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Why the Defrocking of Fr. Roy Bourgeois Will Test the Spirituality and Sincerity of SOAW Protest

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Crossposted on  Tikkun Daily

by David Sylvester

If you are following the news, you might know that sometime this week, Fr. Roy Bourgeois is going to be expelled from the Maryknoll order after more than 40 years as one of its leading members. Later, the Vatican is undoubtedly going to defrock - the word is "laicize" -- him as a Catholic priest.

Father Roy Bourgeois. Flickrcc/peaceworker46

This rupture comes two years after Fr. Roy participated in an unapproved ordination of a Catholic woman as a priest. At the time, he was excommunicated as a Catholic but not expelled. Since then, some kind of unacknowledged truce seemed to prevail between Fr. Roy and the Maryknolls, even though I know Fr. Roy sent a letter last year to other Maryknoll priests asking them to come forward publicly and support the ordination of women.

Two weeks ago, it all came to a head quite suddenly. The Maryknoll superior general ordered him to recant his position or Maryknoll would expel him and ask Rome to defrock him. Jamie L. Mason, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and a member of Women's Conference on Ordination, thinks she knows what happened that broke the apparent calm:

Things proceeded rather quietly until this past February, when he participated in a panel discussion at the New York premiere of the documentary Pink Smoke over the Vatican. The film chronicles the struggle for women's ordination in the Catholic Church, and features extensive clips of an interview with Bourgeois.

The post-film program, apparently, was the last straw for the Vatican and the Maryknolls, who claimed that by participating in this conversation, Bourgeois had disobeyed the explicit instructions of his superiors.

In response to the threatened expulsion, Fr. Roy held a public vigil last Friday outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., and read his letter to Fr. Edward Dougherty, Maryknoll superior general, in which he refused to recant.

Among Fr. Roy's comments:

After much reflection and many conversations with fellow priests and women, I believe sexism is at the root of excluding women from the priesthood. 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. Sexism is about power. In the culture of clericalism many Catholic priests see the ordination of women as a threat to their power.

U.K. protest for Catholic women as priests. Flickrcc/walhalla

Much can be said about this, most obviously in its implications for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church. Some compare Fr. Roy's situation with that of Sister Joan Chittister in 2001. Then, the Vatican asked her superior to prevent her from speaking at a women's ordination conference in Ireland, but her superior, and all the Benedictine sisters in her convent, refused, citing their vows of obedience to the Spirit and to consensus. The Vatican relented.

On Fr. Roy's behalf, the Women's Ordination Conference is circulating a petition to support Fr. Roy which, if so moved, you can sign here. Other groups, such as Roman Catholic Womenpriests, are also calling for help to support him.

It may appear less obvious, or at least less urgent, but Fr. Roy's ejection from the Catholic Church is going to raise serious challenges for School of Americas' Watch, the organization that grew out of his first protests against the notorious U.S. terror-training center at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. Since it started with Fr. Roy and a handful of friends some 20 years ago, the SOAW protest has grown into the largest, most sustained anti-militarism movement in the U.S. Even more important that its size, the SOAW has revealed the power of a spiritually based political movement.