November 20, 2008 National Catholic Reporter
Support, criticism swirl around Roy Bourgeois
By Tom Roberts, the NCR editor at large who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letters, petitions go to
The news that peace activist Fr. Roy Bourgeois was threatened with
excommunication for his support of women's ordination unleashed a
storm of commentary and reaction from various Catholic interest groups
and around the blogosphere.
If the issue is settled for
Catholic circles. In addition to the expected sharp division between
those who applaud Bourgeois' action and those who find it scandalous,
people have posed thoughtful questions about conscience, and how and
whether the church can force someone to violate his conscience.
Others, in what amounts to a fairly robust discussion of the question
of women's ordination, raise issues of history and women's place in
the early church based on an understanding of scripture and
Another thread that runs through much of the commentary asks how the
church could act so swiftly against Bourgeois when decades passed
before the church even began to investigate cases of sex abuse of
children by priests. Meanwhile, Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest of 36
years, is trying to meld issues that normally operate in separate
spheres by claiming that the ban on ordaining women is as serious an
injustice within the church as the injustices he has confronted in the
realms of the political and military.
Bourgeois, who concelebrated an ordination of women in
August, responded to the
or face excommunication with a letter stating that he considered the
ban on ordination of women an injustice within the church and that he
could not recant what he considered a matter of conscience.
He expects to receive final notice of excommunication from the
in the very near future.
In a homily delivered during the August ordination, Bourgeois
declared, "Just as soldiers in
control others, it saddens me to see the hierarchy of our church
abusing their power and causing so much suffering among women. Jesus
was a healer, a peacemaker, who called everyone into the circle as
Roman Catholic Womenpriests, who sponsored the ordination that
priesthood and, in the case of Fr. Roy, the men who support them, but
not the priest s and bishops who have perpetrated sexual abuse of children?"
In a series of questions, the group also asked why the
continued to ignore "the voice of the community," citing surveys that
regularly show a heavy majority of Catholics would approve of women priests.
"Why do you continue to deny the documented archaeological evidence
that supports the spiritual leadership of women as deaconesses,
priests and bishops for the first 1200 years of church history?" the group asked.
One of the most high profile clerics to weigh in on the
discipline is Jesuit Fr. James Martin, an author and frequent
Nov. 11 blog posting, Martin essentially explained the collision
course that was inevitable when Bourgeois clearly violated church
teaching by participating in the ordination, no matter that on another
level, he was following his conscience, an inviolable activity. Martin
cites several of the powerful references to conscience in
documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, including the line
from Gaudiem et Spes: "Conscience is man's most secret core, and his
sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."
Martin tacks a "reflection" to the end `of his entry in which he
recounts that the excommunication warning was sent to Bourgeois in
October, within three months of the ordination ceremony in August.
"Would that the church had acted with equal swiftness against sexually
abusive priests. Would that bishops who had moved abusive priests from
parish to parish were met with th same severeity of justice.
"Were their offenses of lesser 'gravity?'" he asked. " Did they cause
Many people spoke of writing to Pope Benedict XVI as well as Cardinal
William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, the Vatican agency that corresponded with Bourgeois.
One long missive that was sent to both the pope and NCR was from
Charlotte Therese of
"I've studied all the arguments against women ordinations in detail
and I've found that none of them is solid enough to build any
teachings upon. It's rather the opposite way -- they all fall down
like a pile of cards if they're slightly touched. I thus hope you will
welcome and reopen theological discussions about this in the
through inviting theologians from all over the world who has (sic)
studied the question at depth -- both women and men -- and both those
who based on their studies are positive to change and those who
aren't, and they should all have the right to speak and vote."
A respondent on one blog who said he accepts "the stand of those in
charge at this time" opposed the action against Bourgeois. "Instead of
refuting Fr. Roy's position, they silence his voice. What does this
accomplish? Have those in charge not learned the lessons of history?"
Call to Action, the lay reform group that has long supported women's
ordination, was attempting to gather 2,000 signatures on a petition
supporting Bourgeois prior to this year's demonstration at
Bourgeois was founder of the annual event, which attracts thousands
and is referred to as SOA Watch after the School of the
former name of the school at the fort. It was changed in 2001 to the
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The protest
began in 1990, a year after six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her
daughter were assassinated in
trained at the SOA.
On Nov. 20, Bourgeois was preparing for the crowds that were beginning
to arrive. Asked in a phone interview about reactions to his impending
excommunication, he said he continues to receive calls of support, but
said he had heard nothing further from the
As for the SOA protest, Bourgeois said happily that he was finished
with his organizational duties. He said he was in charge of arranging
for portable potties and had just met the crew that delivered them.
"I'm finished for the weekend. My work is done. And it's one of the
most important jobs here," he joked.
* Roy Bourgeois threatened with excommunication
* Bourgeois participates in women's ordination ceremony
* Bourgeois homily: 'Conscience compels us to be here today'