Ending Marginalization In The Catholic Church

by Roy Bourgeois

After serving as Roman Catholic priest for 40 years, nine months ago I was expelled from the priesthood and my Maryknoll community because of my public support for the ordination of women.

While being expelled from my religious community that I loved was incredibly painful, that pain doesn’t compare to the hurt endured by women and LGBT Catholics who have been marginalized by our church for centuries.

In a wide-ranging interview with press while returning to Rome following World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis covered a variety of topics that have real import to the life of the church, and the lives of individuals. In the two most-reported comments, the pope talked about the need not to marginalize gay people while maintaining the ban on same-sex relationships, and said that the issue of ordaining women to the priesthood is closed, stirring reactions to his comments among people across the globe. He added that the felt the church needed to examine the role of women, and perhaps open more ministries to them.

While many bishops are doing their best to say the pope was merely reiterating current church teaching and that his words should be seen in that light, the extraordinary global response to this press conference demonstrates that most people know there is much more going on. In a world increasingly marked by division—between rich and poor, among people of different faiths or sects, among races and ethnicities, between war-torn countries and those who supply weapons—the pope, as head of the earth’s largest Christian denomination, can be the symbol of the unity and justice yearned for by so many. He comes to the papacy from ministering in urban South America, rather than from an office in the Vatican bureaucracy. He has the potential to be a truly transformative figure.

It seems clear to me that the pope is still coming to terms with the power of his office, and how he wants to use it. He seems a bit conflicted between his pastoral sensibilities and the doctrinal tradition he has been handed. And he has yet to fully grasp the connections among the many kinds of alienation experienced within our church.

I wonder if Pope Francis has thought through the inconsistencies in his comments on women and gay people.

Can you imagine if the take-away quote had been: “If a woman is of good will and called by the Lord to serve, who are we as men to judge and interfere with that call?”  Or if the pope had acknowledged that we lack a truly deep theology of sexuality and relationships? Talk about letting in fresh air by speaking truth!

As a priest I learned that when there is an injustice, silence is complicity. I saw the exclusion of women from the priesthood as a grave injustice and, in good conscience, I could not remain silent. The punishment for raising the question of equality was severe –I was thrown out of the community that I love.

Perhaps the biggest change demonstrated by the pope’s comments is the sense of liberation among Catholics to freely discuss the many issues facing the church. The fear that led so many to keep their doubts about current policy to themselves under the previous two popes seems to have been lifted. However, Pope Francis’s pastoral tone should not be mistaken for pastoral action. We need mechanisms and forums for the official church to hear the voices of the laity, especially women & LGBT Catholics.

The people of the church are talking but we need the hierarchy to listen to groups like DignityUSA, the Women’s Ordination Conference, and the majority of Catholics who support a church based on justice. We cannot allow for the inconsistencies of justice in Pope Francis’s comments to stand without speaking out.

I am filled with hope because I know most Catholics have a personal experience that has convinced them that God’s love is not constrained by a person’s gender, sexual orientation, relationship status, or any other factor we humans may define.

Nor is the call to ministry and the ability to serve God’s people. We need all Catholics—laity, priests and leadership—to engage in discerning what living this conviction would mean for our church. Only then we will experience the deeper theology called for by our pope, as well as an end to marginalization among too many of our church’s members.

Originally published by Washington Post; Photo via Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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Comments (3)

Rev. Karen Furr

I was a Roman catholic sister
I was a Roman catholic sister for almost 30 years. When I first “left the church”, I was filled with feelings of anger, frustration, and betrayal. As long as I held onto those feelings, I was giving away my power and spirit. There are catholic churches out there that are not Roman, but every bit as “legit”. And these churches are inclusive and nurturing to all people regardless of gender or gender preference. One of the dynamics of domestic violence is that the victim tries to stay in the relationship until she or he finally sees that it is going to be deadly to do so, and then leaves. My point is this: If the Roman church wants to continue to be exclusive and abusive, there are catholic alternatives out there. Move on. Shake the dust from your feet and move on.

Joe Wessling

Amen, Rev. Karen. I could
Amen, Rev. Karen. I could not have said it better.

Mark E. Talboom, D.C.

I did not leave the roman
I did not leave the roman Catholic Church. It left me, with its rigidity and refusal to move in a progressive direction that would serve all of its members.
Post John XXIII/Vatican II, we have seen a regression that I hadn’t experienced since I was a parochial school student. We were taught that there is an hierarchy both within and without the church. Catholicism was the one true religion and all else were doomed. And inside the church, women were second class citizens, content to be nuns if they chose the religious life and helpmates to their husbands if they were not. Even the male children in the family had a higher status than their mothers and sisters. Priests were men only and there was no such thing as an “altar girl”.
RCC male clergy isolate themselves to the point that many of them are clueless as the things that women priests could bring to the church. There is no rhyme or reason for this–it just makes some Catholic lay men and most clergy (particularly those in positions of power) uncomfortable. They just can’t wrap their heads around the concept even though their sister church (Episcopal) is doing well with women in the pulpit and in powerful positions, This includes the current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts-Schori who was elected in 2006. Women have been eligible for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church since 1974, with no apparent negative effects to their individual communities.
Likewise with married clergy. The RCC uses the vilification of gays, subservience of women and the enforced bachelorhood of priest as a means of CONTROL.
Additionally the ridiculous insistence of papal infallibility will continue to contribute to the failure for the RCC to connect, serve and welcome all people into what should be a loving embrace.
Talk is cheap, but if Pope Francis really wants to see some change, he must be the one to initiate it and use the bully pulpit (no pun intended) to bring the rest of the clergy in line. And that includes all Cardinals and Bishops throughout the world. He has great power and if he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of John XXIII, the RCC will continue to lose members worldwide and the number of parish priests will continue to diminish.

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