman Catholic Diocese. Then again, nothing about Spiritus Christi meets the diocese's approval.

Spiritus Christi, like the Community of St. Peter in Cleveland, is a breakaway Catholic parish at odds with its bishop.

The Rev. James Callan, 63, now assistant pastor of Spiritus Christi, has been fired from the Rochester diocese and excommunicated from the Roman rite.

Well, if all breakaways look alike to a reporter, I guess this is true. Except that Spiritus Christi broke away over serious doctrinal issues regarding same-sex relationships, female ordination and communion as open as communion can be. St. Peter, on the other hand, appears to have not liked that the bishop tried to close it in a consolidation.

Anyway, the article does a really poor job of getting anything other than the most cringe-inducing, self-aggrandizing quotes from one side. I mean, the congregation broke away a dozen years ago and so the Rochester diocese responds to media requests by pointing out that they're not the best suited to address the doctrine or practice of the congregation on account that its not within its diocese. But the reporter is trying to do that thing where he passes them off as a Catholic congregation. Check out this tricky maneuver:

Some might say Spiritus Christi is not a real Catholic church because its pastor is a woman, it blesses gay unions and serves communion to anyone, regardless of their faith -- three big sins in the eyes of the Holy See.

But don't tell this rebel congregation it's not real.

See what he did there? He pitted those that point out that, you know, legally and ecclesiastically this is not a church in communion with Rome with "don't tell them they're not real." I mean, it's not journalism, but it is crafty writing.

And if it's your cup of tea and if you want to see a reporter attempt to denigrate all things Roman Catholic, you will probably love this article. If you're wondering, again, why an Ohio paper is writing up something from a different state that happened 12 years ago and is using really unbalanced language and one-sided quotes and storytelling, well, you may want to avoid this one.

I have to share this one final example, in which the reporter demonstrates his profound grasp of how the Catholic Church understands excommunication:

The diocese said all [Father Callan's} followers had excommunicated themselves as well.

But Callan said neither the diocese nor the Vatican presented the defectors with official excommunication documents.

"The church says a person excommunicates himself," said Callan. "That's nonsense. That's like driving through a stop sign and giving myself a ticket."

In an e-mail message responding to a request for an interview, a spokesman for the diocese said, "We are not in communion with Spiritus Christi Church and do not wish to comment."

But interviews with Spiritus Christi members show the congregation is generally undaunted about its mass excommunication. Most shrug. Others call it a badge of honor.

"If we have the power to excommunicate ourselves, we certainly have the power to un-excommunicate ourselves," said Sister Margie Henninger, 70, a St. Joseph nun who was ousted from her order for following the rebels.

And while there are a few more quotes like that last one, that's it. That's the entire conversation about excommunication.

I mean, I feel stupider having read this. Again, I don't know what the reporter and his editors' beefs are with the Catholic Church. But this is just not appropriate for a major metropolitan paper. It's not that difficult to understand what the church teaches about excommunication. They've even put their catechism online and stuff. A reporter might even be able to find one or two Catholics who are not in the Rochester Diocese's media office.

All that assumes the reporter and his editors want to have a balanced story instead of a hit piece, but these resources are out there for anyone with a dial-up connection and a rotary phone. I'm thinking the Plain Dealer still has those, right?

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