I wrote an article for the December 5th issue of the Prairie Messenger titled If a pure church is the goal, new evangelization is not needed. It was a reflection on the Vatican expulsion of Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the Maryknoll Order and the priesthood. His crime was neither paedophilia nor the cover-up of sexual abuse of children in the church. These crimes seldom garner such swift and mean-spirited ecclesial condemnation and punishment. His crime was the refusal to renounce his support for women’s ordination.
Well, Fr. Roy has finally received his official letter from the Vatican; three months after the initial announcement. The letter does not come as a surprise. The tone and message, on the other hand, left me gob-smacked.
First of all, the letter was written in an officious Latin. This, in itself, speaks of the mind-set currently present in curial halls. Latin, at one time, may have been a language of unity in worship and official communications. Today, it has become a symbol of ecclesial elitism and power that divides rather than unites. When a bishop stands up and addresses his fellow bishops in Latin, most are scrambling for the translation head-phones.
Here are some quotes from the English translation of the letter provided by the National Catholic Reporter.
The Ordinary of the place, as far as possible, should ensure that the new condition of the dismissed presbyter would not give scandal to the faithful
This would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing. The faithful, in large numbers, are already scandalized by this event. Fr. Roy was well respected for his work for peace and social justice. His honest stance for women’s ordination was seen as an act of courage. Many Catholics, priests included, struggle to accept the church’s teaching on a male only priesthood. Few, though, have the courage and conviction to remain true to their conscience in the face of ecclesial reprimands. Scandal? That barn door has been opened and won’t be shut any time soon.
The notification of the dismissal and of the dispensation can happen either personally,through a notary or an ecclesiastical secretary or by registered letters. The dismissed priest must give back one copy duly signed as a proof of reception and at the same time of acceptance of the same dismissal and dispensation, and of the prescriptions, but if he does not do so, the effect of this Decree remain in its entirety.
Bourgeois has decided not to send back a reply as a protest. Signing the letter would be acknowledging acceptance of the punishment. There is also one glaring omission in the letter – no crime is mentioned. What is he being accused of? Why is he being stripped of the priesthood and expelled from his order? In any court of law, the crime would be named as the punishment is announced. The accused, and the people, have a right to know if the severity of the crime committed warrants the severity of the punishment.
Moreover, at an opportune time, the competent Ordinary should report briefly to the Congregation about the completed notification, and also, should any astonishment take place among the faithful, should give a prudent explanation.
Sadly, the faithful are becoming immune to astonishment. As the new year begins, I continue to cling to optimistic hope in the Year of Faith and its call for a new evangelization, but my optimism is wavering. Forgive me if I keep repeating myself, but we are getting conflicting messages.
We are called to focus less on rules and regulations and turn to the heart of our faith, to seek a personal relationship with Jesus and to embrace more fully the gospel message. Yet, we see church leaders who equate faithfulness with obsessive obedience and submission to doctrinal teachings.
We are called to enter into dialogue with those of other faiths and no faith. Yet, we are denied the right to dialogue within our own church.
We are called to love. Yet, we continue to see a glaring lack of love shown in mean-spirited judgments and denouncements.
Evangelization is all about the message. What message are we receiving from our church leaders? What message are they giving to the world?