Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Media Watch: How to cover womenpriests

~by Terry Mattingly of GetReligion on writing about "women's ordination". How does a reporter on the religion beat get it right?
Once again, here is the kind of inaccurate language that we are trying to avoid, drawn from the Vancouver Sun:
The Roman Catholic Church should change the “unjust, discriminatory” law denying women the right to be priests, says a Catholic group pushing for reform.

Without the church’s approval, the Roman Catholic Womenpriests Movement ordained two people, James Lauder of Victoria and Monica Kilburn-Smith of Calgary, as Roman Catholic priests Thursday at St. Aidan’s United Church in Victoria.
Note again, that this is a “Catholic” group and that the women are becoming “Roman Catholic priests,” although “without the church’s approval.” Enough said.

Is there any other way to write this story, one that is accurate to people on both sides? Consider this language, used by veteran Godbeat scribe Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In a decree intended to close loopholes in canon law, the Vatican has said that any attempt to ordain a woman will bring automatic excommunications that can be lifted only by Rome.

It is aimed at a number of rituals worldwide, including one in Pittsburgh in 2006, that claim to have ordained women as Catholic priests. Experts say that because canon law is designed to be flexible and to favor the accused, and because no law previously dealt explicitly with penalties for attempting to ordain a woman, this decree is intended to eliminate all wiggle room.

It was signed by Cardinal William Levada of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Remaining firm on what has been established by . . . canon law, both the one who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, and the woman who has attempted to receive the said sacrament, incur latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See,” it said.
Now, was that so hard? This language takes seriously the movement’s claim that it is doing what the Vatican says it cannot do. It does not state, as a given, that the action has been successful — since that would require settling the theological issue.

Short, punchy news writing does require — repeat, require — reporters to write paragraphs that make them want to pound their heads on a marble sanctuary wall. Consider what a veteran, highly informed reporter like Rodgers must have felt like after writing this:
The Catholic Church teaches that only males can be ordained because Jesus chose only male apostles. Advocates for women’s ordination cite a reference to a female apostle named Junia in the New Testament.
Oh there is so, so much more to it than that and, if you follow the national religion-writing scene, you know that Rodgers knows it. But, there is nothing in that paragraph that is wrong.

That’s the rule: First, do no harm.
Brilliant. There is so much to dismantle in Ms. Rodgers' piece. Loophole in canon law? Puh-leez. She knows that is not really true and what she's written muddies the water just that much more. I'm sure she's read John Paul's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, yet in all her reporting on "women's ordination" she has yet to give it any serious consideration. Instead we get from her a picture that it's not really settled, but the issue is merely a tug-of-war, or sometimes I get the feeling that she's painting a picture of David against Goliath....or should I say, Davida.


Zadok the Roman said...

I do think that it is correct to describe what was done as the closing of a loophole. Up until this time, it took the action of an individual bishop (most notably Raymond Burke) to actively excommunicate these women for being "ordained". Now the excommunication happens automatically.

Argent said...

In that sense it's good to have clarity.

But unfortunately, the womenpriests have been actively saying that since they hadn't received any formal excommunication it must mean that "the Vatican" doesn't disapprove.

Bridget Meehan, one of the women who simulated ordination has actually said that "the Vatican is taking a wait and see attitude...watching the movement of the spirit in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests rather than condemning" them...."because one day they might just have to undo their condemnation and canonize a few of the women in the movement."

See this article in the Voice of America.

And I think American media like to give the impression that this is all a "justice issue". That with enough protesting, the hierarchy will topple over and women will prevail.