Despite Vatican warning, Father Bourgeois holds firm

Dennis Sadowski

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Despite being threatened with excommunication by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois said he would not recant his belief that women should be ordained as Catholic priests.

"There's nothing that Rome can do to me to take away the peace, the clarity I have on this issue," Father Bourgeois told Catholic News Service Nov. 12. "No matter what the consequences, I feel I am doing the right thing."

Father Bourgeois sent a letter to congregation officials Nov. 7 outlining his stance on women's ordination and how he believes church "teaching on this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny." He said the issue is one of conscience and that he cannot recant something of which he remains firmly convinced.

The letter was made public Nov. 11 by the priest's attorney, Bill Quigley, in New Orleans, La.

The 69-year-old priest said his letter was in response to an Oct. 21 notice from the Vatican congregation, headed by Cardinal William J. Levada, an American, that gave him 30 days to recant his belief and public statements about the ordination of women or be excommunicated.

Known widely for his 19-year campaign to close a U.S. army school at Fort Benning, Ga., that trains Latin American soldiers, Father Bourgeois attracted the attention of the leaders of his order and church officials following his participation in a reported ordination ceremony sponsored by Roman Catholic Womenpriests Aug. 9 in Lexington, Ky.

In August Father Bourgeois said he concelebrated the liturgy, delivered the homily and laid hands on longtime friend and fellow peace activist Janice Sevre-Duszynska during what traditionally would have been the ordination rite at the ceremony in a Unitarian Universalist church. He said he was invited to the ceremony by Sevre-Duszynska and decided to participate after a period of discernment.

He received a canonical warning from Maryknoll leadership during an Aug. 18 meeting with representatives of the order's General Council in Maryknoll, N.Y. At the time, Father Bourgeois said he hoped the issue was settled because he had no intention of participating in any other such ceremony.

The Maryknoll order, through spokeswoman Betsey Guest, said Nov. 13 that a confidential notice had been received from the Vatican congregation and forwarded to Father Bourgeois. She said the order "continues to respect the confidentiality" of the communications.

"We are definitely required to abide by the decision by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," she said. "At the same time we have an obligation to ensure the canonical rights of our members."

She added that it would be Father Bourgeois' decision on the next step to take once a final decision from the congregation is received.

The congregation's letter came as a shock, said Father Bourgeois, who was ordained in 1972. "The seriousness set in," he said. "It wasn't complicated. They said very seriously I had 30 days and if I didn't recant I will be excommunicated. That's pretty serious. That's pretty clear. No ifs, ands or buts."

Father Bourgeois said he spent two weeks in prayer and discernment before crafting his response. He said he then drove from his home in Columbus, Ga., to Lutcher, La., 35 miles west of New Orleans, to meet with his family, including his 95-year-old father.

"To them and to me (my father) said, 'Roy has been all over the world and God brought him back from the war in Vietnam safely. God brought him back from Bolivia and El Salvador (where he served as a Maryknoll missioner) and God is going to take care of him now. I support him 100 percent and he's doing the right thing,'" Father Bourgeois told CNS.

"When we get the blessing from family and loved ones, it does bring some peace. At the same time, it saddens me to put them through this," he said.

For now, Father Bourgeois will continue to prepare for the Nov. 21-23 vigil and procession to the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, the home of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the army school he has been trying to close for nearly two decades.

He also said he may try to arrange a meeting with congregation officials with the help of his superiors in New York and in Rome to discuss the issue.

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