Correction please: Concerning that Catholic 'ordained minister' arrested for child porn

For me, one of the most fascinating (and complex) parts of working on the religion-news beat has been learning the many theological, technical and even legal differences that exist between the roles played by "clergy" in different religious movements.

Let me stress that I put the word "clergy" inside quotation marks for a non-scare-quote reason.

When it comes to history, some religious movements insist that they don't have ordained clergy -- yet clearly they have leaders who play some of the roles that ordained clergy play in other flocks. Remember all the controversies a few years ago about GOP White House candidate Mitt Romney and his time as a "bishop" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Suffice it to say that a Mormon bishop is not the same as a Pentecostal bishop, or a United Methodist bishop, or a Lutheran bishop, or an Anglican bishop, or an Eastern Orthodox bishop. Reporters need to understand these kinds of facts, when dealing with stories that involve clergy or other "ministers" in various religious traditions.

This brings me to a bizarre religious language issue in a story that ran the other day in The Huntsville Times in Alabama. It focuses on the arrest of a man named John Lindbergh Ellar Martin, who has been accused of possession and dissemination of child pornography. The headline: "North Alabama Catholic church staffer arrested on child porn charges."

Note the word "staffer." What, precisely, does that mean? Read carefully.

A search warrant was also executed at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Madison, where Martin worked as assistant director of the parish's religious education program. A desktop computer, as well as a laptop, was seized from his office there. 
Photos and videos of sexual abuse of children were found on both computers from the church, as well as the devices taken from Martin's home. [Madison County Sheriff's Office Captain Michael] Salomonsky said church officials were "extremely helpful" during the search and the investigation of the case. 
Though Martin is an ordained minister, he did not serve in that capacity at the church. Salomonsky said Martin was terminated Tuesday following his arrest. 

Now wait a minute. What does it mean to say that this man is "an ordained minister," but that he "did not serve in that capacity" at this particular Catholic parish? According to the veteran religion-beat professional who sent us this URL, an earlier version of the headline even called Martin a "church official."

But the key problem is the "ordained minister" reference. That is not the Catholic way of saying things. This faithful GetReligion reader notes:

What the #$*%&@ does that mean in a Catholic context?
Ordinarily in a Catholic context if a lay person is said to be a “minister” in a parish they are an “extraordinary minister of the Eucharist” -- meaning that they distribute Communion -- but these people are not ordained.
There are also youth ministers (although titles such as director of youth ministry are preferred) but again, they are not ordained.
Was this person formerly ordained as a priest but left the ministry? If so, he’s not supposed to hold any parish position other than being a member (although it happens).
Is he an ordained permanent deacon whose diaconal ministry is in his home parish while he is employed in another capacity at another? (That can happen).

There is another option, but one that certainly should have been clarified in a news report.

Was this accused man ordained in a Protestant context, but then he converted to Catholicism and he now serves as a staff member in a Catholic parish? If that was the case, then he was simply serving as a layperson and his Protestant ordination was, to be blunt, all but irrelevant. I mean, perhaps he was -- let's say -- an ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, with a degree in Christian education. In that case it might be relevant to explain that part of his journey. It would be interesting to know how such a person would end up serving as a leader in a Catholic parish's religious education program.

But one thing is clear: It is not enough to call this person an "ordained minister" in a story about events linked to a Catholic parish and leave it at that. Readers need to know the facts, in this case.

Was this simply a massive screw-up by a reporter and/or a copy-desk professional?

Whatever happened, this mistake needs to be corrected -- pronto.

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