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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shimmering shades of gray

(No, I'm not referring to hair color.)

The dining room was all abuzz this morning with animated discussions of yesterday's conversation with the superior general and his Council.

It was a first. Imagine! No less than 55 Society members discussed the events leading up to the process of dismissal from Maryknoll of Father Roy Bourgeois. No chairs were flung. No voices raised. No tables pounded. (Whether due to wisdom or battle fatigue, I have yet to determine)

But radically divergent views were openly expressed, and heard, and respected. And guys left smiling. (Are we talking about Maryknollers????)

Channel 15 streamed the meeting live to the guys at St. T's.

What emerged was the painful complexity of trying to separate personal opinions regarding Roy and his actions from the reaction of the Vatican and the impact all this has on Maryknoll. For many of us, its not just back and white. Some guys who support Roy's position nonetheless disagree with his tactics; others disagree with both and think Maryknoll has been overly indulgent with him and disciplinary action is long overdue; still others regard Roy as a prophet, however flawed, and strongly support him and his actions and think both Maryknoll and the Vatican are on the wrong side of history.

Some background to put this into perspective:

Back in the day (May, 1981) when Roy performed his now infamous disappearing act in El Salvador, at a time when such events usually ended in a shallow grave, Maryknoll's then superior general went out on a (what turned out to be very shaky) limb by publicly holding that country's military responsible should any harm befall the Maryknoller. We're talking NYT material.

After Roy ambled out of the jungle unscathed some days later and explained he had initiated this in order to commune with "los muchachos" (as the rebels were called), the super G had the proverbial egg on his face. Paradoxically, that same Maryknoller today remains one of Roy's staunchest supporters.

Conversely, a point was made that Roy never offered a single word of acknowledgement, let alone regret or apology for the anxiety and subsequent embarrassment his actions caused Maryknoll. Then as now, a pattern emerges.

Catholic deference to the primacy of a well-informed conscience came up in the conversation, with the emphasis on the "well-informed".

It goes without saying but merits repeating that this situation has soured our relationship with the U.S. Bishops, as well as with Rome, although it can equally be argued that it has also soured our relationship with many Catholics, both our supporters and our detractors. At this point, no matter what Maryknoll does or doesn't do, some people are going to be very displeased.

Funny thing, all this brouhaha comes down to a six-letter word: former.

Even if he is dismissed, Roy's monthly personal allowance from Maryknoll is assured as is his health care coverage. All that will change is that, in future public events, Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois will, instead, be referred to as former Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois. Will this placate Rome and the bishops? We'll find out.

Nothing was solved by yesterday's gathering, but that wasn't the intention. Men got to speak their minds in an atmosphere of fraternal respect. Issues and feelings simmering just below the surface finally came into the light of day. We now know where each other stands. And in the end, for all the tension and bad publicity and ambiguity (creative or otherwise), we are still proud to be members of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America.

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