Rallying Around Father Roy: How Catholics Should Respond to His Impending Dismissal

The curtain has risen on the next act in the drama of Father Roy Bourgeois, MM. Acting under orders from the Vatican, the Maryknoll Missionary Fathers have given Roy a final warning that he must recant his support for the ordination of women to the priesthood or be expelled both from the Order and the priesthood. The conclusion of this tragedy is foregone. Roy will stick to his position, the Vatican will not relent, the Maryknolls will give the official order of expulsion, and Roy will be stripped of his community and his status as a Roman Catholic priest.

Reaction to this event has focused on the unfairness of a good priest being bullied by the Church hierarchy for holding fast to his conscience. The offense merits such an outcry. However, Catholics committed to achieving justice within our Church as well as in the larger world should think about how we choose to respond to this incident, and the many others like it that occur, generally with far less fanfare, week after week.

In truth, this is a moment of liberation that could, in the long run, help bring a new Roman Catholic Church into being. Roy Bourgeois has made the choice to trust his deepest conviction, his community, and, yes, his God. In the face of the profound economic and professional uncertainty that his dismissal from the Maryknolls will bring, Roy has chosen integrity over security. He is choosing to be wholly himself, and refusing to project an acceptable image to the powers that behave badly. To paraphrase St. Irenaeus, he is opting to embody the glory of God, by being a human fully alive.

Too many Catholics face similar dilemmas frequently in their professional, ministerial, and personal lives, and choose the safe path. They are the priests who read letters from their bishops attacking the civil rights of their lesbian and gay parishioners during Sunday Mass, despite the pastoral harm they know these missives inflict. They are theologians who take apart official dogma in private but who refuse to challenge it in the public square. They are the Eucharistic Ministers who refuse Communion to the divorced and remarried, the religious educators who carefully stay inside the lines when answering difficult questions, the teachers who refuse to discuss the importance of condoms in preventing the transmission of HIV. Each of these concessions to power erodes personal dignity, and strengthens the Stepford Church that current hierarchs are creating.

So, rather than asking the Maryknolls not to expel Roy, and then returning to the pews shortly after they do, I ask my fellow Catholics to affirm acts of conscience and integrity by Fr. Roy and so many others like him. We have the power to validate Roy's convictions and his continued priesthood. I'm sure there are many Catholic communities that would be thrilled to embrace Roy as a leader. I also believe there are Catholics who can step forward to provide a living wage, health benefits, and even retirement funding that will allow Roy to continue his justice ministry. Once we've done it for Roy, we can do it for others.

If we can remove economic bullying from the arsenal that Church leaders have to control Catholics, clergy and laity alike, perhaps more of us will be feel free to speak and live the truth of our own convictions. Most importantly, we will have taken an important step in creating the Church we believe in and deserve.