Friday, November 21, 2008

Father Roy Bourgeois Faces Excommunication for Support of Women’s Ordination

Father Roy Bourgeois (center) presides during the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska (far right).

“I know you know what you’re doing,” Janice Sevre-Duszynska told Father Roy Bourgeois when he agreed to co-preside and give the homily at her ordination Mass, “but do you know what you’re doing?” About a month ago I shared Janice’s story of ordination, spotlighting her struggle for justice in the Catholic church and the long road she’d walked for years leading up to August 9, 2008, the day of her ordination Mass.

But now, as was the concerned subtext of Janice’s question to Fr. Bourgeois, the spotlight is on him. One week after his participation in the Mass, he was questioned and asked to submit a dissenting priest form. A month passed, and then a letter came. Dated Oct. 21. 2008, the letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presented Father Roy with a choice: recant or be excommunicated. He was given 30 days to retract, in writing, his belief and support for women’s ordination, and those 30 days are up this week — one day before the 19th annual vigil of SOA Watch, a group he founded to protest the School of the Americas.

Women priests such as Janice are immediately excommunicated from the Catholic church, as they are never considered legitimate, but according to the New York Times, “Father Bourgeois is the first priest to face discipline for his involvement.” Though his 36 years of service in the priesthood may end because he chose to stand in solidarity with a sister and an equal, he is not wavering in his conviction and has told the Vatican that he will not recant.

“Conscience is very sacred,” Bourgeois wrote back to the Vatican. “Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood. … And after much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.”

He argues specifically that,

With all due respect, I believe our Catholic Church’s teaching on this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny. A 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission supports the research of Scripture scholars, canon lawyers and many faithful Catholics who have studied and pondered the Scriptures and have concluded that there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women from the priesthood.

As people of faith, we profess that the invitation to the ministry of priesthood comes from God. We profess that God is the Source of life and created men and women of equal stature and dignity. The current Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women implies our loving and all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, somehow cannot empower a woman to be a priest.

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood. Who are we, as men, to say to women, “Our call is valid, but yours is not.” Who are we to tamper with God’s call?

Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral.

In support of Fr. Bourgeois, the Women’s Ordination Conference, along with Roman Catholic Womenpriests, have already collected more than 3,300 signatures of appeal and will be sending a petition [click here to add your voice] to Pope Benedict XVI and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, among others. As he wrote in his refusal to recant, “Silence is the voice of complicity. Therefore, I call on all Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and all Church leaders at the Vatican, to speak loudly on this grave injustice of excluding women from the priesthood.”

As several readers pointed out when I first wrote about Janice and Fr. Bourgeois, I am not a Catholic. This is true, and I realize that this raises opposition as to my right to even comment on complex family matters of the Catholic church. But I too am a follower of Christ and his ways of justice, and, perhaps of equal and utmost credential points, I am a woman. And as a woman, I applaud Fr. Bourgeois’ bravery and singleness of heart to stand next to us in equality, even at great personal cost. He reminds us (and the Vatican) of what Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated for his defense of the oppressed in El Salvador, said: “Let those who have a voice, speak out for the voiceless.” Women, at least those in the U.S., are far from voiceless, but sometimes a new voice of dissent is needed to break through the silence.

Click for the full text of Father Roy’s statement to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith...Here

Kaitlin Barker is an editorial assistant for Sojourners Magazine.

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