Father Roy Bourgeois addressed an impromptu gathering of Maryknollers this evening, following the opening day of the U.S. Regional Assembly. About 38 members attended.
He started with some background as to how he got involved in the issue of women's ordination in the Roman Catholic church. He linked this with his own process of discernment of his priestly vocation.
Next he reviewed his work with closing the School of the Americas (SOA-Watch) in Fort Benning, GA.
In the last ten years in going around the country talking about injustices in Central America, he became more aware of injustice in the Church, namely devout Catholic women who feel called to priesthood but who are denied their vocation.
Until the 1960s, racial segregation was an accepted tradition in this country, especially in the South, until it was rightly challenged and overturned. Similarly, Roy feels, the exclusion of women from the Catholic priesthood is an unacceptable and unjust tradition. "Who are we (men), to say our call is authentic and valid but yours (women's) is not?"
He felt in his heart and conscience he could no longer keep silent on this issue.
"The hammer came down swiftly," he said, in the letter from Rome demanding he recant or face excommunication. In discerning a response, Roy said, "My biggest concern was my family."
His family, included his elderly father, expressed their support and blessing.
He continued his work with SOA Watch until the letter came from Maryknoll leadership asking him to recant or face dismissal from the Society. This letter was more devastating to him than the threat of excommunication, he said.
He expressed sadness because now, "I am in big trouble."
In closing he said he is finding broad support around the country for women's ordination and to be told we cannot even talk about this is highly offensive. He is hoping more people step forward to participate in this important conversation. For Roy this is a matter of justice and a matter of conscience.
Roy invited questions and comments.
Father Dennis Moorman said that Roy's actions also impacted Maryknoll and he asked what consideration Roy gave to this before speaking or acting in this regard.
Roy's response was rambling and vague, IMHO, about how he did development work and people expected Maryknoll to be involved in peace and justice issues. He mused what would it be like if all the priests, and especially Maryknollers, who supported women's ordination were to come forward, speak out, perhaps sign a petition. "But the atmosphere is one of fear."
Father Phil Erbland mentioned a show on TV where a priest left the priesthood in order to push for an overall over-haul of the very structure of the Roman Catholic Church. "Our discussion should be wider (than women's ordinations)," he said.
Roy responded that many, many Catholics are leaving the Church out of anger, especially for its discrimination against women, gays and lesbians. He says the pope and some bishops are trying to undo the progress of Vatican II.
I expressed being conflicted vis-a-vis Roy's situation. I support and agree with his position on women's ordination but cannot understand how he can ignore a direct order of our superior, given our oath of obedience.
Roy answered that his conscience compels him to continue to speak out and ask basic questions, much like people did during the Vietnam war. The debate or discussion will not stop, Roy maintains, just like opposition to the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage could not stop these movements. "We (Maryknoll) are on the wrong side of history on this issue," he said. "Unless we change, we are going to die."
Father Dave LaBuda says he honestly believes in and respects Roy's conscience but he (Roy) also publicly represents the Maryknoll community and there has never been a discussion of his position with the wider membership or any consultation with us. Dave used the analogy of a man deciding on his own to move to another country and expecting his family to go with him, without consultation.
"In the wider world church, is this even an issue?" David asks. "The church in the U.S. is different than the one we knew when we first went oversees. The reality is very different." Dave wants to know how Roy jives his conscience with the (Maryknoll) community, and how does he jive his message with the younger generation of Catholics which tends to be more accepting of the institutional church?
Roy says his experience has been different (than Dave's) because he sees signs of hope and enthusiasm among the young people he speaks with.
Dave tried valiantly to get back to the issue of Roy jiving his personal conscience and subsequent actions with that of the larger Maryknoll community. Again, Roy gave an impassioned reply about sexism and power but did not answer the question, IMO.
Father Larry Murphy sees a larger issue as a problem of authority in the Church, of which the ordination of women is just one area that we might be in disagreement with current Church leadership. "How do we, with what little power we have, influence the Church and not leave it over just one issue?"
Former superior general, Father John Sivalon, says there had been some consultation between Roy and the previous administration.
Father Steve Taluja asks why we here at Maryknoll haven't gotten together to discuss just where we stand on this topic. He says it's not fair to lay all the blame on Roy.
Father John Felago said he suspects he is part of a silent majority, in Maryknoll if not in the Church, who supports Roy's position. He invoked Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders whose actions lead to the fall of the walls of prejudice and discrimination. Perhaps this issue would precipitate the changes we are desiring.
Brother John Blazo says there is also the question of power and money that the current structure supports and will vigorously defend. Maybe the ordination of women is something just for this country to address and does not necessarily have to apply to other countries or cultures.
Father Tom Marty said patriarchy and the abuse of power in the Church must be dealt with. But, he said, he disagrees with Roy's tactics, especially participating in the (illicit) ordination of a woman. Plus, ordination is not a right, like a human right, Tom said. "One can feel called to priesthood but one does not have an automatic right to ordination."
Brother Ray Tetrault first encountered justice issues following his return from Japan. This issue of women's ordination has provoked new feelings and challenges about where he stands on this. "Maybe we should be imitating the Acts of the Apostles," he said, when they relied on the Holy Spirit to address important issues with faith and love.
Fr. Bill Donnelly says, "If the Church (eventually) says it wants to ordain women, great." He says Roy has now made his point, especially with Rome, and there is nothing to be gained by continuing to speak out. Roy's battle is going nowhere. Bill said he would hate to see Roy dismissed from Maryknoll, which would solve nothing.
Fr. Mike Bassano said he is saddened by how the institutional church is treating Roy and our General Council not being more compassionate but rather threatening dismissal.
Fr. John Barth said he wished this discussion could be a part of agenda of the Regional Assembly, instead of just an impromptu gathering.
I (Fr. Joseph Veneroso) asked where Roy now stood vis-a-vis Maryknoll and the dismissal process.
Roy said he learned there would not be a lot of discussion with the Council. The Second Letter has not yet arrived, but it may arrive any time. Many Maryknoll Sisters and Society members have appealed on Roy's behalf. He got a whole stack of support letters and a relative few calling for him to be burned at the stake. He is hoping that we at Maryknoll might still have this important discussion.
Former superior general, Father Jim Noonan, said this evening has been a real grace. The one thing he found himself doing is praying for both Fr. Ed Dougherty, superior general, as well as for Roy. "Ed is in a very, very difficult position."
Jim asked, "How can we continue to live in harmony as brothers and sisters in Maryknoll?"