Saturday, February 28, 2009

Collared: Williamson, Couto and Bourgeois

Warning: This column may shock those who have not seen the traditional side of Rebel Girl.

Fr. Richard Williamson, Fr. Luiz Couto, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois are three Catholic priests who would probably not be found in the same room, but find themselves in the same corner now, as far as the Vatican is concerned.

Fr. Williamson: He has publicly expressed a number of positions with which the Church disagrees -- the denial of the Holocaust (on Swedish TV), the inferiority of women in all spheres except motherhood (on his blog), etc...He was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for being schismatic and recently had that excommunication lifted by Pope Benedict XVI. In order to keep his clerical faculties, he was ordered to apologize and recant. He managed an "apology" but he is a proud man. He has not, nor do I think he will ever, publicly recant. Moreover, his blog in which he expresses most of his heretical beliefs is still online for public viewing. The Vatican has stated that the "apology" is not enough.

Fr. Williamson, through your ill-chosen words you have forfeited the right to be a representative of the Roman Catholic Church. You should be formally removed as a bishop and suspended a divinis. Then you can become what you already are -- one more Catholic with unconventional, extremist views.

Fr. Couto: He is a Brazilian priest and lawmaker who was suspended a divinis by his archbishop following an interview he gave to a local newspaper in which he expressed a number of positions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. He is opposed to the celibacy requirement -- OK, this is not particularly actionable. Most Catholics and even most priests are with him on that one and, in any case, it's a matter of discipline, not doctrine.

But Fr. Couto also supports the use of condoms for public health reasons. Again, he is not the first priest to support this, but he is also an elected representative of a political party that has made condom use and distribution part of its platform, while continuing to wear the title and the collar of an institution that opposes artificial contraception for any reason. His public positions on homosexual unions and the availability of legal, safe abortions also fly in the face of long and deeply held Church doctrine. They might be acceptable for a Catholic politician; they are not appropriate for someone who wants to continue to call himself a priest.

Fr. Couto has stated that his priesthood is important to him and he is shocked, shocked at the suspension. In fact, the only thing shocking about this suspension is that it did not occur back in 1995 when Fr. Couto was first elected to public office. And I question how important his priesthood really is to him. When I look at his resume on his official Web site, I see his political achievements listed first, followed by his academic positions (he is also a university professor). Buried at the bottom are his pastoral positions -- and most of those are in the social apostolate, not in parishes -- and his ordination date.

Fr. Couto, face the truth: you are a Catholic politician and not a priest at heart. Have the decency to do what Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo did and ask to be laicized. There is no shame in that. Accept your suspension graciously. You cannot serve two masters.

Fr. Bourgeois: This activist priest has been threatened with excommunication for publicly supporting women priests and participating in a women's ordination ceremony while wearing his clerical attire. He has been told to recant, has refused to do so, and so far the sentence has yet to be executed.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Fr. Bourgeois' involvement in the ceremony could be considered schismatic -- and I'm not sure his amount of participation rises to that level -- how can the Vatican justify excommunicating him while reinstating the SSPX bishops?

This being said, I think a suspension a divinis might be appropriate, but only if Fr. Bourgeois had been told in no uncertain terms that public participation in a women's ordination ceremony could result in suspension, i.e. if he was given the opportunity to make an informed choice.

Fr. Bourgeois, it's just like crossing the line at Ft. Benning as part of SOA Watch. You know that when you cross that line you are going to get arrested. If you aren't going to toe the Church's party line as a Roman Catholic priest, eventually you are going to be suspended. Punto final.

All three cases come down to the same question: Do you have the right to enjoy the title and the perks of the Roman Catholic priesthood while very publicly expounding positions that are contrary to the Church's teachings? I work for a private employer and I am reasonably sure that if I were to make a public statement contrary to the views of my employer while identifying myself as an employee of that entity, there would be disciplinary consequences. Why should priests be treated any differently?

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