It’s time for another GetReligion post about mainstream press coverage of the Women Priests (or “WomenPriests”) movement. So, all together now, let’s click off the key points that must be made.
(1) As Mollie “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway used to say, just because someone says that he or she plays shortstop for the New York Yankees does not mean that this person plays shortstop for the world’s most famous baseball team. Only the leaders of the Yankees get to make that call.
(2) The doctrine of “apostolic succession” involves more than one bishop laying hands on someone. Ordination in ancient Christian churches requires “right doctrine” as well as “right orders.” Also, it helps to know the name of the bishop or bishops performing the alleged ordination. Be on the alert for “Old Catholic” bishops, some of whom were ordained via mail order.
(3) Consecrating a Catholic bishop requires the participation of three Catholic bishops, and the “right orders” and “right doctrine” question is relevant, once again. A pastor ordained by an alleged bishop is an alleged priest.
(4) It may be accurate to compare the apostolic succession claims of Anglicans and Lutherans to those made by Women Priest leaders (although the historic Anglican and Lutheran claims are stronger). This is evidence of a larger truth — that the Women Priests movement is a new form of liberal Protestantism.
(5) It is not enough for journalists to offer an obligatory “Catholic press officials declined to comment” paragraph on this issue. Legions of scholars, lay activists and articulate priests are available to be interviewed.
(6) Sacramental Catholic rites — valid ones, at least — are rarely held in Unitarian Universalist sanctuaries.
Once again, let me make a key point: Would your GetReligionistas praise a mainstream news story on this movement that offered a fair-minded, accurate, 50-50 debate between articulate, informed voices on both sides? You bet. Once again: If readers find a story of this kind, please send us the URL.
That brings us to yet another PR report on the Women Priests, this time care of The Louisville Courier-Journal and the Gannett wire service. The headline: “Condemned by the Vatican, women priests demand place at Catholic altar.”
Kudos for the “Condemned by the Vatican” angle in the headline, which — sort of — addresses the New York Yankees shortstop issue. Another careful wording shows up in this summary passage at the top of the long, long, very long story, which opens with — you guessed it — a rite in a Unitarian church office:
About 15 turned out for this Mass on a cold November night. One said she came in secret, fearing other Catholics would punish her for attending. That's because this Mass is not sanctioned by the Vatican: The priest giving Holy Communion was the Rev. Mary Sue Barnett, a woman excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church since her ordination by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests in 2013.
The Vatican has denounced female ordination, adding it in 2010 to a list of grave crimes that includes child sex abuse and making the offense punishable by excommunication for both the woman and the cleric who ordained her.
But Vatican condemnation isn't enough to stop Barnett and some 265 other women around the world who have been ordained as priests, deacons or bishops from offering communion.
Wait a minute. There were “about” 15 people at the rite? With a congregation that small, why not just count the participants.
Once again: It is true that they have been ordained — as clergy in the Women Priests movement. Note that the Courier-Journal team did not claim what many similar reports (see video at the top of this post) have said, that these women have been ordained as Roman Catholic priests, deacons or bishops.
A few lines later, there is this crucial passage:
Two organizations ordain Roman Catholic women in the United States: Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. Combined, they have nearly 8,000 Facebook followers.
"The dismantling of patriarchy is what we're about," said Martha Sherman, president of Roman Catholic Womenpriests and a resident of Salem, South Dakota. "Women have been put down and have not had a voice in society."
Their movement is small when compared with more than 400,000 ordained male priests ministering to nearly 1.3 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. But movement leaders say the church's long-running scandal over sexual abuse by priests and efforts to cover it up have prompted more Catholics to attend women-led services. …
Some people who follow women priests also attend traditional church services, while others solely rely on women priests for spiritual leadership. Many are lifelong Catholics, like Marian Foster, 57, who as a child played at giving communion to her friends using pickle slices and Hawaiian Punch.
"That was the day I learned what blasphemy was from my mother, and apparently I was doing it," she said. "But it didn’t feel blasphemous at all. It felt authentic."
So what to Catholic church authorities have to say about this? Are “feelings” enough?
That’s right: Prepare for the obligatory non-quote quote.
Representatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not return requests for comment for this story. Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said it has nothing to add to the church's broader teaching.
Once again, that’s all there is — when it comes to offering interview material from Catholics offering an informed defense of ancient Christian teachings on this topic.
Yes, the story does include a longer-than-normal litany of digital, online quotes from critics of the Women Priests movement. There is also a blame-St. Pope John Paul II reference to pronouncements on the ordination of women by Pope Francis.
But why not talk to real people? Church historians — on both sides? Activists — on both sides? Clergy people — on both sides?
I will also offer mild praise for this passage in the Courier-Journal piece, which concedes that other crucial doctrinal issues loom over this debate:
… As the Rev. Debra Meyers of Cincinnati puts it, the movement seeks to aid the church in "helping people wherever they are."
"I have an obligation to help bring the church back to what it is supposed to be and not become an Episcopalian, or a member of the Church of God," Meyers said. "They're doing great things to make the world a better place. But I was baptized into this group, and I'm trying my best to make it better."
But they diverge from the Catholic Church on key issues: supporting same-sex marriage; supporting access to contraception; and allowing everyone to take Holy Communion.
The women priests don't have a unified stance against abortion.
The women also reject the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church and rely on their bishops for support and ordination rather than direction, decision-making or selecting their ministry.
Once again, let me ask for help from readers: Has anyone seen a solid, mainstream media report on this important phenomenon?
This is a valid news story. After all, we are talking about the birth of a new Protestant denomination.