Friday, July 22, 2011

Challenging the Vatican on female priests

July 22, 2011

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony that purported to ordain a woman as a priest, in defiance of church teaching.

The American priests’ action follows closely on the heels of a “Call to Disobedience” issued in Austria last month by more than 300 priests and deacons. They stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” After an investigation, the Vatican forced him to resign.

While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.
Church experts said it was surprising that 157 priests would sign a statement in support of the American priest, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, because he did much more than speak out: he gave the homily and blessed a woman in an illicit ordination ceremony conducted by the group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests. That group claims to have ordained 120 female priests and five bishops worldwide. The Vatican does not recognize the ordinations and has declared the women automatically excommunicated.

Father Bourgeois, a member of the Maryknoll religious order, received a letter from the Vatican in 2008 warning that he would be excommunicated if he did not recant. He sent the Vatican a long letter saying that he was only following his conscience. The Vatican never wrote back, he said.

The Maryknolls, however, did not dismiss him, and he continued presenting himself as a priest. He is a rather well-known one, at that. Father Bourgeois, now 72, was an American missionary in El Salvador during the death squad era and has made it his ministry ever since to lead antiwar protests outside the United States Army School of the Americas in Georgia.

But now, under pressure from the Vatican, the Maryknolls have sent the first of two required “canonical warnings” that they will dismiss him if he does not recant. Father Bourgeois responded that if he recanted to save his priesthood or his pension, he would be lying. “I see this very clearly as an issue of sexism, and like racism, it’s a sin,” he said in an interview this week from his home in Georgia. “It cannot be justified, no matter how hard we priests and church leaders, beginning with the pope, might try to justify the exclusion of women as equals. It is not the way of God. It is the way of men.”
In Australia, the church was shaken in May when Pope Benedict XVI removed Bishop William Morris from the Diocese of Toowoomba, where he had served since 1992. The pope wrote the bishop that the teaching barring women’s ordination was “infallible.”

The Vatican had sent Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver (named this week to be the new archbishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) to investigate Bishop Morris.

The National Council of Priests of Australia, which says it represents 40 percent of priests there, denounced the dismissal, saying that those who influenced the decision “have limited pastoral experience.”

The Rev. Ian McGinnity, chairman of the priests council in Australia, said in an e-mail, “Bishop Morris was endeavouring to face honestly significant problems in his rural diocese, particularly with the shortage of priests, which meant that some communities were deprived of the Eucharist on a regular basis.”

See full story at

No comments:

Post a Comment