Giving Thanks for Father Roy

November 22, 2012 at 11:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Well, on Monday, as many of us were planning our Thanksgiving menus, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers announced that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had dismissed Father Roy Bourgeois from their order. Bourgeois had been a member of Maryknoll for forty-five years. The cause of his dismissal was his refusal to renounce his participation in the ordination of a Roman Catholic Womanpriest, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, in August of 2008, and his support of women’s ordination more broadly.

For me, the remarkable part of this announcement was that it didn’t come sooner than it did. The Vatican notified Bourgeois soon after the 2008 ordination that he was excommunicated, or, as they prefer to put it, that he had excommunicated himself by his actions. In the four years since then, Bourgeois met twice with the Maryknoll leadership to discuss the situation, most recently, last June. An article in the National Catholic Reporter quotes Bourgeois to the effect that “the discussion made no mention of his removal, but instead focused on the rights of conscience of Catholics and ‘the importance of people of faith and members of Maryknoll to be able to speak openly and freely without fear … of being dismissed or excommunicated.'” A letter from Maryknoll in March 2011 did state, however, that Bourgeois faced laicization and removal from the order if he did not comply with Vatican demands that he publicly recant his support of women’s ordination.

My own assumption is that Maryknoll did all that was in its power to prevent or at least postpone Bourgeois’s expulsion. Apparently a vote among the leadership last spring resulted in a draw, a pretty remarkable outcome almost four years down the pike. People who don’t follow the women’s ordination controversy in the Catholic Church closely might wonder why I say this. A woman on a listserv to which I belong found Bourgeois’s expulsion “shocking. But let’s be clear: the institutional Catholic Church considers ordination one of the most grievous sins it’s possible to commit. In a 2010 document, the Vatican placed the ordination of women in the same category of grave sin as the sexual abuse of children by clergy. When criticized that clergy guilty of sex abuse were not excommunicated, as those involved in women’s ordination are, the Vatican spokesperson suggested that being defrocked was more serious than excommunication. Excommunication, after all, can be reversed. As my husband used to say about the cops when we lived in Philadelphia, “These boys don’t play.” Maryknoll took considerable risk by not giving Roy Bourgeois the boot sooner, though I myself think the group’s Nov. 19th statement goes too far in its attempt to make up with Rome.

One of the  reasons for Maryknoll’s dragging its feet on the expulsion, of course, is that Bourgeois is a genuine American Catholic hero. As narrated in his recently published autobiographical booklet, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity, Bourgeois was a decorated Vietnam war veteran who went on to do missionary work in Bolivia and El Salvador. These experiences so radicalized him that he joined with other activists to protest US involvement with violent Latin American dictatorships and to found the School of the America’s Watch. Though he doesn’t report exactly how much time he has spent in jail for his protests, it’s likely that historians will one day list Bourgeois with American Catholic justice activists like Dorothy Day, Phil and Dan Berrigan, and Liz McAlister.

Bourgeois’ analysis of injustice in Latin America led him eventually to protest the inequality of women in the Catholic Church. Indeed, he met the woman at whose ordination he preached, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, because she was a member of through the School of the Americas Watch. I am myself uncomfortable with Bourgeois’ decision to illustrate the section on women’s ordination in My Journey from Silence to Solidarity with photographs of US civil rights and German anti-Nazi activists for obvious reasons: excommunication is significantly different from lynching or execution. But like the anti-apartheid hero Patricia Fresen, Bourgeois’s experiences beyond white European and American divinity schools and faith communities makes his use of such analogies understandable. Compared to the many American priests and bishops who privately favor women’s ordination but wouldn’t dare to speak out for fear of retribution, Roy Bourgeois is a real gender-justice hero.

My main concern now is how Bourgeois will live in his old age. He’s 74, not a good time for starting over financially;  members of religious orders depend on their orders’ facilities and resources for retirement and end-of life care. Perhaps School of the Americas Watch has been paying into a 401(K) for him, though it’s hard to imagine. The rest of us can show our gratitude by buying a hard copy of My Journey from Silence to Solidarity. Send your check to Roy Bourgeois, P. O. Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903 (706-682-5369). The price is listed as $7 (including postage and handling) but you can always include something extra.

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5 Comments »

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  1. You wondered why the decision to dismiss Fr. Roy came during Thanksgiving week. We think it was a very calculated timing. The national Call to Action convention had just concluded, the SOA (School of Americas) Watch annual gathering had just occurred the weekend after CTA. Both groups would rally around Fr. Roy. The Vatican was hoping the radical housewives might have gone to the kitchen to plan their Thanksgiving menus, as you mentioned. Another good reference you didn’t mention is the DVD “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” also deals with Fr. Roy and his stand for women’s ordination.

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  2. You ask those who order Fr. Roys book to perhaps include a little extra, since he is left without support at age 74. Another hero who needs your support is Patricia Fresen who was among the earlier pioneers in the womans ordination movement, and was tossed out of her convent of 45 years with less than 24 hrs notice and immediately relieved of her teaching position at the Catholic University in South Africa. She had to struggle with having to survive and live at an age, when most of us are retired and pensioned.

    Some of us had mentioned that a movement “Coins for Conscience” should be organized to support those Catholics who are brave enough to question the misdirection of the church. Catholics are great for the catchy collection moniker. i.e. Peter’s Pence and God’s Acre, an appeal where farmers where asked to contribute their crop proceeds to Rome. The Vatican uses money as its main weapon against dissent. Many clerics have expressed their feelings of support but few have the courage of Fr. Roy and Sr. Paticia Fresen to lay it all on the line. Some of the more braver sisters are still sending Rome into fits to “get these nuns back inline.” But in the end, those in religious orders are always very careful of how far they can go in support of justice, with the threat of expulsion from their order and being “tossed out on the street” lingering.

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  3. Thanks for this, Marian — and I like your suggestion that we show our support by giving him some real support.

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  4. Your message, as usual, brings us to reflection and prayer. I give thanks for you!

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  5. What a great way to get a terrific Christmas present for many we know and help him, too! Thanks as always for your well thought out remarks.

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