An outspoken critic of human rights abuses, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated 31 years ago while celebrating mass in his El Salvador church. Each year people throughout the world remember him on the anniversary of his death on March 24. I took part in a prayer service which was billed as a "Vigil of Prayer in memory of all those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel." This liturgy, conducted by members of the Community of Sant'Egidio was a commemoration of Christian martyrs -- not so much the distant saints one sees viscerally rendered in Renaissance art, but contemporary "martyrs," whose lives are "sacrificed"in the course of working amid the violence that attends poverty and political oppression.
In the days following the vigil I thought a lot about the ways people "give" their lives, how one need not die in order to do so, how it is possible to enjoy earthly life and "give" it too. I read with heightened awareness of how people in Japan are "giving" their lives in order to save the lives of others. I read about President Obama's visit to the grave of Archbishop Romero, reminded anew of how brave a man must be to become the first black president. Barack Obama was a boy just old enough to understand why when Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert F. Kennedy were murdered. This seems a semblance of "giving one's life," a kind of holy action.
Whatever it is that impels a firefighter to rush into a combusting building is, as I see it, some strain of "gospel truth" at work, and is obviously an example of "holy action" in the extreme.
Sacrifice means "to make or do something holy." I infer from the word "sacrifice" that it's not so much "giving up" as "giving to." Catholics call the mass "a sacrifice" because it is holy action.
But there is unholy sacrifice too.
Just as the clerical perversion in Philadelphia began to slither off the front page as if on its own slime, a fresh clerical perversion story broke this week to newly astound and appall. The March 28 New York Times reports that former Jesuit priest Donald J. McGuire engaged in the sexual abuse of young victims for four decades under the noses of his superiors in Chicago with relative impunity. It seems the "charismatic teacher" (despite having received warnings) managed to remain active in ministry while traveling the world in the company of assorted adolescents he might have considered porn partners and masturbation buddies but who were, in truth, his rape victims.
Unholy sacrifice. Every priest in charge who looked the other way, failing to stop McGuire, sacrificed some poor kid, like some bizarro Abraham who sets Isaac on fire long after God has called out "Stop!"
I was just about to shut down my computer after reading this vile account when I retrieved an email linking to a National Catholic Reporter story relating to another letter of reprimand addressed to a priest.
The juxtaposition was walloping.
The letter is dated March 18, addressed to Father Roy Bourgeois and signed by Edward Dougherty, the Superior General of the Maryknoll religious order. In it, Dougherty, whom the Vatican has likely pressured to issue this demand, declares the intention of the Maryknoll order to recommend laicization for Father Bourgeois unless the priest, who has been accused of "publicly rejecting the teaching of the Holy Father," cleans up his act.
What is Father Bourgeois' transgression? Did he travel the world with a pet altar boy in tow?
No. He committed a truly grave sin. One the Vatican deems intolerable: Bourgeois is an ardent advocate for women's ordination.
Father Bourgeois has been warned, forewarned, chastised and penalized ever since he preached at an ordination of a woman in 2008. The Superior General of his Order has ordered him to recant.
Father Bourgeois is not expected to recant. More likely he will sacrifice the vocation for "the sake" of "the Gospel."
A bizarre inverse poetic justice attends the timing of this missive; much of Bourgeois' work as a priest is consecrated to disrupting classes at the academy where Oscar Romero's executioners learned their trade. How ironic that the Maryknoll superior might have been spell-checking that letter (re: unholy sacrifice) to Bourgeois on the very anniversary of Romero's death.
Bourgeois is the founder of SOA Watch. SOA stands for School of the Americas but is currently known as WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) and trains more than 1,000 soldiers from Latin America each year in torture and murder. The school has graduated more than 600 known human rights abusers and eleven dictators, including Manuel Noriega; many of Augusto Pinochet's generals; the leaders of the 2009 military coup in Honduras; and Roberto d'Aubuisson, the commander of El Salvador's notorious death squads, the same death squads who executed tens of thousands of Salvadoran civilians, including three nuns and a church worker whom they raped before murdering. (Two were friends of Bourgeois) The same year they murdered Archbishop Romero. Since 1990, SOA Watch has led a campaign to shut WHINSEC down and joins with other activists working in Latin America to challenge U.S. policy there.
Father Roy Bourgeois served four years the Navy, spent a year in Vietnam, was awarded a Purple Heart, was ordained into one of the Maryknoll orders in 1972, spent more than four years in U.S. federal prison for non-violent protest and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. He's giving his life -- he's a fighter -- but it won't be hard for the Vatican to strip him of his frock.
And it won't take them 40 years to get it done either.
When I pray the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross), which I try to do once a week in Lent, I'll pause at the appropriate station, the tenth: "Jesus is stripped of His garments." There I will pray for Father Bourgeois.
And his Christlike ilk.