Sacred Solidarity, Radical Hospitality: Women Priests & a Woman Rabbi

Rabbi Susan Talve

Rabbi Susan Talve is founding Rabbi of Central Reform Congregation of St. Louis, MO. She shares her story of the decision by her congregation to open their doors to the Roman Catholic Womenpriests for their ordination ceremony. Thanks to Rabbi Waskow and The Shalom Center for sharing this story:

Standing with the Sisters

When the line between the personal and the political dissolves, it is usually due to religion.

In the summer of 2007, two women came to our synagogue to tour the sanctuary. Someone had told them that the sanctuary is a welcoming space used for many different interfaith activities. Indeed, a fundamental value of CRC is that our sanctuary provides a safe space for change, that we always practice radical hospitality. Afterwards, the women came to me in my office and said, “We would love to have our ordination here.”

Our response was gratitude for the gift they were giving us. Here is why:

When we began our congregation 28 years ago, it was with a core value never to own a building. This was so that we would never have to put more resources into bricks than people. We also have a strong commitment to serving the city of St Louis where there seemed to be plenty of buildings that we could recycle and reuse.

But our growth rate made it challenging to stay in the church that originally housed us, and our commitment to being ‘”green” made it difficult to move into an older, inefficient building. So, we built a building after all, promising that we would practice radical hospitality and that it would be a disabled-accessible resource for the entire community. The request from these women to house their ordination offered us another way of fulfilling our promise.

But this act of “radical hospitality” was radical indeed. For the women who sought to use our sanctuary for their ordination were Roman Catholics, and they planned to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests.

The risk involved in ordaining these two women was that they – and therefore we – were challenging the Roman Catholic hierarchy in St Louis.

Our synagogue is the only one in the “parish” of the Archdiocese. Our city’s namesake is Louis IX, sainted for his role in the Crusades and for burning thousands of Talmudic commentaries and other valuable Jewish books in 1242. But in this generation, we and the Archdiocese have often stood together — for immigration reform, for access to health care, and for other causes that champion the rights of the most vulnerable. I had also been invited to be in the front rows at the Cathedral when the former Pope John Paul visited.

The board of our congregation decided that we should host the ordination in spite of the tremendous controversy it might bring. We then received pressure from the Jewish and Catholic leadership to revoke our invitation. Leaders in both the Jewish and Catholic communities warned that we were setting back Catholic-Jewish relations two hundred years. I personally received death threats from anonymous sources.

The day of the ordination, the Archbishop at the time sent a videographer to the service who secretly taped the crowd. Many of the Catholic leaders who dared to come that day lost their jobs. Some were even excommunicated, a terrible threat to those who believe in the essential nature of the sacraments to one’s life.

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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.”