Monday, July 31, 2006

Questions to ask the 'women priests'

By now, you probably heard about the plan by a group of women to stage an ordination on a boat on one of the rivers near Pittsburgh -- today, I believe. This has gotten some attention in the secular media, such as this Washington Post article and of course, on Catholic blogs such as Domenico Bettinelli's.

This may have been obvious to everyone before me, but I think I see why the media is excited about this.

Over the years, they've reported on internal struggles among Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc., over ordination and sexuality issues -- and surely someone has noticed, "hmm, these things don't happen in the Catholic Church!"

Here, I think they believe they've got their "internal struggle" story -- they think this is a significant rebellion. In fairness to the media, why should they rule that out? We have faith that this will come a cropper; but even then, it could (I doubt it) be an ugly struggle nonetheless. In fairness, that is a story.

It would be appropriate, in my judgment, for the media to ask a lot tougher questions of these ladies and their movement:

* Is this only about women's ordination? Does that mean you aren't seeking any change in Church teaching on, say, divorce-and-remarriage, contraception, homosexual behavior, or other areas that are controversial?

* Do any of the women seeking ordination agree with the Catholic Church on these "hot button" issues? If not, why not? Doesn't that suggest this is about more than women's ordination?

* Where did you receive seminary training? What sort of training have you had? Shouldn't Catholic faithful expect their priests -- male or female -- to have had full training?

* You seem to think this is the "wave of the future" for the Catholic Church -- but what about what the Anglican Church is going through now: why isn't that a cautionary tale for you?

* Who ultimately decides this question? You say ordain women, the pope, backed up by a pretty long tradition -- the Church says constant -- says no. Do you believe the Church has no right to take this position? If it does, at what point do you accept the decision? And, if you won't, no matter what, isn't that what finally created a parting of the ways with Luther and other "reformers" of their time? I mean, if you give Luther full credit for sincerity, integrity, and even if you say he was right -- the fact is, he ultimately could not accept the authority of the pope or even a general council to define Catholic teaching, if that went contrary to his insights. How are you different?

* Where are the young women in your movement -- or, for that matter, young men?

* Isn't it true that you have to point to some connection with the male-only hierarchy in order to show the validity of your orders -- isn't that frustrating? And as the Washington Post author pointed out, isn't there something kind of odd about that? Either the Catholic Church has it, or it doesn't; either they're basically right, or basically wrong. Which is it?

Now, I'm not naive; I can think of at least three reasons not to expect such questions: one, because they presuppose far greater familiarity with the underlying subject than most reporters are going to have, or two, are going to want to develop (i.e., most reporters are lazy -- they freely admit this); three, such questions, while entirely fair, would be rather tough -- and few reporters, actually like grilling their interviewees.

What would be useful, however -- and may actually bear some fruit, down the road, would be for us to put a list of questions such as these "out there"; were I working as a media flack for the Church, either for a diocese or for the USCCB, I'd give a list like this to every reporter contacting me on this subject. It's just possible a few of these questions might actually get posed.

I wrote these off-the-cuff, and certainly they could be refined. Anyone who reads this, who actually does as I propose, is welcome with my thanks. You can give me credit if you wish, but I don't really care about that.

(By the way -- at some sites, this subject has excited some rather nasty, personal criticisms of those involved in these simulated sacraments. Let it suffice to focus on the wrongness of this venture, and avoid personal attacks. Puerile mockery of people's appearance or age is really not welcome here.)


Mary Martha said...

As I said to the nun in college who yelled at me that she should be a priest... "Why don't you become Episcopal then?"

She threw me out of her theology class then. It was for the best really, she didn't particularly enjoy my rebutting her heterodox positions with facts and history.

I think that everyone is welcome in the Catholic Church. However, if you are in direct opposition to it's stands... then why be here? I don't get that at all.

dutch said...

Father, you ask FAQs that the press is too lazy to research and be knowledge of. Most of them haven't a clue what the Catholic Church is about nor how there is deep irony here.

I am a Reformed type Protestant and I have read up a bit on the Reformation, the Counter Reformation ... I still feel woefully inadequate to discuss this matter much.

Why don't they get some well-read, knowledge-filled reporters in regards to the RCC?

Because it seems there is a dearth of reporters who have walked away from the Catholic Church after knowing the rich history and knowing the WHYs.

The only have ones who operate like animals, bottom feeders who get excited by newsporn.

Sad, really.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Most media outlets don't put many resources into coverage of religion; so the two problems that underlie the inadequacy of most reportage -- reporters are not experts in most of the areas they cover, and because they are "jacks of all trades," they are accustomed to delving into a subject only so deeply, as they do a quick item, then move on, and reporters are generally lazy (they admit this) -- are worsened with religion coverage.

However, two major outlets have, in recent years, beefed up their religion coverage: the Washington Post and NPR. That is to their credit.

This following statement may seem surprising, or contrary to the facts, but I insist it is not that hard to get reporters to do a good job in coverage; the "they're biased, they're out ot get us" comments are, most of the time, simply an excuse for failing to do "our" job well, or even at all.

By "our" I mean, the Church; church spokesmen, like spokesmen in many other fields, do an inadequate job, then blame the media for it.

I'm not denying bias etc.; my point is, that can be overcome if one does his job. I used to do media work in politics; I know how it's done. It's not that hard; it's a learnable skill.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Father for the questions, some of which I hadn't the words to properly ask. We have a Call to Action group in my area that has all kinds of meetings advertised that are marketed to many things but ultimately should you go, all they come down to are womens ordination rallies.

Anonymous said...

I know some female MDiv students, who, by the way, have the exact same courses and qualifications as any priest, who would love to be ordained. (For the record, I am not one of them.) So you can't make a blanket assumption that they are uneducated, because that's simply a fallacy.

As well, this is not new -- it happened in Europe 2 summers ago, and in Canada (well, on the waters of the St. Lawrence actually, so they were not "in" anyone's diocese) last August. Interestingly, to my knowledge they have not been excommunicated yet.

Terry Nelson said...

Very excellent points Father - I do wish you were doing the reporting for National News. Point well taken for childish mockery as well!

Anonymous said...

The question that I would like to ask the most is: What about doing the will of God? If you really love Him that much that you feel so "called", how about doing His will and obeying the Church whom He gave authority to bind and lose on earth?
And what about celibacy? One of the ladies is married with children and grandchildren. Are they planning to change that rule, too?
There is no difference between this and what some protestants do. They don't like the rules so they go and open their own church.
I thought this did not affect me much. However, last night I had nightmares about this. You may find this funny, but in my dreams I walked into church to find all women at the altar and I kept looking around to see if others were as disturbed as I was. When time for Communion came I kept on saying loud: don't go!! Jesus is not really present, don't you realize they don't have the power to consecrate the Eucharist? But nobody was paying attention and they were bringing the "hosts" out to us...
Most people have desires or things they would like to do. When I had my conversion I cried night and day because I wanted to be a cloistered nun but I had a slight problem: a husband and children. The priest said: what do you think God wants you to do? And selfish little me had to bow my head and respond: Go home and take care of my husband and children. I thought it would be a face and it would go away. But it didn't. As I grow in my faith I secretely wish I had discerned my vocation. So should I do like these women and abandon my family to become a cloistered nun because I "feel the calling"? No, God's will is that I take care of my family. Not my will Lord, but yours.
Let's pray for these ladies. That God may pour down His grace on them and show them how to serve Him according to His will and for the purpose they were created.

Anonymous said...

Puerile mockery of people's appearance or age is really not welcome here.)

Good, ad hominum attacks undermine any argument.

Fr Martin Fox said...


About the training these women have: I did not mean to suggest none of them have sufficient theological or liturgical training, because I don't know what they've had. I simply think it's a reasonable question to ask; another way to ask it would be:

"In recent years, we've had a lot of attention to how men have been screened and scrutinized and trained for the priesthood -- what about you? Can you tell us about the screening, testing, academic, pastoral, personal and liturgical formation that you have had, to prepare for this moment?"

Because, while I agree some of these women probably have had theological training -- perhaps more than some priests! I do doubt they've had exactly the same in all respects: I'd be very surprised, for example, if seminaries allow non-seminarians to participate in courses in liturgy that involve practica -- i.e., how to offer Mass, how to baptize, how to hear confessions, etc. The few pictures I saw of the last group to simulate ordination, and then Mass, suggested to me they lacked preparation for offering Mass. And Dagmar Celeste, who was part of the Danube group, has indicated a lack of interest in offering Mass -- she actually said, she has people surreptitiously bring her the Eucharist from an indisputable Catholic Mass! Either she doesn't really believe in her own, alleged ordination -- or she badly understands the nature of the priesthood!

DP said...

Interestingly, to my knowledge they have not been excommunicated yet.

Wouldn't participation in these so-called ordinations incur an automatic excommunication? When Rome publically states that someone has been excommunicated isn't that to make clear what has already taken place?

Anonymous said...

Fr Martin: Thanks for the clarification. I didn't take it the way you intended the question to be raised. And no, at my college, we cannot participate in the liturgical practica courses (and we're pretty left leaning.)

And DP: You are right, but Rome has made no public statement about these women (and they expected there to be a public statement.)

Field Marshall Dodge said...

The catholic church has always had fringe movements. The tough questions aren't getting asked partially because the attitude of the reporters is more "hey, get a load of this!" than anything.

This will pass. But I think that I will see women ordained in my lifetime-- the pragmatic issue of not enough priests is going to force the issue. But not yet.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough about the media and religion, Fox News stood out during John Paul II's death, funeral, and the election of Benedict XVI. They brought out many, many notable Catholics (that happened to be orthodox) to discuss the goings on. If they had any guests like Fr. McBrien or Sr. Chitister, I must have missed it.

Lately though, their reporting on religion has fallen to the wayside.

Anonymous said...

Re: "I'd be very surprised, for example, if seminaries allow non-seminarians to participate in courses in liturgy that involve practica -- i.e., how to offer Mass ..."
Surprise! In Berkeley, CA, in 1994, a neighbour took me to a practice mass performed by a female seminary student. She had received exactly the same training as her male classmates, and this practice mass was required for graduation for her as well as for them. What I thought was particularily strange was that it took place in the woman's parish church, with the parish deacon acting participating. There was no sign at the entrance about this being a practice mass, so if someone walking in from the street would probably been somewhat surprised. Is it normal to have practices masses in public like that, or was it a Berkeley thing? I mean, with a male seminarian, people who walk in wouldn't be able to know that it's not a real Mass.

Unknown said...

The word "Berkeley" probably has a lot to do with the fact that a "practice Mass" includes women.

The theology program would be decertified if it didn't included women for all courses.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Anna, Ray:

I can tell you at our seminary in Cincinnati, we do have a lay pastoral ministry training program, for those preparing to be catechists, directors of religious ed, etc. There are classes offered that both seminarians and LPMP students take together.

However: only those preparing for ordination as deacons and priests can take classes specifically pertaining to being a priest or deacon: thus for our preaching courses, "how to baptize" and "how to hear confessions" courses, and our "practice Masses."

Anyone could come to the "practice Masses" and play the congregation, however. We were supposed to get people there, to make it a challenge to us about-to-be-priests. We recruited other seminarians, and those who worked at the seminary sometimes came.

One of my classmates, recruited to be an extraordinary minister, distributed the (unconsecrated wine) saying, "not the Blood of Christ."

Anonymous said...

T.O.: Subsidiarity applies here. Why should some bureaucrat in Rome speak when there is a local bishop with all the authority he needs to point out the problem?

F.M. Dodge: The first expansion of eligibility for ordination will have to be to married men. In my lifetime has come the restoration of a married diaconate, but for these men the order of deacon is the end of the line. Meanwhile, the church is already doing ordaining married men as priests, only the candidates must be converts from Protestantism: no cradle Catholic men need apply, even deacons. I have yet to see a logical argument that explains why -- if the sign of celibacy is so central to priesthood -- the leaders of our church are ordaining these married converts.

Anonymous said...

Father, overall a fine post but having spent most of my career as a reporter and editor, I'm puzzled by your repeated statement that most reporters are lazy, and they admit this. Maybe I've worked in unique fields, but I doubt it, and in my experience most reporters are not lazy and few of those who are will admit it. You're certainly correct to point out the pitfalls of general-assignment reporters flitting on from one field to the next, to a degree. And I'd take it a step further and say since most newspaper reporters inhabit a political and moral culture that skews to the left, as a group they'll have less familiarity with orthodox Catholic teaching. But those are different issues. Gotta say I don't buy the lazy reporter motif.

Sincere best wishes.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I may have overstated the point, but here's why I say that. I worked in politics for 8 years, in Washington, and did media work for five years all over the country. I worked with political reporters, national media, wire services, tv, radio, local media.

When I say reporters are lazy, I don't mean they don't work; I mean, in my experience, they generally don't do more on a story than they need to. They don't ask enough questions, they usually have their story "framed" and they fill it in.

I also frequently found it extremely easy to get reporters to pretty much let me give them the story, which was fine with me . . .

And I have known many reporters and editors who would admit journalists are lazy in this sense.

But my emphasis on being "lazy" wasn't so much to criticize them, but to offer an explanation for what most people see as determined bias.

RC said...

FWIW, doing their ceremonies in rivers -- or in a diocese where the bishop's see is vacant, as in Pittsburgh -- doesn't provide these ladies immunity from the sanctions provided by Church law; the local Ordinary of the participant's place of residence is competent to pronounce the penalty.

Pro Ecclesia said...

While I agree with you that cheap shots about people's physical appearance are out of line, isn't the "seasoned" age of these wannabe priestesses somewhat relevant?

Pro Ecclesia said...

Please allow me to clarify that when I say their "age is relevant" that I mean that this sort of thing seems to be the province of a certain subset of "spirit of Vatican II" proponents within a particular generation.

We don't see a lot of 20 and 30-something women seeking to become "priestesses".

Again, however, although I believe their age is relevant, it does not follow that people should be uncharitable in their comments, or dwell unneccessarily upon the issue of age.

Fr Martin Fox said...


It's notable. But it may be explained several ways, including what you offer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response on "lazy."

When I say reporters are lazy, I don't mean they don't work; I mean, in my experience, they generally don't do more on a story than they need to. They don't ask enough questions, they usually have their story "framed" and they fill it in.

So now I'll tell you a story that reinforces that specific concept. I've spent most of my professional life in the DC area covering regulatory agencies and Congress. One day I was sitting in the Rayburn Building, wating for a hearing to start. I was chatting with a colleague from a competing paper about how to cover these hearings, and I told her how you never know what the lede's going to be, and how you have to pay extremely close attention to the Q&A between congressmen and witnesses because big news can be made in like a 10-second exchange.

She looked at me and said "Oh, I always know what I'm going to write before I even get here."


So yes, there are reporters like that. I'm sure I've sleepwalked through some stories that way myself , but at least it's not my official policy!

(I should add I'm not currently employed as a journalist--don't want to misrepresent myself)

Fr Martin Fox said...


If I came across is severe toward journalists, I regret that.

Unlike many conservatives, I generally liked reporters and got along fine with them. I was good at my job, when I worked for the National Right to Work Committee, when we tried to get media coverage, we got a lot (never all you want, but that's universal), and we were nearly always happy with it.

Seldom did we ever have reason to complain at all; and of those few times, I can think of maybe 3 times I was really ticked off. One was a reporter who I thought misled me about the outlet for whom he was doing his story. It may even be I was wrong to be mad, who knows?

I didn't pal around with journalists, mainly because unlike other media flacks, I didn't spend a lot of time doing media -- the National Right to Work Committee considers it having some value, but we don't consider it an end it itself. Also, I knew that while we got along, these folks weren't my "friends" -- that wasn't our relationship.

I much preferred the company of journalists to politicians and I still do . . . and I'd trust a journalist 100 times more.

EC Gefroh said...

Aloha Father Fox:
Yesterday was my first time visiting your site. I love it!
God bless

Anonymous said...

Field Marshall Dodge:

--"I think that I will see women ordained in my lifetime"

When I was a child in the seventies, our bishop, then former bishop (Mac Manus, who had been subsequently transferred to Fort Wayne, IN)would officiate at confirmations. I am th oldest of 6 children, so I attended quite a few of this counting my own, and I remember his sermons very well, because he always gave approximately the same one each time. In it, he stated : "We (the atholic Church) will have woman priest in my lifetime"...

He died a decade ago.

Don't hold your breath.