Archbishop Dolan Has 'No Comment' on NYC Visit of Excommunicated Priest

On Saturday (Feb. 12), Nobel Peace Prize nominee and beloved Catholic Maryknoll priest Father Roy Bourgeois will visit New York City. He will appear in Jules Hart's award-winning documentary about the women's ordination movement in the Roman Catholic Church, Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, to be shown at Barnard College's inaugural Athena Film Festival.

Afterwards, Father Roy will participate on a panel, joined by Hart -- a once highly successful fashion model turned fearless filmmaker -- and ordained Catholic woman priest Rev. Jean Marie Marchant. Marchant is a former administrator with the Archdiocese of Boston, where she served -- before, during and for a year after her ordination -- as director of Health Care Ministry in charge of the Archdiocese's chaplaincy program, which provides pastoral care to people in more than 400 hospitals and nursing homes. I'm one of the talking heads in the film, having crossed paths with Hart on two boats -- one in Canadian waters, site of Marchant's ordination, and the other at the mouth of the three rivers in Pittsburgh at more ordinations -- while writing Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church. I'll also be moderating the panel.

A Purple Heart recipient, Father Roy makes his home in Georgia, where he founded the School of the Americas Watch. That organization has long advocated closing the U.S. Army's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly, School of the Americas aka "School of Assassins"). There, the U.S. military has been training Latin American soldiers, some of whom have chosen to apply their new skills against their own people.

Since Father Roy will be in Archbishop Timothy Dolan's own backyard, and since Fr. Roy could even have been considered a guest of the Archdiocese under other circumstances (say, if a priest participating in a dear female friend's ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood did not bring down the wrath of the Vatican), I thought a comment was in order.

In an e-mail, I identified myself as a Huffington Post blogger preparing a piece in which Father Roy, who was coming to New York to participate in a panel following the screening of a film about women's ordination, would figure prominently. I asked to know what the Archbishop thought of the fact that this priest, devoted for decades to the church, justice and peace, had taken this unequivocal stand for women's ordination, with all its dire consequences. I also asked if perhaps the Archbishop might be willing to further explain the Church's reasoning embodied in the new canonical guidelines that a priest who attempts the sacred ordination of a woman is committing as grave a crime as if he were raping a child, for which excommunication and a fast track to defrocking are the immediate remedies.

New York Archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling, responding in an e-mail, took a pass. "Because Father Bourgeios is a member of the Maryknoll Fathers, any statement about him should come from his order," he wrote back. "We will not be making a comment concerning him."

I followed up, asking Zwilling if, in his capacity as head of the U.S. Bishop's conference, Archbishop Dolan would at least comment on those new canonical guidelines, under which such a highly regarded priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, has been, and can even be more severely, sanctioned. Not even a comment offering "no comment" came to that request.

To their credit, the Maryknolls have not banished Father Roy from their order. "He has been excommunicated by Rome," spokesperson Mike Virgintino told me, "but he remains part of the Maryknoll Society," specifically, the Maryknoll Priests and Brothers. The Maryknolls did chicken out for a while there, pulling their support for School of the Americas Watch because it would look like they were supporting Fr. Roy's pro-women's ordination position. But cooler heads have prevailed and the Maryknolls are supporting the organization again.

Unfortunately, Bourgeois continues to stand pretty much alone among the entire U.S. Catholic priesthood in his public, passionate and unequivocal support for, and participation in, the women's ordination movement. In Pink Smoke, he denounces the church's ban as nothing more than sexism and a sin. In reference to the material things he could lose as a result of his excommunication and the laicization that could come next, like his pension, he says he'd "rather go to a soup kitchen" than sell out his own conscience.

I'm not surprised the Archbishop has nothing to say. Really, if you were the Archbishop, and you had to defend an indefensible ban -- one that flies in the face of church history, archaeological evidence and even a Pontifical Biblical Commission that found insufficient Scriptural grounds to exclude the possibility of women's ordination -- as well as those new canonical guidelines effectively equating ordaining a woman with molesting a child, would you have a comment?

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