No Indulgence for Father Bourgeois

Upset that one of its own supports ordination of women, a Catholic missionary order defunds SOA Watch.

George Fish September 10, 2010

American priest and founder of the human rights group SOA Watch Roy Bourgeois smiles after being awarded the Aachen Peace Prize on 01 September 2005 in Aachen, western Germany. He received the prestigious award for his dedication to peace and human rights.

In late July, the Amer­i­can Catholic mis­sion­ary order Mary­knoll Fathers and Broth­ers revealed its deci­sion to end long­time finan­cial sup­port for the anti-mil­i­tary group SOA Watch. Each year the orga­ni­za­tion hosts a vig­il demand­ing the clos­ing of the U.S. military’s School of the Amer­i­c­as (SOA), which for 64 years has trained Latin Amer­i­can mil­i­tary offi­cers, many of whom have been linked to the mur­der and tor­ture of dis­si­dents. (In 2001, the school, locat­ed at Ft. Ben­ning, Ga., was renamed the West­ern Hemi­sphere Insti­tute for Secu­ri­ty Cooperation.)

SOA Watch’s founder and head is 72-year-old Father Roy Bour­geois, a Mary­knoll priest. In 1990, fol­low­ing the mur­der of six Jesuit priests in El Sal­vador by grad­u­ates of the SOA in Novem­ber 1989, Bour­geois and a small group of sup­port­ers found­ed SOA Watch. Bour­geois has also been an out­spo­ken advo­cate for the ordi­na­tion of women into the Catholic priest­hood. Because of his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ordi­na­tion of a woman as a priest in 2008, he is con­sid­ered auto­mat­i­cal­ly excom­mu­ni­cat­ed by the Vat­i­can, which demand­ed, in an Octo­ber 2008 let­ter to Mary­knoll head­quar­ters in Ossin­ing, N.Y., that he recant his sup­port of women’s ordi­na­tion. How­ev­er, Bour­geois con­sid­ers the denial of priest­ly ordi­na­tion of women part of the sin of sex­ism” by the Catholic Church, and open­ly defied the Vatican.

In a terse e‑mail sent to the press July 22, the Mary­knoll Order said in part: Giv­en Father Bour­geois’ cen­tral role as the founder and pub­lic face of the SOA Watch, Soci­ety lead­er­ship has deter­mined that it can­not con­tin­ue its finan­cial sup­port of that orga­ni­za­tion with­out giv­ing the impres­sion that it also sup­ports the actions of its leader con­cern­ing the issue of women’s ordi­na­tion.” Thus, it denied a 2010 gen­er­al-use grant of $17,000 to SOA Watch, a group it has sup­port­ed since the 1990s. Megan Sweas, writ­ing in U.S. Catholic, remarked that the Mary­knoll Order seems to give the impres­sion that women’s ordi­na­tion is worse than torture.”

Michael Baney, devel­op­ment coor­di­na­tor of SOA Watch, not­ed that the Mary­knoll Order had been SOA Watch’s biggest finan­cial backer, and the denial of the grant put an enor­mous hole” in the organization’s $360,000 bud­get. How­ev­er, he says an SOA Watch emer­gency appeal to the group’s sup­port­ers has since gen­er­at­ed a huge response.” 

Although con­sid­ered excom­mu­ni­cat­ed from the Catholic Church, Bour­geois still remains a Mary­knoll priest. The Vat­i­can has not act­ed to make his excom­mu­ni­ca­tion offi­cial, even though it threat­ened to do so in 2008.

When the Vat­i­can released its new, more strin­gent guide­lines on han­dling priest pedophil­ia on July 15, it linked togeth­er as more grave delicts” pos­ses­sion of child pornog­ra­phy, sex­u­al abuse of the men­tal­ly dis­abled and sup­port for the ordi­na­tion of women to the Catholic priest­hood. (Accord­ing to a New York Times/CBS News poll tak­en in May 2010, 59 per­cent of U.S. Catholics favor women’s ordi­na­tion, while only 33 per­cent oppose it.) 

I’ve nev­er seen such fear in the Catholic Church on this issue [of female ordi­na­tion],” says Bour­geois. He says many priests have told him that they favor women’s ordi­na­tion, but if they speak out they will be kicked out of their priest­ly orders and denied pen­sions. Bour­geois says that retired Detroit aux­il­iary bish­op Thomas Gum­ble­ton, who him­self crossed swords with the Vat­i­can for his sup­port of gay rights, warned him that the Holy See would pun­ish him for speak­ing out against church doc­trine. Bour­geois, how­ev­er, believes the church will even­tu­al­ly be forced to change, and calls on his fel­low priests to open­ly defy the Vat­i­can. This move­ment for gen­der equal­i­ty in the church is unstop­pable,” 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 Democ­ra­cy.
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