At this point, it seems that mainstream journalists have decided that the Womenpriests movement deserves a slow-rolling wave of coverage in which (a) it will clear that the women are operating outside the official borders of the Roman Catholic Church, but (b) the viewpoints of movement leaders will be quoted as gospel truth when it comes time to discuss why the nasty male church leaders believe what they believe.
For most reporters, appears that this is now a story in which only one side needs to be approached for in-depth quotes.
Yes, there is also a possibility that Catholic officials have decided to refuse all interview requests. However, I am convinced that if this was the case, journalists would be telling us that (with the standard, "A spokesperson for Archbishop Nasty Male declined comment when asked about the courageous work of the brave women who are willing to listen to the voice of Christ Sophia").
The other day, I took a look some of the pre-event coverage of the ordination of Rosemarie Smead in Louisville, Ky. Now, Reuters has produced a story on the ordination rite itself that is a five-star classic of the genre.
Let's walk through the top of this story:
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters) -- In an emotional ceremony filled with tears and applause, a 70-year-old Kentucky woman was ordained a priest on Saturday as part of a dissident group operating outside of official Roman Catholic Church authority.
Where did this rite take place? In a liberal Protestant Church. Readers have to dig pretty deep into the story to find that out.
Rosemarie Smead is one of about 150 women around the world who have decided not to wait for the Roman Catholic Church to lift its ban on women priests, but to be ordained and start their own congregations.
Another interesting feature of this report: The Reuters team somehow managed to avoid using the actual name of the movement behind the event -- Womenpriests. The implication is that these are dissident Catholic churches, not fledgling parishes in a separate movement. This is implied, of course, in the lede with the "operating outside of official Roman Catholic Church authority" language. But why not use the actual name of this schismatic movement?
Later on, readers are told:
The ordination of women as priests, along with the issues of married priests and birth control, represents one of the big divides between U.S. Catholics and the Vatican hierarchy. Seventy percent of U.S. Catholics believe that women should be allowed to be priests, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll earlier this year.
And who are these "American Catholics"? Might they be Catholics on the fringe of the church? The key number, of course, would be the number of PRACTICING American Catholics who are in favor of changing church doctrines on the priesthood. They are out there, but much smaller in number.
Now it is time, as usual, to quote several pieces of paper representing the views of the church establishment:
The former pope, Benedict XVI, reaffirmed the Catholic Church's ban on women priests and warned that he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings. Male priests have been stripped of their holy orders for participating in ordination ceremonies for women.
In a statement last week, Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz called the planned ceremony by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests a "simulated ordination" in opposition to Catholic teaching.
"The simulation of a sacrament carries very serious penal sanctions in Church law, and Catholics should not support or participate in Saturday's event," Kurtz said.
And what about this church traditions involved in this issue? What does church history say?
The Catholic Church teaches that it has no authority to allow women to be priests because Jesus Christ chose only men as his apostles.
Proponents of a female priesthood said Jesus was acting only according to the customs of his time. They also note that he chose women, like Mary Magdalene, as disciples, and that the early Church had women priests, deacons and bishops.
Wait just a minute: The advocates of the female priesthood "note" -- as oppose to "claim" -- that the early church had female priests, deacons and bishops? That is a statement of fact, not of opinion or interpretation? There is no need for a response from church historians on the other side?
Now, back in my Protestant days, I was an advocate of the ordination of women and I know many of these arguments inside out. Frankly, I still think that Protestants can do whatever their leaders vote to do on this issue, since they are not dealing with doctrines concerning Catholic/Orthodox sacraments and the priesthood.
In particular, I am very familiar with the literature about the history of deaconesses in the early church. This is also a topic that is very much in the news, right now, because of new statements by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, Germany. These debates are very important, but honest supporters of deaconesses know that the ancient ministries performed by these women were quite different than those performed by male deacons.
That's a complex issue and it's very, very important to quote informed voices on both sides. Needless to say, that isn't going to happen in this one-sided Reuters piece.
Read the rest of the story, if you wish. You will see many familiar themes, including the now-traditional gesture of allowing local Catholics, perhaps even Catholic leaders and educators, to take part in the ceremony anonymously -- since they would get in trouble if they participated openly. This guideline is clearly written in bright red ink in the Womenpriests media handbook.
This whole story is very much written by the book, and we are not talking about a mainstream journalism textbook.