Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Support, criticism swirl around Roy Bourgeois" Nov 20 - NCR

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


Letters, petitions go to Rome about priest threatened with excommunication


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 Rome, it is still wide open in some

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

archaeological evidence.


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 Kentucky in

August, responded to the Vatican's warning that he recant his position

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 Vatican

in the very near future.


In a homily delivered during the August ordination, Bourgeois

declared, "Just as soldiers in Latin America abuse their power and

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

precipitated the Vatican action against Bourgeois, asked in a release

how the Vatican could "excommunicate women who honor their call to the

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 Vatican

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 Vatican

discipline is Jesuit Fr. James Martin, an author and frequent

contributor to America magazine, the weekly Jesuit publication. In a

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 Vatican II

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

lesser 'scandal?'"


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 Sweden. Near the end of the letter, she states:


"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 Vatican,

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 Ft. Benning, Ga.


Bourgeois was founder of the annual event, which attracts thousands

and is referred to as SOA Watch after the School of the Americas, 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 El Salvador by troops that had been

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 Vatican.


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'


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