Bourgeois receives official Vatican letter dismissing him from priesthood | National Catholic Reporter

Bourgeois receives official Vatican letter dismissing him from priesthood | National Catholic Reporter.

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?

the bourgeois story and the new evangelization


Here is my latest catholic dialogue column for the Prairie Messenger. The expulsion of Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the Maryknoll Order and the priesthood for his support of women’s ordination has made headlines around the world. Top-down, disciplinary actions and demands for doctrinal purity and unquestioning obedience seem to be increasing. How do these disciplinary actions affect the perception of our Church? What effect do they have on the new evangelization?

If a pure church is the goal, new evangelization is not needed

swords, ploughshares, popes, bishops, and women’s ordination

swords and ploughshares

Advent is my favorite month, and today’s reading from Isaiah provides one of my favorite images,

“and they shall beat their swords into plough shares.” Isaiah 2:4 

I was planning all day to write a reflection on these wonderful words, but I got side-tracked. The discussion boards over at the National Catholic Reporter were hopping! NCR published an editorial in favor of women’s ordination. Denying women access to the priesthood, says the editorial, is an injustice. This evening, you couldn’t read the newest comment without several more pouring in. Many are enthusiastically supporting the editorial staff at NCR for their courage. Others, a smaller but very vocal group, are slinging accusations of unfaithfulness and heresy.

Now, for anyone who doesn’t know the do’s and don’ts of Catholicism, there are some issues that you have to keep mum on. Women’s ordination is one of those issues. You can be a pedophile priest or rob your parish blind, and punishment will not come as swiftly as it would for a fellow priest who has openly participated in the ordination of a woman, or a mass celebrated by a woman priest. Recent news shows that a bishop can be found guilty in a court of law of not reporting an abusive priest and the same bishop can remain active in pastoral ministry. He can even attend a national Bishops conference, seemingly in good standing, without a single bishop challenging his presence.

But, openly supporting women’s ordination is considered a grave sin. Excommunications and defrocking are handed out bluntly and swiftly.

No sooner has the inked dried on commentaries about the recent expulsion of Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the Maryknoll order and the priesthood, news came out that Jesuit Fr. Bill Brennan, a 92 year old priest from the Milwaukee area was ordered by Archbishop Jerome Listecki to no longer celebrate the Mass or perform any other priestly duties. NCR published the story just this afternoon. Fr. Brennen’s sin? He participated in a Eucharistic liturgy with a woman priest last month.

I’m trying hard to cling to the Advent spirit of hope, to ponder the images of swords being beaten into plough shares. It turns out that I already wrote a reflection at this time last year. It’s a strange thing when you forget what you wrote. It’s even stranger when your own words force you to stop and ponder.

What about the swords and plough shares in our own lives? Do we use the gifts and resources given to us to promote peace and unity, or dissent and division? Our words and actions have the power to slay for good or for evil…

What swords do I need to hammer into plough shares? This is a constant challenge with my writing. It’s a fine line between having a good, cathartic rant and using your words to attack. When an issue is close to my heart, it is easy to fuel the flames of dissent – in myself and in others. The flames have the power to heat up my personal views. Witty words add fuel, as does the support of kindred spirits.

…once we have spoken, how do we take our own passions and unite them for the greater good? How do we hammer our own issues into plough-shares for peace in our church and our world?

Yes, I have many swords that need beating down–an embarrassingly large arsenal in fact. I need to put aside that which destroys, and pick up that which is life-giving.

I wish that the powers that be in our Church would try to do the same. Picking up the sword against those who question or refuse to give assent to one teaching of the church, while refusing to acknowledge all the pastoral work they may have done, does not nourish our faith. It just makes us wonder why swords, and not plough shares, are in the hands of those who call themselves shepherds.