An Open Letter to Pope Francis
from Roy Bourgeois
January 19, 2014
Dear Pope Francis,
I have been inspired by your humility, love, and compassion. I was especially moved when you said, “I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle.” You said the Church must “heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”
And so I ask that you reach out to the women and gay people in our Church who have been wounded by Church teachings that demean and discriminate against them. I ask this as someone who was expelled from the priesthood after 40 years because of my public support for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church (this happened just four months before you became pope).
You once said of your own priestly vocation: “God left the door open for me for a few years.” Pope Francis, our Church teaches that God creates men and women as equals. 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?
Our last two popes, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, maintained that the all-male priesthood is “our tradition” and that men and women are equal but have different roles. I believe that your predecessors were speaking from – and for – an all-male clerical culture that views women as lesser than men, as separate and not-really-equal.
Our Church also teaches about the primacy and sacredness of conscience. Conscience is our lifeline to the Divine, always urging us to do what is right and just. The consciences of many Catholic women have moved them to claim and act upon their vocations to the priesthood with active ministries. Similarly, I have been compelled by conscience to speak out in solidarity with them.
My pain at having been kicked out of the priesthood has allowed me to glimpse the exclusion and discrimination that people of color, women, and gay people in our Church have experienced for centuries. I will never forget how Blacks were restricted to the back pews of my childhood church in Louisiana. While the Church has made great gains in valuing and respecting Catholics of all races, we continue – with flawed theology and dogma – to make God our unwilling partner in discriminating against women and gays.
Pope Francis, you famously said, “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, who am I to judge?” I appreciate that you do not judge people for being gay, but our Church certainly does judge them. The official teaching of the Catholic Church states that gay people are “intrinsically disordered.” This teaching is cruel and offensive, and it implies that, somehow, God has made many mistakes in Creation.
For many gay people, this teaching has instilled confusion and shame and caused grave harm. Gay people have lost their homes and jobs. Just recently, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote members of Congress expressing opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill promoting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) equality.
Even worse, some LGBT people have been despised and murdered; others have despaired and committed suicide.
Pope Francis, I have some urgent requests.
First, talk and listen to the women who have been called. I’m confident you will understand that our loving God is indeed calling women to be priests. Let us welcome them to the priesthood and give thanks to God for answering our prayers for more vocations.
Second, I ask that you 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.
Any movement rooted in love, justice, and equality is of the Divine and cannot be stopped. And so one day our Catholic Church will have women priests and marriage equality.
I do hope, Pope Francis, that you will implement these changes as soon as possible.
In your own words, “Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”
19 January 2014