The Other I

April 12, 2011

Faith and Belief: Teeth-grinding moment

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion — theotheri @ 4:05 pm

It was with a surprising depth of sadness that I learned yesterday that the Maryknoll Fathers are going to expel Father Roy Bourgeois because he has refused to back down on his support for the ordination of women.

I haven’t had a lot to do with Maryknoll since I left the convent there more than 40 years ago, but as I’ve indicated in several posts before, I always felt that, despite everything, mostly the heart of Maryknollers was in the right place.  I don’t take it all back.  But I’m wiser and sadder.  It is, after all, an order that stands by the worst of the status quo.

Several years ago, Father Roy participated in the ordination of a woman priest.  He was summoned to Rome and when he refused to back down, excommunicated.  But he was still a member of the Maryknoll community.  Now the superiors of the Maryknoll Fathers have told him that if he will not recant his position, he will be expelled from the community and that Maryknoll will recommend that Rome proceed with stripping him of his priestly position.

This seems to me to be a painfully contemporary example of belief taking precedence over faith.  Father Roy has worked among the poor in Latin America and stood against state-sponsored terrorism at great personal cost.  But he is not toeing the party line.  It’s another example of the Church saying that what a person believes is far more important to Rome than what a person does.  Defending the Roman-mandated dogma is more important than loving one’s neighbour.

In the context of the action taken by the Church against pedophile priests, the censures against Father Roy seem not only draconian but even perverse.  Priests convicted of child abuse are not excommunicated.  But if you argue that women can and should be ordained priests, your sin is so terrible that you can no longer be tolerated as a member of the community which, by definition, is a community of sinners.  Murderers aren’t excommunicated, even unrepentant ones.  Thieves and child-abusers, polygamists and liars aren’t excommunicated.  But the defense of the ordination of women is so terrible that the Church cannot let this terrible evil continue to dwell in its midst.

Personally, I am not in favour of ordaining women priests.  But that is because I have, to my amazement, discovered that the foundation for the ordination of men as it is currently practiced in the Roman Catholic Church arose out of the power structures of pagan Rome and was adopted only in the 4th century at the demands of civil Roman authority who had adopted Christianity.

It was only then that the priesthood was separated as a hierarchy, when bishops moved into palaces, adopted royal robes and began to be called “lord.”  They haven’t moved out of the palaces to this day.  The reason that Protestants don’t have priests in the sense that Roman Catholics do is not because – as I was taught – the sacred line of authority leading back to the apostles was broken with the Protestant Revolution.  It is because the Protestants themselves determined to return to the concept of the priesthood as it was understood in early Christianity.  Priests were not a caste above the people, with a special wisdom and authority not possessed by the unordained.  Priests were not even necessarily all men.  Research is now suggesting that women were priests too.

So I don’t think women should struggle to become part of the aristocracy that now constitutes the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.  I think priests should once again become part of the people.

I know Rome won’t change.  It is not in the nature of power and authority that it is given up voluntarily.

But people can change.  Tens of thousands of people are already standing in the Tahrir Squares of Catholicism.   Only a few, though, are being asked to pay the price that Father Ray is being asked to pay.

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