Readers of The Associated Press's coverage of the release of the Vatican's report on its probe of American religious sisters will note a curious juxtaposition, one that has, alas, become all too familiar in AP reporting on Catholic issues. Here are the relevant paragraphs; the italics and boldface are mine:
The probes also prompted an outpouring of support from rank-and-file American Catholics who viewed the investigations as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy against the underpaid, underappreciated women who do the lion's share of work running Catholic hospitals, schools and services for the poor.
Theological conservatives have long complained that after the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, women's congregations in the U.S. became secular and political while abandoning traditional prayer life and faith. The nuns insisted that prayer and Christ were central to their work.
Got that? The faithful who saw the probe of the sisters "as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy" aren't liberals — they're just "rank-and-file American Catholics." On the other hand, those complainers who knock women's congregations for "abandoning traditional prayer life and faith" are "theological conservatives" who apparently don't even deserve to be called American.
Also, note that the opinion of the so-called "rank-and-file American Catholics" is presented in highly polemicized language, putting their ideological opponents in the worst possible light, unlike that of the "theological conservatives." Why not instead balance it out with an equivalent line? Something like, "Theological conservatives have long complained that after the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, many women's congregations in the U.S. started wearing ugly polyester pantsuits, putting the Enneagram above the Eucharist, and teaching children that the miracle of the loaves and fishes was really a 'miracle of sharing'?"
Yes, I'm joking — but only to show how the AP's polemical caricature of one side's position is out of place. Its effect, whether intended or not, is to plant the idea that the "all-male Vatican hierarchy" really is misogynistic. Moreover, it paints "rank-and-file American Catholics" as people who see themselves in opposition to the hierarchy, which is a slander upon the people in the pews.