Week after week they march (or liturgical dance) foward, leaving in their wake a river of YouTubes and mainstream media reports.
Oh, and Associated Press style questions: Are they the "Women Priests," the "WomenPriests" or the "Womenpriests"? At some point, will they be the "Womynpriests"? Right now, at the official site, it is "Womenpriests."
Your GetReligionistas have written quite a bit about this tiny movement because the mainstream media have spilled oceans of ink on coverage of it. Also, the Womenpriests denomination -- and coverage thereof -- really gets under the skin of Catholics who read this blog.
Yes, I just referred to the Womenpriests as a new denomination, because historically that is what this is. This is a new Protestant denomination and the ordination of these women is totally valid to the people who are members of this flock, along with the rites they perform. The problem, of course, is that many reporters continue to refer to these women as Roman Catholic priests -- because they say that they are.
Well, in terms of Catholic tradition, you can't be a Catholic priest unless the Catholic pope says you are a Catholic priest. Ditto for major-league shortstops. You can't say that you are the shortstop for the New York Yankees unless the Yankees have hired you to play shortstop. This applies to quite a few other vocations in the real world. Right? I can't say that I'm a columnist for The New York Times, either.
This is where many GetReligion readers get so upset and send us smoking emails. Case in point, concerning a report from NBC News:
I see similar articles posted every now and then. The press reports these stories as a kind of magic ceremony, the words were said there gestures were made, never mind that none of the participants believe what the Catholic Church teaches, or is in submission to the authority of a Priest or Bishop of the Catholic Church in good standing, let alone the Church recognizing them as what they claim to be. It is like taking a vow of service in a foreign governing body in front of the TV, without being elected, then telling everyone you are Prime Minister of Europe.
Did this story deserve this familiar critique? Yes and no.
Let's start by looking at the entire top of the report, piece by piece:
Eighty-year-old Rita Lucey has been a military wife, a foster parent and a great-grandmother. But one title she coveted was off-limits because she's a woman: Roman Catholic priest.
That, the Florida golden-ager says, all changed Saturday when she was ordained by a renegade group in a ceremony steeped in church ritual but wholly rejected by the Vatican.
Note what the NBC squad got right. Who says she is a priest? She does. What kind of group ordained her? A "renegade" one. Who rejected this rite? The Vatican.
That isn't all that bad, frankly. Let's move on.
With her family watching, Lucey joined a small but growing group of convention-busting women who have branded themselves priests despite the threat of excommunication. ...
The ceremony in a borrowed Unity church had many hallmarks of a regular Catholic ordination: Lucey wore white robes and received a red stole. A female bishop laid hands on her, and she prostrated herself in the aisle. Afterward, she gave out Communion.
To the Catholic Church, the entire rite is bogus because canon law says only men can be priests. Even liberal Pope Francis has ruled out the prospect of women priests.
There is much to praise there, other than the reference to Pope Francis as a doctrinal -- we are talking about sacraments, here -- "liberal." Note, in particular, that this rite was not even held, as seems to be the norm, in a liberal mainline Protestant sanctuary.
So does this story mess anything up? You betcha. Consider the following material, including quotes from Womenpriests Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, that would turn any qualified church historian into a pillar of salt:
That hasn't stopped Lucey and 200 other women worldwide -- 160 of them in the United States -- who have undergone unsanctioned ordinations since an excommunicated Argentinian father bestowed the priesthood on seven women on the Danube in 2002.
Meehan, an excommunicated nun who was made a bishop by the movement in 2009, said the priests come from all walks of life: "We have a lot of grandmothers, we have some women who are lesbians...we are starting to attract some younger women."
The group even includes what Meehan calls "catacomb nuns" — anonymous sisters from orders overseen by the Vatican who are worried they would be forced out if their names were made public.
And finally, concerning their rites:
None of that is sanctioned by Rome, though the U.S. women priests insist they are bona fide because a clergyman in good standing -- referred to only as Bishop X -- ordained the first female bishop.
OK, for starters, a "father" cannot ordain a priest. Bishops do that. And as for Bishop X, how many bishops does it take to raise someone else to the episcopate? It takes three and, once again, they have to be in Communion, yes in good standing, with Rome. What do you call a Catholic bishop who ordains Womenpriests or a female bishop? He is someone who is not in Communion with Rome.
I could go on, as your GetReligionistas have many times. For example, please see this post offering measured praise for a story on this popular topic: "How to cover a Womenpriests story." Also, might I recommend a post and podcast that asks if mainstream reporters would handle this story in the same way if Southern Baptists were claiming to ordain rabbis? Would they embrace the claims of the renegades and, as The Baltimore Sun did in one instance, actually help shelter and support those doing the extralegal ordinations? Read on, please:
So let's say that the home mission board of the Southern Baptist Convention decided to hold a celebration in a Baltimore-area church sanctuary in which four people who are of Jewish birth and background would be ordained in order to serve in new congregations that would compete directly with local congregations that are affiliated with traditional Jewish movements.
Instead of being called pastors, however, the organizers -- leaders in the Jesusrabbis movement -- insist that these newly ordained ministers are not, in fact, Protestants or even "Messianic Jewish" pastors. No, they insist that the newly ordained are rabbis -- period.
Now, as it turns out, the participants in this public celebration actually included recognizable leaders from the Baltimore Jewish Federation, major Jewish schools, the Jewish studies programs of local universities and even major Jewish congregations. They were there to celebrate the ordination of these new "rabbis," cheering and applauding the rites.
And how about the news media? The event's organizers asked the media professionals who were present to honor the privacy of these Jewish leaders who came to celebrate the ordination of these Jesusrabbis. For example, the Baltimore Sun team members agreed not to cover this important factual element of the story or even to take photos of the crowd. In a way, the Sun actually helped these Jesusrabbi movement supporters to maintain their positions in prominent local Jewish institutions, even though the overwhelming majority of local Jews would see their actions as scandalous acts of betrayal to any traditional form of the Jewish faith.
Did I mention that all of this took place in a church sanctuary in an event that was clearly open, in some sense, to the public?
But wait! If the event was secret, then that would be even more significant. The Jesusrabbi Movement even knew to invite these Jewish leaders who were acting in rebellion against their own congregations and institutions. They would had to have been, to some degree, on the inside.
So, who can imagine Sun editors cooperating in this manner in this hypothetical case, going to far as to ignore crucial news information that the public would want to know? How about other major media institutions? Would they agree to help the Jesusrabbis movement in this manner?