Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fr. Roy Bourgeois: "We Need Women Priests in Our Church For It to Be Healthy and Complete"

As I noted in a previous Wild Reed post, Maryknoll priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois (pictured at left) has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican if he fails to recant his support of female ordination.

This past Thursday, Fr. Roy was
interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! program. What he shared was very powerful – poignantly so at times.

Also, like so many speaking out for justice for women within the Roman Catholic Church, Roy Bourgeois speaks prophetic words in a spirit of love and hope.

Following are excerpts from Democracy Now!’s interview with Fr. Roy Bourgeois.


Amy Goodman: It’s good to have you with us. I know you’re preparing for this mass protest outside what used to be called the School of the Americas, but let’s talk about what is also immediately at hand, this excommunication. Please explain.

Roy Bourgeois: Yes. Let me put it this way, Amy. For eighteen years, I have been speaking out against the injustice of the School of the Americas, and for many years I’ve been speaking out against the injustice of the war in Iraq. As a Catholic priest for thirty-six years, in conscience, I cannot remain silent about injustice in my Church. I and many have come to the conclusion that the exclusion of women in the Catholic Church is a grave injustice, and I simply must — I cannot, in conscience, accept the Vatican’s demand that I recant my belief and my public statements in support of women’s ordination. This is simply wrong.

Juan Gonzalez: Well, Father Bourgeois, the letter came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What is that organization within the Vatican?

Roy Bourgeois: Well, you know, it’s the Church hierarchy in the Vatican that deals with Church teaching, Church doctrine. And they, of course — the Catholic Church has for years taught — for centuries, actually, now — that women cannot be priests. But to be very honest, you know, a growing number, the majority of the Catholics and so many priests and bishops now realize that this is not theologically sound. There is nothing in the Scriptures to justify this.

As Catholics, you know, we profess that the call, that invitation from God to priesthood, to the ministry of priesthood, comes from God. That call is very sacred. When I was in the military years ago as a young man, I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I was in Vietnam at the time. And I entered the Maryknoll community. I was ordained in 1972 and assigned to work in Bolivia, later El Salvador. And during my thirty-six years of ministry, I met many priests who, like me, felt God was calling them to the priesthood. And I must say, I have come to the conclusion that to say to women that our call is valid, but yours is not, is simply a grave injustice. We are tampering with the sacred here.

Amy Goodman: In your letter, Father Roy Bourgeois, you write that having an all-male clergy implies that men are worthy to be Catholic priests, but women are not. You say, “According to USA Today, in the United States alone, nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 12,000 children.” What does that have to do with your support of women priests?

Roy Bourgeois: Well, you know, it was very difficult for me to add that in my letter, but it must be said. You know, I’m sad to say that the Vatican, our Church leaders, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, took many years to respond to the crimes of thousands of priests who sexually abused over 12,000 children. That was first reported in 1988. It wasn’t until eleven or twelve years later that they began to intervene and investigate and really, you know, demand that priests step down from the priesthood.

You know, less than three months after I attended the ordination of a woman in Lexington, Kentucky, less than three months, I received a letter from the Vatican demanding that I recant within thirty days or I will be excommunicated. The severity, the swiftness of the Vatican’s letter, I think it calls into question, you know, just what’s going on here. What really is the problem? I do believe that I did not commit a crime. I am following my conscience. Women—you know, it’s amazing, the thousands of priests and the many bishops were aware of these crimes of their priests, they remained silent. These priests committing the crimes and the bishops who remained silent have NOT BEEN EXCOMMUNICATED. Yet, the many women who have been ordained to the priesthood and the priests and bishops who support their ordination ARE EXCOMMUNICATED. I do believe that there is a problem here. This is also a grave injustice.

Juan Gonzalez: Father Bourgeois, your order, the Maryknolls, like the Jesuits, are known as more independent orders within the Church. Have the higher echelons of your order attempted to intercede in one way or another in your defense on this?

Roy Boureois: I’ve been with the community for thirty-six years, and it’s our work overseas, especially in Latin America, and seeing firsthand the brutality of the military that leads us to say what we’re saying, to be critics of US foreign policy. Over the years, they have been very, very supportive, of course, of my work with the School of the Americas. And they, as a religious order, joined the thousands who are calling for the closing of this school — it should not exist — and will join their voices with the many coming here this weekend to call for the closing of this school of assassins. They did say to me they will do everything they can to keep me as a member of the community.

Again, we are known for our work in peace and justice for the — you know, walking in solidarity with the victims of violence and injustice. And what they and so many of us see, of course — and we join our voices with the women of the Catholic Church, who are oppressed, who are being treated unjustly. We join our voices with the women, who are saying, “We want to be treated with equality.” Our God, we believe, has created men and women of equal stature and dignity. And again, there is no reason why women cannot be full members of the community and ordained as Catholic priests.

Any institution, organization that’s controlled where the power is in the hands of any particular group, whether they be men or women, is not healthy. Our Church, the Catholic Church, is going through a real crisis. There are thousands of churches that are being shut down because there is a lack of priests. The sexual abuse crisis has really rocked the Church to its roots. I am convinced, of course, that if we had women priests and women bishops, that sexual abuse and the silence during those years would not have been possible. Women simply would not have been silent. I’m also convinced, if we had women priests and women bishops, there would not be such silence about this war in Iraq. I’m convinced, too, that there would be, if we had women priests and women bishops, they would have called for the closing of this School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. We need women priests in our Church for it to be healthy, for it to be complete.

Amy Goodman: Father Roy Bourgeois, why do you think the Church hierarchy is coming after you now? You’ve held these beliefs for a long time.

Roy Bourgeois: Well, Amy, I have poked . . . a number of beehives in my life. This is the biggest beehive I have ever poked. I’ve poked the beehive of the patriarchy. I think I and others, priests and women and bishops — I’m not alone in this — who call for the ordination of women, I think what we’re threatening at its very core is the power, is power, privilege. I mean, let’s face it, this is an all-boys’ club. And we are card — I and many others are card-carrying members. Again, in conscience, I felt I had to break my silence. I’ve broken that silence many times over the years, and I’m calling on my fellow priests and Catholics and Church leaders to break their silence.

But what we have here, at its very core, is the sin of sexism. And like racism, no matter how hard we try to justify it or bring in, you know, God to bless discrimination, in the end it is always immoral.

But again, at its very core, we’re dealing with power, those in power who have had that power and control for centuries, who simply don’t want to give it up. But I have to say, they must give it up. They will be, in a way, forced to give it up. There are many similarities about, you know, what’s going on in Latin America. We’ve learned that all of these repressive militaries that have held onto their power for so long were not going to give up that power and the abuse of their power through the goodness of their heart. And I’m sad to say that the patriarchy of faith communities, like the Catholic Church and other faith traditions, they will have to give up their power because of the grassroots movement from the bottom up organizing, like in Latin America, so many saying, “Basta! We will simply not allow you to repress us as you have been doing for so long.”

Juan Gonzalez: And, Father Bourgeois, if the Church does move forward with this excommunication, what is the — is there an appeals process that you can follow through to be heard on this issue, or is that the end of it?

Roy Bourgeois: Well, needless to say, I will not be silent. I will be going to Rome. A number of fellow priests have already asked me, said they would like to join me, along with a bishop friend. We will be going to Rome to appeal this. I would want to have, and I think I have a right to — and it’s reasonable to request, after thirty-six years as a priest, a short meeting with Pope Benedict and other leaders in the Church to appeal my case, to simply appeal to them personally and say what I said in my letter to them that this cannot be justified.

And so, let me say, I feel very, very much at peace with my decision. My biggest concern, when I got that letter from Rome, I must say I was nauseous. I knew it could be possible, but I thought it was remote. Excommunication is very serious in the Catholic Church. My biggest concern was my family, a close-knit family in Louisiana, Catholic. My father, ninety-five years old, a devout Catholic, goes to church every day. And after mailing that letter, putting a lot of time in my response, I drove to Louisiana and met with my brother, two sisters and my father and gave them the letter. And I really was concerned about how they would take this. My brother said that I would be breaking my father’s heart, and that hurt me.

But at that meeting — we all had the family meeting — my father first spoke, and he simply said, “Look” — he said to my siblings, my brother and sisters, his children — he said, “Look, God brought Roy back from the war in Vietnam. God took care of Roy in his mission work in Bolivia and El Salvador and brought him home safely. And God is going to take care of Roy now. He’s doing the right thing, and I support him.” When he said that, I wept. I was so at peace. I was so joyful. And to see now my brother and sisters join my dad in supporting what I’m doing, it takes a great burden off of me, it makes the struggle a lot easier. And there is nothing — let me just say that there’s nothing that the Vatican can do to me to take away that inner peace and serenity that I feel now. I know there are some rough times ahead, but like in our SOA Watch movement, we will move ahead with hope, with hope.

To listen to and/or read the full transcript of Democracy Now!’s interview with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Fr. Roy Bourgeois Threatened with Excommunication
Mary of Magdala
Revealing a Hidden History
Reflections on The Da Vinci Code Controversy
Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code
Roman Catholic Womenpriests Ordained in Minneapolis
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of which the Prophet Joel Speaks
Could Christ Have Been a Woman?
Responding to Excommunication
The Discussion Continues
Crisis? What Crisis?
“We Are All the Rock” – An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest, Judith McKloskey

Image: Fr. Roy Boureois photographed in October 2000 by Michael Bayly (from Gallery 6: Closing the SOA of Faces of Resistance).


kevin57 said...

Much of this interview is poignant, and sad. The Church is willing to lose the ministry of a priest of 36 years. Tragic.

What I found curious, and eerily absent, was his non-response to whether his religious community was going to bat for him. They may well be behind the scenes, and he's been told to keep that quiet, but it's a strange avoidance-of-the-question response.

What he needs is for bishops who are for women's ordination and have participated in women's ordination to stand with him publicly. They won't...cowards that they are, but that MIGHT help him, if not canonically, then morally.

Anonymous said...

I have two words for Roy: boo-hoo.

Let me try an illustrative analogy. Lets say I had Michael's job as executive coordinator for the CPCSM. I imagine I would be hired because I was qualified for the job academically and in terms of my views and beliefs. Those views and beliefs would be in private and public concert with those of the CPCSM's mission statement, vision statement and bylaws. My views would be substantially consistent with the board. I would expect to be formally held to those views in the course of regular evaulation of my performance as an employee.

Now lets say I changed my mind. Instead of using my position to advance the CPCSM's goals, I used my position to advance not only my own goals, but my own goals that (key phrase here) are entirely contrary to the ones I previously held.

What do you suppose would happen to me as a public spokesperson and an employee? My continued employment would be in question, wouldn't it?

Okay, maybe this example I contrived is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Fr. Roy says he's exposing and resisting injustice. But those he opposes say they, in their opposition to women's ordination, are likewise opposing injustice that Fr. Roy would propagate. This raises the question of who's definition of "injustice" is correct?

If Fr. Roy is so certain the Church is wrong on this issue, he should do the honorable thing and leave it. There are plenty of other Christian confessions which share his definitions of justice, in justice, and the role of women in ministry.

Is it truly the work of the Holy Spirit to make the Catholic Church into something like every other declining, mainstream Protestant denomination in the U.S.? What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Kevin, to the extent that the Maryknoll community wants to remain within the Catholic fold, there are some things they can't publicly contradict. JP2's (at least in my reading of the text) binding and final prohibition of women's ordination is one of them.

I bet at least some, if not many, Maryknollers completely disagree with the pope's statement of Catholic teaching, but disagreeing with that teaching privately (which is, in itself, a problem for a Catholic religious or cleric) doesn't mean that they can just stand up and publicly act counter to the Church they profess to belong to and believe. If enough people do that you don't get a changed Church, you get "no Maryknoll."

I'll give Fr. Roy the strength of his convictions. Would that more who believe as he does would stand up, state their beliefs, take their lumps, and decide whether to remain Catholic (with all that implies) or hit the road (with all that implies). Then everybody could get on with their day, so to speak, and continue their life and ministry as they (respectively) see fit.

Timothy said...

Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch and came to read. Funny that it appeared in a search for "baptists sbc".

Fr. Roy seems to have exagerated some of his numerical "facts".

>"...the crimes of thousands of priests who sexually abused over 12,000 children."

Fr. Roy seems have turned "allegations" into "crimes". The USCCB documents report only allegations and not verified crimes. Regradless of the actual numbers, I fail to see how events of 20-40 years ago effect women's ordination. Ordaining women only increases the pool of available predators. I don't see how reading future stories of Father Cathy molesting children is any improvement.

>"..., the majority of the Catholics and so many priests and bishops now realize that this is not theologically sound."

Majority? Based on what study or survey? To my knowledge, there has only been one survey of a single New England diocese regarding women's ordination. Fr Roy errs in extrapolating a majority of a single diocese to be representative of the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. If there has been some world-wide survey of Catholics, I certainly would like for Fr. Roy or the RCWP to provide the survey report for review.

>"These priests committing the crimes and the bishops who remained silent have NOT BEEN EXCOMMUNICATED. Yet, the many women who have been ordained to the priesthood and the priests and bishops who support their ordination ARE EXCOMMUNICATED. I do believe that there is a problem here. This is also a grave injustice."

The women and Fr. Roy both have violated clear canons that specify the church discipine of excommunication be imposed. Which canon did the priests and bishops violate that specifies the church discipine of excommunication be imposed?

I wish Fr Roy well, but he should prepare for a future as Mr Roy. The Church will outlive Fr Roy and the excommunicated women. They will eventually die and the priesthood will remain celibate and male.

God bless... +Timothy

kevin57 said...

Mark, by your own admission, your analogy is not apples-to-apples, and that's precisely where the problem lies. Ordination is not a job; it is a vocation. To invoke a job description analogy does violence to the very concept of vocation. If priesthood is just a job, then let's bring on unionization, clock hours, arbitration, and all that the Church itself allows for employees. But the sensus fidelium would cringe at such a model of "ministry."

Most of the Lord's apostles had trouble believing in Jesus. Even after Pentecost, and to their martyrdoms, there were reservations and more about elements of what he taught. Should they have been drummed out?

Your model of the Church, Mark, strikes me as borderline Donatist. It's Benny-boy's as well. Happily, the Holy Spirit is in charge of our community of faith.

Paula Ruddy said...

Mark, do you mean to take an extreme relativist position with regard to what is unjust? I'm thinking that the human species has come up with some general norms on what is just and unjust, so that different views can be evaluated by some standards. Maybe they are only Western and depend on a particular rationality, but at least Western civilization has them in common. Am I wrong? Do the arguments for keeping the priesthood male seem reasonable to you? Are women and men ontologically different? And if not, is there another necessity that prevents women from being priests? I think the function of clergy should be open to qualified persons, male and female, celibate and married, straight and gay. You can say that the Roman Church doesn't have to agree, but can you say that they don't owe their loyal members some good reasons for their restrictions? Don't you think the Western thing is about having to have good reasons?

Your choices of getting out of an organization or knuckling under to practices you believe to be unjust aren't the only rational ones. In your analogy, Michael could try to persuade CPCSM to change its views on the subjects he disagreed with them on. He might have a vision of the possibilities of the organization and have enough patience and love to lead it in a positive direction. Of course, he might come to the conclusion that the matter they differ on is morally neutral so one way is as good as another. And he might come to the end of patience and love. Then, I agree, out is an honorable choice. Isn't Roy Bourgois in that process of persuading first? My position does include suppositions about a common understanding of what "positive" means, so it is not extreme relativist. But it is not rationalist either. I don't think we can just come up with what is just by sheer independent reason. We have to listen to all view points.

I'm going to have to look up Donatist, Kevin.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Paula and Kevin,

In a rush, so this won't be a detailed post.

Kevin, its not Donatist to insist the Church's minister's honor their commitment, namely to minister in the Church's name as the Church defines ministry. That doesn't mean there's no room for individuation. It does mean I can publicly disagree and expect to be ignored.

The Donatists, as I recall (well, thanks to Wikipedia, which can be wrong) said that clerics who broke under torture were no longer clerics - and not just in the legal sense, but on the ontological sense. Nobody's torturing Roy and making him change his beliefs. Roy is simply stating his beliefs and the Church is simply responding to his statement.

As for conversation and persuasion, the pastors of the Church have made up their mind on the matter. That decision came quote a few years ago and after a long, public conversation on the matter, too. Where's Roy been all these years? Seems to be he got caught doing what he wanted and wants to do, and is back-peddling. He certainly put his Maryknoll community in a position where they can't and won't support him.

As aside, the photographic evidence reminds me of the recent story of Jon Bruno, the Episcopal (not RC) Bishop of Los Angeles. Bishop Bruno said publicly that "No clergy in my diocese have asked for or received permission to witness same-sex marriages in this diocese." A quick Google search found a picture of Bruno himself officiating at such a service - at an Episcopal Eucharist and in an Episcopal Church. Ouch! But I digress....

As to ontological differences between men and women, I'm not a good Thomist, so I prefer to use a different line of reasoning re/various kinds of human beings. In terms of assigning labels to behavior, its clear that "men" father children and "women" bear them. No amount of wishful thinking or surgical intervention (in terms of gender re-assignment surgery) changes that. Does that difference say something timeless and invariant about:

* the roles of men and women

* the roles of men and women with respect to each other in community, be that community marriage and/or family?

* the roles of men and men and women in that community called "church?"

* the definition of ministry?

* the definition of church?

* who Jesus is?

* who the God revealed by Jesus is, who Jesus called "Daddy" or "Abba"?

* the presence and action of the "personified" love of Jesus and his Abba we call the Holy Spirit?

Answering those questions reveals a line or chain or reasoning determines, for example, what it is to be "priest" and who can fill that role.

Roy seems to have suddenly discovered, or long know and suddenly revealed, that he doesn't like the answers to those questions posed by the pastors of the Catholic Church. That only puts him in the good company of the many, many people over time whose conscience and reason lead them to believe, profess, teach and practice something other than what the Catholic Church believes, professes, teaches and practices. Honestly, where do people think the Reformation came from?

I've said here more than once that if I disagreed so much with the Church that I could not profess the Catholic Faith, I would not demand the Church change its views to match mine. I would leave for another community. And I hope I would take a good long time to discern what I was getting and what I was giving up.

As to the specific question of "Are women called to priestly ministry in the Roman Catholic Church?" I respond with a question: Are women called to priestly ministry as the Church defines priestly ministry, or are they called to priestly ministry as THEY define priestly ministry? I have yet to here any proponent of women's ordination say they did not also want a different definition of church & a different definition of ministry within their definition of church. You end up with something, well, different than the Roman Catholic understanding of both "church" and "ministry," do you not? In fact, thanks to the Reformation, that changed church already exists and in quantity. I have to ask: if, for example, the church so many progressive Catholics wants already exists in the form of, say, any number of offshoots of the Old Catholic Churches, or the Episcopal & Anglican churches of the Northern Hemisphere, or the various Lutheran state churches of the Nordic countries, for heaven's sake why don't they join up? Why is it necessary that the Roman Catholic Church change itself to become like these other forms of Christianity? Is there something lacking in them? You tell me.

Anonymous said...

In response to Mark Andrews:

You've said:

You've used the word ontological here, but you've made a biological or even worse, an essentialist argument. That's a sexist error, I believe. You've mentioned that men have a biological role, but you haven't limited them to a biological role, whereas you've limited and defined females by their biology.

A woman's spiritual or intellectual gifts are separate from or in addition to, their biological status. Fatherhood takes work also, to be done correctly, I think that's why men are called to celibacy when ordained.

I'm not sure if you are really wanting an answer here, but no. Pregnancy takes about 9 months and motherhood takes about 20 to 30 years out of a woman's life. Many men are ordained after widowhood, why not women whose children are grown and no longer need them? why not celibate women?

I think you need to examine the theological arguments. Aristotle's biology has been proven wrong, time and time again, yet was, in part, the basis for Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.I haven't read it, have read my Aristotle, but I will if you do.

We are all made in his image. It's true that Jesus said to Peter, "On this rock I will build my church." He didn't say keep everyone else out! The Catholic Church HAS evolved and changed over the centuries and hopefully will continue in the direction of justice and truth and love.

Michael J. Bayly said...


It seems as if not everything you intended to share in your comment came through. If you'd like to try again, I'd be happy to delete your last comment and publish your second attempt.



Anonymous said...

Oops, I said:

It does mean I can publicly disagree and expect to be ignored.

and meant to say:

It does mean I can't publicly disagree and expect to be ignored.

Anonymous said...

Geez, I oughta proof-read:

I said:

Answering those questions reveals a line or chain or reasoning determines, for example, what it is to be "priest" and who can fill that role.

and should have said:

Answering those questions reveals a line or a chain of reasoning that determines, for example, what it is to be "priest" and who can fill that role.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Michael for your forbearance. I'll let others have the floor. Good thing I didn't write a long post!

Anonymous said...

Mark, I think I read that as you've intended, so that's fine.

For your list of questions and to follow a line of argument, I think I'll just add to your list of questions:

What does the community need from a priest?

How is a person behaving when they are representing Jesus to another?

Can those actions be performed by and can those gifts be present in a female person?

You've begun your argument from an premise about roles and gender that has been handily proven unsound elsewhere. The argument can be made from a functional or gifts perspective as well, as I've begun it here, since we are all individuals and persons.

The reverse argument, using the roles perspective, can be made about whether men can be comforting or "mothering" in their parenting roles. Is it possible for men to step out of their traditional role? There is a male religious order of nurses. Should they be shut down?

Anyway, I basically agree with your statement that Catholics can look elsewhere if they feel so strongly. It is an acceptable stance for some and perhaps not others.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to claim to be a priest at least dress like one. When one fails to dress as a cleric it is suspect. Clerics are a part of your identity as a priest and witness to others. Just like nuns who refuse to wear anything that identifies them as professed religious.