Me at Maryknoll next Sunday

While I’m thinking about it, I’ll be speaking next Sunday — April 26 — at Maryknoll in Ossining about my years on the religion beat.

I’ll start talking at 2:30 p.m.

Here’s the title: “Following God Through the Lower Hudson Valley.” I kinda like it.

When I was putting together an outline for what I might say, I filled up a page pretty quick: What exactly is religion news? How do you write about faith? How does one (one being me) cover so many different religions in a place like New York? How are reporters seen and treated by religious authorities? Which religions are most difficult to cover? The most interesting?

I can go on and on.

And I will, next Sunday at Maryknoll.

Okay, not on and on. But I’ll talk for a while and answer questions.

Free. Open to all. Directions and other info HERE.

Maryknoll priest to lead The Christophers

A Maryknoll priest who has served as a missionary in Venezuela and China has been named the new director of The Christophers, the well-known Catholic media group based in NYC.

Father Dennis Cleary took over earlier this month. “I am inspired by The Christophers’ motto: ‘It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,’ ” he said.

The Christophers use various media to promote the message that everyone can make a difference in the world. They also present annual awards for work in television, film and books.

The group was founded in 1945 by a Maryknoll priest, Father James Keller, so Cleary’s arrival has revived the connection between Ossining-based Maryknoll and The Christophers.

Cleary, a Buffalo native, was ordained a Maryknoll priest in 1977. He served in Venezuela from 1976 to 1993, living among the poor. He developed an interest in the media, producing a news show — Channel Zero — for three barrios and starting a production studio in Caracas that did documentaries.

In 1997, he was elected Maryknoll’s U.S. regional supervisor, assigning Maryknollers to ministries across the U.S.

From 2004 to 2006, he taught English and Spanish at a university in Shenyang, China, counseled students and led a reflection group for members of the local church.

He returned to the U.S. as Maryknoll’s director of mission education and promotion.

Mary Ellen Robinson, vice president of The Christophers, who is responsible for overseeing its day-to-day operations, said: “I’m looking forward to working with Father Cleary. I’ve known him for many years, and I’m happy to say he’s been on hand for many of our events and activities. He knows the message of hope and encouragement that we spread all over the world, and I believe that our friends and supporters will welcome his caring presence.”

Here is the Prayer of The Christophers:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be
consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.

–attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

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 priest Bourgeois faces excommunication

Maryknoll priest the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who took part in an “ordination” ceremony for a female “priest,” is apparently heading for excommunication.

I just spoke to Bourgeois, who told me: “My God, my conscience, are compelling me to say I cannot recant.”

He said that he’ll continue his 18-year crusade to close the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., as a layman, if necessary. The annual protest outside Fort Benning, organized by Bourgeois’ SOA Watch, is Nov. 21-23, coincidentally.

Nov. 21 is Bourgeois’ deadline to recant his actions and stance on female ordination.

Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ A Roman Catholic priest faces excommunication for attending a ceremony to ordain a woman in the United States, a Vatican official said Friday (today).

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois joined a June ceremony in Lexington, Ky., to ordain Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a member of a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

His excommunication would likely be automatic, requiring no further action from the Holy See, said the chief Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Bourgeois told The New York Times, however, that he recently received a letter from the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, offering him a chance to recant within 30 days to avoid excommunication, the newspaper reported Friday.

Lombardi said he did not know of such a letter. The Times said Bourgeois informed the Vatican he would not repent.

Recent popes have said the Roman Catholic Church cannot ordain women because Christ chose only males as apostles. Excommunication is the most severe penalty under church law, cutting off a Catholic from receiving or administering sacraments.

The ordained woman, Sevre-Duszynska, also faces excommunication.

She said the Vatican had “threatened” Bourgeois for participating in the ceremony and giving a homily in support of women priests. She apparently was referring to excommunication.

“We condemn this action by the Vatican as a blatant abuse of power” she said in a statement, expressing her solidarity with the priest.

The Vatican in May issued a warning against ordaining women after reports of Catholic ordinations of women around the world. In March, the archbishop of St. Louis excommunicated three women — two Americans and a South African — for participating in a woman’s ordination.

A small group of women from Catholic organizations around the world staged a march during the Vatican’s meeting of bishops in October to call attention to female ordination. Wearing signs with the names of prominent women from the church’s early days, they marched across the Tiber River close to St. Peter’s Square.

Bourgeois is a member of the Maryknoll religious order.

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.

Maryknoll Youth Day on Saturday

A reminder: Maryknoll will hold its big “Youth Day” THIS Saturday, Sept. 20.

It will be an all-day affair, from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Maryknoll HQ in Ossining, 55 Ryder Road.

From all I’ve heard, it promises to be something special.

David Ushery and Monica Morales from NBC News will host, along with the terribly funny Lino Rulli — known far and wide as The Catholic Guy — from the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio.

Maryknoll missioners will be on hand to talk about their experiences serving the poor around the world.

David Golemboski, a 23-year-old Harvard Divinity School student, will give the keynote.

There will be lots of live music, including several bands that performed at the papal youth rally in Yonkers five months ago (doesn’t it seem longer?).

And there will be FOOD from regions around the world where Maryknoll missioners do their work.

The event is free. You can register at or just show up…


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.

Catholic youth head down under

World Youth Day ’08 begins Tuesday in Sydney, Australia and continues until next Sunday (when will they start calling it World Youth Week?).

Father Luke Sweeney, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of New York, just told me that he’s leaving tomorrow with a group from Sacred Heart Church in Suffern.

In all, about 200 young adults from the archdiocese are expected to attend (out of several thousand from the U.S.).

“We had the Holy Father come to New York,” Sweeney told me. “Now we are the pilgrims with the Holy Father. For the young people who will have a chance to go, it will have a profound effect, in a different way. It’s going to be long and hard, but that’s part of the idea of a pilgrimage. Hopefully, they’ll understand it in the context of our spiritual pilgrimage of life to heaven.”

Sweeney added: “It will be a relief not having to plan this papal visit.”

Pope Benedict’s chosen theme for ’08: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witness.” That’s Acts 1:8.

Can’t make it to Australia this summer?

Maryknoll Youth Day will be Sept. 20 — right in Ossining!

The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers are following up on the papal visit to New York and Sydney by having their own WYD from 1 to 8 p.m.

Check out the poster, with relevant info. More to come later in the summer on that…