An Episcopal priest bolts for the Catholic Church, but will news story answer the obvious questions?

I really should get my click count off to a healthy start in 2019 and write something controversial. At the very least, I should criticize somebody.

Instead, I’m going to do a positive post about an interesting story by one of my favorite journalists on the Godbeat.

Happy new year, Holly Meyer!

Meyer is, as regular GetReligion readers know, the hard-working, prodigious religion writer for The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper.

The story I want to highlight on this New Year’s Day is an an example of a solid, well-done piece of reporting on the beat. It’s the kind of crucial local journalism that Meyer and Godbeat specialists like her produce day after day.

At a paper without a religion writer (and sadly, there are too many such papers), there’s a 99 percent chance this story would be missed or ignored. Fortunately, The Tennessean has Meyer to recognize the newsworthiness in a prominent local Episcopal priest leaving to become a Roman Catholic.

The lede offers the basic facts:

A conservative Episcopal priest, who is a top administrator in the Tennessee diocese, is leaving the church to become a Roman Catholic. 

Andrew Petiprin recently announced his plans to change his religious tradition and resign his post as the Episcopal diocese's canon to the ordinary. He wraps up his job on New Year's Eve, and Petiprin and his family will start 2019 in the Catholic Church. 

"I’m not really running away from the Episcopal Church, but running toward the Catholic Church," Petiprin said in an interview.  

OK, but what does it mean that Petiprin is a “conservative” Episcopal priest?

Keep reading, and Meyer offers details a little later in the story:

Petiprin, who has been an Episcopal priest for eight years, is a conservative in a denomination that has made progressive shifts in recent decades. Like Bauerschmidt, he does not support the Episcopal Church's decision to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church. That change came in 2015 and was broadened this summer. 

Speaking of marriage, is there any chance Petiprin — who is married — could become a priest in the Catholic Church?

Again, Meyer answers the obvious question:

On Tuesday, Petiprin and his family will be received and confirmed at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Nashville. 

Petiprin still needs to figure out his next career move. He is considering teaching, writing and administrative work, but has not ruled out the priesthood in his new church. A path exists within the Catholic Church that allows married Episcopal priests to become Catholic priests. 

"I’m open to discernment on that question, but for the present I am seeking other employment hopefully within the church somehow," Petiprin said. "I’m keen to just be a Catholic in the pews and to discern how I can best serve the church." 

Also, I like that Meyer gets into some of the theological nitty-gritty of Petiprin’s thinking:

He is excited to join a church that believes marriage is between a man and a woman and takes a strong anti-abortion stance.

But Petiprin also is delighted about the devotion to Mary, Jesus' mother, among Catholics as well as their strong reliance on the saints. He has found the rosary and the prayers to the saints to be a powerful practice in his life.  

Besides answering the obvious questions, Meyer does something else that shouldn’t be missed: She lets Petiprin explain in his own words why he’s leaving and, just as importantly, explain what’s not behind his decision. It’s more complicated than quick and easy labels. So, by the way, is good journalism.

This is a relatively concise daily news story, so it’s understandable that it lacks in-depth background on the history of doctrinal shifts and positions in both the Episcopal and Catholic churches. Also, not a lot of context is offered on the path for married Episcopal priests to serve as Catholic priests or the number who have done so. Again, that’s not a criticism given the space constraints of daily papers. However, that could make an interesting follow-up story if Petiprin does decide to pursue that path.

Another detail that would have interested me: What is the size of the Episcopal Church in Middle Tennessee vs. that of the Catholic Church? For comparison sake, how many Episcopal priests and parishioners are there in the Nashville area, and the same question for the Catholic Church? I would assume that we’re talking about much larger numbers on the Catholic side, although I’ve been away from my Nashville reporting days with The Associated Press long enough that I don’t recall where Catholics fit in the overall religious demographics of that area.

At this point, I’m drifting from the original purpose of the post, which was to praise Meyer and say, “Great job!”

Your turn, dear GetReligion reader: As we enter 2019, who are your favorite religion writers? If you subscribe to a daily paper, does that paper have a Godbeat specialist? Please comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

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