August 2011, Week 3


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Fri, 19 Aug 2011 22:35:49 -0400
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Roy Bourgeois: Rebel Feminist Priest

     The Vatican has nearly kicked Roy Bourgeois out of
     the priesthood for supporting women's ordination.

By George Fish
In These Times
August 16, 2011 Web Only

The Vatican's outrage at American priest Roy Bourgeois
for publicly supporting the ordination of women to the
priesthood has nearly reached its final stage: removal
from the priesthood ("laicization") by the Vatican and
expulsion from the Catholic missionary order Maryknoll
Fathers and Brothers, which ordained him 39 years ago.

Official condemnation of Bourgeois-triggered by his
participation in the August 2008 ordination service of
Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska-escalated on March 29, 2011,
when the priest received a letter (the First Canonical
Warning) from the Superior General of the Maryknoll
order demanding that he publicly recant his support for
female ordination or be removed from the priesthood.
Since Bourgeois refused to do so, the Second Canonical
Warning, or final notice of pending removal from the
Maryknoll Order, was issued on July 27, 2011.

Both letters went out over the signatures of Edward M.
Dougherty, superior general of the 100-year-old Catholic
order, and Maryknoll's Secretary General, Edward J.
McGovern. The first letter noted that consultations had
taken place between the Maryknoll Order and the Vatican,
and that Bourgeois had been notified over two years ago
after Sevre-Duszynska, a member of the group Roman
Catholic Womenpriests, became the 35th woman to be
ordained under its auspices.

Although Bourgeois is considered excommunicated latae
senteniae, i.e., upon commission of the deed, for
participating in the ordination ceremony of Sevre-
Duszynska, the Vatican did not move to formally
excommunicate him and the matter remained in limbo from
late 2008 on. But things escalated this year after
Bourgeois spoke in February on a panel at Barnard
College in conjunction with the showing of the award-
winning documentary on women's ordination, Pink Smoke
over the Vatican.

Bourgeois has repeatedly charged the Church with sexism
for refusing to recognize women's ordination to the
priesthood, which he considers a "call from God." In
1994 Pope John Paul II declared women's ordination
forbidden by the tradition and teaching of the Catholic
Church, and proclaimed that "there will be no more
discussion." The Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI have
declared it "infallible," i.e., the unalterable word of

The Second Canonical Warning, written in terse legalese,
cited several provisions of Catholic canon law that
Bourgeois had deliberately violated by his active and
public support for women's ordination. Bourgeois is
specifically charged with several counts of deliberate
disobedience to his superiors both in Maryknoll and in
the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith. The Second Canonical Warning specifically states,
"The [impending] dismissal is based on your defiant
stance as a Catholic priest who publicly rejects the
Magisterium of the Church on the matter of priestly
ordination." It also stated, "Your participation in the
event in support of women priests at Barnard
College.presents a clear act of disobedience of the
explicit instructions of your Superiors and the warnings
of the Holy See."

The First Canonical Warning informed Bourgeois that he
had 15 days to publicly recant his support for women's
ordination or he would be laicized-i.e., stripped of all
his priestly powers and entitlements, including his
pension as a Maryknoll priest for 39 years. (A Maryknoll
spokesman said in August, however, that Bourgeois would
not lose his pension.)

Bourgeois answered Maryknoll's first letter on April 8,
2011, and the second letter on August 8, 2011. In both,
he reiterated his support for women's ordination; his
belief that since God made men and women equal in worth
and dignity; and that the church was being arrogant and

In his April letter, he stated in regard to the shortage
of priests in the Church and the sexual abuse scandal,
"For years we have been praying for more vocations to
the priesthood. Our prayers have been answered. God is
sending us women priests. Half the population are women.
If we are to have a vibrant and healthy Church, we need
the wisdom, experiences and voices of women in the

The Catholic priesthood, Bourgeois says, is an "old
boys' club" that wishes to hold onto its power,
privileges and prerogatives. He believes that had there
been women priests, the priest-pedophilia scandal would
not have erupted because such predatory deeds would not
have been tolerated.

Priest of the Americas

Regardless of whether he is laicized, Bourgeois will
continue to act as head of SOA Watch, the group he
helped found in 1990 that aims to close the U.S. Army's
School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Ga. (In 2001, the
school, located at Ft. Benning, Ga., was renamed the
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.)
It has been infamous for training Latin American
military officers; many of its graduates have been
involved in military coups and dictatorships.

Bourgeois helped found SOA Watch after six Jesuit
priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter were
massacred in El Salvador in 1989. Those responsible were
trained at the SOA, a U.S. Congressional Task Force
reported. He has served nearly five years in prison for
nonviolent protest.

"Fr. Roy is the founder of School of the Americas Watch
and he will be a part of the movement . even if
Maryknoll is going to follow through with this," Henrik
Voss, national organizer for SOA Watch, told the
National Catholic Reporter on March 29, 2011. SOA Watch
takes no stance on political or religious issues, and
confines itself to demanding the closing of SOA/WHITSEC
and supporting human rights in Latin America.

Maryknoll, a longtime financial supporter of SOA Watch,
suspended its $17,000 grant to SOA Watch in 2010. After
being assured that SOA Watch does not advocate for
women's ordination, the organization restored the annual
grant. Financial support for SOA will continue even if
Bourgeois is laicized, according to Mike Virgintino,
director of publicity and marketing for the Maryknoll

Virgintino says that Maryknoll has received many
messages in support of Bourgeois, but also many in
support for Maryknoll's position. He notes that
Bourgeois has visited Maryknoll headquarters in
Ossining, N.Y., several times, even as recently as the
summer of 2011, and met there with Dougherty, McGovern
and fellow priests.

As of August 11, 200 Catholic priests have signed the
Clergy for Conscience petition supporting Bourgeois,
according to the liberal Catholic organization Call To

Unrepentant, and ready to appeal

As for next steps, Maryknoll will review Roy Bourgeois'
letter in response to the Second Canonical Letter, and
then act. That could mean removing Bourgeois from
Maryknoll and/or forwarding a request for his
laicization to the Vatican. But Bourgeois has the right
to appeal any decisions handed down, and has retained
counsel well-versed in Catholic canon law for this. (A
member of this team, Fr. Thomas P. Doyle, a canon lawyer
well known as an expert witness on behalf of those suing
the Church in clergy sex abuse cases, is already
drafting Bourgeois' defense before the Vatican.)

Bourgeois' only regret is that he didn't speak out
earlier. He recalled his days as a youth in Louisiana,
attending a segregated public school and a segregated
Catholic parish, where the Catholic schools were
segregated as well. It was not until he went to Vietnam
as a starry-eyed patriotic youth and saw injustice there
that he became awakened. Upon returning from duty (for
which he received a Purple Heart), he began his studies
to become a Maryknoll priest. While serving as a
Maryknoll missionary in Bolivia and in El Salvador, he
says, "the poor became my teachers."

Bourgeois sees the fight for woman's ordination as a
necessary extension of the social justice calling he
received 45 years ago when he entered the Maryknoll
seminary. "Silence is the voice of consent," he says.

George Fish, a freelance writer living in Indianapolis,
has written for Dialogue & Initiative, Monthly Review,
Political Affairs, Against the Current and Socialism and


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