Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vatican Plans to Excommunicate 36-Year Cleric for Supporting Women Priests

Today the National Catholic Reporter has posted a copy of a letter from Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation told him he will be excommunicated unless by November 21 he recants his support for ordaining women. Bourgeois tells the congregation his conscience will not allow him to recant. His letter follows.
November 7, 2008

I was very saddened by your letter dated October 21, 2008, giving me 30 days to recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or I will be excommunicated.

I have been a Catholic priest for 36 years and have a deep love for my Church and ministry.

When I was a young man in the military, I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I entered Maryknoll and was ordained in 1972.

Over the years I have met a number of women in our Church who, like me, feel called by God to the priesthood. You, our Church leaders at the Vatican, tell us that women cannot be ordained.

With all due respect, I believe our Catholic Church’s teaching on this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny. A 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission supports the research of Scripture scholars, canon lawyers and many faithful Catholics who have studied and pondered the Scriptures and have concluded that there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women from the priesthood.

As people of faith, we profess that the invitation to the ministry of priesthood comes from God. We profess that God is the Source of life and created men and women of equal stature and dignity. The current Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women implies our loving and all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, somehow cannot empower a woman to be a priest.

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood. Who are we, as men, to say to women, “Our call is valid, but yours is not.” Who are we to tamper with God’s call?

Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral.

Hundreds of Catholic churches in the U.S. are closing because of a shortage of priests. Yet there are hundreds of committed and prophetic women telling us that God is calling them to serve our Church as priests.

If we are to have a vibrant, healthy Church rooted in the teachings of our Savior, we need the faith, wisdom, experience, compassion and courage of women in the priesthood.

Conscience is very sacred. Conscience gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do the right thing. Conscience is what compelled Franz Jagerstatter, a humble Austrian farmer, husband and father of four young children, to refuse to join Hitler’s army, which led to his execution. Conscience is what compelled Rosa Parks to say she could no longer sit in the back of the bus. Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood. Conscience is what compelled my dear mother and father, now 95, to always strive to do the right things as faithful Catholics raising four children. And after much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.

Working and struggling for peace and justice are an integral part of our faith. For this reason, I speak out against the war in Iraq. And for the last eighteen years, I have been speaking out against the atrocities and suffering caused by the School of the Americas (SOA). Eight years ago, while in Rome for a conference on peace and justice, I was invited to speak about the SOA on Vatican Radio. During the interview, I stated that I could not address the injustice of the SOA and remain silent about injustice in my Church. I ended the interview by saying, “There will never be justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained.” I remain committed to this belief today.

Having an all male clergy implies that men are worthy to be Catholic priests, but women are not.

According to USA TODAY (Feb. 28, 2008) in the United States alone, nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 12,000 children. Many bishops, aware of the abuse, remained silent. These priests and bishops were not excommunicated. Yet the women in our Church who are called by God and are ordained to serve God’s people, and the priests and bishops who support them, are excommunicated.

Silence is the voice of complicity. Therefore, I call on all Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and all Church leaders at the Vatican, to speak loudly on this grave injustice of excluding women from the priesthood.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated because of his defense of the oppressed. He said, “Let those who have a voice, speak out for the voiceless.”

Our loving God has given us a voice. Let us speak clearly and boldly and walk in solidarity as Jesus would, with the women in our Church who are being called by God to the priesthood.

In Peace and Justice,
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903


George Farris said...

Father Bourgeois seems to be a buffet Catholic, taking whatever portion of outrage which seems to satisfy him. However, in haze of self-congratulatory moral indignation he seems to ignore his own vows and responsibilities. He conveniently forgets his vow of obedience.

Father Bourgeois' smear campaign against the Escuela de las Américas is indicative of the "Post hoc, ergo prompter hoc" fallacy (If this, then that), which being demonstrably flawed in its logic or form, renders his whole argument invalid.

Escuela de las Américas (and its successor organization WHINSEC) has trained more than 61,000 military, paramilitary, law enforcement, and civil servants. Certainly some amongst their number will be guilty of egregious behavior. However, Father Bourgeois conveniently ignores the mission of the WHINSEC, as stated by U.S. federal law, is supportive of the principles of the Charter of the OAS by fostering mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence, and cooperation; by promoting democratic values and respect for human rights; and by instilling knowledge and understanding of US customs and traditions. The congressionally mandated curriculum includes instruction in leadership development, counterdrug and peace support operations, and disaster preparedness and relief planning.

Father Bourgeois should more appropriately look at the tens of thousands of graduates who have improved the professionalism of their respective organization which in turn led to better governance, development of democratic institutions, and protection of indigenous populations, NGOs, and missionaries.

After 40 years combined active and reserve service with the United Army including assignments in Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa, and SAFLA (Special Action Force For Latin America). My observations of the Escuela de las América led me to respect the graduates' commitment under great adversity, and admire the professionalism and concern of the faculty and staff of the Escuela de las Américas.

Now Father Bourgeois would have us ignore the inherent Christology of the priesthood which was clarified by the late pontiff, John Paul II, who wrote "Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone." This in no way creates a situation which impinges on the human rights of Catholic women who have significant roles to play in the Catholicism.

An ordination ceremony performed on a woman would be illicit, and thus invalid as any Catholic who seeks or receives ordination without the required authority incurs automatic latae sententiae excommunication.

If Father Bourgeois can not concur with the teachings and cannon law of the Church, then he should voluntarily request to be laicized for his disagreement regarding dogma, or his loss of faith. Since he has chosen not to do so, then he should face the same penalty of a woman who seeks ordination with his encouragement — excommunication.

Gerald T Floyd said...

I allowed Mr. Farris' comments to be published, even though they are mostly a critique of Fr. Bourgeois' antiwar activities, because it is important to document how the Catholic right thinks and behaves on the issue of women's ordination.

All Mr. Farris does on it is slavishly repeat the gratuitous assertion of John Paul II that priestly ordination "has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone."

Like Fr. Bourgeois, I deny that this papal claim is scripturally or historically accurate, or one that a pope can make or enforce authoritatively.

Since I have been an inactive priest since 1979, it would do the church little good to excommunicate me.

But even less should the church want to sever ties with a devoted priest who has been on the front lines proclaiming the church's anti-war stance for over three decades, simply because that priest challenges a theological position that is far less sound.