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Father Roy Bourgeois
"We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light."
--St. Hildegard of Bingen
--St. Hildegard of Bingen
Father Roy Bourgeois
By Debra Hannula
Father Roy Bourgeois published a powerful and insightful forty page booklet several months ago, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity. It is Roy’s autobiography, from a boy in segregated Louisiana to an officer in the U.S Navy to a Maryknoll priest in Central and North America. Father Roy chronicles his journey from combat warrior to spiritual warrior. As a Naval Officer Roy fought in Vietnam and found himself questioning his government’s reasons for that war. Convinced his calling was from God, he left the military and joined the Maryknoll order serving the poor of Bolivia and later El Salvador, questioning those in power that oppressed and suppressed their people with bullets and demanding answers from his own government as to why they financially supported those regimes. High profile murders (Archbishop Romero, the four American churchwomen, the six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her teenage daughter) forced the hand of the U.S. Congress and its purse strings to investigate, soon learning that all were gunned down by El Salvadoran soldiers trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA). Father Roy’s own response resulted in his founding of the School of the Americas Watch, whose mission is to close for good the United States Army’s School of the Americas (SOA), still located in Ft. Benning, Georgia, still training military and police from numerous countries in Latin America that to this day are committing human rights atrocities. Father Roy’s initial solitary protest culminated in a movement for peace and justice for which he has received international applause, recognition and awards, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I personally have known Father Roy for fifteen years. We first met during a telephone call from prison, where he was serving six months for his peaceful protest of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas—not his first act of civil disobedience. I came to him as a pro bono attorney, and now know him as a friend. He is the real deal: a gifted orator, funny, humble, courageous, spiritual, loving and relentless—a true living embodiment of Christ.
Father Roy’s My Journey from Silence to Solidarity concludes with his support for the ordination of women within the Catholic Church. For his position the Vatican unceremoniously stripped Father Roy of the priesthood, without contacting him directly or communicating through his attorney, Father Tom Doyle. The Vatican removed Father Roy from his order in October 2012, directing the Maryknolls to tell him, to essentially do their dirty work. The Maryknolls sat on the information for five weeks, waiting until the SOA Watch’s annual protest in November concluded, and then gave Father Roy their press release that thanked “Mr. Bourgeois” for his service...of 46 years. Wow.
The Vatican handed down its decision despite the fact that just several months before Father Roy and his attorney had met with the Maryknoll leadership agreeing to live and let live, after hearing Roy’s explanation as to why he had to object to the Vatican’s teachings on women:
"As people of faith we believe in the primacy of conscience. Our conscience connects us to the Divine. Our conscience gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do what is right, what is just…I agree with the theologian Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, who, in his 1968 commentary on a key Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, said: ‘Over the pope…there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.’
What you are asking me to do is not possible without betraying my conscience. In essence, you are telling me to lie and say I do not believe that God calls both men and women to the priesthood. This I cannot do."
The Maryknoll’s press release announcing the news stated that Father Roy’s "disobedience and preaching against the teaching of the Catholic Church about women's ordination led to his excommunication, dismissal and laicization." Dismissal, as you might a too vocal but faithful servant, one that questioned why the silver had to be polished daily. Sadly the Vatican’s zealousness in the area of rooting out offending priests has not extended to the 5000 known Catholic pedophile priests and the many, many, many bishops that knew of abuse of children and felt compelled to protect the pedophiles.
Shock and anger were my first reactions. Then, a desire to storm the Vatican (whatever that meant)—those terrible feelings of powerlessness in the face of unjust bullies. It was such a cowardly move on Pope Benedict’s part and such an unholy one. Why such fear?
In the best-selling book, A New Earth, author Eckhart Tolle talks about the suppression of the divine feminine as part of the madness that is leading human beings to the brink of destruction. He explains the human condition that keeps most of us stuck and removed from knowing Christ. He talks about the insanity that is the condition of mankind that is far removed from the world that Christ envisioned, His call for us to love our enemies, and to forgive always, and to live in peace with others and be good stewards of the earth. Eckhart Tolle talks about the madness of the 20th century that would end with more than one hundred million human beings dying violent deaths at the hands of their fellow human beings through wars and mass exterminations and genocide. And he answers the question of why such dramatic fear of women:
"Nobody knows the exact figure because records were not kept, but it seems certain that during a three-hundred-year period between three and five million women were tortured and killed by the ‘Holy Inquisition,’ an institution founded by the Roman Catholic Church to suppress heresy. This surely ranks together with the Holocaust as one of the darkest chapters in human history. It was enough for a woman to show a love for animals, walk alone in the fields or woods, or gather medicinal plants to be branded a witch, then tortured and burned at the stake. The sacred feminine was declared demonic, and an entire dimension largely disappeared from human experience. Other cultures and religions, such as Judaism, Islam, and even Buddhism, also suppressed the female dimension, although in a less violent way. Women’s status was reduced to being child bearers and men’s property. Males who denied the feminine even within themselves, were now running the world, a world that was totally out of balance. The rest is history, or rather, a case history of insanity."
My anger with the Vatican has subsided. I feel like Glenda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz when she declares to the Wicked Witch, “Be gone. You have no power here.” Most people are not looking to the Pope for spiritual guidance. As Catholics we have been let down too often and we can read the teachings of Christ for ourselves.
Christ did live and work among women. He spoke to the woman at the well, an outcast. She joyfully shared Christ’s teachings. He spoke to the Samaritan woman—an enemy and a woman—treating her as he did the beloved men in his life. She too later shared the Good News of Christ. Before, during, and after Christ was crucified, women remained with Him, were there to care for His physical body, and kept watch and prayed the three days He lay in the tomb. And it was women and only women that Christ first appeared to when He rose from the dead, choosing them to be the first priests to share His gospel of resurrection.
It doesn’t end with “women can’t be priests,” it begins with that and continues with the hatred and violence that women have endured since the patriarchy began. Women and children make up the world’s poor, women and girls are sexually abused in numbers amounting to one in three, with boys one in five. The patriarchy has never protected women and children. It just claims it does.
The Vatican doesn’t have a monopoly on God. The Vatican isn’t a substitute for God. God is eternal; the patriarchy is several thousand years old. It has not been around since the beginning of time, it is a relative newcomer to the human species. It is the ultimate in hubris to talk as though you are infallible like God, giving orders like a king.
Father Roy’s courageous, unwavering stand for women’s equality brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. No matter what the punishment, standing beside the disenfranchised, the unwanted, and the voiceless is really the true witness to the Gospel that speaks of the love and light and peace of Christ.
Statement By Father Roy Bourgeois About His Dismissal From Maryknoll, November 20, 2012:
"I have been a Catholic priest in the Maryknoll community for 40 years. As a young man I joined Maryknoll because of its work for justice and equality in the world. To be expelled from Maryknoll and the priesthood for believing that women are also called to be priests is very difficult and painful. The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church. The demand for gender equality is rooted in justice and dignity and will not go away.
As Catholics, we profess that God created men and women of equal worth and dignity. As priests, we profess that the call to the priesthood comes from God, only God. Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God's call to women is not? The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, our Church and our loving God who calls both men and women to be priests. When there is an injustice, silence is the voice of complicity. My conscience compelled me to break my silence and address the sin of sexism in my Church. My only regret is that it took me so long to confront the issue of male power and domination in the Catholic Church.
I have explained my position on the ordination of women, and how I came to it, in my booklet, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity. Please go to: www.roybourgeoisjourney.org
“It takes no compromise to give people their rights...it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”
As physician and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra states:
"God is the evolutionary impulse of the universe. God is infinite creativity, infinite love, infinite compassion, and infinite caring. What you see as the visible universe out there with its 175 billion galaxies, billions of stars and trillions of planets is .01 percent of what exists out there. There is the known, the unknown, and there is the unknowable, in principal unknowable, so if that doesn’t make you feel humble I don’t know what will."
2012 highlighted a sad, isolated, out of touch Vatican and a concurring Catholic hierarchy in the form of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Their attacks on nuns, girl scouts, and priests who support women's ordination left most Catholics feeling outrage and dismay.
As always, the Kelly Ann Brown Foundation stands with Father Roy. We thank him wholeheartedly for standing with those of us who understand that a truly peaceful, healthy and balanced world includes equality for all.