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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Open letter to Fr. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.

Dear Roy,

I write this to you with an unlikely mixture of pride, sadness, anger and joy. No matter what, I will always consider you my brother in faith. Barring a successful appeal to Rome, in a matter of days you will no longer have the privilege of appending M.M. to your name, yet paradoxically ours will be the greater loss.

Despite several articles by otherwise astute writers claiming the contrary, you will NOT lose your monthly allowance or health coverage from Maryknoll. Such a vindictive action would truly betray not only the Maryknoll spirit we share but the gospel we profess. That same gospel and Maryknoll spirit will no doubt continue to inspire you whether you are canonically in the Society or not. You will be freer, in a sense, to continue your advocacy on behalf of the ordination of women, yet without membership in the Society we all love.

I just wish, in all your righteous claims to the primacy of conscience, you'd have said a word of acknowledgement of the effect your actions have had on Maryknoll. This might have assuaged some of the anger and sense of betrayal some Maryknollers feel, not toward your stated goal of promoting the ordination of women, but rather because of your methods that seemingly disregarded the negative impact on the Society. Likewise when Maryknoll's reputation was taking a hit because of this situation and we were losing supporters despite our pledge of continued financial support for you, a word from you defending the Society would have been greatly appreciated.

My position on the ordination of women has been a matter of public record since my editorial in MARYKNOLL magazine in May 1993. In it I asked, "If a woman could produce the body of Christ physically, why can't women produce it sacramentally?" More than any other person, the Virgin Mary can point to Jesus and say, "This is my body; this is my blood."

Of course, this was before Pope John Paul II strictly forbade even thinking about discussing this topic, so I have obediently refrained from thinking about discussing it.

My anger arises from the second reason for your dismissal as described in the second canonical warning that you forwarded to me. It states: "Grave scandal given to the people of God, the Church, especially in the United States, and scandal given to many of the Maryknoll priests and Brothers...."

If causing grave scandal is sufficient reason for dismissal from religious life, many bishops should have been booted out years ago. Plus, I have not come upon a single Maryknoller who is scandalized by your actions. Outraged, frustrated, aggravated, agitated, perturbed and resentful, yes, but scandalized? Not so much.

We are Maryknollers. We are scandalized by a system that repeatedly put the reputation of the institution above the welfare of children. We are scandalized that Catholics are deprived of the Eucharist because of a chronic shortage of priests, thus sacrificing the spiritual well-being of people on the high altar of male, clerical celibacy. We are scandalized by those who consider the ordination of women as even remotely equivalent to the molestation of children as harmful to the church.

And I, for one, am scandalized that laicization is part of the disciplinary action taken against you. What an insult to the laity that their state would be considered a punishment!

Yet as a veteran conscientious objector from the Vietnam war days, I am also proud of the stance you have taken. May your case continue to focus public attention and the light of reason on aspects of church law you consider unjust. Gandhi taught it is precisely in accepting the punishment for breaking an unjust law that people will realize how wrong the law is and demand change.

God speed, Roy, as our Maryknoll paths diverge, yet take heart knowing we will each in our own way continue struggling to realize the values of the reign of God in our church and in our time.

Keep us in your prayers, as we do you in ours.

"All things work together for good, for those who love God...." (Romans 8:28)

(Rev.) Joe Veneroso, M.M.

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