The Catholic Church is threatening to excommunicate Father Roy Bourgeois for publicly supporting the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Bourgeois, who founded the group SOA Watch to dismantle the School of the Americas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, Ga., participated in the Aug. 9, 2008, ordination ceremony of Janice Sevre-Duszynska, an outspoken activist with an international organization that ordains women into the Catholic Church.
Since 2002, the group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP), has conferred holy orders on priests, deacons and bishops in North America and Europe. Sevre-Duszynska is now the 35th American woman to receive ordination through RCWP.
But the event didn’t go over well with the Church. In a letter dated Oct. 21, 2008, the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith notified the Ossining, N.Y.-based Maryknoll Order – where Bourgeois is a member – that Bourgeois faced excommunication if he did not retract his support of women’s ordination within 30 days.
Excommunication is the ultimate penalty enforceable by the Catholic Church. It is the complete cutting off of the miscreant from Church life. In other words, the Church forbids him or her from the sacraments and, in the case of a priest, forbids him to celebrate Mass or give out the sacraments unless he repents. The Vatican considers all ordinations of women to the priesthood invalid.
Despite the Vatican’s threat, Bourgeois has not recanted his support. In a Nov. 7 letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bourgeois wrote that the ban on women’s ordination is “sexism,” and “like racism, is a sin.”
“[N]o matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral,” he wrote.
His letter also referred to a Feb. 28, 2008, USA Today story stating that nearly 5,000 U.S. Catholic priests had sexually abused more than 12,000 children: “Many bishops, aware of the abuse, remained silent. These priests and bishops were not excommunicated. Yet the women in our Church who are called by God and are ordained to serve God’s people, and the priests and bishops who support them, are excommunicated.”
Although the Vatican’s 30-day deadline has long passed, Bourgeois has not yet been excommunicated. He says he expects to receive that notification in the future. Should it arrive, he says he plans to travel to Rome to plead his case, possibly accompanied by other priests and even a bishop, along with his lawyer.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – the leading national organization of the U.S. Catholic Church – has remained silent.
When asked if it wished to comment on Bourgeois’ case, its media relations office e‑mailed a one-word message: “Decline.”
Bourgeois says he has received thousands of letters from concerned Catholics, particularly from women, commending him for supporting women’s ordination. He says the Catholic Church today is “going the way of the dinosaurs” for trying to uphold an “all-boys club” for the priesthood that cannot justify itself to a well-educated body of lay Catholics who will no longer humbly submit to the Church hierarchy.
Says Bourgeois: “Who are we, as men, to say to women, ‘Our call to priesthood is valid, but yours is not’? To me this is arrogance, to me this is heresy.”
Bourgeois says misogyny is deep within the Church, dating back to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, who upheld the belief in the inferiority of women.
He notes that such discrimination is further justified by the “myth of creation,” where, because the Bible says Adam was created first, he must be superior, and that “somehow Eve caused Adam to sin. Therefore, here we are 2,000 years later still saying, ‘Women are the temptresses. You can’t trust them. Women are at fault for the fall of Adam.’ “
For Bourgeois, the heart of the issue is that a “loving God created men and women in equal stature and dignity.” This equality is, to him, “very simple,” “very basic,” and it is the calling from God to women – as well as to men – to the priesthood that is the fundamental issue.
To not ordain, says Bourgeois, is a “grave injustice.”