On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women's Ordination | Sojourners

On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women's Ordination

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric Roy Bourgeois, who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony ordaining a woman as a Catholic priest, in defiance of church teaching.

More than 300 priests and deacons in Austria -- representing 15 percent of Catholic clerics in that country -- last month issued a "Call to Disobedience," which 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 William Morris, 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."

In the July 22, 2011 New York Times, Laurie Goodstein writes:

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.

A press release from Call to Action spells the whole situation out more clearly. In an unprecedented move, 157 Catholic priests have signed on to a letter in support of their fellow embattled priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who has been told to recant his support for women's ordination or be removed from the priesthood. The letter that supports Roy's priesthood and his right to conscience was delivered, Friday, July 22, to Fr. Edward Dougherty, Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Maryknoll, NY.

On July 27, however, Father Roy received his second "canonical warning" from Fr. Edward Dougherty, threatening to cut him off from the Maryknoll community and "laicize" him as a priest. Father Roy has been a priest for 39 years and a member of Maryknoll for 44 years. In his response, Father Roy writes: "After much reflection, study, and prayer, I believe that our Church's teaching that excludes women from the priesthood defies both faith and reason and cannot stand up to scrutiny. This teaching has nothing to do with God, but with men, and is rooted in sexism. Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against women, in the end, it is not the way of God, but of men who want to hold on to their power."

The defense of Father Roy -- and what he represents -- continues to build. "We can no longer remain silent while priests and even bishops are removed from their posts simply because they choose to speak their truth," said Fr. Fred Daley, a spokesperson of the effort and a priest of the Syracuse Diocese. "Together, we are standing up for our brother priest, Roy, and for all clergy who have felt afraid to speak up on matters of conscience. " We hope that our support as ordained priests in good standing will help give Fr. Dougherty the support he needs to make a decision that is fair and just."

This stance of priests from the United States follows a series of recent actions where priests collectively have taken a stand for justice in the Church. Last year, priests in Ireland formed a union aimed at organizing the 6,500 priests there in response to the clergy abuse crisis.

In May of this year, the National Council of Priests of Australia released a statement in support of a bishop forced to resign because he mentioned women's ordination as one possible solution to the priest shortage.

Then, this month, the Austrian-based Initiative of Parish Priests launched a campaign with 300 priests signing a call for resistance that encourages, among other things, the inclusion of women and married men to the priesthood.

Support for Fr. Bourgeois has been pouring in from lay Catholics, as well. In March, when Fr. Bourgeois received a canonical warning demanding he recant his position on women's ordination, Catholics rallied to his side. They organized 16 support vigils in front of Cathedrals across the country from San Diego to Boston, including a gathering of 100 people outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Additionally, four organizations, including the National Coalition of American Nuns, held call-in days to the Maryknoll office to share their support of Fr. Bourgeois. " We want Fr. Dougherty to know that he has the support of Catholics to do the right thing," said Jim FitzGerald, Executive Director of Call To Action, the country's largest Catholic Church justice organization. "Every person should be able to speak their conscience without fear of reprisal from their own Church."

"Roman Catholic Womenpriests are forever indebted to these priests for their courageous stance," said Suzanne Avison Thiel, President of Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA, Inc. "We encourage more priests to come forward and stand with their brother priests in support of the Catholic right to conscience."

"No priest, bishop or any Catholic should be fired because he or she believes in the importance of women's leadership in the Catholic Church," said Erin Hanna, Executive Director of Women's Ordination Conference. "Those who believe in the right to speak one's conscience stand in faithful solidarity with Fr. Roy."

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She's the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at store.sojo.net.

For more information, see these links:

157 Embattled Priests Rise Up to Support Fellow Embattled Priest from Call to Action

In Three Countries, Challenging the Vatican on Female Priests by Laurie Goodstein

Sign Letter of Support for Fr. Roy

Priests' Letter of Support for Fr. Roy

Austrian Priests' Initiative (in German)

Austrian Priests Call for Disobedience (The Tablet/UK)

Letter of Support for Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba by the Australian National Council of Priests

The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland (the new "union")

Enda Kenny's speech before Irish Parliament (22 July 2011) on the Cloyne Report on priests and sexual abuse


Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She's the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at store.sojo.net.

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