On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women’s Ordination

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric Roy Bourgeois, who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony ordaining a woman as a Catholic priest, in defiance of church teaching.

More than 300 priests and deacons in Austria – representing 15% of Catholic clerics in that country – last month issued a “Call to Disobedience,” which stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of William Morris, the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.”

In the 22 July 2011 New York Times, Laurie Goodstein writes:

While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.

The Vatican has declared that the issue of women’s ordination is not open for discussion. But priests are on the front line of the clergy shortage — stretched thin and serving multiple parishes — and in part, this is what is driving some of them to speak.

A press release from Call to Action spells the whole situation out more clearly. In an unprecedented move, 157 Catholic priests have signed on to a letter in support of their fellow embattled priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who has been told to recant his support for women’s ordination or be removed from the priesthood. The letter that supports Roy’s priesthood and his right to conscience was delivered, Friday, July 22nd, to Fr. Edward Dougherty, Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Maryknoll, NY.

“We can no longer remain silent while priests and even bishops are removed from their posts simply because they choose to speak their truth,” said Fr. Fred Daley, a spokesperson of the effort and a priest of the Syracuse Diocese. “Together, we are standing up for our brother priest, Roy, and for all clergy who have felt afraid to speak up on matters of conscience. “We hope that our support as ordained priests in good standing will help give Fr. Dougherty the support he needs to make a decision that is fair and just.”

This stance of priests from the United States follows a series of recent actions where priests collectively have taken a stand for justice in the Church.  Last year, priests in Ireland formed a union aimed at organizing the 6,500 priests there in response to the clergy abuse crisis.

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St. Lucy’s in Syracuse Reports on Sept. 26 Event

St. Lucy's in Syracuse, NY

I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note from Nancy at St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in Syracuse, NY:

At St. Lucy’s we elected to do it a little differently on the 26th because we have a priest who supports the participation of women & has been preaching about this for a long time. So a big crowd of women & many men do not go to be seated until after Father Jim processed. He turned around at the altar, raised his arms & asked, “Where are all the people? Where are our women?” Then the crowd processed in, with green ribbons tied around our arms (& also Jim’s) to show solidarity with “Our Irish prophet Jennifer.”

One of our organizers, Rachel Guido-DeVries, went to the altar & spoke about what we were doing & why. Women did all the readings at Mass, read the Gospel & gave the homily on the 26th, as well as choosing songs for the Mass about the contribution of women & doing an addition reading by Joan Chittister. This was all done with full support of our pastor & other leaders in our parish. It was especially moving to participate in giving Communion.

I hope many who participated in some way on the 26th will be in Milwaukee for Call to Action in early November & perhaps we can meet up there.

Thanks, Nancy. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.