Fr. Bourgeois Invites Theologians to Scrutinize His Situation

Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois
In yesterday’s post I mentioned Christian clergy whose prophetic stand put them at odds with orthodoxy. The creative tension is what leads to growth in the Holy Spirit.

Today I’m posting more in the saga of Maryknoll priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois who is slated to be dismissed from the priesthood and his religious community unless he recants his belief that women should be ordained in the Catholic church. His recent step to ask his order to engage “reputable theologians” to reconsider the issues stemming from his case is a way of keeping this story in the light of public scrutiny and not letting hierarchy drive it underground.

At a time when the International Criminal Court is being asked to investigate the Pope and other Vatican officials for concealing child-sex crimes throughout the world, the church needs leaders like Fr. Roy to show us the proper way to live prophetically the gospel.

I often say that “all teaching is simply learning in public.” Fr. Roy is continuing to teach by pushing for a public conversation that can respectfully allow us all to learn how to live more deeply into becoming the children of God.

Fr. Roy Bourgeois recently took another step in his fight to remain a member of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, when he asked his superiors to engage reputable theologians to reconsider issues stemming from his support for the ordination of women.

“In spite of the apparently clear orders of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the related norms of church law, the overall situation with Roy is anything but clear-cut and simple,” Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer representing Bourgeois, wrote in an Aug. 16 letter to Fr. Edward Dougherty, Maryknoll’s superior general. Doyle is most widely known for his advocacy on behalf of victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

Doyle contends that the church’s prohibition of female ordination is not infallible teaching and asks in his letter “that the assistance and input of reputable theologians be sought in order to look much more deeply” into two central issues: the church’s claim that the teaching is infallible and the right of a Catholic “to act and think according to the dictates of his conscience” even if the conclusions put one in conflict with the church’s highest authorities.

Doyle also argues that the punishment of excommunication and expulsion from the society is disproportionate. As a comparison, he notes that priests and bishops who sexually abused children and/or covered up the abuse have not been excommunicated. … Read more.

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.

Continue reading “On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women’s Ordination”

Fr. Roy Bourgeois Faces ‘Laicization’: Hero or Heretic?

Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the longtime peace activist and founder of the School of Americas Watch, has received a letter from his Maryknoll order that he has 15 days to publically recant his support for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church or he will be kicked out of the Maryknoll family and stripped of his priestly functions.

He’ll be defrocked, unfrocked, or laicized, depending on your denomination. The Catholic church and his order will no longer recognize his right to exercise the functions of the ordained ministry.

The National Catholic Reporter tells the story:

The letter, which is dated March 18, is signed by Maryknoll Fr. Edward Dougherty, the order’s superior general, and warns Bourgeois that his dismissal will also be forwarded to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith “with a request for laicization.”

NCR received the letter in a fax from Bourgeois this morning. Bourgeois, who attended and preached a homily at the ordination of Roman Catholic Womanpriest Janice Sevre-Duszunska in August, 2008, was notified by the same congregation shortly after that event that he had incurred a Latae Senteniae, or automatic, excommunication for his participation. Dougherty’s letter references that event and says Bourgeois’ continued support of women’s ordination since — specifically mentioning his Feb. 12 participation as a panel speaker at a showing of the film Pink Smoke Over the Vatican — has been “in disobedience to the explicit instructions of your Superiors.”

If Bourgeois does not respond with 15 days, the letter says he will be given a second warning, after which Dougherty will dismiss him for “publicly reject[ing] the teaching of the Holy Father.”

In the Catholic Church, a priest, deacon, or bishop may be dismissed from the clerical state as a penalty for certain grave offenses, or by a papal decree granted for grave reasons. This may be because of a serious criminal conviction or heresy. A Catholic priest may also voluntarily request to be laicized for any personal reason. Voluntary requests are by far the most common means of laicization, and the most common reason is to marry. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI put an end to speedily granting laicization requests by priests or their bishops. John Paul ruled, soon after becoming pope, that no priest under forty could be granted an administrative laicization.

Part of the irony – or hypocrisy – in the case of Fr. Roy is that he is being defrocked for standing up for his conscience while hundreds of other priests were not defrocked when they were convicted of criminal action. I guess this indicates which kind of “sin” the Vatican feels better equipped to deal with: criminal behavior can be corrected from within but freedom of conscience is resistant to hierarchical pressure. Well, ever has it been thus.

When Fr. Roy was ordained, a phrase was sung over him: “You are a priest forever, like Melchizedek of old.” And when he was baptized – like all Catholics – he was anointed with oil as a sign that he was consecrated to God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and joined to Jesus in this threefold mission as priest, prophet, and king.

While the Vatican may view the laicization of Fr. Roy as a punishment, many of us “laity” out here view it as a gift. Now Fr. Roy can move into the fullness of ministry in the Catholic church as represented by the people of God, rather than the inwardly focused bastion of clericalism the Vatican wants to defend.

So, as the story of Fr. Roy’s laicization unfolds, let us all welcome him home as a hero. As the Catholic community of Christ let us anoint Fr. Roy with the words of Pope Paul VI: “The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name. The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief.”

Kristof: A Church Mary Can Love

supermaryWhen I was in Venezuela in in 2004, the country was 95% Catholic and 60% of the people lived in poverty. Hugo Chavez–for better or worse–was trying to change the poverty statistics. But he was alienated from the Catholic hierarchy (the cardinal had plotted a coup against Chavez) and he was not well-connected to the popular Catholic Church on the ground.

It was with this “popular church” that I spent most of my time. In one very poor barrio high in the mountains above Caracas, I met Norma who talked to me about there being “two Catholic Churches”: one is the hierarchy and one is the people.

She said: “The bishop in his black cassock and scarlet came once to our barrio and said it was the most horrible place and he hated coming here, but I said this is my life, my reality, can it be so terrible for him? Our question is why are the church hierarchy not coming to be involved with us rather than always expecting that we will be involved with them?”

I remembered Norma’s wisdom when I read Nick Kristof’s wonderful op-ed in the New York Times titled A Church Mary Can Love. I’m reprinting the whole thing here, as a sign of encouragement to all of us downcast and discouraged by the Vatican’s child abuse scandal. Read Kristof’s column below:

I heard a joke the other day about a pious soul who dies, goes to heaven, and gains an audience with the Virgin Mary. The visitor asks Mary why, for all her blessings, she always appears in paintings as a bit sad, a bit wistful: Is everything O.K.? Mary reassures her visitor: “Oh, everything’s great. No problems. It’s just … it’s just that we had always wanted a daughter.”

That story comes to mind as the Vatican wrestles with the consequences of a patriarchal premodern mind-set: scandal, cover-up and the clumsiest self-defense since Watergate. That’s what happens with old boys’ clubs.

It wasn’t inevitable that the Catholic Church would grow so addicted to male domination, celibacy and rigid hierarchies. Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma, and went out of his way to engage women and treat them with respect.

The first-century church was inclusive and democratic, even including a proto-feminist wing and texts. The Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic text from the third century, declares of Mary Magdalene: “She is the one the Savior loved more than all the disciples.” Likewise, the Gospel of Mary (from the early second century) suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples on his religious teachings.

St. Paul refers in Romans 16 to a first-century woman named Junia as prominent among the early apostles, and to a woman named Phoebe who served as a deacon. The Apostle Junia became a Christian before St. Paul did (chauvinist translators have sometimes rendered her name masculine, with no scholarly basis).

Yet over the ensuing centuries, the church reverted to strong patriarchal attitudes, while also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with sexuality. The shift may have come with the move from house churches, where women were naturally accepted, to more public gatherings.

The upshot is that proto-feminist texts were not included when the Bible was compiled (and were mostly lost until modern times). Tertullian, an early Christian leader, denounced women as “the gateway to the devil,” while a contemporary account reports that the great Origen of Alexandria took his piety a step further and castrated himself.

The Catholic Church still seems stuck today in that patriarchal rut. The same faith that was so pioneering that it had Junia as a female apostle way back in the first century can’t even have a woman as the lowliest parish priest. Female deacons, permitted for centuries, are banned today.

That old boys’ club in the Vatican became as self-absorbed as other old boys’ clubs, like Lehman Brothers, with similar results. And that is the reason the Vatican is floundering today.

But there’s more to the picture than that. In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.

Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.

This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.

So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.

It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness. They’re enough to make the Virgin Mary smile.

Shall the Mountains Fall and Hills Turn to Dust?

peruandes

Over at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns site, Maryknoll lay missioner Barbara Fraser has a nice reflection for the second Sunday of Advent. Fraser spent many years in Peru.

In the Andes mountains, water is life. Rains fall from November to March, during the growing season. In the dry months, however, people depend on glaciers, which slowly release water, irrigating pastures where animals graze and feeding streams that provide water for drinking and washing. As the glaciers disappear, the pastures dry up, and neighbors begin to fight over access to the remaining pastures and streams. Some cannot continue to make a living from the land. They migrate to cities, where they face hardship and discrimination, because they have little formal education and do not speak Spanish well.

Farmers in the Andes see the world they have known collapsing around them, because of the changing climate. What they feel is probably similar to what the Israelites felt when they were in exile, or what the Jews of John the Baptist’s time felt under foreign occupation. They lived in a time of  uncertainty, had little control over events, and did not know if they could promise their children a better future.

Today’s readings reminded them ­ and remind us ­ of God’s faithfulness and the promise of salvation. But the readings also remind us that God calls us to action, to prepare the way for salvation.

Read Barbara Fraser’s whole reflection here.