WomenPriests scores yet another PR feature in yet another sympathetic newspaper

It's not every day that I see a news feature that starts with a fact error.

"Mary Alice Nolan will soon be ordained a Roman Catholic priest," says the lede of a Q&A feature in the Marin Independent Journal.

Well, no, actually she won't.

Nolan will undergo a ritual that resembles a Catholic ordination. But it will be sanctioned by the WomenPriests movement -- not the canonical Roman Catholic Church. You see, Vatican has a system in which it chooses its clergy. It's kind of like the New York Yankees getting to decide who makes their 40-man roster and who does not.

Wish it was the only place this article messes up the facts. 

Somehow, the Journal can call Nolan a future Catholic priest while acknowledging the centuries-old corporation that holds the brand:

The 64-year-old’s ordination will not be acknowledged by the Catholic church, which only allows men to become priests, but the lifelong follower of the faith is not letting that stop her.
The San Rafael resident plans to press onward with the ordination, to be conducted by a female bishop of the Western Region of Roman Catholic Priest, in October at an Episcopalian church in San Francisco.
Though skeptical that in her lifetime she will see the church modify its rules of who can take the priesthood, Nolan said she hopes one day the church becomes more inclusive.

As a Q&A, made almost totally of a single subject's quotes, the Journal conveniently sidesteps many of the things I'd expect of a regular, reported news feature. You know, like asking the local bishop what he thought of the WomenPriests event, or why the Catholic Church wouldn't recognize Nolan's ordination. And how about her legal status in the church as a member?

WomenPriests can read prayers, swing censers and dress Nolan in vestments. But for the newspaper to call her a Roman Catholic priest amounts to adopting -- public-relations style -- the WomenPriests lexicon.

This is not our first, second or third time dealing with this topic. GetReligion items on coverage of WomenPriests go back at least to 2008.  We have to keep commenting because the coverage keeps turning out the same worn template: Bright, brave women hear the divine call to the priesthood, opposed by the narrow-minded hierarchy, but supported by the sympathetic laity; and the tide is turning in WomenPriests' favor. 

Oh yeah -- reports also generally draw little difference between the Catholic Church, based in Rome, and the WomenPriests version. OK, they call themselves Roman Catholic WomenPriests. That hardly absolves journalists from the need to know, for one thing, where Catholic priests are ordained: Catholic churches, not in the sanctuaries of Episcopal congregations or other settings associated with liberal Protestantism. 

What about Catholic Church feedback? Typically journalists cite one paragraph from a diocesan press release, if anything. 

Why did Nolan want to be a Roman Catholic priest, she is asked? "I want to start using inclusive language," the Q&A says. "When I say Mass, I want to invite everyone to the table."

Then why didn’t she become an Episcopal priest, where she would be welcomed? Just kidding. If the Journal asked that logical question, it doesn't give us the answer.

What started Nolan on the road toward ordination? It was Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, a documentary on similar ersatz Catholic groups and ordination rituals. I'm familiar with the film and reviewed it for a blog. You'll never see a more slanted film. As just one of several flaws, it tries to associate women's ordination with other social issues like civil rights, antiwar activism, child abuse, even condoms. The Journal says nothing about that.

Then the article ends with Nolan's determination: 

I just thought instead of complaining about the lack of women leadership in the church, I would do something about it. So I’ve decided to take action to make a change. And I’d like to be a female role model for the priesthood. And change happens from the ground up. So far there have been 150 women ordained in the United States and 225 across the world. And we have to be role models for change."

But even a Q&A style leaves room for follow-up questions. Like where Nolan says, "It's interesting, everyone I’ve met has been incredibly supportive. I think it’s time for a change and people -- they’re very optimistic for change. I think Pope Francis is responsible for helping that optimism." At that point, a simple "How?" would have been a great question.

Nolan may have been thinking of Francis' plan to study the idea of ordaining women as deacons. However, he has also reaffirmed the stances of his two papal predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, against women priests. The topic “is not a question open to discussion,” Francis has said. A little homework, and a little less public relations, and the Journal could have asked Nolan to account for Francis' quotes.

Finally, a nitpick: the Journal's misuse of the term "Episcopalian Church." The Associated Press Stylebook states that the adjective form is "Episcopal" and the noun is "Episcopalian." Editors should know that by now. As tmatt likes to say, God is in the details.

WomenPriests is a small but media-friendly movement with articulate defenders and a talent for fetching sympathetic coverage.

That's all good if it helps readers learn and discuss these issues accurately and intelligently. The Marin Journal article, unfortunately, doesn't further that.

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