Father Roy out over women’s ordination: How will history judge?

It was with some sadness that I read of Father Roy Bourgeois' inevitable laicization and dismissal from his Maryknoll order after more than 40 years of service. I say "inevitable" because I never had any confidence that the stall tactics Maryknoll engaged in over the past few years would eventually be successful. Bourgeois sealed his fate when he publicly concelebrated a 2008 Womenpriests ordination; even if he had agreed to "recant" his support for the ordination of women to the priesthood, I doubt he would have ever been permitted to function publicly as a priest again.

The problem for the Vatican is that they used the absolute last weapon in their arsenal when it comes to punishing clerics who publicly disagree on the matter of the ordination of women. According to NCR, even the manner by which it was applied was out of the ordinary. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith could have laicized him, for example, without expelling him from Maryknoll (by lifting his excommunication), but they didn't. By using every last ounce of power over him, they have effectively disarmed themselves. Now they have absolutely no control over what Bourgeois may do.

What if, for example, people still treat Bourgeois as a priest? What if they celebrate Eucharist with him, receive communion from him? In other words, what if they completely ignore the Vatican's use of the nuclear option against him? Some most certainly will, although we don't know what Bourgeois' next steps will be.

I'm left disappointed that we cannot have an adult theological conversation about the matter of women's ordination or at least sexism as it exists in the church. But I can't help but wonder what will happen if the day comes, some decades or centuries away, when a future pope reopens the discussion that John Paul II closed in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. It seems unlikely to me that 100 years from now the conversation will still be where it is today, and a significant number of theologians have argued that the late pope's determination that the church has no authority to ordain women is reversible.

In the meantime, Catholics are left the Vatican directive to simply not talk about it.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.