Joining the women who have stepped forward to be ordained as Roman Catholic Women Priests and been summarily castigated and excommunicated, the latest victim of the Church's strong-armed resistance to any effort toward women's equality in the Church is internationally beloved and regarded Father Roy Bourgeois. And while it might have looked like last year's new canonical guidelines declaring that a priest's "attempted sacred ordination of a woman" was as grave a "crime" as a priest's sexual molestation of a child, the Church hierarchy's treatment of Bourgeois shows that it considers advocacy of women's ordination to be much, much worse.
Father Roy is a Purple Heart recipient. In the 1970s, he worked with the poor in Bolivia and was arrested and forced to leave the country for speaking out against injustice. In the 1980s, he got involved in issues surrounding U.S. policy in El Salvador, this after four churchwoman -- two his dear friends -- were raped and killed by Salvadoran soldiers. He became an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, establishing the School of the Americas Watch, which advocates for the closing the U.S. School of the Americas (aka School of Assassins). Bourgeois spent five years in U.S. federal prison for nonviolent protest, and he is a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Father Roy is an extremely powerful force in the world, which meant that his unequivocal public support for women's ordination, and his participation in the ordination of his friend Janice Sevre-Duszynska, greatly disturbed the hierarchy. The Vatican promptly excommunicated him, but as recently as February, as I reported in The Huffington Post, his order of 44 years, the Maryknolls, had not banished him from their ranks. "He has been excommunicated by Rome," spokesperson Mike Virgintino told me, "but he remains part of the Maryknoll Society," specifically, the Maryknoll Priests and Brothers.
What finally put the Maryknolls over the edge? Bourgeois' speaking at a public panel at the Barnard College Athena Film Festival on Women's Leadership on Feb. 12. The panel, which I led, followed the screening of Pink Smoke Over the Vatican. I think that Jules Hart's documentary (which, as the author of Good Catholic Girls, I am in) captures in vivid detail the Roman Catholic Women Priests' movement and the increasingly hysterical response of the all-male, theoretically celibate hierarchy as it tries to discredit and defeat it.
In his letter of March 18 to Bourgeois, Maryknoll Superior General Rev. Edward Dougherty, referring to the panel and the film, committed to expelling Bourgeois from the Maryknolls if he failed to recant within 15 days and did not respond to a subsequent second warning. Dougherty also promised to submit to the Vatican a request for Bourgeois' laicization, which would thereby end his Roman Catholic priesthood forever.
This swift and unequivocal action has never been the response of these same church leaders to the rape, sodomizing, sexual torture and torment of children -- from infancy through adolescence -- by thousands of male Catholic clergy worldwide.
On April 17, the New York Times reported that Bishop Roger Vangheluwe -- not long ago one of the most powerful bishops in Belgium, until he resigned following admission of sexually molesting a child, his nephew -- admitted in a TV interview that he had also abused another child, another cousin, claiming that they were reciprocal relationships, the kids enjoyed them and he didn't "have the impression" that he himself was "a pedophile."
What has the Church done? Essentially, nothing. The Vatican sent him for "spiritual and psychological treatment." The Times reported that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pope are considering what to do next.
And neither excommuniaton nor laicization has been threatened against any of the scores of Philadelphia priests who Cardinal Justin Rigali, under public pressure, was forced to relieve of duty, following the recent release of a second damning Grand Jury report. Protected for years by the black wall of silence, those priests were kept in active ministry even after the 2002 sex abuse crisis broke in this country and even after the diocesan authorities knew of the horrific allegations against them -- that they had repeatedly raped and sodomized children, turning one child into a sexual slave who they pimped out from priest to priest.
This same Rigali in 2006 castigated Eileen McCafferty DiFranco for daring to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, accusing her of causing "confusion and discord," charging that if she celebrated a sacrament, she would "further exacerbate the public scandal." This was at the time of the first Grand Jury report, which described one of the most astounding histories of child sex abuse of any diocese in the country. The list of crimes by more than 60 priests included a teenage girl groped by her priest while she lay immobilized in traction and a boy who awoke intoxicated in a priest's bed to find the priest "sucking his penis while three other priests watched and masturbated."
Bourgeois was incredibly engaging and moving on the Barnard panel, as he is in the film -- humble, deeply committed to women's rights in the Church, immovable in his position of support. But what struck me, what touched me most deeply was his concern, his wish and his deep disappointment that his fellow priests have refused to step forward and join him in this fight. They remain silent, despite knowing in their hearts how unjust and discriminatory is the Church's position, which flies in the face of church history, archaeological evidence and even a Pontifical Biblical Commission that found insufficient Scriptural grounds to exclude the possibility of women's ordination.
To Bourgeois, this fight, and the resistance to it, is what being a priest is all about. As he told the National Catholic Reporter: "I believe if we really take our faith seriously on these issues of justice and peace, there's going to be consequences ... I'm just seeing now ... that maybe I'm finally becoming a faithful priest. I finally really understand what this man Jesus was talking about when he said it's not going to be easy."
The face of a Church steeped in an unmistakable misogyny will be on view again, on this most sacred of holy days, Easter Sunday. Even as we recall Jesus telling Mary Magdalene, the first witness to his Resurrection, to go and tell his brothers that He is risen, no woman in a Catholic Church will be allowed to preach that Gospel or deliver a homily about it because no woman can be ordained. And all across the globe, in Roman Catholic churches, men alone will consecrate the Eucharist. Men alone will repeat the sacred words: "This is my body. This is my blood."
Yet, that body and blood began in the body and blood of a woman. Mary's gift to the world is brutally dismissed and diminished by a Church that has declared the fight for her voice, her equality and her empowerment to be a most grave crime.
In reality, it is that untenable position, unabashedly and self-servingly defended, that is the real scandal, the real crime.