The Common Good

Maryknoll Priest Expelled Over Support for Women’s Ordination

A long-running struggle between Catholic authorities and the Rev. Roy Bourgeois over his support for ordaining women has ended with Bourgeois’ dismissal from the priesthood and his religious order, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.

Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Father Roy Bourgeois, Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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A statement from Maryknoll on Monday confirmed that the Vatican’s office for orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, laicized Bourgeois last month.

The move stems from Bourgeois’ participation in an August 2008 ordination rite in Lexington, Ky., for Janice Sevre-Duszynska. The ceremony was not recognized by the Vatican and took place under the auspices of a group called Roman Catholic Womanpriests, which rejects the church teaching on the all-male priesthood.

Three months later, Bourgeois was notified that he had been automatically excommunicated for his role in the rite. In the ensuing years, Bourgeois and Maryknoll engaged in intensive negotiations aimed at restoring his standing and keeping him in the order and the priesthood. But Bourgeois insisted that his support for women’s ordination was a matter of justice and he could not be silent.

"The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church," Bourgeois said in a statement published Tuesday on the website of the Women's Ordination Conference. "The demand for gender equality is rooted in justice and dignity and will not go away."

"My conscience compelled me to break my silence and address the sin of sexism in my Church," he said. "My only regret is that it took me so long to confront the issue of male power and domination in the Catholic Church." Bourgeois called his dismissal "very difficult and painful."

In its statement, the Maryknoll order, based near Ossining, N.Y., said it had done everything possible to work things out with Bourgeois. “With patience, the Holy See and the Maryknoll Society have encouraged his reconciliation with the Catholic Church,”

“Instead, Mr. Bourgeois chose to campaign against the teachings of the Catholic Church in secular and non-Catholic venues. This was done without the permission of the local U.S. Catholic Bishops and while ignoring the sensitivities of the faithful across the country.”

Maryknoll thanked Bourgeois for his 40 years of service as a member of the order and said that in “the spirit of equity and charity” it would help him in his transition to life outside the community.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who represented Bourgeois in his dealings with Rome and Maryknoll, said the dismissal took him by surprise. Doyle told the National Catholic Reporter that he and Bourgeois met with Maryknoll's superior general, the Rev. Edward Dougherty, in June, and they did not discuss the issue of a dismissal.

“The idea then was that things would continue and they would not dismiss Roy and they would continue to dialogue,” Doyle told NCR. “And then this just happened, unilaterally.” He said Bourgeois “had no idea.”

David Gibson is an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He writes for RNS and until recently covered the religion beat for AOL's Politics Daily. He blogs at Commonweal magazine, and has written two books on Catholic topics, the latest a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.

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