Nuns defend Bourgeois to Vatican

To my knowledge, there has been no word yet on the fate of Father Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who faces excommunication from the Vatican for taking part in a woman’s “ordination” ceremony (and refusing to recant).

But National Catholic Reporter reports that 113 nuns have signed a letter to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that pleads Bourgeois’ case. The letter was organized by the National Coalition of American Nuns and explicitly supports the ordination of women as priests.

Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, one of the coordinators of NCAN, told NCR: “We hope the excommunication is not issued. The medieval punishment of excommunication serves only to embarrass our Church in the eyes of the world and fuels further anger and resentment among the U.S. faithful.”

Here’s the letter, addressed to Cardinal William Levada, head of the congregation:


“Dear Cardinal Levada:

The Vatican’s threatened excommunication of Fr. Roy Bourgeois because of his belief in the priestly ordination of women has diminished our Church.

As women religious who love our Church and who have served the People of God for decades, we support our brother Roy. As a Maryknoll priest for 36 years, he has followed the Gospel of Jesus in his ministry for peace and justice by speaking out against the war in Iraq and against the torture of countless human beings, aided and abetted by the U.S. government’s School of the Americas. He has been a prophetic voice for thousands in our society.

Roy is now a prophetic voice in our church because of his support for women’s equality in all Church ministries. Excommunications depend not on edicts or laws, but on compliance. We do not believe Roy is outside the community and we embrace him wholeheartedly. Like Roy, we know women who testify that they are called to priesthood. We know that Jesus did not discriminate in calling both women and men to ministry. And we know that our church needs the gifts of everyone called.

So we join Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the majority of U.S. Catholics, who believe that women are called to priestly ordination in the Catholic Church. We look forward to the day when Catholic women, following in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene who announced the Resurrection to the male Apostles, will minister as full equals in our church.”

A big day for Roy Bourgeois

Talk about coincidences.

Today is the deadline for Father Roy Bourgeois of Maryknoll to recant his support for women’s ordination as priests — or face likely excommunication by the Vatican.

Today is also the opening of Bourgeois’ annual demonstration outside Fort Benning, Ga., the home of the Army’s School of the Americas, which Bourgeois has been protesting for 18 years.

About 20,000 people are expected to join him.

Bourgeois is a hero to many liberal Catholics for his peace work. But he’s been no hero in Rome since participating in an “ordination” ceremony for a woman in August in Lexington, Ky.

Bourgeois knew the risk he was taking, and has continued to take by publicly stating that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is an injustice.

On the blog for (Jesuit) America magazine, the Rev. James Martin wrote:

Fr. Bourgeois is impelled to follow his conscience; the Vatican is impelled to enforce canon law. The collision course was inevitable.

One reflection: The ordination rite in which Fr. Bourgeois participated occurred in August. That means that within three months, the excommunication had been communicated from the Vatican to Fr. Bourgeois. In the eyes of the Vatican, his actions represented a grave offense that required swift action and a severe penalty.

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 the same severity of justice.

Were their offenses of lesser “gravity”? Did they cause lesser “scandal”?

Strong words.

And more from the prominent Catholic writer Sidney Callahan:

How do you “recant” and begin to believe something you don’t believe?The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, is ordering Father Roy Bourgeois M.M. to recant his belief and support for women’s ordination. If not, he will be excommunicated in thirty days.

But does the CDF have some secret formula or operating instructions for going against one’s conscience when ordered to do so?

I understand how Vatican authorities might solve their problem of dissent by simply expecting people to lie, if you just say the right words all will be forgiven. Inconveniently of course, lying and bearing false witness (even against yourself) has been forbidden since Sinai, so that option is out.

If Bourgeois is excommunicated — as even he expects — what will Maryknoll do? The Ossining-based missionary order has strongly supported his work to close the School of the Americas.

Will Maryknoll feel forced to distance itself from his work? Or will Maryknoll continue its support even after one of their own is “returned to the lay state” and kicked out of the church?

Maryknoll chooses Vatican liaison as new superior general

A Maryknoll priest who has served as the religious community’s liaison to the Vatican since 2000 has been elected Maryknoll’s next Superior General. The boss.

Father Edward M. Dougherty, who is from Philadelphia, will serve a 6-year term.

The Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers have been holding their 12th General Chapter meetings at the big HQ in Ossining.

Fathers Jose Aramburu, Ed Mc Govern and Paul Masson will serve on the Maryknoll council with Father Dougherty.

Dougherty has been living in Tome, Italy, while serving as Maryknoll’s procurator general. He’s also been active at the Church of Santa Susanna, an English-speaking parish for Americans in Rome.

frgreganniversary8.jpgDougherty is also well known for serving as postulator — or leader — of the cause of beatification of Maryknoll’s co-founders, Bishop James A. Walsh and Father Thomas F. Price.

He was ordained in 1979 and served in Tanzania for several years before doing mission education/promotion work in Detroit and New Orleans. He was Maryknoll’s director of admissions from 92-97.

In 1997, Dougherty was assigned to Kenya, where he worked with an ecumenical peace group, People for Peace, that sought to promote dialogue and end ethnic violence in East and Central Africa.

Dougherty returned to the U.S. briefly before heading to Rome.

One has to wonder: Will Dougherty’s connections at the Vatican help with the fall-out from the Roy Bourgeois affair?

You might remember that Father Bourgeois — one of Maryknoll’s best-known priests because of his work to close the School of the Americas — is in hot water for taking part in a “ordination” ceremony for a female priest this past August.

Maryknoll’s current leadership issued a “canonical warning” to Bourgeois, telling him that he has broken church law. Their findings were then sent to the Vatican.

But Bourgeois has no regrets, insisting that the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to ordain women is sexist and discriminatory.

He told me: “As a Catholic priest – and this is important – I cannot possibly speak out about the injustice of the war in Iraq, about the injustice of the School of the Americas and the suffering it causes, and at the same time be silent about this injustice in my church. I belong to a huge faith community where women are excluded, and I have a responsibility to address this.”

You have to figure that disciplinary action from Rome is a strong possibility. Can Daugherty help? Will he want to?

We’ll see.

When a priest takes on the Vatican

Maryknoll, the Catholic missionary society, has its headquarters in Ossining, so the Journal News/LoHud writes often about their work.

I’m been to Maryknoll many times — and I’m always impressed by their magnificent main building, which is made of stone and based on Chinese architecture. You have to see it.

I am among several reporters who have written over the years about Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest with an unusual ministry: He has been working full time for over a decade to close the School of the Americas, a U.S. military program at Fort Benning, Ga., that offers training to Latin American soldiers.

tjndc5-5b3glupsrp5150qtj6jt_layout.jpgAfter Bourgeois discovered that Salvadoran soldiers trained there were responsible for the 1980 murder of four Catholic women, including two Maryknoll nuns, he found his path. He linked soldiers trained at the School of the Americas to all sorts of atrocities in Latin America and determined that as a Maryknoll priest — committed to social justice in impoverished nations — that he would do all he could to shut the school down.

He began to organize an annual demonstration outside Fort Benning that now attracts more than 20,000 people, including many Catholic and Protestant peace activists. And the Maryknoll leadership has supported his work without reservation.

But now Bourgeois is getting attention for any entirely different reason.

Last month, he took part in an “ordination” ceremony for a woman — a friend who has been supportive of his work to close the SOA. Now, the Catholic Church does not ordain women and has become increasingly concerned about “ordination” ceremonies that are not recognized by the church but which claim to produce female Catholic priests.

Only a few months ago, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that any woman who takes part in such a ceremony — and any bishop who participates — would be automatically excommunicated.

When Maryknoll’s leadership found out about Bourgeois’ participation, he was called up to Ossining for a four-hour meeting. Maryknoll issued a “canonical warning” to him, stating that he had broken church law, and forwarded its findings to the Vatican.

Considering how many times the Journal News/LoHud has written about Bourgeois’ work, I thought that it was important that we look at what his recent actions could mean. My resulting article is out today.

Two important points:

1. I spoke to Bourgeois on Wednesday and he is not recanting his decision to take part in the ceremony. He says that the Catholic Church’s all-male priesthood is discriminatory, sexist and unnecessary. He says that fighting for women’s ordination is a justice issue, just like fighting to shut down the SOA.

Those are strong words from a Roman Catholic priest.

2. Observers from several sides believe that many Catholics who support Bourgeois’ political work probably also favor women’s ordination. So Bourgeois may be taking a stand that will inspire others. That’s what he wants to do. The Vatican, you would think, will be aware of this.

What will happen? The Vatican can let stand Maryknoll’s canonical warning. Or it could punish Bourgeois by shutting down his ministry — or worse. And Bourgeois knows it.

A decision from Rome can come at any time.

Bourgeois is a truly humble and engaging man. He is as sincere as they come. He believes what he says. And it appears that he won’t back down.

When I asked him about the Vatican’s position that since all of Jesus’ apostles were men, only men can be priests, he said that he believed there were female apostles, as well.

“The problem is Rome,” he told me.

We spoke this morning because there was something that he forgot to tell me. He wanted to cite a passage from Scripture — Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

“This is a quote that many of us use to support women for the priesthood,” he told me.

The Vatican, of course, is aware of this passage, but is not likely to support Bourgeois’ interpretation.