Daring to cover the Womenpriests camp

Please grant me a moment to help readers flash back to a few recent GetReligion posts focusing on mainstream news media coverage of the Womenpriests movement. It focused on an event in Baltimore, a public rite in which four women were hailed as Roman Catholic priests. A key passage in the Baltimore Sun's celebratory coverage noted:

Andrea Johnson, presiding as bishop, ordained two women from Maryland, Ann Penick and Marellen Mayers, one from Pennsylvania and one from New York in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ. The church was filled with family members -- including husbands of three of the ordinands -- and friends, including some who are employed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore but who support the ordination of women. Photography was limited to protect the privacy of those attending the ceremony.

The key fact there was that the newspaper's editors appear to have agreed to help shield some local Catholic leaders from the scrutiny of their superiors. In other words, the Sun team agreed to ignore a national or even global news story that took place in its own backyard.

At the time, I wrote:

... (It) sounds like the Sun agreed not to photograph the congregation in order to protect the privacy of Catholics -- Catholic educational leaders or diocesan staff, perhaps -- who could not afford to make public their support of the Womenpriests movement. I don’t know about you, but that seems strange -- unless editors had decided to protect those individuals as sources for the story. If that’s the case, perhaps that should be stated?

Why do I bring this up?

Here's why. The New York Times recently published a fascinating (it, as is the newroom's new Catholic norm, highly unbalanced) story indicating that a small number of Roman Catholic priests are beginning to go public with their support for the ordination of women to the priesthood, or, at least, are daring to show public support for priests who are willing to protest Vatican teachings on that issue.

Here's the top of this global-level story:

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony that purported to ordain a woman as a priest, in defiance of church teaching.

The American priests’ action follows closely on the heels of a “Call to Disobedience” issued in Austria last month by more than 300 priests and deacons. They stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” After an investigation, the Vatican forced him to resign.

What is the link to the Baltimore story? I believe the journalistic link is pretty clear.

I'll make my point with a series of questions: Were there Catholic priests in the audience that day for the Womenpriests ordination rite in Baltimore? Were any dressed in clerical garb? To raise the stakes, were any dressed in vestments? Did one or more of these priests make symbolic gestures, such as blessing these women or greeting them as priests?

This may sound like wild speculation. However, the Times reports otherwise, focusing on actions taken in another case in another place and time:

Church experts said it was surprising that 157 priests would sign a statement in support of the American priest, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, because he did much more than speak out: he gave the homily and blessed a woman in an illicit ordination ceremony conducted by the group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests. That group claims to have ordained 120 female priests and five bishops worldwide. The Vatican does not recognize the ordinations and has declared the women automatically excommunicated.

Once again, we face the key question in the earlier posts: To what degree did editors and other members of the Sun team intentionally participate in the hiding of a national or even global news story by agreeing to shield Catholic staffers and, perhaps, clergy who participated in the Womenpriests rite in Baltimore?

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