November 24, 2008
Superior General, John Sivalon
P.O. Box 303
Maryknoll, NY 10545
Dear Father Sivalon:
I write as Coordinator of the ecumenical network, Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW), with regard to the threatened excommunication of Fr. Roy Bourgeois. Founded in 1996, WOW has representatives from 11 countries, and reaches many others through its international groups.
In 2001, at WOW’s first international conference in Dublin, Vatican pressure forced the keynote speaker, Aruna Gnanadason, of the World Council of Churches, to withdraw. Two other speakers, Sister Joan Chittister OSB and Sister Myra Poole SND, were threatened with serious consequences. Reflecting on the Benedictine tradition of obedience and authority, Chittister’s Prioress, Sister Christine Vladimiroff, wrote, ‘There is a fundamental difference in the understanding of obedience within the monastic tradition and that which is being used by the Vatican to exert power and control and prompt a false sense of unity inspired by fear.’
Member groups of WOW represent a range of opinion on the ‘contra legem’ ordinations. Some women within our movement who feel called to ordination have chosen to wait for change in the Church’s official position. Others, in an act of prophetic obedience to what they experience as a call from God and their communities, have chosen to take the path of valid but illegal ordination. WOW honours the courage and commitment of both groups.
Since the decree of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), Roman Catholic women who feel called to ordained ministry, and those who support them, have been silenced. They have no voice within the Church’s structures to make their views heard.
In this context, the threatened excommunication of Fr. Roy is a penalty that is out of all proportion to his supposed offence. His decision to speak out on women’s ordination is an act of witness to his passion for justice and the Gospel. It is time to call a halt to this bullying of committed Catholics whose concern is to make the Gospel message of love, justice and compassion a reality for the world. What is at stake here is the Church’s integrity as an institution which purports to uphold these Gospel values, and its regard for the teaching of the primacy of conscience.
‘Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before anything else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. Conscience confronts [the individual] with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church’.
- Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II,
ed. Vorgrimler, 1968, on Gaudium et Spes, pt.1, ch.1.
‘Criticisms of papal declarations will be possible and necessary to the degree that they do not correspond with Scripture and the Creed, that is, with the belief of the Church. Where there is neither unanimity in the Church nor clear testimony of the sources, then no binding decision is possible; if one is formally made, then its preconditions are lacking and therefore the question of its legitimacy must be raised.’
- Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Das neue Volk Gottes. Entwuerfe zur Ekklesiologie, p. 144; Patmos 1969 (emphasis added).
In conclusion, I quote from the keynote address by Aruna Gnanadason of the WCC, written for WOW’s first conference in Dublin:
‘We live in a world of exclusion and violence; a world with untold forms of discrimination that threaten the integrity of communities.…. In the life of the church itself, there is evidence of gender-based discrimination and even of sexual abuse of women in pastoral contexts and more recently of the new steps the church has been called to take in the face of increasing evidence of paedophilia. In such a context, what should ordained ministry be about? The Church is called to respond with compassion and pastoral fortitude. At the heart of the commitment to the ordination of women and men must be the concern for the community in which the church is present to serve.’
- Gnanadason 2001, available at www.womenpriests.org/wow/gnanad.asp.
We urge you to support Fr. Roy’s right to speak and act on this issue, and to oppose his excommunication. We assure you of our prayers as you reflect on the matter.
Coordinator, Women’s Ordination Worldwide
Member organizations of WOW
Brothers and Sisters in Christ (Ireland)
Catholic Women’s Ordination (Great Britain)
Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (Canada)
Femmes et Hommes en Eglise (France)
Wir Sind Kirche (We are Church) (Germany)
Housetop /www.womenpriests.org (Great Britain)
IKETH (European Federation of Women Theologians)
Maria von Magdala (Germany)
New Wine (Great Britain)
Ordination of Catholic Women (Australia)
Roman Catholic Women Priests (North America)
Roman Catholic Women Priests (Europe-West)
Women’s Ordination Conference (USA)