Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Roman Catholic Womenpriests and their journalistic cheerleaders

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 13, 2011

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 story posted June 12 on the NPR site, 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 last week, Roman Catholic Womenpriests was claiming that three Roman Catholic bishops participated in that supposed ordination in 2002. Now that one of the bishops has been exposed as the leader of an odd little schismatic sect, the number is 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 story 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 pointed out last week, 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 reason for recognizing the Womenpriests movement as delusional. As Pope John Paul II definitively proclaimed in 1994, and then-Cardinal Ratzinger emphatically underlined the next year, the Church has always taught and believed that women cannot be ordained. Blessed John Paul II 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.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests denies this solemn teaching of the Church, of course. So it’s not unreasonable for secular reporters---who should, in theory, be neutral regarding theological questions—to let the women state their claims. But competent reporters should, at a bare minimum, at least mention what the Catholic Church teaches. No such mention can be found in the NPR article.

(I note in passing that the American taxpayers indirectly subsidized this National Public Radio report. In light of the current terror that even indirect government subsidies for religion might violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment, I wonder whether there’s a case to be made that this report offered unconstitutional government support for that peculiar religion known as Roman Catholic Womenpriests.)

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.

Toward the end, the NPR report acknowledges that Roman Catholic Womenpriests “are breaking Church law—specifically Canon 10:24.” The story does not explain what Canon 10:24 says—which is not surprising, since there is no Canon 10:24. But Canon 1024 says flatly: “Only a baptized man can validly receive sacred ordination.”

By staging these mock ordinations and presenting themselves as Catholic priests, the members of Roman Catholic Womenpriests are violating canon law in several different ways. But they are not violating Canon 1024, because they are not receiving sacred ordination.

Suppose I throw a rock into the air, with the intention of causing it to rise forever. Am I violating the law of gravity? No. I am defying it, perhaps, but if you look at my action objectively, you realize that it is pointless, even pathetic. The law of gravity will not be broken. My rock will come back down to earth. And Roman Catholic Womenpriests will not be Roman Catholic priests.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: - Jun. 13, 2011 12:42 PM ET USA

    You've got to be kidding me!!!! NPR didn't cover all the facts. Well that's a first.