Scandal In The Dark Ages

Terry Mattingly at Get Religion is a marvelous writer and reporter. His area of concentration is religion in the media, how it is reported and how reporters sometimes dance around the topic. He and he co-bloggers spy “religious ghosts” in many articles that are not obviously centered on God or theology.

He’s found an interesting line in a series of articles that are explicitly about religion. They have appeared in the Baltimore Sun and are about Rev. Ray Martin who led the Catholic Community of South Baltimore and his conflict with Baltimore’s new archbishop, Edwin F. O’Brien. Martin is no longer allowed to celebrate Mass.

According to Mattingly, The Baltimore Sun reports that Fr. Martin

…was forced to resign for offenses that included officiating at a funeral Mass with an Episcopal priest, was met with outrage. Community members of all faiths decried Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s action and vowed to protest, noting how sharply it seemed to break from the emphasis on religious tolerance by his predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler.

But wasn’t the former priest supposed to obey cannon law? Yes he was supposed to. So this is a big scandal in Baltimore because why exactly? Again, Mattingly quotes the Sun quoting a friend of the deceased:

Joyce Bauerle, a longtime friend of Shirley Doda, said having Chappell at her friend’s funeral service was a beautiful, ecumenical tribute to a woman who battled the status quo.

“What, are we in the Dark Ages again? This is absolutely ridiculous,” Bauerle said.

Victor Doda, who now operates the family funeral home, said he learned of Martin’s fate after conducting a funeral with him. . . .

“This ruins my mother’s legacy,” he said. “My mother would be turning in her grave to know that a priest was being victimized like this.”

This is how the story ends in the Sun. I’ll rephrase the question I just asked – aren’t Catholic priests allowed to participate in ecumenical services? Haven’t I seen exactly that since Vatican II?

The answer, Mattingly (who is, by the way, Episcopalian, not Catholic) notes, is that “Canon law does not forbid participation. It forbids specific actions that require ordination into the sacramental priesthood of the Catholic Church.” In other words, there are certain sacramental things the priest cannot do except in very specific ways, lest he violate the strictures of his own church. The newspaper is saying that Martin was forced to resign and that “Community members of all faiths decried Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s action and vowed to protest, noting how sharply it seemed to break from the emphasis on religious tolerance by his predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler.” They use the words “tolerance” and “protest” to equate this to some sort of civic action, as if the Archbishop had any discretion in matters of cannon law and its teaching about Holy Sacraments.

Get Religion does followup work and shows the same apples-to-oranges comparison being made by the local ABC affiliate

Parishioners storm out of the catholic church in Baltimore Sunday, protesting their priest being asked to resign. They say it all stems from lack of tolerance of other religions, but the Archdiocese says he was not obeying canon law.

“We’re pretty much being racist, that we can’t accept other religions,” said Parishioner Kristen Zygala.

Unless the reporters are willfully ignorant, the reporting amounts to creating scandal where there is none.

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