When I heard about the patriarchal ultimatum (recant your support of women’s ordination or be dismissed) given to Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois I was stunned, but not surprised.
It brought my mind back to the day when my good friend, Bill Callahan, then a Jesuit, was dismissed from his order. Although Bill’s dismissal was wrapped in different language, his advocacy for women’s ordination was a major part of the accusations against him.
Both men provide powerful public witnesses for their beliefs. Roy preached at the 2008 ordination of a woman friend in the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement. Bill was a plenary speaker at the first Women’s Ordination Conference in 1975 and launched Priests for Equality that same year, with women’s ordination as a prominent part of the charter.
Both were told to be silent, and both refused. Roy was told to recant his public stand a few months after he preached at his friend’s ordination, but continued to speak his conscience publicly. In 1980, Bill was silenced by the Jesuits on the issue of women’s ordination, but resumed his public stance a year later. Bill was dismissed from the Society of Jesus in the early 1990’s, and Roy is likely to face the same fate in the next few weeks.
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Many women have suffered in this movement as well. The 100+ women in the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement are (theoretically, at least, since they don’t accept it) excommunicated. Many are persona not grata in parishes and Catholic settings, and even among a few of their friends.
But male priests who are willing to stand up for justice for women in the church are few and far between. The male clerical culture works to keep them “in line.” That’s why both Bill and Roy deserve our admiration and gratitude. They walk with the brave women who stand strong to speak out for what ought to be an obvious value in our church: the fundamental equality of women and men in all roles in our church.
One day, in not too many years, we will look back on this denial of human rights the way we look at slavery today. We will lament the ways the church gave aid and support to such sexism and injustice. And we will remember the women and men who challenged the system as prophets.