An Argument Among Priests Themselves



In three countries priests are challenging the Vatican on female priests. This article provides an opportunity for conversation on this topic. I invite you and your friends as well as priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers and seminarians to participate with your thoughts and reactions to the movement to ordain women priests.  This article was written by  Laurie Goodstein,-NY Times , DrNick

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois has received letters from the Vatican threatening dismissal for his role in a ceremony that purported to ordain Janice Sevre-Duszynska as a priest.

The American priests’ action follows closely on the heels of a “Call to Disobedience” issued in Austria last month by more than 300 priests and deacons. They stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” After an investigation, the Vatican forced him to resign.

While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.

The Vatican has declared that the issue of women’s ordination is not open for discussion. But priests are on the front line of the clergy shortage — stretched thin and serving multiple parishes — and in part, this is what is driving some of them to speak.

“They are saying, ‘We don’t have enough priests, we’re closing down parishes,’ ” said David J. O’Brien, who holds an endowed chair in faith and culture at the University of Dayton, a Marianist Catholic college. “It’s a sign that the pastoral needs are sufficiently grave now that priests are speaking up and saying, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t just ignore the pastoral consequences of the things you do and say at the top.’ ”

Church experts said it was surprising that 157 priests would sign a statement in support of the American priest, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, because he did much more than speak out: he gave the homily and blessed a woman in an illicit ordination ceremony conducted by the group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests. That group claims to have ordained 120 female priests and five bishops worldwide. The Vatican does not recognize the ordinations and has declared the women automatically excommunicated.

Father Bourgeois, a member of the Maryknoll religious order, received a letter from the Vatican in 2008 warning that he would be excommunicated if he did not recant. He sent the Vatican a long letter saying that he was only following his conscience. The Vatican never wrote back, he said.

The Maryknolls, however, did not dismiss him, and he continued presenting himself as a priest. He is a rather well-known one, at that. Father Bourgeois, now 72, was an American missionary in El Salvador during the death squad era and has made it his ministry ever since to lead antiwar protests outside the United States Army School of the Americas in Georgia.

But now, under pressure from the Vatican, the Maryknolls have sent the first of two required “canonical warnings” that they will dismiss him if he does not recant. Father Bourgeois responded that if he recanted to save his priesthood or his pension, he would be lying. “I see this very clearly as an issue of sexism, and like racism, it’s a sin,” he said in an interview this week from his home in Georgia. “It cannot be justified, no matter how hard we priests and church leaders, beginning with the pope, might try to justify the exclusion of women as equals. It is not the way of God. It is the way of men.”

In a 1994 declaration seen as intended to end the debate, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, saying that the church “has no authority whatsoever” to ordain women. Among the reasons the church gives is that the apostles of Jesus Christ were all men, and that that has been the church’s practice all along.

Christopher Ruddy, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, said of the recent statements from the priests, “I don’t think anything will come of it.

“Some say the church’s teaching on the nonordination of women is an infallible teaching, some say it’s not defined as such. But it’s clear that an extraordinarily high level of teaching authority has been invoked on that,” said Professor Ruddy, the author of “Tested in Every Way: The Catholic Priesthood in Today’s Church” (Herder & Herder, 2006).

The statement from the 157 American priests says only that they support Father Bourgeois’s “right to speak his conscience” — cautious wording that probably enabled more to sign. The effort was organized by Call to Action, a Chicago-based group that has long advocated change in the church. It is intended to put pressure on the Maryknolls not to go through with dismissing Father Bourgeois.

“Maryknoll is caught in the middle,” said Michael Virgintino, director of communications for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, based in New York. “It is Maryknoll that is trying to keep Father Roy engaged, and very much wishes that there could be some conciliation between Roy and the church.”

Austria is home to many Catholic priests and laypeople seeking changes in the church. And yet the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, said of the recent priests’ statement there, “The open call to disobedience shocked me.”

Besides calling for ordination for women and married men, the Austrian priests called for having women preach at Mass, and giving Communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment.

Cardinal Schönborn responded that if the priests had such extreme conflicts with the church, they should not continue to serve. His spokesman said the cardinal would meet with the group’s leaders in August or September.

In Australia, the church was shaken in May when Pope Benedict XVI removed Bishop William Morris from the Diocese of Toowoomba, where he had served since 1992. The pope wrote the bishop that the teaching barring women’s ordination was “infallible.”

The Vatican had sent Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver (named this week to be the new archbishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) to investigate Bishop Morris.

The National Council of Priests of Australia, which says it represents 40 percent of priests there, denounced the dismissal, saying that those who influenced the decision “have limited pastoral experience.”

The Rev. Ian McGinnity, chairman of the priests council in Australia, said in an e-mail, “Bishop Morris was endeavouring to face honestly significant problems in his rural diocese, particularly with the shortage of priests, which meant that some communities were deprived of the Eucharist on a regular basis.”


6 Responses to An Argument Among Priests Themselves

  1. john e mcgovern says:

    I find it refreshing that, in at least this singular instance, “la fraternite” is being used for an important, strong, advocative stance on an issue that priests do believe in. More power to them! I only wish their advocacy had been more prounounced on other issues such as their status as “mandatory reporters” when they knew of instances of sexual abuse being perpetrated in their ranks. Think about it.

  2. Speaking-Up says:

    It heartens me to read this article on the ordination of women and married men and on the “Call to Disobedience”. We need to harnass the Voice of the People within a global movement. History resounds with stories of Revolutions, Reforms and Renewals when ‘the people rise-up against the abuse of power.’

    My following comment, taken from an earlier thread, is of the same sentiment. The below-mentioned extract is from the link:

    “The Civil Disobedience Movement led by M K Gandhi, in the year 1930 was an important milestone in the history of Indian Nationalism. … The Indians learned how apparently philosophical tenets like non violence and passive resistance could be used to wage political battles. …………………….. While the non cooperation movement was built on the lines of non violence and non cooperation, the essence of The Civil Disobedience Movement was the defying of British laws….

    Clericalism is political in nature, with all the perks of title, status, prestige, wealth and power. Perhaps the Roman Catholic masses need a Gandhi-style movement of non violence and passive resistance against the Roman hierarchy. If Gandhi could defy the mighty British Empire, can we not get Rome’s attention by participating in a global catholic-disobedience movement of not ‘paying, praying or obeying’. We need not abandon our personal relationship with God or our prayer-life during this period and there is a possibility that home-churches may begin to flourish.

    Or perhaps we need a public-outcry along the lines of
    Martin Luther and his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’. The numerous social-media outlets give us a global-voice that the Roman Church may find difficult to ignore. At present, we can only get their attention when we resort to civil and criminal law-suits and public-scandals.

    • Deacon Bill says:

      “Speaking – up” raises some very good points. I echo the call for a peoples movement to demand a call for reforms at the top of the church. It is heartening that the priests of Austria are standing up. It is also encouraging that some priests in the U.S.
      have enough moral courage to support Father Roy. What is needed is more networking in a united reform effort both in North America, Australia, and Europe. The scandalous corruption of the hierarchy has been and will continue to be exposed until reform happens. The bishops of the hierarchy have made obedience to the Pope more important than protecting innocent children and then letting the priests take the blame.

      The call for respectful disobedience will be difficult. Reformers need to unite with one focus, changing the way the church is governed. The arrogance of the clericalism within the episcopacy must be rooted out. I believe the very safety of future generations of our children are at risk if the power of bishops remains unchecked.The Vatican arrogance that only they know the truth and only they are chosen by God to rule over the Laity has got to go. As it is now every bishop thinks he is free to ignore the laity and they can do anything they want because Rome has told them that church canon law is above civil law and civil law does not apply to them. The bishops know that Rome will rescue them just like they did with Cardinal Law.

  3. Deacon Bill says:

    The Vatican always has a closed mind when the Pope has a closed mind. On the questions regarding ordination to the priesthood the so-called “shortage” is artificial. Those outside of Rome recognize that the insistence on “mandatory” celibacy is limiting the availability of the sacraments. As a result people are dying without sacramental confession without the anointing of holy chrism and without the reception of the Eucharist. The Pope’s closed mind in effect is making the “mandatory” part of celibacy more important than the sacraments.

    Those in the Vatican have other reasons for resisting the change of celibacy from mandatory to optional. Such a change would be a disincentive for new priests to choose it. It would undermine the status of those priests who had already made vows of celibacy, The change would mean that a married person could do everything a celibate priest could and have a wife with children also. From a celibate priest’s point of view it makes his decision to take a vow of celibacy look foolish, if a married priest can have his cake and eat it too.

    The change to optional celibacy would appear to threaten the admiration that some Catholics, especiatty the hierarchy in Rome, heap upon celibate priests because of the “great sacrifice” they have made to take the mandatory vow and the attended elevated status it gives their egos when they are elevated to the episcopacy.

    The truth is that anyone that can “freely” choose celibacy does give the church a great gift and that would not really change if it was an option freely chosen. Such a system seems to work very well in the Orthodox Catholic Churches which still have both married and celibate priests, just as the Roman Catholic Church did for over a 1000 years.

    Poll after poll has shown that at least 75% of the laity favor returning to the ancient tradition having both celibate and married
    priests. There are a minority of lay Catholics who oppose it because
    they will agree with anything the Pope says. They are against a married priesthood simply because the Pope is against it.

    I am not surprised that priests in general are divided on the issue.the shortage of celibate priests increases their workload and threatens to make them less effective if they get stretched too thin. The truth is that there is no shortage of priests in the Vatican especially among the priviledged class of bishops and and Cardinals. The Vatican elites at the top of hierarchy are not in touch with the real needs of people at the parish level. The “heavenly” mind set of the Pope and the Vatican are out of touch with reality. The maintenance of power and control and secrecy is facilitated by an obedient and docile celibate priesthood. The priests are divided because some of them like the Vatican power status system.

    • drnickmazza says:

      Deacon Bill: You have made a valuable contribution to this conversation. I also a appreciate your courage in stepping forward to share. My hope is that other deacons, priests and religious will follow your brave example. God Bless

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