Support of women’s ordination could defrock priest

Posted Aug. 12, 2011, at 10:16 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — A nationally known activist priest from Lutcher apparently is closer to expulsion from the priesthood and his religious community for publicly supporting the ordination of women to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois has been given an Aug. 11 deadline to publicly recant that support.

“What they’re asking me to do is lie,” he told The Times-Picayune from his home in Columbus, Ga. “To say I don’t believe God calls women to the priesthood as well as men — I cannot do that.”

In 2008, Bourgeois participated in a ceremony in Kentucky purporting to ordain Janice Sevre-Duszynska a Catholic priest. The church said it was without effect, but participation meant automatic excommunication. That cut Bourgeois off from Catholic sacraments.

He remained a priest, but the process of “laicization” — stripping his priesthood and expelling him from the Maryknoll order — began at the same time.

His superior, the Rev. Ed Dougherty, on July 27 issued the last written warning required by church law, including the Aug. 11 deadline, before sending Bourgeois’ case to Rome.

The Catholic church teaches that Christ defined the priesthood as an all-male corps modeled on himself, and that it cannot change that.

Bourgeois released his reply, which says, “I firmly believe that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, against our Church, and against our God.”

In the interview, Bourgeois said he has retained the Rev. Tom Doyle, a Dominican priest famous for his support of sexual abuse victims and his criticisms of bishops, as his canon lawyer.

His defense is the primacy of his conscience and his right to dissent, Bourgeois said.

He noted that the Maryknolls require more than refraining from further public statements about women’s ordination — they are requiring him to publicly recant his belief.

“If I did that I would be tormented for the rest of my life,” he said.

A friend and secular lawyer said Tuesday he hoped Bourgeois might retain his priesthood, short of recanting.

Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University, said Bourgeois has promised his Maryknoll community he will not participate again in rites purporting to ordain Catholic women to the priesthood — although not to recant or silence himself on the issue.

“An issue as important as this, we’ve got to be able at least to have dialogue without getting kicked out,” Quigley said.

Quigley said Bourgeois has attracted substantial support among fellow priests both within and outside the order, if not for women’s ordination, but for his right to offer his public opinion without loss of his priesthood.

Mike Virgintino, a Maryknoll spokesman, said Dougherty is traveling and has not yet received Bourgeois’ reply.

He said Dougherty months ago slow-tracked the process to give Bourgeois maximum time to reconsider his position.

Having taken a vow of poverty, Bourgeois has lived for years on a Maryknoll allowance in a small apartment outside the gates of Fort Benning, Ga.

For more than 20 years Bourgeois has led national protests against a military installation there once called the School for the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

He and other critics said the military school for years trained Latin American officers in the techniques Central and South American dictators used to suppress the poor. He has sometimes been jailed for his protests.

Bourgeois, a priest for 39 years, is a native of Lutcher, with a 98-year-old father and siblings still in the area.

Virgintino said that if Bourgeois is expelled, the order will nonetheless continue to provide for him financially.

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