Follow by Email

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Conscientious Objection

Back in my college days in the mid 1960s, I joined the War Resisters League, founded by Mahatma Gandhi, to combat the predominant mentality in society that violence and war can solve our problems. We took a pledge never to refer to another human being in anything less than human terms. No "pigs". No "gooks". No "monsters."

The strength of the movement lay in its followers being willing to participate in acts of civil disobedience against selective laws deemed unjust, and then willingly accepting the consequence of their action. Gandhi clearly stated such action must be selective. If laws are broken habitually then the focus of the injustice is lost. Similarly, Gandhi thought it essential to willingly accept the punishment for the infraction, thus underscoring just how injust, if not absurd, the particular law in question is.

I bring this up in this week before Holy Week as Maryknoll on the one hand prepares to celebrate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord (the cosmic example of a conscientious objector) while on the other hand preparing to expel (excuse me, DISMISS) Fr. Roy Bourgeois from our Society. [Our resident canon lawyer insists Roy is being dismissed, not expelled. I think the nuance depends on whether or not you open the door before booting someone out through it.]

Like many Maryknollers, I feel saddened, angry yet resigned to the inevitable and unavoidable consequences to Roy's actions these past several years. Let me be honest in the interest of full disclosure: I like Roy, I consider him my brother, and I totally agree with his opinion of women's ordination. I do not, however, agree with his strategy.

By dragging Maryknoll into his cause and putting us on a collision course with the hierarchy and official Church teaching, he forced Superior General Fr. Ed Dougherty's hand. One Maryknoller wanted to pose this question to Roy: would you force a busload of protesters at the annual SOA protest to cross the line and get arrested against their will? This Maryknoller says what Roy did was essentially to hijack Maryknoll and force us over the line.

When Roy was excommunicated in 2009 for participating in an attempted ordination of a woman to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 2008, he acted in the prophetic role of a conscientious objector by accepting the punishment for breaking what he feels in his heart of hearts is an unjust law. But by continually disregarding Fr. Dougherty's explicit instruction to make no further public statements and take no further action in support of women's ordination, Roy sealed his own fate and gave Doc an out to rid the Society of this "meddlesome priest" (cf. Thomas Becket and King Henry II, for those who are historically challenged.)

Perhaps Roy was acting in the style of Martin Luther ("Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir." ["Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me."]) Unfortunately, Doc's letter to Roy clouds the issue by casting the dismissal once again in terms of women's ordination and not explicitly in breaking the vow of obedience we take to our superiors. Inadvertently, then, our superior actually did Roy a favor by making the dismissal from Maryknoll a direct consequence of his public stand against the official Church's barring women from Holy Orders.

Murky ecclesial waters indeed. But for the above reasons, Roy's imminent dismissal from Maryknoll and forced laicization does refocus attention on the Church's ban on women's ordination. This apparent injustice in the Church is highlighted all the more by the recent report by the Boston-based Gavin group that found 55 dioceses are not compliant with the 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Two dioceses, Lincoln, Neb. and Baker, Ore. refused to cooperate with the audit. Is it too much to ask the bishops to keep their own promises and be consistent in meting out ecclesial justice by slapping the recalcitrant dioceses with an interdict (a communal excommunication) until they reflect and repent the error of their ways? Or is it true that the official Church considers involvement in women's ordination as grave a sin as pedophilia? (I notice a strange silence about the gravity of the sin of those who permitted the abuses to continue by transferring offenders and hiding their crimes.)

Be that as it may, the Vatican has declared no women shall be called to Holy Orders, ostensibly because none was present at the Last Super when Jesus instituted the priesthood. But by that same logic, let us then be consistent and decree that henceforth no woman is qualified to receive communion.

So here we stand, we can do no other. In 100 years, I feel Maryknoll will be but an asterisk next to Roy Bourgeois name. Don't believe me? Can anyone name the superior general who dismissed Father Martin Luther? Didn't think so. God help us, indeed.



  2. You add some good nuances and perspectives to the general discussion on Ray and women's ordination, Joe. I find I tend to agree with you, mostly finding fault with Ray's strategy, not his object or motivation.

  3. The question is: Was this a tactical error on the part of the General to demand recanting, thus bringing the vow of obedience to superiors into the picture? It wasn't that way with d'Escoto, was it? Roy was excommunicated, wasn't that enough. Why now does the General have to request Roy be laicisized; isn't this up to Rome? Also, does dismissal mean that MK will then evade the obligation of financial and benefit support to a man who is 74 years old and has served 44 years. Something wrong here, don't you think? Personally, I plan a protest and a picket line around the Knoll during the centennial ceremonies if MK does not do the right thing, including press and TV coverage. Here I stand. I can do no other...indeed!!

  4. When Roy has gone as far down the path of work for justice as he has, seems to me tactics somewhat trivialize. Exposing and opposing sexism in the church: is this a Big Deal now, or when and how it's tactically expedient? Is it separate ideologically / spiritually from the R. C. hierarchy's policies and practices re: sex abuse, same-sex partner employee benefits (cf: Wuerl with Catholic Charities), or definition of marriage? How long to wait for it be tactically expedient to speak up and out / take a stand? A looong wait, if for the current Catholic hierarchy.

  5. To Dan & Mr. Neu Teacher: Following his excommunication, Roy was told by our superior not to speak publicly on women's ordination. We all know how that turned out. As for Maryknoll's financal obligations toward Roy, I was assured by Fr. Dougherty that Roy would still be taken care of. And as to the laicization, I was told you cannot have a freelancing priest. He must either get a diocese to accept him or join another Society willing to give him free reign. Absent that, he will be laicized. Regarding Fr. Miguel D'Escoto, he had the good sense to do his work on behalf of justice without dragging Maryknoll's name into every article about him. Personally, I agree with Roy's ultimate goal, but for better or worse, we as a Society never discussed, much less agreed to any public action supporting women's ordination.