Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who participated in the attempted ordination of a woman to the priesthood, has been told by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to renounce his support for women’s ordination or be excommunicated. The priest has affirmed he will make no such renunciation.
The Vatican action results from an August 8 ceremony at a Unitarian church. There, the Carmel-by-the-Sea woman Dana Reynolds, who claims to be a Catholic bishop, purported to ordain Janice Sevre-Duszynska as a Catholic priest. According to the California Catholic Daily, Father Bourgeois delivered the homily at the event, reportedly equating Catholic teaching that the Church has no authority to ordain women with the segregation of African-Americans in Louisiana, his home state.
His participation in the ceremony was reportedly the first to have involved a Catholic priest in good standing with the Church in the United States.
Father Bourgeois’ Maryknoll superiors, learning of the incident, summoned him to a meeting in Maryknoll, New York. A joint statement from the priest and his superiors reported that his participation in the ceremony had been investigated and communicated to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.
The priest’s superiors also gave him a “canonical warning” informing him that he had violated Church law and advising him a future violation could result in his excommunication.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in an October 21 letter gave Father Bourgeois 30 days to renounce his public support for the ordination of women on penalty of excommunication.
In a November 7 letter recently made public, he wrote: “After much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.”
The priest said he knew many women who feel called to the priesthood and argued that the Church cannot declare their reputed calling to be invalid.
Ordained a Maryknoll priest in 1972, Father Bourgeois is well-known for leading annual protests outside the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which was formerly called the School of the Americas (SOA), at Fort Benning, Georgia. Graduates of the institute have been linked to human rights violations in Latin America.
CNA spoke with Father Bourgeois in a Thursday phone interview, asking about his response to the threatened excommunication.
“I’m hoping for the best,” the priest said, referring to his “deep love for the Church” and his 36 years of ministry. “I’m hoping somehow justice will prevail,” he said, adding that he hoped the Congregation for the Faith will take seriously his letter.
“I do believe, with all due respect, there’s no reason theologically or morally that we can justify women not being included in the priesthood,” he insisted, adding that he is not alone in being critical of Catholic teaching on women’s ordination.
Father Bourgeois said he would particularly like an answer to his question “What do we say to women who are being called by God to the priesthood?”
He repeated his comments about meeting women, “very devout Catholics,” who profess to be called to the priesthood.
“Who are we to say our call is valid, but the call that women have and feel in their faith is not valid?” he asked.
“That call does not come from the Pope, that call does not come from our hierarchy, that call is very sacred, it comes from our God, who has created men and women of equal stature and dignity,” he asserted.
He compared his work against the “injustice” of the School of the Americas to working against the “injustice in my Church” which he described as the “exclusion of women from the priesthood.”
When CNA asked Father Bourgeois his plans if he is in fact excommunicated, he said he had consulted with some canon lawyers.
“I am the only Catholic priest that has been in this position in the U.S. They couldn’t give me any person I could call who has been in this same situation on this same issue.
“I really don’t know what the implications, the consequences will be,” he continued, reporting that because he believes that God is leading him on this issue and “because of my conscience,” he feels “very much at peace.”
If he is excommunicated, he knows he will not be able to say Mass publicly.
“I will not be able to go home to baptize the new babies in the family; I will not be able to say the Mass for my Mom who died. And that will be very difficult.
“At the same time, I cannot not do what I am doing. I must follow my God I must follow my conscience.
“I do believe that good will come from this.”