(RNS) The Roman Catholic priest who faces expulsion from the priesthood and his religious order for advocating for women to be ordained as priests is refusing to recant and has hired a church lawyer.
“What they’re asking me to do is lie,” the Rev. Roy Bourgeois said in an interview on Tuesday (Aug. 9) from his home in Columbus, Ga. “To say I don’t believe God calls women to the priesthood as well as men—I cannot do that.”
In 2008 Bourgeois participated in a ceremony in Kentucky purporting to ordain Janice Sevre-Duszynska a Catholic priest. The church said it was without effect, but that Bourgeois nonetheless incurred automatic excommunication by participating. That means he is cut off from the sacraments, although he remains a priest.
At the same time, a process began to unfold that could end with Bourgeois’ forced “laicization,” or being stripped of the priesthood and expelled from his Maryknoll order, his home for 44 years.
Bourgeois’ Maryknoll superior, the Rev. Edward Dougherty, on July 27 issued the last written warning required by church law before sending Bourgeois’ case to Rome.
Dougherty advised Bourgeois he would forward the case to Rome for laicization “if you fail to publicly recant and retract your stand on this issue of women’s ordination” by Aug. 11.
The Catholic Church teaches that Christ defined the priesthood as an all-male corps modeled on himself, and it is powerless to change that.
Bourgeois said he has retained the Rev. Tom Doyle, a Dominican priest famous for his support of sexual abuse victims and his criticisms of bishops, as his canon lawyer.
His defense is the primacy of his conscience and his right to dissent, Bourgeois said.
But a friend and secular lawyer said Tuesday he hoped Bourgeois might retain his priesthood, short of recanting.
Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said Bourgeois has promised his Maryknoll community he will not participate again in rites purporting to ordain Catholic women to the priesthood—although not to recant or silence himself on the issue.
“An issue as important as this, we’ve got to be able at least to have dialogue without getting kicked out,” Quigley said.
Quigley said Bourgeois has attracted substantial support among fellow priests both within and outside the order, if not for women’s ordination, but for his right to offer his public opinion without loss of his priesthood.
Mike Virgintino, a Maryknoll spokesman, said Dougherty is traveling and has not yet received Bourgeois’ reply.
He said Dougherty months ago slow-tracked the process to give Bourgeois maximum time to reconsider his position.
Having taken a vow of poverty, Bourgeois has lived for years on a Maryknoll allowance in a small apartment near Fort Benning, Ga., where for 20 years he has protested against a military installation there once called the School for the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Virgintino said that if Bourgeois is expelled, the order will nonetheless continue to provide for him financially.
(Bruce Nolan writes for The Times Picayune in New Orleans.)