This story came to my attention via the great, seemingly omnipresent Rocco Palmo, who tweeted out:
PBS "report" declares Womenpriests as "Catholic priests": http://to.pbs.org/V2y2BB On a related note, we're all PBS reporters.
We've seen lesser media outlets decide that various women are "Catholic priests" (in a way that we can only assume they wouldn't also decide that I'm a Yankees pitcher or the about-to-be inaugurated president of the United States even if groups were calling me such). But PBS? And not just PBS but the usually fantastic Religion & Ethics Newsweekly? Say it ain't so!
The hard-hitting report begins:
SAUL GONZALEZ, correspondent: At a Los Angeles ceremony, a group of Catholic women is about to commit an act of religious faith, but because they are women it’s an act the Vatican has condemned as a grave crime against the Roman Catholic Church and what the church sees as its divine laws.
“Bishop Olivia and members of the community, I am honored to testify on behalf of Jennifer’s readiness to be ordained to the priesthood.”
GONZALEZ: In a faith that prohibits females from becoming priests, these women are rebels, gathering here this afternoon to ordain this woman, Jennifer O’Malley, as a Catholic priest.
(to Jennifer O’Malley): Do you love the Catholic Church?
JENNIFER O’MALLEY: I do. It’s who I am, so I can’t leave. You know, I’ve gone to other churches and they’re beautiful, but I’m Catholic, and I can’t separate myself from that.
Oh wait, what's the opposite of hard-hitting?
I would not be entirely surprised if this was run as a press release, rather than a news report. It's actually even more of an advocacy piece than I'm accustomed to from lesser media outlets. It rivals this Scientology "sponsored content" that ran in The Atlantic. But at least that was marked as sponsored content and not passed off as news.
"Do you love the Catholic Church?"
I never went to journalism school, but I imagine you could teach for an entire day on why that's not a very good question for a journalist to ask. But if you do, and if the interviewee responds in the way she does, you should be prepared for some good follow-ups. Wouldn't, for instance, everyone interested in this topic (no matter there doctrinal views) want to know what she means when she says "I'm Catholic"? I know I would.
If, for instance, I was claiming to be a PBS reporter and PBS didn't agree, I'd expect, say, a PBS reporter interviewing me about just that to ask me what I meant.
The other big weakness for this story is in who the reporter chose to defend church doctrine. He could have just as easily been chosen to affirm the women's ordination movement. He says, for instance:
REV. THOMAS RAUSCH (Professor of Catholic Theology, Loyola Marymount University): The Catholic Church is not ready for the ordination of women right now.
Now, maybe this is just a quote taken out of context in a way that changes it, but this isn't the Roman Catholic Church's position. Their position, in fact, is that the church has absolutely no authority to ordain women to the priesthood. Rausch goes on to talk about the church being "male-centered" and that male ordination is based in "cultural reasons" and patriarchy and so on and so forth.
It is, of course, perfectly fine to have such a perspective. But particularly if you're going to be putting out as puffy a piece as this, even a token of a response from someone who enjoys defending the Vatican might be in order.
As one of the commenters to the piece opined:
Please PBS, if you are going to publish a story on something, do your research. From reading this it’s obvious the only research done was talking to these women. The actual Church’s position was not represented adequately for the level of professionalism you claim to have.
Exactly. If we wanted to read an advocacy piece, we could get that from the group involved. Do a little research. Adequately present the positions of the key players. Just basic diligence would be helpful.