Author’s Note: The following blog is not mine. It was written by Johanna Hatch and you will find her biographical information at the end of the text. As I am still formulating my own thoughts and opinions on the impending excommunication of Fr. Roy Bourgeois, I’m going to let Johanna have the floor.
The Excommunication of Fr. Roy
By Johanna Hatch
The first and only time I met Fr. Roy Bourgeois was at the annual vigil at the gates of the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), an action Fr. Roy started to bring awareness to the injustices visited on the people of Latin America by soldiers trained on American soil. My spouse Evan (at the time, a very new relationship) suddenly found himself standing very close to Fr. Roy. After a bit of hesitation, Evan summoned up the courage to go introduce himself and asked for a picture. Ever gracious, Fr. Roy obliged, put his arm around Evan, and grinned as I snapped the picture. He shook our hands, and was off.
We knew we were in the presence of a prophet, a great voice for justice who had given his life (and more than once, his freedom) in an effort to turn the attention of his fellow citizens to the suffering our government had inflicted on our neighbors. At the time, I didn’t know that Fr. Roy would take another prophetic stance for justice, on the issue of women’s ordination.
On August 9, 2008, Fr. Roy stood with Janice Sevre-Duszynska as she was ordained as part of the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement. While the movement has ordained 32 women to the priesthood and deaconate, this was the first time that a Roman Catholic priest in good standing has participated. Janice, who I also had the pleasure of meeting once, is a compassionate and creative woman who looks like a slightly older version of Tori Amos. Fr. Roy’s involvement in her ordination was, I’m sure, not something done on a whim. Janice’s commitment to social justice has led to her involvement in the movement to close SOA/WHINSEC, even as one of the movement’s prisoners of conscience, who yearly risk arrest. Janice’s ordination was not merely symbolic – she is his colleague, his friend. I believe that Fr. Roy reached a place where he could no longer speak about injustice in the world without confronting obvious injustice in his Church, which he has lovingly served for 26 years.
For taking this stance on behalf of women’s ordination, Fr. Roy now faces excommunication by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, unless he recants his stance on women’s ordination. Fr. Roy, prayerfully, prophetically, has refused. In his letter replying to the CDF, he writes, “Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral.”
Upon hearing the news of Fr. Roy’s impending excommunication, I was deeply saddened by it. And while I view the excommunication as a great injustice, it points back to an even greater injustice: the hierarchy’s obstinate refusal to even discuss the possibility of women’s ordination, even though a majority of US Catholics support an inclusive priesthood, even though the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded there is no scriptural basis for excluding women from ordained ministry, even though countless women whose names we may never know are called to the priesthood, but continue to serve the Church they love in silence.
Why women’s ordination? Why didn’t Janice just join another church? Why did Fr. Roy risk his priesthood on something so small? What difference does it make in the world? I’m asked questions like this often by my secular feminist colleagues. Upon reading and rereading Fr. Roy’s homily from Janice’s ordination and his letter to the CDF, I feel like I finally have a clear reason why. As part of the global movement for social justice, women’s ordination matters. The Catholic Church has over 1 billion members worldwide and is the only religion with a seat at the United Nations. The way a force this large and this powerful treats its female members sends reverberations around the world – from the Beijing Women’s Conference where the Vatican tried to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care to my 16-year-old sister in Illinois who is wrestling, really struggling, with trying to understand the Church’s teaching and not getting a straight answer from anyone.
Instead of remaining complicit, Janice stood up and answered the call. Fr. Roy stood by her side, named her ministry and the injustice she faced. For their fidelity to their consciences, the “aboriginal Vicar of Christ” according to the Catechism, they face expulsion from the Church they have given their lives to. So then, how are we called to respond? I invite each person who reads this to prayerfully consider that question, and if you feel so moved, sign the petition in support of Fr. Roy, and pass it on.
Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer living in Wisconsin and working in non-profit administration. She is a graduate of the College of Saint Benedict and the recipient of the Katharine Drexel Scholarship at the Washington Theological Union. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her spouse Evan. She periodically blogs at Young Women and Catholicism.