Thirty-nine years ago, Enquirer editors agreed to cover a global story that still reverberates through some of Christianity’s oldest denominations: the acrimonious debate over whether women may be priests.
That 1974 event was the ordination of the first female priests in the Episcopal Church. They were rebels as were the three traditionally consecrated bishops who ordained them.
None of the women was from the Tristate. The event was in Philadelphia. It was a big deal and the Enquirer covered it, irrespective of the divisive local and national furor.
[Read Ben L. Kaufman's July 10 Curmudgeon Notes, including thoughts on the Business Courier redesign and Quebec rail disaster, here.]
Those 11 women’s ordinations were valid but illicit. Valid because the bishops had the power to do so. Illicit because the women and bishops violated canon law.
I was the Enquirer’s religion reporter. My editors knew a story when they saw it and that valid-but-illicit flavor added zest to the event and coverage.
It was a great story, not least because of the joy of the women being ordained. Their ceremony effectively opened the Episcopal priesthood to women; the denomination removed gender as a disqualification two years later and regularized the Philadelphia 11’s illicit ordinations in 1977.
With renewed dissent, the first female Episcopal bishop was consecrated in 1989. Today’s presiding bishop is Katharine Jefferts Schori.
All of which raises disturbing questions about the Enquirer’s confused response to the invitation to cover the ordination of Debra Meyers by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
It would have been the first known local ordination of a female Catholic priest. That’s a story.
The Enquirer refused to cover Meyers’ ordination on May 25. Management’s reasoning was captured by Janice Sevre-Duszynska, an ordained American member of the association and a contributor to Article 25, our local human rights newspaper. In March, I wrote how Italian police interrupted Sevre-Duszynska’s standing protest against the Vatican practice of an all-male priesthood.
Home again in Kentucky, she invited coverage of Meyers’ ordination ceremony at St. John’s Unitarian Church in Clifton. In an email exchange with the Enquirer, an aide to editor Carolyn Washburn told Sevre-Duszynska that when the aide asked about coverage, “I was told no, as you admit in your email that your ordinations are considered illegal.”
Women’s ordination is no more “illegal” than abortion or artificial contraception under Catholic canon law but the Enquirer reports extensively about those and distinguishes between the demands of canon and civil law.
Granted, Sevre-Duszynska’s press release said, “Our ordinations are valid but considered illegal,” but she obviously meant illegal under Roman Catholic canon law.
So that’s where this gets disturbing. No answer makes sense if we’re talking about rational news judgment.
Is it possible that senior Enquirer editors couldn’t distinguish between canon law and civil law? Roman Catholic canon law allows only male priests. Civil law says nothing about what’s licit or illicit in Roman Catholic ordinations.
If editors failed to ask reporter Julie Irwin Zimmerman — who writes knowledgeably about religion and covered it for the Enquirer years ago — that was a serious oversight. She could have explained these distinctions and, possibly, affected the decision to ignore Meyers’ ordination.
Scarier than an ignorant inability to distinguish canon from civil law is the possibility that the Enquirer knowingly subjects its news judgment to religious law, Catholic (canon), Jewish (halakhah) or Islamic (sharia).
It would have been better if Enquirer editors said they’d ignore NKU history professor Meyers’ ordination at St. John’s to avoid offending more traditional Catholic readers.
Then this affair goes from disturbing to weird. Although the Enquirer said it would not cover an “illegal” event, a reporter for related weekly Clermont County Community Press reported Meyers’ ordination and posted it days later on the Enquirer’s Cincinnati.com. Her story included a sympathetic interview with newly ordained Meyers. The headline was “Batavia woman fights to change Catholic Church.”
For context, Community Press reporter Roxanna Swift quoted Dan Andriacco, communications director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. “From our point of view as Roman Catholics, it (ordination) didn’t really take place,” Andriacco told her. Ordination can only be conferred by the proper authority, he said, and the proper authority would be a bishop. Because the Vatican does not recognize women as bishops, Meyers’ ordination is illegal and invalid, Andriacco said.
Youtube has video of Meyers’ ordination. Local coverage — beyond Clermont County Community Press — was scarce. Article 25 and WNKU reported Meyers’ ordination. CityBeat interviewed Meyers before the ceremony.