Is this objective journalism or an opinion piece?


Written on 12:36 AM by Jack B.

That's the question I ask myself about this BBC piece Catholic woman in secret ordination by Julian Pettifer. It was part of the BBC 4 radio show "Crossing Continents".

Here's the full story with my comments in red:

A woman has been ordained as a priest in a secret ceremony in central Europe as an act of defiance against the Roman Catholic Church.

First of all, she wasn't ordained a priest or anything. "The Roman Catholic Church" doesn't recognize any of it, it doesn't even recognize the Anglican male priests, let alone female "priests" of any kind.

The woman who was "ordained" does not want to be identified. Three years ago, the Vatican moved decisively against an international movement for the ordination ofwomen when it excommunicated the so-called Danube Seven. Seven women had claimed the status of priests after a form of ordination ceremony held on a boat moored on the river Danube. Now a similar ceremony has taken place in a private chapel in central Europe. BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents Crossing Europe witnessed the event but only on condition the programme does not reveal the exact location or the identity of the young woman. The unofficial ordination comes just two months after the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI who is known for his traditional views. In the case of the Danube Seven, it was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - now Pope Benedict - who declared that since the women gave no indication of repentance "for the most serious offence they have committed, they have incurred excommunication". But his stern admonitions have been ignored. Among those conducting the ordination the BBC witnessed, were women from the Danube Seven who now describe themselves as bishops.

Oh, how did they get to be "bishops"? Because they say they are? Can any old Catholic priest call themself a bishop. I don't think so. And what exactly makes Pope Bendedict "traditional" - I mean really, what views does he hold that the 260+ previous Popes didn't?

The most recent ceremony took place in an improvised chapel in the
upper room of a private house. The woman will not be able publicly to admit to her priestly status Only about a dozen men and women attended the ceremony including those conducting it. The programme was told the ceremony and the words used were almost identical to those laid down by the Roman Catholic Church, including a number of vows taken by the ordinand, promising to take on the responsibilities of priesthood. Before the service, the young woman at the centre of it all spoke about her act of defiance. She admitted it worried her, but said: "I hope that in five years, in 10 years, things will change because there are many women who would like to go the same way, and the way will be a little better prepared for them". She said she did not wish to be identified because she feared losing her job teaching religious education.

Yeah, she is soooo defiant and yet she makes you promise not to tell anyone or else she'll lose her job. Such bravery against that evil Pope Benedict guy. What a martyr for her "cause" this priest-ess is, huh?

She was not able to explain why it was worth going through all this, when at the end of the day, she would still be unable legitimately to perform any of the duties of a priest or even admit to her alleged priestly status. We must assume it was primarily an act of protest.

Who is "we", Mr. Pettifer? Don't you mean YOU "assume". And how brilliant is that assumption. Doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to figure it out. But don't you think a real journalist, if they really think this is merely an "act of protest", would confront the person protesting about it. But not here apparently.

That impression was confirmed by talking to Patricia, one of those conducting the ceremony, who had been ordained in a similar way. Patricia has impeccable Catholic credentials. For 45 years she was a Dominican sister, nun and an academic, who trained with men destined for the priesthood. An unjust law need not be adhered to Patricia, an "ordained" Catholic"My first feeling was: I'm doing the same study as the men, and I'm being excluded from the priesthood. It's so damned unfair," she said. Patricia's staunch opinions are informed by her background. She grew up in South Africa under apartheid laws that denied black people their human rights "and one of the ways to break an unjust law is to break it", she said. I put it to her that the Church would argue that you may not challenge God's law. But Patricia insisted there is nothing in scripture to exclude women from the priesthood: "It's a human law, a Church law, and this has been changed a number of times over the centuries. And an unjust law need not be adhered to."

Last time I checked the Church was not a democracy, people don't make "laws" by majority vote. Nor is the Church mandatory to belong to - you don't like the "laws" then leave. Plenty of other places around. But I did like Mr. Pettifer's bringing up "Sister" Patricia's (is she still a "sister" even if she calls herself a priest?) background in apartheid Africa - a not-so-subtle inference that the Church itself is commiting an apartheid of its own. So much for objectivity.

I put some of these arguments to the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Rome, Archbishop John Paul Foley. He first of all stated that the ceremony of ordination we had witnessed was "not just illicit but invalid". When I also put it to him that it is unfair to exclude women from the priesthood, he argued: "As a man I cannot conceive... is that unfair? By divine decision... there is this difference." The archbishop continued that just as it is biologically impossible for a man to conceive, it is theologically impossible for a woman to be a priest.

Aren't you glad it was he actually asked the archbishop some confrontational, contrary questions? Where exactly was this hardball style with the female "priests"? And isn't saying it was "unfair to exclude women from the priesthood" a value judgement on the reporter's part. After all, the Catholic Church isn't the only religious entity, nor even the only Christian denomination to not have female clergy. How come they don't have to answer that question? And how come they are all wrong in Mr. Pettifer's eyes? He's already stated the "ordinations" he's witnessed is mostly about "defiance" and not spirituality or the role of the priesthood (Holy Orders is one of the 7 Catholic sacraments), how come Mr. Pettifer's doesn't ask these female "priests" he's interviewed why they are making the priesthood a political act and not a spiritual one?

The day following the "ordination", I attended mass at a local church and talked to the congregation about women priests. I made no mention of the ceremony I had witnessed, but every person questioned, male and female, young and old, said they would welcome women into the Roman Catholic priesthood. When I put this to Archbishop Foley, he said: "I don't think you win a war by surrender. The question is, what did Jesus want? What did he reveal? And what does the Church authoritatively teach? "That's the norm by which we must judge, not by opinion polls."

The Archbishop is exactly correct. Who exactly wants a religion run on opinion polls? Who could take such a religion seriously? Yet thats apparently how Mr. Pettifer says. A bunch of people he polls says one thing so thats what the Church should do. So how exactly is this piece honest or objective? It isn't. Mr. Pettifer obviously comes from this article as supporting women's ordination even though he knows that the motives behind some of these "ordinations" aren't exactly pure. The real question is if this is supposed to be an opinion piece (in which case I would have no problem with it) or an objective piece of journalism (in which it fails, and fails badly).

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