COLUMBUS, Ga. (CNA) —The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers have notified Father Roy Bourgeois he will be dismissed from their order unless he renounces his “defiant stance” against Catholic teaching on the ordination of women.
Denver-based canon lawyer J.D. Flynn said the continuing disciplinary action against the excommunicated priest is about restoring justice and repairing scandal.
“The issue is that Father Bourgeois is in a position of public ministry in the Church. He is perceived to be speaking for the Church. When he says things which aren’t consistent with what we know to be true, it can lead people into sinfulness,” Flynn told CNA on Aug. 9.
“When the sacraments are simulated, we are all wounded by that,” he added. “All of us in the Church suffer when we lose clarity about the sacraments and run into error. No priest should be permitted to lead us into error.”
Flynn said the disciplinary action is “really about the Church trying to make clear that a person who is leading us into sinfulness is not acting as minister of the Church.”
Father Bourgeois is a human-rights activist who founded the group SOA Watch, which monitors the U.S. government’s training of military personnel in Latin America. He was excommunicated in 2008 for participating in an attempted ordination of a woman to the priesthood at a Unitarian church in Lexington, Ky.
Maryknoll superior general Father Edward Dougherty, in a July 27 letter, warned Father Bourgeois of his imminent dismissal on the grounds that he had shown “obstinate disobedience” to his superiors in violation of his oath about a “grave matter.” The letter also cited his “diffusion of teachings” opposed to the “definitive teaching of John Paul II and the magisterium of the Catholic Church” as well as the “grave scandal” he has caused to the people of God, to the Church, and to many Maryknoll priests and brothers.
The order gave the priest 15 days after receiving the letter to renounce publicly his stand on women’s ordination, or face dismissal.
Father Bourgeois’ Aug. 8 reply said that Catholic Church teaching “excludes women from the priesthood” and “defies both faith and reason and cannot stand up to scrutiny.” He said the teaching is “rooted in sexism,” which “like racism, is a sin.”
He said the instruction to recant is “telling me to lie and say I do not believe that God calls both men and women to the priesthood.”
“This I cannot do; therefore, I will not recant,” he said.
Flynn defended Catholic teaching, explaining that the Catholic Church “holds definitively that ordination is reserved to men only.”
“This doesn’t mean the Catholic Church thinks that women are less, or that that they have less of a role in church. What that doctrine really means is that we believe that people are called to different roles in the Church, different kinds of vocations, but they are all equal in dignity. It’s St. Paul’s idea that there are many parts to the body.”
“Women are called to many different kinds of ministry and service in the Church and in the world, and so are men, but just as a man couldn’t become a mother, which is perhaps the noblest vocation, a woman is unable to become a priest, deacon or bishop,” Flynn added.
The Catholic Church ordains only men “because Jesus ordained men,” he said. “We take seriously the idea that genders are different and have different roles to play in the Church.”
He said that Jesus had “great love for women” but didn’t ordain even his revered mother Mary.
“In following that example, we believe it was the intention of Our Lord to recognize the distinction between fatherhood and motherhood, between masculinity and femininity, to create men as deacons, priests and bishops in the Church.”
Flynn suggested that American society in general rejects Catholic teaching on ordination because it confuses “equality in function with equality in dignity.”
“We believe that for people to be equal they have to be able to do all of the same things. … We’ve done away with the idea that people can have different functions and yet be equal in dignity and be equal in love of the Lord.”
This results in the loss of the idea that some roles are reserved for women and some roles are for men.
Father Bourgeois’ case will proceed to the Vatican, where he faces formal removal from the priesthood, a process known as laicization.
As an excommunicated priest, he cannot be a minister of the sacraments and his participation in the life of the Church is limited, Flynn explained.
However, he is still a member of the Maryknoll order until he is dismissed, and he is still recognized as a priest under Church law.
“The process of laicization removes him from the clerical state, to clarify that he has no ability to exercise ministry in the Church,” Flynn said.
Bourgeois’ excommunication was a “medicinal penalty” intended to evoke repentance.
Flynn told CNA, “When that didn’t work, and only when that didn’t seem to work, and Father perdured, did the Church begin the formal process she’s using now, which is separating Father from the formal ministry of the Church.”