Even the Vatican’s staunchest friends are aghast at its public relations disaster yesterday. I have yet to find a single voice defending the decision to accompany its much-anticipated revised norms on clerical sex abuse with the announcement that it is adding the attempted ordination of women to the list of “grave crimes” in Church law.
Elizabeth Scalia, who blogs as The Anchoress at the First Things website, is incensed and threatens to go to Rome to sit Vatican press officials down for a smack on the side of the head and a good tongue-lashing.
On the rare occasion where you’ve done something that will bring you a cautious measure of good will, or at least less-hostile reportage, you don’t tie it in with a controversial issue and allow nonsense equivalences to be drawn by people who do not move beyond headlines and soundbites! … FAIL, Curia! This is a FAIL! EPIC fail!”
Over at the Deacon’s Bench, Deacon Greg Kandra says he couldn’t agree more with Scalia. At the blog of America magazine, understated Englishman Austen Ivereigh mildly observes the “unfortunate” PR situation. British journalist and Catholic Damian Thompson was more blunt in his Holy Smoke blog for the Telegraph: “If I’d been put in charge of the Vatican press office with a specific brief to provide ammunition for the Church’s enemies, I don’t think I could have come up with anything better than this,” and added, “The only time I feel remotely hostile to this pontificate is when screw-ups like this are allowed to happen.”
Chicago priest and nationally-known evangelizer Father Robert Barron doesn’t defend the often “sorely lacking” Vatican PR acumen, but, in a piece for the Chicago Tribune, does try to give it the context that helps explain the decision. No, it wasn’t some anti-woman prejudice, he says:
The statement deals with a series of offenses against the integrity of the mystical body of Christ, that is to say, against that network of relationships that makes up the organism of the Church. The sexual abuse of children by those who are ordained to guide and shepherd them is a massively serious violation of that integrity. But so, in the eyes of the Vatican, is the breaking of the seal of confession, which undermines the trust that must obtain between a sinner and his confessor, and so is an attack on the Blessed Sacrament, which amounts to an attack on Christ himself.
By the same token, the attempt by a bishop to ordain a woman to the priesthood (a move that has been ruled out of court by the Vatican) would sever that bishop’s relationship with the pope and hence with his brother bishops. It would place him outside the communion of the Church, and since he is the sign and instrument of his people’s unity, it would compromise their relationship with the universal Church as well.
Also trying to give context yesterday was Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl at a press briefing at the bishops’ conference. According to Catholic News Service:
Noting that women hold a variety of Church leadership positions in parishes and dioceses, Archbishop Wuerl said, "The Church's gratitude toward women cannot be stated strongly enough."
"Women offer unique insight, creative abilities and unstinting generosity at the very heart of the Catholic Church," he said.
But, the archbishop said, "the Catholic Church through its long and constant teaching holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times."
Of course, the context doesn’t matter in a media climate of sound bites. Even (or unsurprisingly?) The New York Times fixated on the attempted women’s ordination provisions in its story today on the new norms — devoting 11 out of 22 paragraphs to it.