Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fr. Roy Bourgeois: Ordination of Women Inevitable

Ahead of this Thursday’s Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR)-sponsored event featuring Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois, the Progressive Catholic Voice (a member organization of CCCR) reprints the Journal News article “Priest: Ordination of Women Inevitable” by Gary Stern.


Every couple of weeks, someone asks me whatever became of Father Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest.

They usually want to know: “Was he excommunicated?”

The answer seems to be “not yet.” But when I spoke to Bourgeois this week, he compared the Catholic Church's unwillingness to ordain women as priests to the Iranian regime's authoritative approach to crowd control.

“We, as men, claim this divine right to interpret the will of God, and it’s similar to what the ayatollahs are saying,” he told me.

The Vatican, ummm, might not take kindly to the comparison.

You might remember hearing about Bourgeois. He’s the priest who’s been fighting for two decades to close a U.S. Army school at Fort Benning, Ga., that trains Latin American soldiers.

Bourgeois and others contend that the school has tutored many soldiers who have committed human rights abuses in their home countries. Every November, Bourgeois leads a vigil outside Fort Benning that attracts thousands who want to see the operation shut down.

But last year, Bourgeois got in trouble for promoting a very different cause. He took part in the priestly “ordination” of a woman – something that the Roman Catholic Church does not do, recognize or condone.

Bourgeois’ superiors at the Maryknoll headquarters in Ossining, forced to act, concluded that he broke church law (something he surely already knew) and forwarded their findings to the Vatican. Sure enough, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith informed Bourgeois in a letter that he had 30 days – until last Nov. 21 – to recant his support for the ordination of women.

Or he would be excommunicated.

Bourgeois would not budge. In fact, he told me at the time: “My God, my conscience, are compelling me to say I cannot recant.”

So what’s happened? Oddly, it’s hard to say.

I talked to Bourgeois by phone the other day. He was near Fort Benning, where he lives. You see, it’s his full-time job, his ministry, to work to close the military school, with the full support of Maryknoll.

Bourgeois told me that he has not heard from the Vatican since the fall. Not a note, an e-mail, nothing. So he is continuing to celebrate Mass and baptize babies.

“I have not gotten anything saying I am defrocked,” he said. “I continue to be a Catholic priest in good standing.”

Hmmm. Two months ago, Maryknoll’s superior general, the Rev. Edward M. Dougherty, issued a statement saying that Bourgeois had been “automatically excommunicated” when he did not meet the Vatican’s deadline to recant.

I contacted Maryknoll this week, and they were taken aback that Bourgeois disagrees.

“We are surprised and are saddened that his actions may present an obstacle in the path toward his reconciliation with Church authorities,” a new statement said. “We are still hoping that he will reconsider his position and be reconciled with the Vatican, a hope that they also have expressed.”

Seeking clarification, I faxed a note to the Vatican press office. No response so far.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would not touch this one.

In December, the Catholic News Agency, a church-affiliated organization, reported that a Vatican official promised that Bourgeois would be excommunicated after the Vatican responds to letters on the case.

Things move slowly in Rome, but Bourgeois’ priestly days appear to be numbered. If he is excommunicated, he cannot administer the sacraments as a priest or receive them.

He is actually more adamant than ever about the need to ordain women as priests.

“The exclusion of women is a grave injustice and a sin,” the 70-year-old priest told me. “This is a movement whose time has come. It’s not going away.”

A sin. Strong words from a guy walking an ecclesiastical plank.

Bourgeois thinks that time is on his side, not to mention Catholics in the pews. A poll done in March by LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse, found that only 36 percent of Catholics say it is important for the priesthood to remain all-male.

That finding was consistent with other polls. And the anecdotal evidence – what I hear Catholics say on the subject – indicates a pretty common confusion about why Catholic women can’t wear clerical collars.

The Vatican, meanwhile, has been solidifying its position.

In 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that the Catholic Church is not authorized to ordain women. It cited church tradition, Jesus’ call of only male apostles, the practice of the apostles to ordain men, the symbolism of having male priests stand in for Christ, who was a man, and other factors.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II agreed, writing in a letter to his bishops: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

Bourgeois dismisses those arguments, saying they are covers for an outdated sexism.

“The first person Jesus appeared to after the resurrection was a woman, Mary Magdalene,” he said. “She was given an important mission: to go the male apostles, who were hiding out. She became known as the apostle to the apostles. To say that only men were chosen is not accurate.”

This belief is what led Bourgeois to a Unitarian church in Lexington, Ky., last August to take part in the “ordination” – not recognized by his church, of course – of a friend named Janice Sevre-Duszynska.

Bourgeois was ordained a Maryknoll priest in 1972.

His days as a priest in good standing appear to be running out.

- Gary Stern
Journal News columnist
August 8, 2009

For information about Thursday’s CCCR event with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, click here.


  1. Once when he was surrounded by critics during the American Civil War -- Abraham Lincoln said: "I would rather lose in an effort that will ultimately be found in the right; than to win on the side of an effort that history will realize was wrong."
    How true is Flannery O'Connor's famous observation that Catholics are made to suffer more from the Church than for the Church.
    Christ came to teach, die and rise bestowing His Spirit on a "people centered" Church that is to be truly catholic, that is "universal" in thought, action and attitude reflected by way of its inclusive embrace of both genders with equality; by its open-ness to the charisms, insight and perspective of its laity in decision making; and by the course of action and direction in which this, the church of each of us, now moves toward.

  2. Umm...hmmm....here is a perfect example of Modernism gone Mad. Anyone who knows their Catholic Theology knows that only men can be ordained Priest. It is a fact...this is not a fiction. Adam, the first creation of the human family, by his very sex has dominion over woman. This isn't something made up or new, it has been in the Catholic Church for 2,000 years and before that in the Jewish Faith. A woman can no more receive ordination than an animal can be baptized. That seems like a unkind comparison, but that is the only way to make it clear. These progressives need to find their faith and renew their Theology, and ascribe themselves to the True Catholic Faith, not this monstrosity which they have formed and which puts them outside of the Catholic Faith. This Priest is not a Catholic, never was.

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  4. To TradCarol: This priest (Fr. Roy) is, and will be more of a Catholic than you have or will be in your entire lifetime. Your theology is obviously still at a third grade level, if that. I hope and wish that you may grow both spiritually and intellectually. Remember, Jesus was inclusive, not exclusive.

    Peace of Christ!

  5. The truest disciples were women. Three to one at the foot of the cross. The first appearance of Our Lord, after the resurrection, was to a woman. There is no scriptural basis prohibiting the ordination of women. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not discriminate.

  6. Proggressive Catholics is not the true Catholic church but a Cafetria Catholic picking and choosing what they want instead of the full truth. Very sad ... and they are leading people in error.