Mock Journalism

The secular media’s coverage of female ordination claims

This is getting to be a very old story: When the secular media cover events in which women claim ordination as Catholic priests, reporters abandon all ordinary journalistic standards. A National Public Radio (NPR) story about a ceremony in Maryland offers a fairly spectacular example.

The story begins: “In 2002, seven women were secretly ordained as priests by two Roman Catholic bishops in Germany. After their ordination, a kind of domino effect ensued.”

Interesting. Just a week earlier, Roman Catholic Womenpriests had been claiming that three Roman Catholic bishops participated in that supposed ordination in 2002. When one of the bishops was exposed as the leader of an odd little schismatic sect, the number dropped down to two. Who are those two bishops? Do they really exist? Are they really members of the Catholic hierarchy? If they are real Catholic bishops, a reporter who could identify them would have a blockbuster story: the names of bishops who defied the Vatican. If they aren’t real Catholic bishops, a reporter could prove that Roman Catholic Womenpriests is entirely fraudulent. Yet the reporters who cover these mock ordinations do not follow up on the question. They are evidently satisfied with a quick portrayal of women playing at being Catholic priests; they aren’t interested in the big story.

The NPR report continues: “Those seven women went on to ordain other women, and a movement to ordain female priests all around the world was born.”

As Terry Mattingly of the website Get Religion pointed out, any halfway competent reporter covering the religion beat should recognize that something is amiss here. Even if you believe that those seven women were validly ordained as priests, that’s not enough to sustain the Womenpriests delusion. In the Catholic Church, priests don’t ordain priests; bishops ordain priests.

Let’s suppose, for the sake of the argument, that there really were two legitimate Catholic bishops participating at that 2002 ceremony on the Danube. Let’s suppose that they intended to ordain at least one woman as a bishop. The licit ordination of a Roman Catholic bishop requires the approval of the Holy See. Anyone who ordains a bishop without Vatican approval is subject to automatic excommunication. So even if that Danube ordination had been otherwise valid, the participants—both the ordaining bishops and the ordained priestesses—would have separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church.

And we still have not even reached the most important reasons for recognizing the Womenpriests movement as delusional. As Blessed John Paul II proclaimed in 1994, the Church has always taught and believed that women cannot be ordained. The late Pontiff wrote in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

The point here is not that the Church chooses to withhold ordination from women. The point is that the Church “has not authority whatsoever” to ordain women. A priestly vocation is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not merely a credential passed out by the hierarchy. If the Holy Spirit confers that gift only upon men—as the Church definitely teaches that he does—there is nothing Catholic bishops could do to change that reality. Even if there were bishops on the Danube, and even if they intended to ordain women, and even if (per impossibile) they were able to finesse the question of a Vatican mandate, they still could not have ordained women as Catholic priests. It’s an impossibility.

The key paragraph of the NPR report reads: “On a recent June day in Maryland, four more women were ordained as priests. The gallery at St. John’s United Church of Christ was filled with Catholic priests and nuns, there to support the women and the ordination movement—though visitors were asked not to photograph them.”

How many flagrant departures from ordinary journalistic standards can you find in that paragraph? There are several:

•     Ordinarily news stories begin with a dateline, giving the time and place of the events described. Here we have only “a recent June day in Maryland.” Maybe that should be a tip-off, letting us know how much accuracy we should expect from the article.

•     Next the report tells us that four women were ordained. There is not a hint that anyone could deny the validity of their ordination—let alone the rather obvious fact that its validity is denied by the very group to which they claim membership: the Catholic Church.

•     Even a very lackadaisical reporter should recognize that some explanation is necessary when the supposed ordination of Catholic priests takes place in a building belonging to the United Church of Christ. No such explanation is forthcoming.

•     If the priests and nuns in the gallery are part of the story—and this reporter did mention them, so they are—the journalists who agreed not to photograph them are not giving us the whole story. They are only giving us those parts of the story that are convenient to the claims of Womenpriests and their supporters.

The NPR story gives us a partial explanation of the willingness to protect the anonymity of the supportive priests and nuns: they might be punished by the Church for attending this illicit ceremony. Yes, that’s true. They might be deprived of the jobs they now hold, representing an institution whose authority they secretly disdain. A crusading journalist of a different type might expose those priests and nuns, and thus help to eliminate corruption within the Catholic Church. But the journalists covering this event are committed to a different agenda.

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About Philip F. Lawler 15 Articles
Philip F. Lawler is the editor of Catholic World News and author of the Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock, available now for pre-order.