Roy Bourgeois: On RCC Ordaining Women

From NYTimes:

AFTER serving as a Roman Catholic priest for 40 years, I was expelled from the priesthood last November because of my public support for the ordination of women.

Catholic priests say that the call to be a priest comes from God. As a young priest, I began to ask myself and my fellow priests: “Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not?” Isn’t our all-powerful God, who created the cosmos, capable of empowering a woman to be a priest?

Let’s face it. The problem is not with God, but with an all-male clerical culture that views women as lesser than men. Though I am not optimistic, I pray that the newly elected Pope Francis will rethink this antiquated and unholy doctrine….

While Christ did not ordain any priests himself, as the Catholic scholar Garry Wills has pointed out in a controversial new book, the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, stressed that the all-male priesthood is “our tradition” and that men and women are equal, but have different roles….

Their reasons for barring women from ordination bring back memories of my childhood in Louisiana. For 12 years I attended segregated schools and worshiped in a Catholic church that reserved the last five pews for blacks. We justified our prejudice by saying this was “our tradition” and that we were “separate but equal.” During all those years, I cannot remember one white person — not a teacher, parent, priest or student (myself included) — who dared to say, “There is a problem here, and it’s called racism.”

Where there is injustice, silence is complicity. What I have witnessed is a grave injustice against women, my church and our God, who called both men and women to be priests. I could not be silent. Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against others, in the end, it is not the way of a loving God who created everyone of equal worth and dignity….

New York Times/CBS poll this month reported that 70 percent of Catholics in the United States believed that Pope Francis should allow women to be priests. In the midst of my sorrow and sadness, I am filled with hope, because I know that one day women in my church will be ordained — just as those segregated schools and churches in Louisiana are now integrated.

I have but one simple request for our new pope. I respectfully ask that he announce to the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world: “For many years we have been praying for God to send us more vocations to the priesthood. Our prayers have been answered. Our loving God, who created us equal, is calling women to be priests in our Church. Let us welcome them and give thanks to God.”

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Rick

    If the writer wants change, his wording, argument, and tone used in the article are not going to help his cause.

  • Annie

    Really? I think the comparison to segregation is quite good.

  • Rick

    Annie #2-

    You may like the comparison, but it is not going to be welcomed by the other side, especially the “…70% of Catholics in the United States….” line.

    Now if he brought up theological, bibical, or tradition-based arguments, then he may get a hearing from them.

  • Annie

    I guess I see the injustice issue as a biblical and theological argument. But I agree that polling American Catholics isn’t compelling.

  • I am a Presbyterian in a denomination that ordains women and even I have to say that I find this article ridiculous. It ignores the biblical, theological, ecclesiastical, and historical reasons for the RCC’s teaching on this subject and appeals to generalized theological truths, liberal platitudes, and, to that most authoritative voice of all, polls. Also, citing Garry Wills, who basically isn’t even Catholic, for his argument doesn’t help me think this is a legitimate plea to the Pope instead of moralistic grandstanding.

  • This isn’t that different from the abolitionist arguments, which were mostly the rejection of scripture as antiquated. I agree this particular argument may not get far. But it is the movement of the majority that makes change in the long term. The 70 percent may not do anything on its own. But when the majority of Catholics already reject the churches teaching on birth control and many other issues, it is not a stretch to think that they will eventually reject the churches teaching on women priests. Especially in regard to the huge shortages of priests in South American and Africa. When there is 1 priest for every 5000 to 10000 catholics in some areas, there is a real crisis.

    As a protestant, I can’t do much about it. But I will cheer on those Catholics that think that it is time that the church really do something that makes some changes.

  • Rick

    Adam #6-

    “But it is the movement of the majority that makes change in the long term.”

    But it will not make change based on the fact that it is a majority. The RCC is not a democracy.

    The “majority” is going to have to base its case on biblical, theological, and traditional grounds, which are what get the attention of the RCC.

  • Kenton


    It’s easy to throw the “your rhetoric is not helpful” stone. Perhaps some rhetoric that you think *would* get the church to reconsider the issue might be appreciated.

  • Rick


    I thought I had done a litte of that. They need to make the case on biblical, theological, and traditional grounds. That is what the RCC is interested in.

    Building, and pushing, a case based on Scot’s (and others) view on Junia would be one such starting place.

  • Kenton

    Yeah, I need to learn to refresh a page before commenting. 🙂

    Two hours. I think that’s a personal record!

  • James Dowden

    Perhaps the writer should admit that Henry VIII was right about those detestable enormities.

  • PJ Anderson

    Not a well laid out argument at all. Rome doesn’t care about polling data from the US.

    Like it or not the theological and dogmatic structure of the RCC has no room for female ordination. Rome isn’t even considering the option. This is a fanciful diversion piled onto us by a callow American media. For shame, there are better things to talk about.

    Besides this, it is disingenuous for Roy to say his dismissal from the priesthood was solely on the grounds of support for women’s ordination. That simply isn’t the case.

  • Christy

    PJ –

    I agree with you that the RCC has no room for female ordination, but the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers seem to think that his vocal support for women’s ordination was exactly why he was dismissed. (And I would agree – he’s been doing SOA Watch stuff for 30 years, so if that was going to get him booted they would have done that a long time ago.) He was never popular at the Vatican, but it wasn’t until he participated in the ordination of a woman that they decided to dismiss him. And while Rome isn’t considering the issue, it is very much a topic of discussion among American Catholics, so I don’t think it’s all that fanciful. The official press release, quoted below, states:

    “As a priest during 2008, Mr. Bourgeois participated in the invalid ordination of a woman and a simulated Mass in Lexington, Kentucky. With patience, the Holy See and the Maryknoll Society have encouraged his reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

    Instead, Mr. Bourgeois chose to campaign against the teachings of the Catholic Church in secular and non-Catholic venues. This was done without the permission of the local U.S. Catholic Bishops and while ignoring the sensitivities of the faithful across the country. Disobedience and preaching against the teaching of the Catholic Church about women’s ordination led to his excommunication, dismissal and laicization.”

  • Clearly the RCC is not a democracy, but like all organizations and groups it cannot go forever in a way that the majority of the group does not want to go. That was my point. Theological arguments are not going to change people’s minds.

    There is a good book about how Evangelical Leaders changed their minds about women’s leadership in the church and of the 25 or so leaders that wrote a chapter, very few minds were changed from primarily theological arguments. Some, but few. Most had a sociological or personal reason (they felt the call toward ordination if they were female, their daughter wanted to be ordained, they had to work with women who were ordained in some capacity, etc.)

    The RCC will be insulated against many of those sociological/personal reasons because of the nature of the priesthood (they are not parents, they are not women, they will not have to work with ordained women often). But the people in the pews will have sociological/personal reasons and that eventually will work its way up. It will just take longer.

  • Rick

    Adam #14-

    “but like all organizations and groups it cannot go forever in a way that the majority of the group does not want to go.”

    Do we want such institutions so heavily influenced by popular opinion? Hopefully they are standing on a different authority, and isn’t that what this is about: authority?

    Assuming the RCC is a true part of the universal church (I am avoiding that debate for now), if the “majority” is spirit-led, then change will come, but will also be based on theological decisions. If the majority is wrong, then the RCC may lose people, but not disappear.

  • I happen to this this is the right theological decision. But I am describing the way change happens. I believe the spirit is often but not always involved in significant changes.

    Moving away from slavery, official racism, etc I believe are the right decisions, but there are others that probably were not.

    My point is that theological reasons are not the only (or even the main) reason that changes happen in the church.

  • Robin

    Did anybody else find it odd that when he attended the “female RCC ordination” it was at a Unitarian Universalist Church? Working closely with unitarians, or saying that someone can be both a unitarian and a female Catholic priest strikes me as really odd.

  • Diane

    Did Jesus “ordain” anyone? And wasn’t Mary Magdalene the apostle to the apostles and hence in the Apostolic succession? And isn’t an ordained RC priest ordaining a woman enough to make her part of the Apostolic succession, whether the church likes it or not?

  • jenny

    I think a good test for people debating the women priest issue would be to go to “pre-confession” to a women , followed by a regular confession to a man priest.
    What I mean by “pre-confession” is presenting the list of sins to a woman, only for the sake of comparing the emotional aspects of opening up your heart to a woman vis-a-vis to a man.