This past August I wrote about the canonical warning that Fr. Roy received and the issue surrounding the exercise of conscience over church teaching. For a more detailed explanation of the warning and the background regarding the ordination of women, please see my prior article.
October 17th (this past Tuesday), Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Erin Saiz Hanna (Executive Director of Women’s Ordination Council), Therese Koturbash (Coordinator of Canada’s Catholic Network for Women’s Equality), Nicole Sotelo (Call to Action), Miriam Duignan (Womenpriests), and about 14 other representativesof various other Catholic organizations from around the world went to the Vatican to
present a petition containing 15,000 signatures supporting full and equal participation of women as deacons, priests, and bishops in a renewed church. The group was not permitted in St. Peter’s Square because of their signs; they did not have the proper permit. Access was also denied to the Women who wore albs/stole because their dress was considered a form of protest. “We love our family, the Catholic Church,” stated Miriam Duignan of Women-Priests. “We feel obliged in conscience to make our carefully considered reasons known. In doing so, we fulfill our canon law duty to speak out, as our present Pope has encouraged us to do.” Koturbash states “even though canon law invites our Church leaders to hear from the faithful, our leaders are silent when we try to engage.”
In a letter to the Vatican from Fr. Roy, an important question was asked, “If the call to be a priest is a gift and comes from God, how can we, as men, say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call of women is not?” According to Nicole Winfield, there is no theological basis for excluding women, as women were priests and deacons in the early church, thus the Vatican’s ban is nothing more then sexist. After premiering the documentary film “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” the Vatican came out and stated that ordaining women as one of the gravest canonical crimes, which is the same category as pedophilia.
“We also know that Canon 1024, which states that only men can validly receive the sacrament of ordination, is blatantly sexist,” concluded Hanna stated in the press release dated October 17, 2011. She also stated, “the scandal of demanding silence on the issue of women’s ordination reflects the absolute arrogance of the hierarchy and their tragic failure to accept women as equals in dignity and discipleship in the eyes of God.” “A holy shake-up is taking place here,” said Women-Priest representative Janice Sevre-Duszynska, they are “challenging the institutional church’s sexism which treats women as second class members of their own church and contributes to violence toward women in society. Women-priests remind us that women are equal images of God and therefore worthy to preside at liturgy and the sacred rituals of our church.”
Besides the 15,000 signatures of support, 200 priests signed a letter supporting Fr. Roy in his right to assert his conscience and 127
former ministers from Maryknoll that have also come out in support of Fr. Roy. One writer stated “how ironic, when indeed it is the Vatican and the [Maryknoll] General Council who are causing scandal across America and the world by punishing you in a manner that underscores the Vatican’s longstanding negative attitude toward women.” Moreover, another writer states “we see your conscience as alive and well, active and clear, and guided by the Spirit…you have nothing to recant. Let Holy Mother Church recant, as it did in the case of Galileo, as it did in the case of Joan of Arc, and as it did in the case of Limbo, which brought untold suffering to mothers, fathers, and families for centuries.”
Besides Fr. Roy and the support for Women’s Ordination that is seen in the United States, there are large movements in Austria, Ireland, and Australia. In Ireland, at the First Annual General Meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests, a statement was made that if the people had a vote, the church leaders would be removed from office. Fr. Kevin Hegarty stated that Irish Catholics would reflect their own feelings through a defeat would be so “cataclysmic” that it would parallel the defeat that Fianna Fail met in recent elections. Calling for the church to “open its doors to ‘married priests and women priests,’” would result in a better insight into human intimacy and democracy and help to develop a “healthy and holistic theology of sexuality.” According to a Mayo priest “not since the 19th century “has there been such public disagreement among the bishops.” Hegarty stated that most priests in Ireland have no real in/out in decisions and that the “exclusivist male tone of the new Roman missal as” conservative, premature, and irrelevant.
In Australia, the National Council of Priests, the Bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris, issued a pastoral letter stating that facing a priest shortage, “he would ordain women and married men ‘if Rome would allow it.’” After the issuance of this letter, the Vatican forced his Morris’ resignation. David J. O’Brien points out that there is a priest shortage and parishes are being closed, “it’s a sign that the pastoral needs are sufficiently grave now that priests are speaking up and saying, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t just ignore the pastoral consequences of the things you do and say at the top.’”
“Over 407 Austrian priests and deacons join ‘Call to Disobedience.’” This group of priests believe that the Catholic Church is long over due for reform. Their pledge due to its relevance is detailed as follows:
- To pray for Church reform at every liturgy, since “in the presence of God there is freedom of speech”
- Not to deny the Holy Eucharist to ‘believers of good will,’ including non-Catholic Christians and those who have remarried outside the church
- To avoid offering Mass more than once on Sundays and holy days to avoid making use of visiting priests – instead holding a ‘self-designed’ Liturgy of the Word.
- To describe the Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion as a ‘priestess Eucharistic celebration”; “thus we fulfill the Sunday obligation in a time of priest shortage.”
- To ‘ignore’ canonical norms that restrict the preaching of the homily to clergy
- To oppose parish mergers, insisting instead that each parish have its own individual leader, ‘whether man or woman”
- To ‘use every opportunity to speak out openly in favor of the admission of the married and of women to the priesthood”
The disobedience is rooted in Canon Law, whereby they follow their “good conscience.” Controversy swirls around this notion of obedience vs. conscience; a stance that mirrors the position of Fr. Roy.
According to an Open Letter from the People of God to the Bishops of the United States the rapid decline in the priest shortage “is having a devastating impact on parish and sacramental life.” Statistically, they speculate that in 8 years, 13,500 priests will be available to serve 18,000 parishes. FutureChurch points to the fact that a lack of viable priests threaten parish life, and threaten the vitality of the Catholic Church in the U.S. and in Europe and call for a dialogue with priests, bishops and the people of God, to restore “our early traditions recognizing married and celibate priests and women deacons.”
Over 63% of Catholics in the United States support women’s ordination. Clearly there is a call for reform in the church of some type, and it extends beyond the United States. It is time to look to what is in the best interest of the Church and to examine if it is representative of the message of Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not only move the patriarchal hierarchy in Rome, it seems to be moving the faithful in the direction of change. Is it enough of a movement that could provoke the commencement of the Third Vatican Council? Only time will tell.