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Friday, September 30, 2011

Civil vs. ecclesial disobedience

Picture it: March 19 (St. Joseph's Day), 1970. I and 16 other members of the War Resisters League were arrested blocking the Selective Service Office building in Albany, NY, to protest the war in Vietnam. We would henceforth be referred to in the Albany Times Union as "The Albany 17." My claim to fame was captured in the article as, "One youth sustained a bloody nose."

I raise this specter of the 60s to clarify my understanding of what civil disobedience entails: you see an injustice, you selectively and peacefully break a law, you take the punishment and you hope this focuses attention on the original injustice.

I also raise this to help myself clarify my own very conflicting emotions surrounding Fr. Roy Bourgoise and his precent predicament vis-a-vis the Vatican and Maryknoll.

Before espousing the cause of women's ordinations in the Roman Catholic Church, Roy made a name for himself as the founder of the School of the Americas (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) Watch in Fort Benning, GA. SOAW contends many of the more notorious tyrants and murderers of church people of Latin America are graduates of the school and it should therefore be closed.

Each year near the anniversary of the killings of the six Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter (November 16, 1989) by graduates of the SOA, tens of thousands of protesters, most of them young people, carrying coffins and crosses bearing the names of the thousands killed or disappeared in Central America, demonstrate outside the gates of Fort Benning. The demonstration culminates in some people intentionally "crossing the line" onto the base and therefore breaking the law. They INTENTIONALLY break the law to get arrested to focus media and, hopefully, the country's attention on the anomaly of having such a base on U.S. soil and supported by U.S. taxpayers.

Roy himself was arrested many times in the past and spent four years in federal prisons, often in solitary confinement (I guess so his presence doesn't corrupt the other prisoners). The judge made it crystal clear that should Roy get arrested again, he's going away for a long, long time. Subsequently, Roy has not "crossed the line", at least civilly.

Which brings us to ecclesial disobedience. Roy knew he was crossing the line by participating in an attempted ordination of a woman. And the punishment he incurred was excommunication. By continuing to speak out publicly on this topic, he now runs the real risk of dismissal from Maryknoll.

I understand Roy's case is now before the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples to decide whether or not the dismissal from Maryknoll is warranted.

Them's the facts.

What I still don't understand is, why fight the consequences of an action designed to provoke precisely these consequences?

Roy's "street cred" in the forefront of the women priests movement is enhanced by his excommunication and pending dismissal from Maryknoll. Forever he will be presented as a priest who paid the price for his solidarity with women.

Thanks to erroneous reports in no less a paper as the New York Times, most people think Roy has already been dismissed, even though the process has not played out. Maryknoll has paid the price amongst many erstwhile supporters, even though Fr. Dougherty, our superior, told me specifically, that Maryknoll would continue its financial and medical support of Roy no matter what.

What is to be gained by either side in interminably prolonging this process?


On a related topic, Fr. Ray Finch, up from Cochabamba, Bolivia, to attend the various centennial gatherings and upcoming mission symposium at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, reports a development in women's ability to become Yatiri (native healers) among the Aymara in the altiplano. Many people may not be aware that the Yatiri in Bolivia, Peru and Chile face the strictest selection standards in the world. To become a healer, one must be struck by lightning——and survive. Most do not, Ray says. But the interesting point is that for the first time, WOMEN who survive a lightning strike are being accepted as Yatiri!

Ah, but the Buddhists of Thailand have gone this one better, according to Br. John Beeching. Since it is against the law to harm a monk in this predominantly Buddhist country, to protect the endangered forests from loggers, the monks ordained the trees! And it worked! Loggers refused to lay a hand (or a saw) on these consecrated trees.

In fairness, though, I must confess we don't know the gender of these pious plants.

1 comment:

  1. I think the contrast, tho would be startling, don't you think? If Roy is dismissed from priestly duties, it would be for following Catholic doctrine, i.e., following one's conscience, whereas the priests who abused children were dismissed from the priesthood only after the actions of these individuals became known and in some cases, only after civil and criminal charges were brought.The powers that be will say that,no, he was dismissed for not obeying his superiors, but that will be seen as a pretty feeble response, especially to Americans.