Roy Bourgeois Fallout

I was hasty in suggesting the case of Maryknoll priest preaching at a women’s ordination was closed, more or less. NCR and a few blogs report on his reply to the Vatican, asking him to formally recant or face excommunication.

The Catholic blogosphere, as usual, has a mixed experience focusing on the issues at hand. And I’m sure the Catholic mainstream is either cheering or vilifying him without much regard for the content of his dissent.

One obvious question Fr Roy raises with the curia: priests and bishops have committed more serious crimes, grave sins, not even acts of conscience, and they are not excommunicated. Some even enjoy positions of privilege. Does that seem right? It seems like a deft political question on Fr Roy’s part. I’m sure it sticks, even for people who disagree with Fr Roy’s opposition to the SOA and his involvement in his friend’s ordination.

I’ll let the canon lawyers discuss if the CDF can do this.

I’d rather comment on resurfacing an issue that seemed settled to a degree three months ago. Granted, Fr Roy is the one who has made his own communication public. While I appreciate the CDF’s tenacity on opposing women’s ordination, I think serious questions are worth some consideration:

For a matter supposedly decided by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we continue to see Rome confronted on this matter. Is it always about the personal aspirations of individuals misled by their own “mis-formation?” If so many women, married men, and homosexuals are stepping forward to serve, what does this say about the public sense of the presbyterate? The priesthood was not reformed much by Vatican II. The invention of theology (the Concord Pastor’s comment on “spiritual paternity”) to fit an administrative decision doesn’t speak well that our priesthood is in good shape.

I’ve voiced doubts on the problem of ordaining women without the call of a community. Yet I’ve known a few ordinands over the years, and other women who aspire to the presbyterate. How many would step back if it meant others could be ordained? I suspect most would.

I don’t see much good resulting from the CDF’s confrontation with Fr Roy. I don’t believe the Maryknoller will back away from what he sees as an issue of conscience. He has stated he would not attend/participate/celebrate a woman’s ordination in the future. That seems not enough. Not enough, except for Fr Roy to hang a protest upon. I don’t see this coming to a diplomatic ending; do any of you?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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15 Responses to Roy Bourgeois Fallout

  1. Liam says:

    Well, bolts of canonical lightning are typically reserved not for grave sins – even of the most scandalous kind (and those are many) – but for actions that involve promotion of invalid sacraments or widespread/influential heresy because those are another level of spiritual violence that is usually masked as if they were spiritual goods. Sacramental validity is the DEFCON 1 issue of Roman Catholic canonical discipline. Excommunication is the potential medicine there because it defines something as invalid to protect the faithful from that narrow but distinct form of spiritual violence.

    The alternative would appear to not to be to hurl no such bolts, but to hurl more of them at a wider list of grave sins.

    And thus you might see why this is not done – we’ve lost our appetite for that. In fact, much of the history of the Catholic Church’s pastoral praxis is one where a notably relaxed rigor (but not exactly laxity) is favored over thoroughgoing rigor – pace the popular imagination of the Church as hopelessly rigorist.

    Now to consider scandals by prelates, clerics and religious and those in their employ: excommunication is not the remedy there, but accountability and transparency, which could be done in myriad ways.

    I don’t see where Fr Bourgeois reasonably imagined any other result than the one he is facing. If he did, I believe he was engaged in more than a bit of self-delusion.

  2. Liam says:

    On the larger issue: the problem for those promoting the ordination of women (to be distinguished from those who have unresolved questions about the teaching on the subject) is that they are necessarily faced with an asymmetry they usually don’t engage. Namely, they asset an imperative to proceed, which more than implies the idea that they are at least morally certain that their position is correct. If they can assert that moral certainty, they cannot deny the same to the bishops in turn. Which means that they cannot really claim to bind the faithful with their moral certainty (and performing ritual acts of ordination and claiming them to be valid is, whether they realize it or not, an assertion of something that binds the faithful).

    The bishops, in contrast, lack this tension.

    Thus, it would seem the critical leap being made by proponents is moving from questions about a teaching to asserting a proposition is so objectively true it can bind the faithful.

    This leap is a natural one for people to make as an experiential matter – it’s like toggling a logical switch, substituting propositions and terms.

    But that does not mean it is correct.

    Questions for the faithful to ask Fr Bourgeois might include:

    1. Might you be wrong?
    2. If you cannot be wrong, how can you assert anyone else is incapable of error in turn?
    3. If you can be wrong, what course of action would best incarnate that?

    Et cet.

  3. Fran says:

    Well, if I look at this one way and that way is this… the rules are the rules and he did act in defiance of them, well then – case closed.

    However – I would add to that the things do not change without serious agitation and I think that this works into the agitation phase.

    From all that I have read of this and all that I know of Fr. Roy (I do not know him but do know two people who do) it would seem that he has acted out of his conscience and that his conscience has been well examined.

    As you say, there is no shortage of conversation about this but I do not believe there is any simple solution or diplomatic ending here.

    Hard lines are currently being drawn and that is a tragedy. How do we become one when ex-communication is at the ready?

    Of course that potentially leads me off-topic and I don’t want to do that.

    For all my long winded rambling, let me close with this. That there is a celibate, male clergy- I understand that is how it is. That there can be no discussion of women – that makes me very angry.

    Ordinatio sacerdotalis is very clear about a male clergy, that I will accept. But no discussion or public support of female clergy… to the point of ex-communication?

    Sister Louise Lears (discipined) and Father Roy Bourgeois seem rather singled out in these matters where other Catholic religious and clergy were present.

  4. FrMichael says:

    This errant priest brought this upon himself “concelebrating” a sham “ordination.” May this upcoming excommunication awaken in him the theological virtue of faith which he apparently lacks, so that he may once again rejoin the Catholic Church.

  5. Todd says:

    I attended a seminar several years ago led by Fr Roy. My sense of the man is that even on the justice issues on which he is most ardent, he advocates dialogue and exchange.

    I remember one discussion in which many attendees were harping strongly against Rome, I suggested a more nuanced approach, and Fr Roy acknowledged and affirmed it.

    His attendance at this ordination seems less a protest on behalf of women’s ordination, and more a personal act of support and celebration of a friend. Fr Roy has also acknowledged the problem of his attendance and has said he would not participate in such an ordination in the future.

    I don’t mean to suggest he is an “innocent” in this episode. I’m sure he was very aware his participation would be problematic for his detractors.

    As for the expected outcome, for a man who has willingly faced criticism, hatred, imprisonment, and other crosses, I doubt the CDF will get what it asks of him. I would be surprised if Fr Roy isn’t aware of the consequences here and is willing to face them as a matter of conscience. As such, this matter was decided from the sending of the CDF letter, not be any deadline.

    On Liam’s suggestion there may be a lack of mutuality on his part: knowing the man a little, I don’t think this is the case. I wonder how little support the Maryknoll superiors gave the curia doesn’t contribute somewhat to this.

  6. Liam says:


    You misread what I meant by “assymetry”. It has to do with the issue of the claims an individual’s conscience/teaching can make on others. Bishops can claim that without being inconsistent when they deny it to laity; laity cannot do so without running into that problem. That’s what’s asymmetrical. And it’s an assymetry that largely goes unidentified and unengaged by laity in this kind of situation.

  7. Todd says:

    Liam, can you clarify further? I’m not seeing this as something beyond Fr Roy attending the ordination of a friend (perhaps imprudently) and holding to a particularly strong view, though argued in a way distinct from how the bishops have presented Church teaching on ordination.

    I haven’t found Fr Roy to be agressively insistent, at least in my one experience. But I think he would respect in turn being confronted with the questions and would strive to reply with some integrity.

  8. Liam says:

    I am heading out for the rest of the day and will have to tend to this weekend. You are undercharacterizing what Fr Roy did and I believe I need to unpack my related but distinct point (which is a general one, not specific to Fr Roy but to all those who claim the truth of the ordination of women) on assymetry further since it looks like you still did not understand it.

  9. Tony says:

    One obvious question Fr Roy raises with the curia: priests and bishops have committed more serious crimes, grave sins, not even acts of conscience, and they are not excommunicated. Some even enjoy positions of privilege.

    C’mon, Todd. Come right out and say it like Fr. Bourgeois did. “The child abuse scandal”.

    Has any one of those priests or bishops contended that their actions were ok? Have any one of them defended, to this day, the movement of abusive priests from parish to parish? I challenge you to find me one.

    Fr. Bourgeois contends his actions are legitimate, and that he’ll continue to speak out for women’s ordination and will not remain silent.

    This unrepentant heretic is going to get swatted.

    If he doesn’t want to be in communion with the Catholic church, he should not receive communion.

    If he wishes to repent (publicly), confess and come back into the fold, well… God bless him.

    If not, there’s always the Anglicans.

  10. Todd says:

    “Have any one of them defended, to this day, the movement of abusive priests from parish to parish? I challenge you to find me one.”

    Many bishops defended what they did with the protest that abusers had reformed or been cured. Clergy and laity in Boston called for Cardinal Law’s resignation for that very reason.

    Fr Roy’s big thing has never been women’s ordination. This episode has brought it out of the closet, as it were, but I don’t think it’s a real surprise.

    And hey, I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be consequences. Usually that happens through a diocese or the governance of the religious order. I’m commenting on what’s happening on the surface of this exchange. Maryknoll has been quiet on this. It seems a pretty drastic leap for the CDF to get involved.

    Fr Roy doesn’t appear to be interested in the Anglicans. I suspect he’s a big boy and knows what he’s gotten himself into. His public letter back to the CDF is a further escalation, perhaps of what he received from them after Maryknoll considered the matter over.

  11. Liam says:

    Briefly, before I head to bed and a travel day tomorrow:

    Fr Roy did more than merely attend this ritual service. He *preached* at it (which, for progressives, is an important liturgical function) and, presumably (this being an erstwhile ordination, where concelebration is de rigeur) attempted concelebration (I am not going to venture a guess on the validity of that). Moreover, he has taken his propositions public – he is arguing the truth of them to the public. He display not a hint of moral uncertainty in what he proposes and, moreover, jumps the shark by impliedly accusing those who do not agree (the silent complicit ones) with sin.

    That’s not merely showing support, nor is it merely questioning. It’s not merely a reservation of conscience.

    The magisterium can teach definitively and bind the faithful on certain doctrinal and moral matters without having to concede the possibility of truth in those of the faithful who are not persuaded by that teaching. But, asymmetrically, when those outside the magisterium try to do so, they must concede the possibility that what the magisterium is true even if they are not persuaded by it. Hence, they cannot plausibly propose to bind the faithful in any objective way. (That’s the assymetry of roles I was trying to get at.) Their very assertion of subjective conscience means they must make the same space for the magisterium’s perspective. So the most they can assert is a tension, not an overthrow, as it were.

    And asserting a tension is far less gratifyingly prophetic than asserting an overthrow. It means the ego has to step back and detach from toggling its logical switch.

  12. Neil says:

    Obviously, this is a very, very sad turn of events. But I think – perhaps similarly to Liam – that Fr Bourgeois’ actions are deeply problematic. (I take no pleasure in saying this.)

    After all, the CDF can say:

    1. We have to distinguish Fr Bourgeois’ actions from merely supporting women’s ordination at, for instance, an academic seminar. Fr Bourgeois’ participation in the ritual service (NCR says that he was a “concelebrant”) can be seen as a sort of public declaration that Janice Sevre-Duszynska is a Catholic priest. As such, Fr Bourgeois is encouraging, even if unconsciously, the reception of invalid sacraments, including (but not limited to) the Holy Communion that will be celebrated at future times by Sevre-Duszynska. It is, as Liam suggests, deeply problematic to promote sacraments that might not impart or augment grace.

    2. Fr Bourgeois, in invoking Franz Jagerstatter and Rosa Parks, likens the followers of the Magisterium to Nazis and segregationists. He, then, is not suggesting an organic development of doctrine, but the radical, disruptive change of a present state of injustice.

    This radical change is recommended in the name of “conscience.” But this conscience seems dangerously close to enthusiasm. How has it been formed? Fr Bourgeois speaks vaguely of “prayer, reflection and discernment” and a 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblcal Commission. It is not clear what the relationship of Fr Bourgeois’ conscience is to the teaching of the Church. Furthermore, it is not clear why Fr Bourgeois chose Jagerstatter, Rose Parks (a non-Catholic Christian), and his parents as examples of conscience. Is this supposed to be a sufficient display of his communion with the Church?

    Personally, I am also curious regarding another point. If a woman came to you and claimed that God was calling her to the priesthood, and it would be (in her considered opinion) sinful not to respond, why wouldn’t you suggest that she eventually become an Anglican priest? If she has such a strong belief in her vocation, she already has a disrupted communion with Rome. And, as an Anglican priest, she would still enjoy a degree of communion with Rome and share a mutual interdependence in the Body of Christ with Rome. She could maintain her existing beliefs on the Eucharist, ministry and even Mary.

    Furthermore, being an Anglican priest, as opposed to a Womenpriest, means that one has communion with a real local church. What local church has helped discover the charism of the Womenpriest and guaranteed her apostolic faith? As far as I can tell, the Womenpriest ordinations are not for the teaching and sanctifying of any local churches. This strikes me as theologically problematic – ordinations for the sake of ordinations.

    I hope that this doesn’t sound too harsh. Fr Bourgeois is in my prayers.


  13. Todd says:

    Gentlemen, thanks for your contributions. I cannot disagree with them. It is difficult to continue seriously, as much of what we would do is guesswork: guessing what the CDF letter said, guessing Fr Roy’s thoughts and actions. This is mostly speculation.

    I will say that his course of action is not out of keeping with the confrontational nature of some social justice ministry. Coming from someone who has been under a form of legally questionable surveillance as part of a confrontational lifestyle–politics–I see his “manifesto” as a partial posturing. I don’t know that a mutuality and negotiation would not be acceptable to him. And it must be conceded that the CDF usually doesn’t work that way. Archbishop Burke, for his perceived faults, did offer his detractors a meeting, even if it was often parsed in terms of a summons.

    The question most “tension people” put out is that the issue of women and orders is not one of morality, not really one that impacts faith in God. As a matter of doctrine, some might suggest it is one of administration. In the realm of revelation, it is a historical fact, but is it an eternal one?

    Granted, Fr Roy bypasses all of this by operating in the confrontational protest mode.

    Were I his confidant, I would counsel against the course of attending an ordination and accelerating the conflict with the CDF. There are ways to prepare for the issue to be resolved, and I don’t think we’re in a position where we can do much more than refine the baptismal call of the believer, especially the female believer, to work toward serious reform in holy orders in religious life and the diocese, and insist on an examination of sexism in the institutional structures of the Church. Even outside the question of ordained ministry, there is a lot of work to be done on the latter.

    And as long as there’s work to be done, I don’t see the gain in leapfrogging a lot of necessary work.

    And needless to say, I don’t see the cause for jubilation/salivation among Fr Roy’s detractors.

  14. Liam says:


    You put your finger on an important issue: the idea that, because one is concerned about the justice implications of a teaching, that it behooves us to use the confrontation methods of certain social justice movements. That temptation runs deep, and it betrays a confusion – actuallly a deep confusion – that shows that confronters are not fully engaging how their activism contradicts their goals in other ways.

    And I am saddened by this. No schadenfreude here. Rather, anger, because I know that this “prophetic witness” virtually guarantees that the couple of important theological lacunae the magisterium has elided here will continue to be ignored.

    Too many people assume the work of justice necessarily parallels the work of Gandhi and the US and South African civil rights movements. Also, when they proclaim women’s ordination is a *requirement* of justice, they are claiming an infallibility they deny to hierarchs. Catholics find staying in the state of uncertainty uncomfortable and itch to toggle the switch back to certitude. We undermine ourselves when we fail to discipline that itch.

  15. Tony says:

    And needless to say, I don’t see the cause for jubilation/salivation among Fr Roy’s detractors.

    I am not jubilant that Fr. Roy is being disciplined. I wish that there were no cause for discipline. But since there is, I’m gladdened that the Catholic Church is being unambiguous with respect to this errant priest, lest in his error he leads others to perdition.

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