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scare quotes, properly used

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 05, 2011

Do you notice something unusual about the lede on this news story?

CAMDEN—Rutgers University in Camden will host a woman theologian next week whom the university describes as a “female Catholic bishop.”

Did you catch it? The report on Phillyburbs.com puts “scare quotes” around the term “female Catholic bishop,” thereby signaling to readers that while the university gives the speaker that title, the reporter isn't ready to do so. That's good journalism.

How many times have you seen a newspaper report about a “female Catholic priest”—without the scare quotes? By identifying a woman as a Catholic priest, when the Catholic Church teaches that this is an impossibility, reporters are misleading their readers. On this occasion, however, the reporter is doing her job.

The fact that a woman claims to be a Catholic bishop, and a respectable university honors that claim, is a legitimate news story. But the claim isn't true, and so the reporter does not endorse it.

The story goes on to say that the putative “bishop,” Patricia Fresen, has in fact been excommunicated. Well done. One wonders where this reporter obtained her accurate information.

Oh, wait, the report answers that question:

Fresen was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 2008, according to www.CatholicCulture.org.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Apr. 08, 2011 3:42 PM ET USA

    And,amazingly,a reporter who not only researched her material,but left her personal bias out of it. Of course,if she was biased,probably no "scare quotes".

  • Posted by: Mike in Toronto - Apr. 05, 2011 8:23 PM ET USA

    "Bishop" Fresen had better know enough to address me as "Your Majesty", because if she's a Catholic bishop, I'm the King of England.

  • Posted by: sparch - Apr. 05, 2011 2:24 PM ET USA

    Kudos. Goes to show the extent of the good work you do. You never know how your actions will influence others.

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