Friday, January 24, 2014

Silenced but not silent, these priests are moving right along

All three men have spoken out or acted in ways that have drawn the ire and severe reprisals from Catholic Church authorities. They have been punished in various ways for their dissent from either Church teachings or policy or both. The one thing they have in common is that they will not be kept down or silent in the face of injustice.

Fr. Roy Bourgeois

Of the three -- two Americans and an Irishman -- Fr. Roy has suffered the most. For his participation in a women's ordination ceremony, he was ordered to recant his support for women in the priesthood and when he refused to do so, he was excommunicated, suspended a divinis, dismissed from his Maryknoll order, and involuntarily laicized by the Vatican. Fr. Roy wrote a booklet about his experience and the evolution of his beliefs titled My Journey From Silence to Solidarity.

None of this has dampened his enthusiasm for advocating for church reform and this week, Fr. Roy published an open letter to Pope Francis in which he repeated his appeal for equal access of women to Holy Orders and added an appeal for the Church to be more welcoming to gays and lesbians. In his letter, he asks the pope straight up, "Couldn’t God open the door to the priesthood for women, too? Isn’t our all-powerful God, who created the cosmos, capable of empowering a woman to be a priest? Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not?" And he asks Pope Francis to "talk and listen to the women who have been called" and to "welcome them to the priesthood and give thanks to God for answering our prayers for more vocations."

With respect to LGBT people, Fr. Roy writes that the Church's teaching that they are "intrinsically disordered" is "cruel and offensive" and he adds that the teaching "implies that, somehow, God has made many mistakes in Creation." He calls on the pope to "declare that the Catholic Church will accept and value LGBT people as equal persons – made fully in the image of God – and recognize gay marriage."

This letter comes less than a year after an op-ed piece by Fr. Roy in the New York Times titled My Prayer: Let Women Be Priests (3/20/2013) in which he describes his experiences and compares the Church's refusal to ordain women to the racial segregation that existed in his native Louisiana when he was growing up and he concludes on a note of hope: "I know that one day women in my church will be ordained — just as those segregated schools and churches in Louisiana are now integrated."

Fr. Tony Flannery

Fr. Tony, an Irish Redemptorist priest and founder of the Association of Catholic Priests was suspended a divinis and silenced in 2012. He was told that his priestly faculties would be restored if he would write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality.

After a period of reflection, in January 2013, Fr. Tony concluded that he could not agree to the Vatican's terms. "If I signed this," he told a reporter in an interview, "it would be a betrayal not only of myself but of my fellow priests and lay Catholics who want change. I refuse to be terrified into submission."

In September, he sealed his refusal to bend to Church pressure with the publication of a new book, A Question of Conscience. The book painstakingly chronicles Fr. Tony's dealings with an institution that is trying to squeeze the voice out of the very popular priest and communicator.

Now Fr. Tony is taking a page from another priest/advocate for church reform, the Austrian Pfarrer Initiative's Fr. Helmut Schuller, and embarking on a speaking tour. In a statement posted on the ACP website, Fr. Tony says that after two years out of public ministry, he has "decided not to wait around for the Vatican (and in particular the CDF) to change its mind." He says his talks, which will be given in various cities in Ireland and England over the next few months -- but not on Church premises ("so as not to cause embarrassment to anyone") -- will focus on the historical background of the problems in the Church today and some ways it can move forward. He says that he still cares greatly about the Church, and wish that it could communicate the Gospel message more effectively to the modern world.

Fr. John Dear

In December 2013, another popular activist priest in the United States chose to part company with his order rather than submit to its requirements. After a period of vocational discernment, Fr. John Dear was dismissed from the Jesuits for refusing to live in his Maryland province's community in Baltimore. Instead, Fr. John went back to New Mexico where he had been living and working as a pastor until he had his priestly faculties suspended by the Archbishop of Santa Fe because of complaints about his political activism against nuclear weapons (they were later restored by the Archbishop of Baltimore). The Jesuits deemed that Fr. John had been "obstinately disobedient to the lawful order of Superiors in a grave matter."

Fr. John's version, laid out in his column in the National Catholic Reporter, is that his order had changed, that his "Jesuit superiors have tried so hard over the decades to stop [his] work for peace" and repeatedly encouraged him to leave. He accuses the order of "deepening its financial involvement with the culture of war and decreasing its work with the poor in favor of serving through its universities and high schools." So, Fr. John writes, "after five months in Baltimore as a priest in good standing, I moved back to New Mexico, went on a leave of absence from the Jesuits, continued my discernment, asked to leave and this week, left the society." Although he could still work as a priest if he found a bishop who would accept him, Fr. John doubts that this is possible.

In the immediate future, he has decided to pursue his calling to work for peace and signed on as an outreach coordinator with Pace e Bene, a group working on education for nonviolence. Specifically, he will be organizing Campaign Nonviolence, nationwide nonviolent actions during the week of September 21-27, 2014. And there are many speaking engagements lined up to promote Fr. John's latest book, The Nonviolent Life.

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