This is starting to seem like a bad movie plot, sort of like "The Crime of Father Amaro" where a priest gets his walking papers for advocating liberation theology while another priest who procures a back alley abortion for his lover (who dies from the procedure) is allowed to continue in the ministry. So now Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who has never molested a child or fathered one out of wedlock, who has never abused his position of trust as a cleric, is being threatened with excommunication only because he supports women's ordination and the Vatican does not. And Fr. Bourgeois, true to form, is not backing down in front of the theological watchdogs of the CDF any more than he has shied away from arrest by the military police at Fort Benning where he regularly protests to call for the closing of the School of the Americas.
By NCR Staff
National Catholic Reporter
Published: November 11, 2008
Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for his support of women’s ordination, according to a letter made public today.
The letter was written by Bourgeois and addressed to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It was distributed via e-mail by Bill Quigley, a New Orleans lawyer who represents Bourgeois.
According to Bourgeois’ letter, which is dated Nov. 7, the congregation has given him 30 days to recant his “belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or (he) will be excommunicated.”
The letter indicates that Bourgeois received notification from the congregation Oct. 21.
Bourgeois, a priest for 36 years, attended the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska in Lexingon, Ky., Aug. 9 and preached a homily.
If Bourgeois is excommunicated at the end of 30 days, it would come just before the mass rally and protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., that Bourgeois has organized for 19 years. In recent years, more than 15,000 people, many of them Catholic university students, have joined the three daylong rally and demonstration.
Bourgeois was not immediately available for comment. The text of Bourgeois’ letter follows.
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903
November 7, 2008
TO THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, THE VATICAN
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
I also like Sidney Callahan's column about this from America magazine.
How do you “recant?"
Posted at: 2008-11-13 14:18:00.0
Author: Sidney Callahan
How do you “recant” and begin to believe something you don’t believe?The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, is ordering Father Roy Bourgeois M.M. to recant his belief and support for women’s ordination. If not, he will be excommunicated in thirty days.
But does the CDF have some secret formula or operating instructions for going against one’s conscience when ordered to do so?
I understand how Vatican authorities might solve their problem of dissent by simply expecting people to lie, if you just say the right words all will be forgiven. Inconveniently of course, lying and bearing false witness (even against yourself) has been forbidden since Sinai, so that option is out.
Perhaps the Vatican is really simply aiming to impose silence, so the troubling issue can be ignored. Admittedly in certain situations choosing strategic silence can be a moral option if it staves off harmful consequences to self or others. St. Thomas More took refuge in silence until his conscience no longer allowed him to do so.
The CDF, however, seems to be demanding something more than external behavior, since they command Bourgeois to recant his belief and committed conviction. So how do they think he can manage to change his conscience and belief on demand?
It appears to require extreme conditions like those in the Gulag or a Chinese reeducation prison in order to brainwash or actually persuade people into believing and confessing things on command. Given enough prolonged torture, sleeplessness, isolation and psychological manipulation, persons can make up false memories and new beliefs that conform to their inquisitor’s plan for some show trial, or public submission. But then again, torture and physical coercion while incarcerated in monastery cells have also long been repudiated by the Church.
So the problem remains. A mentally stable and mature person’s Christian conscience cannot be coerced or evaded. In fact, a person cannot renounce a settled conscience since it is the sacred core of the person’s whole identity. A self cannot will to deny one’s own self or repudiate mind, heart and life experience.
I fear that Vatican concepts of conscience and human psychology are based on the old idea that an abstract isolated act of the will can mechanically change a person’s belief. With such an over-rationalized reductive psychology, abuses of authority can become frequent. Attempts at coercion give the lie to Vatican II’s great affirmations of the freedom and dignity of conscience.
Well, perhaps I am wrong on the matter of conscience. If so, I’d like to be enlightened forthwith. The next Synod should take up the questions of human psychology that underlie so many current Church disputes involving conscience, dissent, contraception, celibacy, women, homosexuality, divorce and abortion. In the meantime, perhaps the CDF can send along by express mail another letter, this one explaining how Christians are supposed to recant.
Photo: Fr. Roy Bourgeois caught in flagrante at women's ordination ceremony.