A national group of nuns has come to the aid of a Maryknoll priest who has been told by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to renounce his support for women’s ordination or be excommunicated.
The Vatican’s warning to Fr. Roy Bourgeois stems from an Aug. 8 ceremony at a Unitarian church in Lexington, Kentucky, during which Dana Reynolds, a Carmel-by-the-Sea woman who claims to be a Catholic bishop, participated with Bourgeois in the attempted ordination of a “womanpriest.”
In a press release, the National Coalition of American Nuns announced that more than 100 Roman Catholic nuns from 22 religious congregations have written the Vatican protesting the threatened excommunication of Bourgeois. The Dec. 12 letter, according to the NCAN announcement, says the Vatican's excommunication threat "has diminished our Church."
The nuns expressed the view that "excommunications depend not on edicts or laws, but on compliance" by the faithful, so that, if the faithful do not exclude or shun someone from the community, they are not excommunicated.
The letter asserts that Bourgeois is not outside the community because the nuns themselves "embrace him wholeheartedly."
"In the first century, Christians resolved their disagreements about following traditions such as circumcision and kosher dietary laws by dialogue and discussion," said Sister Beth Rindler, speaking for NCAN.
"We need to follow their example by promoting public discussion about the ordination of women," the Franciscan Sister said.
"We hope the excommunication is not issued," said Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, one of the coordinators of NCAN. "The medieval punishment of excommunication serves only to embarrass our Church in the eyes of the world and fuels further anger and resentment among the U.S. faithful."
"Many of the signers have served the Church for more than 40 or 50 years. Many are prominent leaders in their fields," said Loretto Sister Jeannine Gramick, another NCAN coordinator. She pointed to Mercy Sister Theresa Kane, who made worldwide headlines when she asked Pope John Paul II to open all ministries to women on the occasion of his first visit to the U.S in 1979, and Dominican Sister Carol Coston, who founded Network, a Catholic social justice lobby. She also noted the signatures of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, a prolific writer in the field of spirituality, Notre Dame Sister Ivone Gebara, a noted Brazilian feminist theologian, and Loretto Sister Maureen Fiedler, host of the public radio show Interfaith Voices.
The nuns' statement said they "join Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the majority of U.S. Catholics, who believe that women are called to priestly ordination in the Catholic Church."
In an Oct. 21 letter to Fr. Bourgeois, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave him 30 days to renounce his public support for the ordination of women or be excommunicated. He responded in a letter dated Nov. 7 in which he insisted that women should be ordained priests in the Catholic Church.
“After much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing,” he wrote. “I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.”
Fr. Bourgeois was ordained a Maryknoll priest in 1972, and is perhaps best known for leading annual protests outside the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly the School of the Americas) at Fort Benning, Georgia.
According to the return address on his letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fr. Bourgeois resides in nearby Columbus, Georgia.
He is the founder of “School of the Americas Watch,” and led a mass demonstration outside the military base from Nov. 21-23. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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