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James Martin, S.J.November 15, 2008

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM, the Maryknoll priest who has been threatened with excommunication for his participation at an ordination rite for women, will travel to the Vatican to appeal his decision, AP is reporting, "with a contingent of fellow priests and a bishop."  Despite earlier reports,  Fr. Frederico Lombardi, SJ, the Vatican spokesman, said that he did not know of the existence of a letter to Lombardi detailing the sanction.  Lombardi noted that the excommunication would be "automatic," in other words, a "latae sententiae" excommunication, effective when the offense is committed.  (The person, in a sense, excommunicates himself or herself.) 

The canon applied in this case has not been announced.  It may be Canon 1364, which includes the "latae sententiae" excommunication:  "§1 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, without prejudice to the provision of can. 194 §1, n. 2; a cleric, moreover, may be punished with the penalties mentioned in can. 1336 §1, nn. 1, 2 and 3.  §2 If a longstanding contempt or the gravity of scandal calls for it, other penalties may be added, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state. "

Another canon that may apply is this 1365: "One who is guilty of prohibited participation in religious rites is to be punished with a just penalty."  However, this only indicates a "just penalty."  Excommunication, which forbids the reception of the sacraments (or, for the priest, their celebration) is the church’s ultimate penalty against its members.

Fr. Bourgeois, a dedicated apostle of social justice, and champion of the poor, has offered the church a valuable ministry in his tireless work against the School of the Americas.  Ironically, within days of the announcement of the Vatican censure, news came that the case against the soldiers who murdered six Jesuits and their companions in El Salvador in 1989, might be brought before a court in Spain.  (That court would try those accused of crimes against humanity.)  Those soldiers were trained at the School of the Americas.  In other words, the justice for which Fr. Bourgeois and his friends had fought seems within reach.  The timing is notable.

Fr. Bourgeois was following his conscience, he said, in his participation at the ordination rite, though it was clearly against the church’s teaching on women’s ordination.  In its document "Dignitatis Humanae," the Second Vatican Council wrote, "On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious."  The Catechism of the Catholic church, quoting from Vatican II’s "Gaudium et Spes," notes, "Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths" (1795). 

At the same time, Fr. Bourgeois must have known what the response from the church would entail: it is very clearly spelled out in canon law.  (All priests by the way take courses in canon law as part of their training.)  By participating in that rite--particularly in the laying on of hands, one of the main symbols of ordination in the Catholic church--that was contrary to church teaching about women’s ordination, Fr. Bourgeois must have known that his actions would have some serious consequences. 

Fr. Bourgeois is impelled to follow his conscience; the Vatican is impelled to enforce canon law.  The collision course was inevitable.

One reflection: The ordination rite in which Fr. Bourgeois participated occurred in August.  That means that within three months, the excommunication had been communicated from the Vatican to Fr. Bourgeois.  In the eyes of the Vatican, his actions represented a grave offense that required swift action and a severe penalty. 

Would that the church had acted with equal swiftness against sexually abusive priests.  Would that bishops who had moved abusive priests from parish to parish were met with the same severity of justice. 

Were their offenses of lesser "gravity"?  Did they cause lesser "scandal"?

James Martin, SJ

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14 years 6 months ago
One hopes that, as there always is, there is more to this story than meets the reader. I accept the Church's teaching on the ordination of women to the priesthood, yet I feel extremely unsettled when the stamp of heretic is so swiftly brought down, when offenses far more serious are taking place. Fr. Martin mentions the sexually abusive priests, and there is the case of an Australian priest who is distributing tracts denying the divinity of Christ. One would think that in terms of dogma, this would be far more grave, yet there has been no more blip. Was there something else in Fr. Bourgeois' case? One more thing, when this was first reported by the media, a letter was released from Fr. Bourgeois' lawyer. Perhaps this was a canon lawyer, but one would hope that in the Christian Church we can still speak to each other as disciples of Christ first and foremost. One can only pray that this is what takes place during the journey to Rome.
14 years 6 months ago
You rightly desire that the same 'swift justice' by the vatican had been used in regard to those bishops who had moved sexual-abuser priests from parish to parish. Would too that the Vatican would apply their same swift justice (posthumously now) to Pope John Paul II for his egregious defense of the late Founder of the Legionaires of Christ, guilty of abusing at least nine seminarians over the years, and for John Paul II's smearing of the victims, and those who took up their cause, to exonerate his friend the abuser. (Benedict XVI quietly deposed Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado and sent him into a life of prayer and penitence. Degollada died Jan. 30, 2008.) How ironic that the rule against the ordination of women rests solely upon John Paul II's statement that the church does not have the power to ordain women, and his ultimatum that the question be closed. Is this not the same arrogant prejudice that drove him to defend Degollado and refuse to investigate the case, preferring to slander those who brought it up? Quite simply the rule against the ordination of women is unjust; moreover, those who can rectify it, refuse to do so and declare the question closed. Consequently many see that their only option is to break this unjust rule. And, quite simply, any automatic ('latae sententiae') punishment for breaking this rule is itself unjust and inapplicable. Those trying to enforce this rule against Fr. Roy align themselves with John Paul II and his stubborn and arrogant defence of the sexual abuser Fr. M. Maciel Degollado.
14 years 6 months ago
"Conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths" (1795). And our Tradition has taught from the earliest days that a man may hear voices other than God's: his own self deception, or a devil. The fruit of his action certainly doesn't suggest it was God's voice he was hearing. The reference at the end to the sex abuse scandal is a gratuitous red herring--poor argument and poor editing not to cut it.
14 years 6 months ago
Thank you, Father Martin, for bringing up the oh s obvious hypocrisy of the Vatican. Quote all the canon law one wants, describe the conflict of law and choice/conscience, lament the confusion of procedure, and note the ironic timing with the death df the Jesuits and the protests at the School of the Americas. Whether one defends Roy Bourgeois on a variety of grounds or disagrees with him and believes that such an excommunication is justified, the lack of action against so many bishops and priests (until backed into the corner!) shows the dearth of integrity within the Roman courts and the Vatican in general. If I really believed that God was somehow at work in these adjudications, I would truly lose faith. Thankfully, I do not and only hope that Roy expereinces the grace he needs and the support and love of his congregation and so many of us.
14 years 6 months ago
What is the penalty when a priest lies about having received an excommunication letter from the Vatican? What is the penalty when a Jesuit magazine editor publishes a blog post repeating the lie? If Father Martin had bothered to read the MSNBC article that he linked to, he would see that the Vatican DENIES ANY KNOWLEDGE OF ANY SUCH LETTER. Inasmuch as Father Bourgeois HAS NOT PRODUCED THE LETTER, what evidence do we have that it even exists? The only logical explanation is that there is no letter from the CDF, and Fr Bourgeois is a fraud. Rather than get all excited about the opportunity to speculate about which provision of canon law is being used to 'persecute' Father Bourgeois, James Martin should insist that Father Bourgeois back up his completely unsubstantiated allegations.
14 years 6 months ago
Thank Father Martin again for your balanced post. There is no doubt that Fr. Ray knew what he was facing in participating in this faux ordination. I do wish he had found another way to exercise his conscience. I myself am torn on the idea of women's ordination. I will be faithful to Church teaching, particularly in a case where She has spoken infallibly, which is the case here. But that doesn't mean I necessarily follow the logic all the time. I think the grounds of reason excluding women from the priesthood are shaky. Nonetheless, when the Church speaks infallibly, I feel compelled to trust the Holy Spirit. But I do understand how others might not be so trusting. But all of that being said, I think Fr. Ray could have found another way to make his opinion known without causing the kind of scandal that of actual participation, not only laying hands but also delivering the homily, was bound to incur. While his public visibility will remain, I just think that by doing something that he knew would almost certainly lead to excommunication and possibly worse, he was ultimately being irresponsible because he now will lose a major weapon he has in regards to his other social justice concerns - his priesthood. No longer can he function as a priest, no longer can he offer Mass for the intentions of justice, at least not in a priestly capacity. No longer can he speak out on matters of justice as an official representative of the Catholic Church, as one of her ordained ministers. This is sad, and I think unnecessary. He could have found other, more responsible ways to exercise his conscience. I also found his letter to be extremely disingenuous, and that saddened me, as well. I will continue to keep him in my prayers. I have protested with him at the SOA, and I am hopeful that under this new administration perhaps it can finally be de-funded and shut down.
14 years 6 months ago
Mr. Fitzpatrick (I mean no disrespect by calling you Mr. btw. I am unfamiliar with the initials after the name, so if you are Br. or Fr., please forgive me): You are incorrect in asserting that the Church teaching on ordination of women rests solely on JPII's apostolic letter. In fact, as the responsonsum ad dubium (http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_df95os.htm) from the CDF pointed out, JPII's 'Ordinatio Sacerdotal' was merely confirming longstanding Church teaching on the matter. It was not just because JPII confirmed this teaching that it is to be regarded as infallible, but also because it was confirmed by a plenary council, Vatican II, in the document Lumen Gentium, and has been taught throughout the centuries by the Church. As I mentioned above, I do struggle at times with the reasoning behind the teaching, but it is the longstanding and infallible teaching of the Church, confirmed by previous papal statements and by Vatican II, and confirmed once and for all by John Paul II. And by signing the responsum issued by the CDF, JPII was merely assuring that the faithful understood that this was not an opinion of the Church but is in fact the infallible teaching confirmed by the Holy Spirit. We can struggle with it, and perhaps we should, but we are nonetheless as Catholics still required to give our full assent of faith, as we are to all the infallible teachings of the Church.
14 years 6 months ago
Michael, Where did Lumen Gentium teach a male-only priesthood ? God Bless
14 years 6 months ago
To Mike Scott: For a sample of some of the writing I've done on the sexual abuse crisis (in addition to my public speaking about it and, not incidentally, working at a magazine that has covered the topic extensively, from the beginning of the crisis), you might look at the chapter entitled 'How Could This Happened?,' which I contributed to the collection entitled 'Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims,' by Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, which is available on Google books, and also available for purchase on amazon.com James Martin, SJ
14 years 6 months ago
James Martin says - Would that the church had acted with equal swiftness against sexually abusive priests. Would that bishops who had moved abusive priests from parish to parish were met with the same severity of justice. Were their offenses of lesser 'gravity'? Did they cause lesser ''scandal''? Many, many good people, even many 'good Catholics' or former 'good Catholics' with whom I have spoken agree that any bishop who knowingly accepted into seminary, kept in seminary, ordained or knowingly kept a priest in ministry and/or transferred him around the diocese putting more children in harm's way, should have been and indeed, should have been excommunicated. Such offenses cry out to God for justice. And what have the People of God received? Not much. Offending bishops? Well, just look at Bernard Law. He was kicked upstairs. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish Victims' Advocate New Castle, Delaware maureenpaulturlish@yahoo.com
14 years 6 months ago
'Were their offenses of lesser 'gravity'? Did they cause lesser 'scandal'?' No. If it was up to me, the PC bishops that permitted and participated in the sex scandal would be feasting on bread and water for what their actions have cost the church in moral standing and treasure. But I suspect Fr. Martin is not being forthright. I don't remember any articles from him when the abuse scandal was breaking. And I suspect he is in sympathy with with this MM renegade's thoughs. His actions are akin to saying because this murderer was let off, the rapist should go free too. With regards to JohnPaul II, can any of us say we would not believe a friend of many years eventhough we may not realize the friend was lying through their teeth to us? Benedict was not so close to the situation and took action. Less severe than I would have liked, but still action. In the end, I'm just one of the sheep but I trust the Shepherd will deal with all these hired hands when He returns.
14 years 6 months ago
It is absurd to think that Fr. Bourgeois has not received a letter from Rome and is making this all up. Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath, who were ordained in St. Louis last Novermber, and Bishop Patricia Fresen, received their letters as they processed out of their ordination ceremony! The Church's response to these ordinations is often swift, depending on the level of threat perceived by the local bishop. The question here is not does this action deserve swifter penalties than the action of a pedophile? The question is how can we compare women following their call to service to priests who have committed illegal and immoral actions against innocent children? The prohibition against women's ordination can only be explained by sexism. As we humans and our institutions have become more educated and enlightened exclusion based on gender has receded. In the U.S., the Roman Catholic Church is the only large institution remaining that continues to discriminate based on gender. The church would rather deny the availability of the sacraments than to affirm the legions of women and married men willing to serve. Serious examination of our church structure and decision-making is long overdue.
14 years 6 months ago
It is a strange occurrence when the Boston Globe's religion reporter Michael Paulson makes the effort to put "ordination rite" in quotation marks, to reflect the fact that according to Roman Catholic teaching, it's not a real ordination rite, while a Catholic priest makes no similar effort. No amount of social justice work can make up for the fact of his error here, in the same way that a father's generosity to his kids doesn't make up for his adultery against his wife.
14 years 6 months ago
Thank you Fr. Roy, and Fr. James Martin for having the courage to open up the conversation about women in the church. The church has been so involved in self-protection since 2002, there are fewer prophetic voices like yours. I pray this is a new wave that turns the tide toward greater justice for all in the church and the world. Like Fr. Roy, I am inspired by Archbishop Romero, who said, ''Let those who have a voice speak for the voiceless If we are silent, now is the time to break the silence.'' AMDG
14 years 6 months ago
I'm just a Canadian onlooker, but could the 'swiftness' of the Vatican reaction have anything to do with the U.S. Catholic voter shift - i.e. a greater number of U.S. Catholics indicating they would vote for candidates by taking into consideration entire platforms, rather than just one issue (albeit an extremely important issue)? Did this irritate enough conservative, powerful Republican Catholics to agitate for strong action against progressive priests like Father Bourgeois? If another activist priest had been in the news perhaps the axe would have fallen on him? -- or maybe there are more axes raised...

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