Sunday, April 10, 2011

"In essence you are telling me to lie."

Fr. Roy Bourgeois gave his answer to his Maryknoll superiors.  He told them they could not force him to lie about his beliefs regarding the status of women in the Church.  Whatever one's opinion might be about women's ordination, I personally have a very strong opinion about the hierarchys' penchant for insisting people openly lie about their beliefs in order to 'avoid scandal'.  The following short excerpt is from NCR's coverage of a vigil held by Bourgeois and his supporters outside the Papal Nunciature in Washington DC.

In his formal letter of reply to his order Bourgeois says he cannot comply with Dougherty’s request for him to recant “without betraying my conscience.”
“In essence, you are telling me to lie and say I do not believe that God calls both men and women to the priesthood,” Bourgeois writes in the letter. “This I cannot do, therefore I will not recant.”.......

........When asked how he views his decision to continue his support for women’s ordination in light of his vow as a priest to support church teaching and obey his superiors, Bourgeois said that he felt that his “first allegiance was to God.”

“I’ve always felt that when you see an injustice, really it’s your conscience and faith in God calling you to address the issue and to break your silence. And when your superior tells you to be obedient, then you have to make a decision: Do I follow God or man? And there was no question I must go with my faith in God.”...

......Bourgeois also raised that issue of the primacy of conscience in his letter, citing a 1968 commentary by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the Vatican II document on the church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes.

“Over the pope ... there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary, even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority,” Bourgeois quotes from the future pope’s words.
As the days tick by until his likely laicization, Bourgeois said he hopes his situation might act as an example for others who are facing similar struggles with their conscience.

“The issue resolves around conscience, and really living out in our lives -- all of us, all of us, my family, you, I, all of us -- with what we believe. In our lives, in our journey of faith, we are going to come across situations like this -- in our church, in our communities, in our families -- and we have to make decisions rooted in our faith and our belief in a loving a just God,” said Bourgeois.
“And the decisions that we are going to make will not be easy. It’s going to upset others -- our family, our friends. What’s important is to, in a loving way, follow our conscience, not get angry and simply embrace the consequences, the cross. This is what Jesus taught: embracing the cross.”


Readers of this blog probably know I'm not much of an advocate for women's ordination unless it comes with serious revamping of the entire clerical system.  What interests me about the situation with Fr. Roy is his pointing out that his superiors are essentially asking him to lie about his personal beliefs about women's ordination. That's different spiritual territory all together.  There is plenty of reason to question JPII's 1994 letter Ordinatio Sarcedotalis since it's basically just a statement of his personal opinion and personal and selective reading of tradition.  (I get because this personal opinion was issued in papal clothing that I'm supposed to take it like God spoke it. Unfortunately I got the message in the Wizard of Oz about theatrical authority when I was about seven.)---but requiring someone to publicly lie about their intellectual and spiritual conformance to this personal opinion to maintain their capacity to minister sacraments is a form of spiritual abuse.  At this level it has nothing to do with religious discipline, and everything to with authoritative control.  It seems to confer a sort of holy status to enforced cognitive dissonance.  

It's interesting that the Maryknoll  boys caved to Vatican posturing, while the Benedictine Sisters of Erie PA backed Sr Joan Chittister to the hilt over the very issue of personal conscience--not her support for womens' ordination-- and how that mandates a deeper definition of 'obedience'.  It's also interesting for me to note that the young progressive Joseph Ratzinger was all over the notion of the primacy of personal conscience, while the later bureaucratic version of Ratzinger was happy to enforce just the opposite.  One wonders when our current Pope will deal with the fact he sold the core of his soul for Vatican preferment.  It may have gotten him the papacy, but in the long run it cost him his 'self'. This can easily be seen is his roaring like a lion when his thinking is on track with the Sodano clique, but when it's not on track, he mews like a scared kitten and waits and waits to pounce.  See Maciel fiasco.

The bigger issue in the Fr Bourgeios situation is not the ordination of women.  That is a symptom. Instead it's the authority of personal conscience and it's place in Church teaching. In terms of one's spiritual life, as opposed to religious life,  there is nothing more important.  Integrity is everything.  It's that message which runs through the lives of most of our saints of  'conscience', and although there are many other issues in this story of Fr Bourgeios and womens' ordination, the issue of conscience is primary.  No religion has been given a divine mandate to force one to lie in direct opposition to their conscience.  Not even Catholicism.


  1. It wouldn't surprise me if the Vatican tried to go after Sr. Joan again. Sr. Christine Vladimir showed a lot of courage, would that Maryknoll showed the same courage!

  2. It seems to me the Vatican decided to go after the whole pond rather than one big fish. Hence the LCWR investigation. I've always felt this is the investigation that is going to drop the axe on specific people and orders.

  3. "All the laudatory words spoken about the primacy of individual conscience have no practical value, if it withers before the expectation of blind and thoughtless adherence to external authority. Perhaps, one is better off using one's energy to make wise and well informed choices whenever possible, given the circumstances. Wisdom, guided by experience...Let conscience take care of itself. There will always be someone around to second guess them."

  4. "Perhaps, one is better off using one's energy to make wise and well informed choices whenever possible, given the circumstances."

    That is the coming trend. Rote obedience to an external system of authority is not responsive enough for what the future holds. It's also not conducive to teaching wisdom. It teaches conformity. Conformity is not wisdom.