Praying the Post

Reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in one hand and a rosary in the other.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2003
A newsed features item

Caryle Murphy, a Post Metro staff/religion writer, made a peculiar slip in a newsless article published Monday titled, "Married Catholic Priests Still Committed to Calling." (I say "newsless" because there is nothing at all time-related in the article; it ran on page B-1, the front of the Metro section, and continued inside, with photographs on both pages.)

Murphy wrote:
For other Catholics, the active married priests are precursors of the future. They believe that the American Catholic Church, faced with a severe shortage of priests, will eventually drop its requirement of mandatory celibacy for clerics. A majority of U.S. Catholics -- 71 percent in a 1999 poll -- favor optional celibacy.
What is peculiar is that, in the middle of a 1,300 word article about "priests who resigned from the Catholic Church," she makes a sudden reference to "the American Catholic Church."

Now, the American Catholic Church is an actual entity. Further, it doesn't require celibacy of its priests. (In fact, there are a several such entities, and as far as I can tell none of them require celibacy.)

What Murphy clearly meant was that some Catholics "believe that the [Roman] Catholic Church ... will eventually drop its requirement of mandatory celibacy for clerics [at least in the United States]." (The same error appeared in a caption of an accompanying photograph.)

How is it possible that someone with Caryle Murphy's experience covering the Church could make such a mistake? To fail, that is, to notice she'd in effect invented a schism between the United States and Rome?

Obviously, that wasn't her intent, but I think it might signify something important about how she, and her editors -- and, to be fair, many of the Catholics she interviews -- view the Catholic Church.

There are other criticisms to be made of the article. What does it mean to have "resigned from the Catholic Church"? Were they laicized? Did they just move out of a rectory one day? The article doesn't say, but does imply all "married priests" are currently outside the Church, which of course isn't true. (There are any number of laicized married priests who are active Roman Catholics.)

Murphy also writes:
To contend with the priest shortage, the church has ordained more than 13,000 deacons. These men, who can be married, perform a variety of liturgical services but cannot celebrate Mass. And since the early 1980s, the church has ordained as priests 80 Episcopal ministers who converted to Catholicism, including some who are married.
It is, at the least, controversial to state that the reason the Church ordains deacons is to contend with the priest shortage, but the statement is passed off as a statistical fact. (Most people know better than to argue with a statistical fact; it will divide and multiply into still more statistical facts until you're overwhelmed.) The other offered statistic -- 80 former Episcopal ministers ordained -- is on inspection somewhat watery: it's the "some who are married" that is relevant to the article, and there is no indication of whether that "some" is closer to four or forty.