Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ordination of Women in Minneapolis Reflects Emerging Renewal of Priesthood and Church

By Michael Bayly

On Sunday, August 16, 2009, Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) hosted its Sixth Midwest Region Ordination in Minneapolis. It was an event that saw approximately 500 people gather to witness the ordination of Mary Katherine Kusner to the deaconate, and Mary Frances Smith, Linda Ann Wilcox, and Mary Suzanne Styne to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican does not recognize such ordinations and last year declared that those ordained within the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement are excommunicated “in latae sententiae” - a type of excommunication which church officials say occurs automatically upon certain actions. RCWP, however, reject this penalty of excommunication, claiming that they are “loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women.” Accordingly, they see their ordinations moving the Church forward “in prophetic obedience to the Spirit.” RCWP’s ultimate goal is “a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church.”

Mary, the woman of Nazareth, as role model

Presiding Bishop Regina Nicolosi reminded those present at Sunday’s ordination that “today’s joyful celebration” was taking place on the feast of the Assumption of Mary. Accordingly, she encouraged the ordinands, those already ordained, and all who “live out the priesthood of all believers,” to “model their lives after the woman of Nazareth.”

In her homily, Bishop Nicolosi (pictured above, second from left) offered a number of reflections on how Mary, the mother of Jesus, may function not only as a “role model for diaconate and priesthood,” but as an image of God.

“Together [many Christians and people of other faiths] have started to explore the feminine face of God,” said Nicolosi. “I believe the figure of Mary can help us in this exploration.”

Acknowledging Mary’s immense appeal to Christians throughout history and across cultures, Nicolosi nevertheless observed that the hierarchical male church “did not always know what to do with her.” Accordingly, “they often manipulated her and made her appear to be either a powerless girl or a bloodless queen on a pedestal, far out of the reach of the average woman. Yet her connection with the people remained strong.”

Nicolosi also shared an insight she gained from a recent trip to Egypt: “I saw the image of Isis with her son Horus on her lap and it became clear to me that Isis builds the connection to the Great Goddess who reigned at the time when God was a woman, and that Mary whose Romanesque depictions look so similar to Isis, carries this tradition into Christianity.”

She shared too Catholic feminist theologian Mary Daly’s critique of Christianity as “a strange religion where the mother bows before the son,” and encouraged those in attendance at Sunday’s ordination to imagine the Father, the Mother, the Son, and Sophia “all up there together, seated in equality, without competition, in peace.”

“Can we bring this image down to earth and model our church after it?” asked Bishop Nicolosi. It would be, she said, a church “where we are all one in Christ Jesus; a church where the phrase ‘in persona Christi’ does not exclude half of the population; a church where Mary our sister can be a role model for priesthood. After all, she did say: ‘This is my body, this is my blood, and she said it at least twice: in the stable and under the cross, and no one stopped her from holding and touching Him then.”

Nicolosi concluded her homily by inviting all present to take seriously the words of the Magnificat, and, like Mary, proclaim a God who pushes down the powerful and lifts up the poor, who feeds the hungry, who invites all without exception to her son’s table.”

“Let us stand under the cross with her,” said Nicolosi, “and wait with her and the community for the arrival of the Spirit. Let us give birth to a priesthood and church that not only proclaims that a woman’s body was worthy to be taken into heaven, but that also acknowledges that a woman’s body is worthy to stand next to the altar.”

A hidden history

According to RCWP, the tradition of women presiding at eucharistic celebrations dates back to the earliest days of the church. Furthermore, the organization states that “historical and archaeological evidence reveals that women served as deacons, priests, and bishops from the 2nd to the 6th centuries AD.” Deacons Phoebe, Sophia, and Maria; Priests Leta and Vitalia; and Bishops Theodora and Alexandra are often cited as part of this evidence.

Scholars such as Dorothy Irvins collaborate RCWP’s claims. “We have to remember to approach things from the historical critical method,” said Irvins in a 2003 interview. “Accuracy comes from our attempt to understand evidence in its own time, not projecting today’s ideas on the evidence. We are asking questions they didn’t ask. The teachings of Jesus imply that the early Christian Church was created around a family model. They were brothers and sisters to one another in Christ. The gender taboos and the top down leadership came later. While we do not have a formal job descriptions of early church leadership, the evidence is clear that both genders carried out the various ministries.”

One may well ask: what happened? Many contend that when Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire in 312, the Christian community was caught in a cultural conflict as it moved from worship in house churches where women’s leadership was accepted, to worship in public places where women’s leadership violated Roman social codes of honor and shame. In the fourth century, male church leaders at the Council of Laodicea suppressed women leaders because of the belief that women were created subordinate to men. Interestingly, it was during this same time period that the image of Mary of Magdala was changed from that of a strong female disciple and proclaimer of the Resurrection to a repentant prostitute and public sinner. Scholars such as Dr. Jane Schaberg believe this was done deliberately to discourage female leadership in the church. It also supported the rise of a male-only and, in time, celibate priesthood.

New forms of priesthood and church

RCWP Bishop Patricia Fresen (pictured at right), who spoke in the Twin Cities last month, believes that this male-only, celibate priesthood is “on the way out.” She maintains that we are also witnessing in our time the end of clericalism, i.e., the dividing of people in the church into the ‘nobility,’ who are the clergy, and the ‘serfs,’ who are the laity. “That gap is closing,” she says.

Fresen also believes that the “Roman imperialism, whereby the Vatican imposes Roman culture on all of us,” is similarly coming to an end. “Despite Vatican II’s emphasis on collegiality,” said Bishop Fresen, "the pope still rules the Church with the Curia, not with the college of bishops. But I believe that the Church’s feudal, imperialistic structures will go, and there will be - let me dare say it - a democratic Church.”

She finds evidence of such a democratic church in the new forms of community and priesthood that are emerging in both Europe and the U.S. Often known in the U.S. as intentional eucharistic communities, these “new forms of community” are comprised of small groups of people who gather around married priests or women priests. Some communities have no ordained priest at all. What they do all have in common, says Fresen, are “democratic structures – with people elected to be leaders, even their priests, and for a limited term of office. Everybody shares in the way the community is run. That’s what is coming.”

In places all over the world, says Fresen, the sensus fidelium, the ‘sense of the faithful,’ is growing. “We, the people, are making up our own minds. We are better educated. We are more aware. And we are not willing to wait for the ‘official’ hierarchical church that is holding on desperately to old forms. That way of being church is being left behind.”

A matter of justice

Bishop Fresen also discussed apostolic succession, noting that there is a growing understanding of this concept that is much broader than the one the official church presently has, and which has been called ‘passing on the baton’.”

Although Bishop Fresen and other RCWP deacons, priests, and bishops are ordained in that narrow understanding of apostolic succession, they say they do so as they are claiming the right for women to be ordained in the same way as men. “It’s a matter of justice,” says Bishop Fresen. Yet she also maintains that the “narrow understanding of apostolic succession will not go on forever.”

She believes the church will in time embrace the emerging community form of choosing and ordaining, a form that is developing alongside the RCWP movement and the married priests movement. “All three will go along for quite some time,” says Fresen, “and then find a new way of forming something new. But they all need to be present now.”

A paradigm shift

Fresen places the phenomenon of the “emerging church” in a larger context by acknowledging the “huge paradigm shift that humankind is presently experiencing.”

She notes that people are saying that every 500 years or so there is a “great convulsion in human consciousness, in its evolution.” Fresen contends that the last major convulsion or shift, as far as the Church is concerned, was probably the Reformation.

“Now we are obviously coming to the point of another paradigm shift,” she says. “We can see signs of it in the economic recession, which is a sign, many maintain, that something has to change. Related to this is our awareness that humanity and its relationship with Earth is changing and needs to change if we are to survive. We are learning to respect Earth rather than exploit her. But it’s terrible that we always seem to have to get to a point where things are so critical, when they’re breaking down, before we are willing to learn. And it’s the same with the Church. I believe that what is coming to an end in the paradigm shift that we are in is forms of domination. We are learning to be mutually respectful rather than for one group to be dominating another. If we think of humankind and Earth, men and women, of clergy and laity, we are learning to be less dominating and more mutually respectful, to find equality rather than dominance. In chaos theory, when systems change, the most aggressive form of chaos comes just before the transformation of the system. So it gets to its worst before it changes. That seems to be happening with regards to Earth, the economy, and the Church. The domination is getting worse and worse. But the change is about to come. In fact, it’s already here.”

For growing numbers of people, Sunday’s RCWP’s ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood is just one sign of this necessary change that’s already taking place in our midst.

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice post:
“We Are All the Rock”: An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Judith McKloskey
Ministry, Not Maleness, is the Theological Starting Point for the Priest
“Spiritual Paternity”: Why Homosexual Men Cannot Be Ordained Catholic Priests

Images: Michael Bayly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Point of View . . .

By Charles Pilon

July 16, 2009, the morning after the
first Joint Meeting of the Work/Study Groups
for the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s
2010 Synod, Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis

A point of view – a personal strategy – born of nagging uncertainty about how we will “change the policies and practices that hold our own community back from being fully alive” . . . and effectively dialogue “about what changes can be made on a diocesan level to make the church of St. Paul and Minneapolis a sacrament of God’s life” – this when some of our hoped-for partners in dialogue have already named us apostates.

Yet, I embrace the Declaration Against Resignation, trusting a Divine Spirit who moves, at least partly, based on what I contribute to a process. For my part, I will . . .

- live in the moment.

- come to terms with the likelihood that 1) just some, 2) only a few, 3) none of my fondest dreams and hopes for the Church will be realized before I die.

- in the meantime, talk civilly and presume and honor the integrity of those with whom I dialogue. No winning.

- find / develop within myself a sense of humor about Church reform.

- come to terms with (i.e., seek and embrace the difficult conversion necessary to adopt) the thinking of Hans Küng, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Cardinal Franz Joseph Koenig on inter/intra faith dialogue.

Küng (as described by James Carroll in Practicing Catholic, pp. 281 – 283):

Dialogue is more than mere civility. . . . Authentic religious dialogue happens when a believing person who encounters the different beliefs of someone else inevitably winds up reexamining the foundation of his[/her] own beliefs. . . . Dialogue becomes the self–critical examination of one’s own dogma and tradition in the presence of the other, and in the light of the other’s experience and belief. . . . Ultimately, dialogue calls for the “investigation of foundations.”

Heschel (as quoted by Carroll, p. 281):

The most significant basis for the meeting of men [and women] of different religious traditions is the level of fear and trembling, of humility and contrition, where our individual moments of faith are mere waves in the endless ocean of . . . reaching out for God, where all formulations and articulations appear as understatements, where our souls are swept away, stripped of pretensions and conceit. We sense then the tragic insufficiency of human faith. God is greater than religion.

Koenig (in dialogue with Jesuit theologian Jacques Dupuis, National Catholic Reporter, 3.21.08):

Genuine dialogue must be honest. There must be no ulterior motives. Of course, each partner has an aim. It’s not meant to be a pointless chat, after all. The aim is to convince one’s partner of the soundness of one’s arguments. But the opposite also applies. One must equally be prepared to allow oneself to be convinced of the soundness of one’s partner’s arguments – one must want to gain an insight into them. Dialogue is not an attempt to persuade or convert – the aim is to get to know your partner and why he or she believes what they do.

Chuck Pilon
July 16, 2009

Charles Pilon is the author of Waiting for Mozart: A Novel about Church People Caught in Conflict. The novel illustrates the daily struggle to realize the vision of Vatican II when the pastor and the active members of a large suburban Catholic parish do not agree on whose Church it is. Can they compose a harmonious community through the fine art of dialogue? To learn more about Waiting for Mozart and how to purchase a copy, click here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Remembering Cletus Wessels, O.P.

The Progressive Catholic Voice remembers the life of Cletus Wessels, O.P., who died last Wednesday and whose funeral mass took place today at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in South Minneapolis.

Cletus, as many of our readers in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis would know, was a greatly loved and respected pastor, theologian, author, college professor and seminary president. He made his profession as a Dominican friar in 1951, followed by his ordination as a priest in 1957. He held a doctorate in systematic theology from St. Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario, and his thesis was published as The Mother of God: Her Physical Maternity in 1964.

He served for eighteen years as professor of theology at Aquinas Institute of Theology in Dubuque, IA, and became the third president of the Institute (which is now located in St. Louis, MO). He also taught for a time at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids as well as other centers of learning, including the Quixote Center in Hyattsville, MD, and the Weber Center in Adrian, MI.

From 1988-1997, Cletus served as pastor at St. Albert the Great in Minneapolis during times of great change as the parish closed its school and renovated its worship space. He then engaged in a ministry of lectures, retreats, and adult faith formation workshops, giving emphasis to teachings of Vatican II and to the “new universe story.” During his concluding years of ministry, Cletus wrote two books: The Holy Web: Church and the New Universe Story (2000) and Jesus in the New Universe Story (2003).

In June 2007, Cletus celebrated his golden priesthood jubilee. At that time he had began to experience the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease, but was deeply involved in planning – and enjoying – a wonderful celebration with family and friends.

He had been in residence at Providence Place since September 2008, daily visited, tended, encouraged, and loved by a large and well-organized group of loyal friends.

The PCV editorial team wouldd like to honor Cletus and his theological legacy by sharing the following excerpt from the preface of his book The Holy Web: Church and the New Universe Story.


The purpose of this work is to present a new vision that integrates the tradition of the Christian church with contemporary cosmology and the universe story. There is a need for such a new paradigm because, as Chet Raymo points out in his book Skeptics and True Believers, “Today we have a scientific story of creation, but we have not learned how to connect the new story to our search for spiritual fulfillment . . . and we have not integrated the story into our lives as believers and seekers” (p. 127-128). Such an integration, I maintain, is essential both for the Christian church and for all those searching for spiritual fulfillment.

There is also a deeper purpose [to this book:] to help the reader discover and intuit more deeply the new story of the universe and the possibilities for a new vision of the church flowing from that story. . . . I invite readers of this book to an in-depth discussion of a new paradigm of the church emerging from the tremendous knowledge explosion of the last 150 years and the development of a new understanding of creation never before imagined. . . .

A new paradigm often challenges our current use of language. This will demand first of all that we look more deeply into the way we typically use words, such as infallibility. When people hear the word infallibility they think of the pope with the unilateral power to define Christian doctrines, which must then be believed and accepted by all Catholic, putting an end to all discussion. This is a stereotype. As the word infallibility is used in Chapter 6, it means a process that takes place within the entire Christian community in the common search for the living truth of the gospel under the guidance of God’s Spirit. The pope, as the bishop of Rome, may in special circumstances define a doctrine that is already the common belief of the people, but this definition is always couched in human words and, as such, is open to an ongoing process of fuller understanding and unfolding.

Second, at times a new paradigm requires new language to articulate the perception of a new reality, such as the holarchical church – a term I introduce in Chapter 5. Over the years, as I have experienced the changing structures of our earth, our society, and our church, I have become convinced that we must develop new terminology to articulate the new theories about the way in which organizations function. Our current language is often inadequate. For example, the organizational structures of many Christian churches are based on a hierarchical and patriarchal model, whereas contemporary research calls for emerging models based on self-organization, mutuality, and interdependence. It is my belief that such models cannot be couched in hierarchical language nor in distinctions such as that between clergy and laity. These new models can be articulated more adequately in terms of the new language of holarchy.

Third, even common words, such as the word holy used in the title of this book, will take on a new depth of meaning in the light of the new universe story. For me at times, and perhaps for other people, the word holy is ambiguous and flat; it can be pious and churchy, and occasionally rigid and unchanging. These connotations of the word holy just do not fit with my sense of “the holy web.” In this book, holy describes the reality of goodness, truth, and wholeness within the universe whose inner source is God. To be a creature emerging from the inner presence of the holy God is to be holy. And human holiness is found in our very being as well as in our conscious awareness of and our integration with this dynamic power of God within ourselves. Holiness is not something we do or practice or merit, but it is something we experience as a dimension of the universe. Thus, in this book, when we use the phrase holy web, we are describing the web of relationships found in the entire universe. When we talk about a galaxy or the Earth or the church as a web of relationships, we are describing these realities as part of the holy web.


Cletus John Wessels, O.P.

a part of the Holy Web


September 21, 1930

to August 12, 2009

and forever . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CCCR Responds to Censure by Chancery

The following letter has been issued by the co-chairs of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) - of which the Progressive Catholic Voice is a member organization.


Dear Friends of CCCR:

The Archdiocese has issued another statement regarding the status of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). The first one was on the occasion of our founding prayer breakfast on April 18, 2009. The most recent statement appears in the Catholic Spirit of August 13, 2009. It seems there are some issues that need clarification.

The published statement bears the coat of arms of the Archdiocese but there is no name of the person issuing it. We are presuming that it was issued with the authority of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt. No one from the Archdiocese has spoken with us directly.

The Archbishop is entirely correct that CCCR does not act in any official capacity for the Archdiocese nor is it in any way sanctioned by the Archdiocese. Nevertheless, we are Catholics who reside within the Archdiocese and we are committed to using whatever gifts God has given us in service of our local church. In announcing our Synod of the Baptized for September 18, 2010, we presumed, as an independent organization, that we could name our local church without including the information that we had not been authorized to do so. We apologize to anyone who thought we were claiming authorization.

After the first Archdiocesan statement in April, issued by the Chancery Office, we informed the Vicar General of our identities and our activities and asked for conversation with him. Our last letter asking for a meeting was sent Monday, August 10.

The Archbishop has nothing to fear from us. We want to be in communion with him. But communion is not a juridical relationship, it is primarily a relationship of spirit. Real communication is necessary for communion.

If the problem is that we are calling our 2010 conference a “synod” and only bishops can officially call a synod in ecclesiastical practice, he need only ask us to consider renaming it. To us, our use of the word “synod” signifies the participation of all the baptized, not just the ordained baptized, in the process of directing the local church. Since Vatican II, we have been unwilling to abdicate our baptismal responsibility for the direction the church takes.

Better even than asking us to reconsider the name, the Archbishop could offer to partner with us in calling a Synod of the Baptized. Instead of using his power to crush us, he could join with us to invite the whole Archdiocese to think about and discuss how we can further the mission of Jesus together.

That is precisely what we are attempting to do in the work/study groups the Archbishop “lovingly” warns people to shun for their own good. One of the work/study groups is discussing Catholic spirituality, what characterizes it, and how it can be nurtured within the local church. One of the groups is entitled Catholic Identity/Christian Identity. It is attempting to articulate the values of the institutional church that may be undercut by contemporary culture. Another group is discussing social justice and how the local church can improve in its commitment to the marginalized. Still another group is focusing on the importance of the role of bishop in the local church and the necessity of the relationship of leader to the body of the church. We are discussing human sexuality, church governance and authority, the “emerging” church, children and families, and clericalism. We have so far made no statements or recommendations for reform on any of these topics. Does discussing the questions threaten the Archbishop’s authority, church doctrine, or the well-being of the local church? We hope not.

We ask you to write to the Archbishop asking him to re-think his censure of us and asking him to back us in our effort to live up to our baptismal calling. We are asking for a meeting with him and will keep you informed.

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis
226 Summit Avenue
St Paul, MN 55102

Send us a copy of your letter, if you want, at 2080 Edgcumbe Road, St. Paul, MN 55116.

CCCR Board Co-Chairs
Paula Ruddy
Michael Bayly
Bernie Rodel

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chancery Issues Statement on CCCR

The chancery of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has issued an “official announcement” on the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

This statement can be read (and commented on) at the website of The Catholic Spirit, here, and below. (Note: The links in the text of the announcement below have been added by the Progressive Catholic Voice).


It has come to the attention of the Archdiocese that a group calling itself the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is planning a 2010 ‘synod’ in the Archdiocese entitled, ‘Claiming Our Place at the Table’.

While the agenda for the proposed synod purports to be an exploration of the role of baptized Catholics within the institutional Church of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, it is not being conducted under the auspices of the Archdiocese, the universal Roman Catholic Church, or any entity or organization affiliated with the Archdiocese or the universal Roman Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese wishes it to be known that the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, the 2010 synod, and individuals endorsing the same, are not agents or entities of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis or the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, the Archdiocese wishes to lovingly caution those members of the faithful participating in the ‘work/study groups’ and intending to attend the synod of the potential that the issues on which CCCR will seek reform are magisterial teachings of the Church, and are therefore to be believed by divine and catholic faith. The Archdiocese also wishes to remind the faithful of its need to shun any contrary doctrines, and instead to embrace and retain, to safeguard reverently and expound faithfully, the doctrine of faith and morals proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church.

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.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Christianity and Nagasaki

By Gary Kohls

On the 9th of August, 1945, an all-Christian B-29 bomber crew, took off from Tinian Island in the South Pacific, with the blessings of its Catholic and Protestant chaplains. In the plane’s hold was the second of the only two nuclear bombs to ever be used against human targets in wartime. The primary target, Kokura, Japan, was clouded over, so the plane, named Bock’s Car, headed for the secondary target, Nagasaki.

St. Mary’s Cathedral, located in the Urakami district of Nagasaki, was a massive structure and a landmark easily visible from 31,000 feet above, and one of the landmarks on which the Bock’s Car’s bombardier had been briefed on for weeks before the mission. The cathedral was briefly seen through the thin clouds and he ordered the drop.

The Urakami Cathedral was the oldest and largest Christian church in the Orient, and Nagasaki was the oldest and most influential Christian community in Japan, having been founded by the Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, in 1549. The Nagasaki Christian community is legendary in the history of Oriental Christianity because of its two centuries of catacomb-like existence during the horrible persecutions by the Imperial Japanese government – including mass crucifixions of faithful Christians who refused to give up the faith. Despite the persecutions and the formal outlawing of the religion (it was a capital crime to be a Christian - as it was for the original nonviolent form of Christianity – for over 2 centuries), Nagasaki Christianity survived and ultimately flourished - until 11:02 am, August 9, 1945.

What Imperial Japan could not do over two centuries of brutal persecution, fellow American Christians did in 9 seconds. The Cathedral was totally destroyed by the plutonium bomb and thousands of Nagasaki Christians were instantly killed, vaporized or incinerated. Radiation-induced disease and deformities among the “surviving” victims and their progeny continues to this day as a gruesome testament to the horrors of nuclear war. And yet the spirit of Nagasaki Christianity lives on.

On the 9th of August, 1943, Franz Jaegerstaetter, a devout Austrian Christian pacifist, was beheaded by German Christians for refusing to join Hitler’s army. Because of his gospel-based conscientious objection to war and killing, he had been abandoned by his spiritual leaders, as well as his family and friends, all of whom had tried to convince him to do his patriotic duty and kill for “Volk, Fuhrer und Vaterland.” They all tried to convince him that his commitment to gospel nonviolence was futile – and fatal. Instead, being obedient to his God rather than to men, he did not relent and was murdered at Brandenburg Prison, at the hands of obedient baptized Christian soldiers, whose belt buckles read “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us). And yet Jaegerstaetter’s spirit lives on.

On the 9th of August, 1942, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Jewish Catholic Carmelite nun, was murdered by fellow German Christians at Auschwitz. Gott Mit Uns was also stamped on their belt buckles. Most of German Christianity had, by its collaboration and/or by its silence, endorsed the Nazi’s ruthless forms of nationalism, militarism, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and its “legal” right to kill. Teresa has since been sainted in the Roman Catholic Church, and her spirit lives on.

On the 9th of August, 1945, the United States Army Air Force’s 509th Composite Group, whose major responsibilities were to deliver the two nuclear weapons of mass destruction, had two Christian chaplains. The Catholic chaplain, Father George Zabelka, spoke of societal attitudes at the time: “The whole structure of secular, religious and military society told me clearly that it was all right to ‘let the Japs have it.’ God was on our side.” Father Zabelka knew what his bomber crews were doing to innocent civilians and their defenseless cities with conventional incendiary bombs in the spring and summer of 1945, and yet “I said nothing.” He regretted that silence for the rest of his life.

Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, the foremost apostle of Christian nonviolence in America today, and the person most responsible for Zabelka’s conversion away from biblical violence to gospel nonviolence, has dedicated his life and ministry to raising the consciousness of the church about the truths of Jesus’ nonviolent teachings. McCarthy says:

Today, as for most of the last 1700 years, most Christians continue to justify as consistent with the spirit of Christ those energies, understandings, and emotions which lead inevitably to August 9. Today most Christians still do not unequivocally teach what Jesus unequivocally taught on the subject of violence. Today most Christians still refuse to proclaim that violence is not the Christian way, that violence is not the Holy way, that violence is not the way of Jesus.

Every July 1st, to call the Christian community to repent and to return to the truth that violence is not the way of Christ, Father McCarthy leads a fast from solid foods for 40 days, breaking it on August 9th.

It is suggested that sincere Christian peacemakers remember all the victims of past August 9ths in their prayers on the upcoming anniversary commemorations on this year’s August 9th. It is hoped that conscientious Christians consider a day-long fast in remembrance of the hundreds of millions of war dead, the hundreds of millions of physically, psychologically and spiritually traumatized survivors of war violence, and the billions of those who may be spiritually dead, both soldier-perpetrators, their civilian or soldier-victims, the innocent and guilty bystanders and the second and third generations of those who continue to suffer from the starvation, poisoning, radiation exposure, homelessness, poverty, hopelessness and domestic abuse that follows all wars.

Gary G. Kohls, MD, Duluth, MN - for the Community of the Third Way, an affiliate of Every Church A Peace Church.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Independent Spirit and "Divisible Unity" of the Modern Church

As most readers are no doubt aware, the Progressive Catholic Voice, is a founding member organization of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), a network of concerned and caring Catholics within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, dedicated to promoting the full participation of the baptized in all aspects of church life.

As noted previously, CCCR’s vision of a church “fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love,” is inspired, in large part, by the Asian Catholic bishops’ model of Church – one that has been prayerfully developed in the years since the Second Vatican Council.

In explaining this model, CCCR co-chair Bernie Rodel observes that: “We’re seeing a shift from a ‘church centered’ ecclesiology to a ‘kingdom centered’ ecclesiology. In other words there is a shift away from the behavior of the hierarchy which promotes predominately the welfare and triumph of the church as an organization.”

Conversely, in the “Kingdom-Centered” church, says Rodel, “the Reign of God and its values as proclaimed and lived by Jesus are the center around which everything revolves: forgiveness, reconciliation, justice and peace are extended to all.”

The following excerpt from Edward Stourton’s 2000 book, Absolute Truth: The Struggle for Meaning in Today’s Catholic Church, explores further what’s taking place in the Asian Catholic Church and its connection to what occurred earlier in Latin America.


The [Roman Catholic] Church has been shaken by an earthquake since the Second Vatican Council, and although the tectonic plates are still grinding noisily away, it is beginning to be possible to discern what the landscape may look like when they settle. What were regarded only four decades ago as far-flung provinces have become the true centers of Catholicism, in numbers, ideas, and vigor. And because the Church is an institution, the change can lead only to an argument about the distribution of power.

The troubled history of relations between Rome and Latin America has provided a warning of the shape the battle to come may take. When Cardinal Paolo Arns went to Rome in 1978 determined to elect a pope from outside Western Europe, he was flexing his Church’s institutional muscles. In the 1980s when John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger cracked down on the Church in Latin America, they were reasserting the centralizing authority of the Vatican. Their victory came at considerable cost. Some of the innovative thinkers in the Latin American Church – like Leonardo Boff – have been driven out. The giants of the generation of bishops who flourished in the aftermath of Medellín are fast disappearing, and the Hélder Câmaras are being replaced by the José Cardoso Sobrinhos. At the grass roots, priests like Father Tony Terry are disenchanted, and the enthusiasm that drove the parishioners of Morro da Conceicao in Recife to build their own parish church is a thing of the past. An exhausted Latin American Church has become vulnerable to raiding parties from born-again Protestant churches: in the first two years of the 1990s seven hundred and ten new churches were opened in Rio de Janeiro, the vast majority of them Pentecostal. Only one new Catholic Church was consecrated during the same period.

In Latin America, the theologians led the revolution and the bishops followed. The process is likely to be repeated in Asia. It is inevitable that the priests being trained in the new theology at places like the Vidyajyoti College will lead their Church before very long. Indeed, in the way they stress the “Catholic” rather than “Roman” face of the Church, the leaders of the Asian Church are already beginning to show signs of the independent spirit that animated Cardinal Arns and his colleagues.

“The word ‘Roman’,” Archbishop Marcus Fernando of Colombo told me, “is used because the pope happens to be in Rome. For me the Catholic religion is not Roman, it is Catholic, meaning universal, meant for the whole world.” His fellow archbishop in Delhi, Alan de Lastic, speaks of the Church in terms of a kind of worldwide federation: “In Delhi it’s the Catholic Church localized in time and space, but in communion with all the other Churches and certainly in some way directed and helped by the Holy Father.” He describes the pope as the “principal source” of what he calls, in an intriguing phrase, “the divisible unity” of the modern Church.

Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, despite the reputation for orthodoxy he established as the scourge of Father Tissa Balasuriya, looks ahead to a time when Asia’s thinking is even more independent. He says, “Very often those who do theology in Asia have studied at European universities . . . in a system based on Greek and Roman instruction.” He argues that until that inheritance is jettisoned “our theology is going to be looking at Asia with dark glasses which we picked up somewhere else.”

One of the most striking illustration I found of the centrifugal forces at work in the Church was the worldwide web of rebels. Hans Küng in Europe, Leonardo Boff in Latin America, and Tissa Balasuriya in Asia all talk to each other and support each other’s causes. They believe they are all engaged in essentially the same struggle: a battle to build a new kind of Church. Leonardo Boff describes Balasuriya as a “dear friend” and believes Asia’s theologians have picked up the Latin American idea of liberation theology and given it a new meaning: “It is infusing Christianity with a non-Cartesian logic, a culture that is not Western,” he says, “so that Christianity can have a . . . face of the orient. The Vatican is petrified by this concept.”

The new spirit of independence among the non-European Churches is a mark of the success of the Second Vatican Council. But it is also a challenge to the institutional structures of a Church built so rigidly around the centralizing authority of Rome.

- Excerpted from Absolute Truth: The Struggle for Meaning in Today’s Catholic Church by Edward Stourton (TV Books, 2000).

For the National Catholic Reporter’s 2001 review of this book, click here.