Human Rights

A Catholic Priest is About to be Excommunicated -- Guess Why

Father Ray Bourgeois has been a public advocate for the ordination of women priests, attracting the ire of Church authorities.

The place: Heaven’s gate.

The time: Around 2028, give or take a few mortal years.

The scene: A large crowd of newly dead, not yet liberated from their earthly forms, is trying to maintain order despite a cluster of men who shout, wag their fingers and, occasionally, shove.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen! For pity’s sake, please!” one of the non-combative people in the crowd cries out. “What in God’s name has you behaving in such an unholy way?”

A man whose body is of average size, but whose essence emanates a royal purple aura, whirls around with a contemptuous look. Pointing to another man, also of ordinary physical dimension, but whose aura seems made of sunlight, the angry man barks:

“What is he doing here? He has no right whatsoever to stand among us at the gates of heaven. Don’t you know? He was excommunicated!”

The non-combative person, who is long-limbed and thin, appears to be male, but he has an androgynous quality that sets him apart from the others.

“You mean he’s Roman Catholic, and he so offended the church leadership that he was officially denied the sacrament of Communion?” the gentle man asks.

“Correct!” booms the purple-aura man.

“What did he do?” the quiet man asks. “Was he among the thousands of mentally sick Catholic clergy who sexually abused children? Was he among the hierarchy who knew of these men’s illness but, in the name of protecting the church, continued to assign them to parishes and contact with more children?”

The purple-aura man grows more purple. In a low voice, heavy with fury, he responds: “He was indeed a priest. His name is Roy Bourgeois. But his excommunication had nothing to do with that unfortunate subject.”

The non-combative man smiles broadly and embraces Bourgeois.

“Father Roy!” he exclaims. “I know of you. Your tireless efforts to bring peace and justice to the oppressed of Latin America are legendary among good people of many faiths. Your courage in non-violent protest of the military training facility known as the School of the Americas is much admired.”

Bourgeois bows his head.

“Thank you,” he says, humbly. “I became a Maryknoll priest in 1972 after I was in combat in Vietnam. I served for 36 years until …”

The quiet man asks, “What did you do to warrant the ultimate deprivation of Christ’s body and blood in Communion?”

Father Roy sighs and answers, “I concelebrated a religious ceremony with a woman priest. I publicly advocated the ordination of women priests. I refused to recant my belief that God calls women and men to priesthood and that Catholic teaching to the contrary was wrong and unsupported by Scripture.”

At this, the purple-aura man explodes: “I am a cardinal, the head of the Vatican office that warned Roy Bourgeois in 2008 to recant or face excommunication!”

“You were,” the thin, non-combative man says.

“Were what?” the purple-aura man snaps.

“You were a cardinal and the head of an important Vatican office,” the quiet man says. “Your earthly life is over. You’re just another soul here, waiting to pass through the gates of heaven. All wait regardless of their mortal status: Catholic popes, Anglican archbishops and Episcopal bishops, directors of the mighty Southern Baptist Convention, television evangelists, pastors of megachurches. And the admission criteria are deeds, not job titles.”

A man who hasn’t spoken but who had been among the arguing, shoving cluster steps toward the thin, androgynous man. He, too, emits a purplish aura, but it is more violet than royal.

“What do you know about Anglicans?” he says, with noticeable irritation.

“I know some of them in the Episcopal province of the church pulled away from the Anglican Communion about the same time Father Roy got into trouble,” the quiet man says. “Four bishops in the United States and thousands of U.S. and Canadian laypersons, formed their own province, the Anglican Church of North America. Their objections centered around ordination of homosexuals and church blessings of same-sex unions.”

The quiet man continues: “As I recall, two of the bishops also shared the Catholic hierarchy’s prohibitive view of women priests, even though the Episcopalian Church had been ordaining women since 1976. Funny, if only Father Roy had been Episcopalian. He would have been celebrated by most of his church instead of excommunicated. Aren’t religious rules fascinating?”

The violet-aura man looks as if he’s been slapped.

“Rules?!” he fumes. “We are talking about morality. God’s will. How dare you trivialize that by calling it ‘rules’?”

The thin, quiet man raises his hand in reconciliation.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I meant no offense. By chance, were you one of the dissenting bishops?”

The violet-aura man nods.

“Did you also agree with some of your fellow dissenters that women never should have been ordained in the Episcopal Church?” the quiet man asks.

“No, I did not,” says the violet former bishop. “The bishop who presided over the entire U.S. Episcopal Church in 2008 was a woman. She did a perfectly fine job.”

The thin, gentle man mumbles, “rules,” turns back to Bourgeois and asks, “Father Roy, what did you tell the Vatican when you were given 30 days to recant?”

Bourgeois pulls three sheets of paper from the breast pocket of his coat and says, “This is my letter.”

The quiet man takes them and begins to read to himself. Tears well in his eyes. He says to the crowd, “Listen,” and reads aloud.

He quotes Bourgeois’ citation of a 1976 report, commissioned by the Vatican and conducted by Scripture scholars who found “there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women from the priesthood.” He reads Bourgeois’ question, “Who are we, as men, to say to women, ‘Our call is valid, but yours is not?’ Who are we to tamper with God’s call?”

His voice rising, the thin, gentle mans reads on: “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.”

The recitation continues, of Bourgeois’ process of “prayer, reflection and discernment,” the compulsion of his conscience “to do the right thing,” and of the realization through his social justice struggles that there “will never be justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained.”

The thin, quiet man finishes reading, presses Bourgeois’ letter to his own heart and, finally, hands it back to the former priest.

“Look,” he says, pointing to the gates. “They open for you, Father Roy.”

Bourgeois seems overwhelmed. He moves toward heaven, then stops abruptly.

“Wait a minute,” he says. “I just realized. There are only men in this crowd. Please, don’t tell me heaven is as sexist as mortal life?”

The thin, quiet man actually chuckles. “No, no, Father Roy,” he says. “Most of the women are already inside.”

 

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