Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who concelebrated a Mass at a women’s ordination ceremony earlier this month, has met with leaders of his religious community, calling the meeting “productive.” At the same time, Bourgeois told his superiors he did not recant his actions and urged a continuing dialogue about the place of women in the church.
In a phone interview Aug. 19, Bourgeois said that he and Maryknoll leadership, including Superior General Fr. John Sivalon, had agreed that in the future they would engage in “collective discernment” over issues of justice, including the role of women in the church.
Maryknoll spokeswoman Betsey Guest said Bourgeois and Maryknoll leadership released a joint statement following their meeting that states, “An investigation has been carried out as to the true facts of the August 9 event in Lexington, Ky., A report of that investigation will be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.
In the meantime, Fr. Bourgeois has received a canonical warning.” Bourgeois concelebrated and preached at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a longtime peace activist and advocate of women’s ordination.
Bourgeois said in the interview that his superiors warned him not to participate in similar events in the future. He said he had no plans to attend another ordination, nor did he have an invitation to do so.
“Contrary to popular understanding, participants in the ceremony, such as Father Bourgeois, were not automatically excommunicated,” the statement said.
Bourgeois said he felt strong support from his community but has no idea how Rome will respond.
The priest, known best for his advocacy of Christian non-violence and attempts to close the international school for military training at Ft. Benning, Ga., said that during the discussion with a four-member leadership team he urged the order to continue a dialogue about the place of women in the church.
Bourgeois considers the exclusion of women from ordination an injustice and one rooted in the fact that “the interpretation of the teachings of Jesus, over time, has been controlled exclusively by men.”
He said he told the order, “I wish it were possible to work on issues of peace and justice and not upset anyone.” But, he said, others like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and César Chavez “have all shown us that when you work on these issues of peace and justice there are consequences.”
Even so, he said, Maryknoll and other men’s orders should be “open enough” and “have courage enough” to discuss the matter with women. “We don’t have to start ordaining women, but can we at least invite women in and just listen? Can we shut up long enough to hear their stories, their experiences of being marginalized in the church? Can we hear the pain they feel?”
At one point, he said, he asked the leadership group, “What do we say to Janice and other women who say they are called by God to be priests?”
The question, he said, went unanswered.
Bourgeois said he knows that the Vatican could come down with a more severe penalty. And if Vatican authorities should say he’s excommunicated? “I would be very very sad. I’ve been a Maryknoll priest for 36 years. But if Rome came down with the ax? I’d have to embrace it,” he said.
(Roberts is NCR Editor-at-Large and can be reached at email@example.com.)