National Catholic Register


Waiting for an Answer

Maryknoll Priest Confused on Excommunication

BY Wayne Laugesen

Register Correspondent

September 20-26, 2009 Issue | Posted 9/11/09 at 4:00 PM


COLUMBUS, Ga. — In spite of a news report that Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois has confirmed that he has been excommunicated, the priest says he just does not know.

Best known for his ongoing protests at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas, Father Bourgeois also advocates ordination of women as priests.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent the priest a letter last Oct. 21 stating that he had 30 days to recant his “belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or [he] will be excommunicated.” The letter followed his participation last summer in a ceremony attempting to ordain women.

But in a Sept. 8 interview with the Register, he said he doesn’t know whether he has been excommunicated.

His superior general, however, says there’s no question.

“Yes, he has been excommunicated,” said Father Edward Dougherty, the superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and a self-described close friend of Father Bourgeois.

Father Bourgeois said he can’t confirm his excommunication because he has received no letter of confirmation from the Vatican. Father Dougherty says it doesn’t matter, because the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s initial letter to Father Bourgeois last October said he would be excommunicated automatically within 30 days if he did not recant public statements in support of the ordination of women as priests.

“He did not recant those statements, so the excommunication was automatic,” Father Dougherty told the Register. “It’s not in question. He did not recant; he continues to advocate for women priests, and, therefore, he has been excommunicated.”

Father Bourgeois said he holds out some level of hope that he has not been excommunicated because he did not receive a response from a letter he sent to the doctrine congregation last Nov. 7. Father Bourgeois’ letter characterized the Vatican’s prohibition on the ordination of women as “sexism.” Regarding the request that he recant public statements in favor of women priests, Father Bourgeois wrote:

“This I cannot do. I must obey my conscience, which tells me that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, our Church and our loving God who calls women to be priests.”

Father Bourgeois said it has been nearly a year since he sent the letter, yet he fully expects to receive a response.

“I do expect the Vatican will acknowledge receipt of my letter, and until they do, I hold out hope that my excommunication did not go forward,” Father Bourgeois said. “I cannot confirm my own excommunication until I hear back from Rome. If I hear back, and I have been excommunicated, I will be very sad. I will be in a lot of pain. But I will not fight it.”

No Disciplinary Action

Father Bourgeois said he has not participated in Communion in public for “several months,” because of the excommunication notice. He said he offers Mass privately most days in his own apartment and partakes in Communion.

“It’s important to me, but I have no plans to celebrate Mass publicly,” Father Bourgeois said.

Mary-knoll is firmly opposed to the ordination of women as priests; its position is identical to the Vatican’s, Father Dougherty said. He said he prays constantly that his friend and colleague will have a conversion and begin obeying Church teachings.

Father Dougherty explained that Father Bourgeois remains a priest and a member of Maryknoll, despite his excommunication. He plans no disciplinary action against Father Bourgeois, saying he can’t outdo excommunication as punishment for a priest.

“As an excommunicated priest, he cannot exercise governance in the Church,” Father Dougherty said. “He cannot administer most sacraments, with the exception of hearing confession or administering end-of-life sacraments to someone in danger of death.”

Father Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran who has long worked as an activist for social-justice causes, was ordained 37 years ago and is now based in Columbus, Ga.

He says he cannot imagine a day he would back down from his belief that women should be priests.

“How can we, as men, tell women that our call to the priesthood is valid and theirs is not?” he asked. He posed a nearly identical question in his letter to the Vatican.

The Church is often spoken of as the bride of the priest. Father Bourgeois said that does nothing to sway him.

“That doesn’t address my question as to why a man’s call is valid and a woman’s is not,” Father Bourgeois said. “I sincerely expect the Vatican to answer my letter and to answer that question for me.”

He would not discuss his position on other Church teachings.

“He is very convinced of his own position on everything,” Father Dougherty said. “He always asks us to respect his position, yet he refuses to respect our position — the Church position.”

Barbara King, communications director for the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., the diocese where Father Bourgeois resides, said Bishop Kevin Boland plans no statement or action regarding the excommunication. King said the bishop would concern himself with the issue only if Father Bourgeois tries to celebrate or participate in Communion at a diocesan parish.

“I won’t do that,” Father Bourgeois said. “I’m not trying to provoke confrontation.”

Wayne Laugesen writes

from Boulder, Colorado.