Second Warning for Bourgeois

Tom Roberts reports that Roy Bourgeois has received his second canonical warning, and will be booted from Maryknoll unless he recants his statements advocating women's ordination in the Roman Catholic church. Bourgeois says his conscience prevents him from doing so.On one hand, there is nothing in RC doctrine on conscience that would indicte that conscience is a means to avoid consequences. Thomas Aquinas held that if one were faced with a choice between violating one's conscience and excommunication, one should choose excommunication. Thomas didn't say that an appeal to conscience should exempt one from excommunication. Sadly, Bourgeois seems to be at the unhappy juncture between conscience and expulsion from his order (and, presumably, the excommunication he was previously threatened with.) It should also be noted that the Church's teaching on ordaining women is nothing if not clear, even if many find the argument supporting the teaching questionable. (See, e.g., the CTSA document on the biblical argument, and many others.) On the other hand, pastoral ministers (laypeople as well as priests,) are responsible to God for their own decisions of conscience. The pain of wrestling with representing a teaching at odds with one's conscience is one of the startkest challenges facing ministers. I am grateful that Buorgeois found the courage to speak up on this matter, especially given the price he is likely to pay. How many priests have I heard saying "well of course women should be considered for ordination," but who never dare speak publicly? As long as silence is enforceable, there is no real need for the hierarchy to revisit problematic teachings. Bourgeois' appeal to his fellow priests, inside Maryknoll and outside, was poignant, appealing to them to reflect on their own vocations, and ask if God could not work this way in women as well as men. The silence has been deafening. I guess only Bourgeois feels this way.

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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