Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roy Bourgeois Dismissed from Maryknoll.

The title says it all. After a rather elongated process, the Vatican has canonically dismissed Roy Bourgeois from the order on account of his support for the ordination of women and participation in the ordination of a woman. A statement released by Maryknoll reads that Bourgeois has been excommunicated, dismissed and laicized - the action is a total removal of Bourgeois from the clerical state and the religious order. Maryknoll will offer Bourgeois transitional assistance, however, it is clear that he will, after a certain point, no longer receive any financial support from the order. You can read more of the statement and reaction to this announcement here and here.

I had the opportunity to hear Bourgeois speak at the beginning of October. He betrayed no indication of having suffered any penalty other than excommunication - a point that is all the more important to note given that the Vatican reached this decision on October 4th, 2012. The general reaction seems to be one of surprise on the part of Bourgeois and various parties working with him in his dialogue with his superiors and the Vatican - apparently no one imagined that Bourgeois would be dismissed from the order and subject to laicization.

The issue of women's ordination is one that Vatican deems dead and buried - the weight of tradition excludes the possibility - and yet it is alive and well for many parties in the Church. As an undergraduate, I often noted that certain professors were prone to promoting the issue for discussion, some going so far as to assign essays which were to argue, in part, why women's ordination is possible. As much as Rome may say the case is closed, others are determined to air their arguments.

For my part, I have no intention on arguing either which way here. I will, however, speak on the case Bourgeois has made for women's ordination while on the speaking circuit. Bourgeois has constructed his entire position largely on the ideal of gender equality and the experience of emotional response. Bourgeois experience of prejudice in American society and the participation of Roman Catholics with such prejudices has influenced him to see the issue of women's ordination as a matter of gender equality, in other words, the prohibition against women's ordination in the Church is identical to the position of women in secular society. As such, Bourgeois does not engage in any theological argument; he does not see the ecclesiastical matter as being properly distinct from matters of civil society or civil government.

There are then, two substantial weaknesses to Bourgeois argument for women's ordination. 1) The argument is not theological. Bourgeois does not do any theology to support his position. More often than not, he appeals to emotional response as an indicator of theological truth. Yet, history is filled with examples of what we would now call an improper or incorrect emotional response functioning as the proof test from some very questionable theology or religious inspiration. 2) The argument conflates secular society with the Church. Bourgeois basis his position on an extremely lipid ecclesiology; the Church is not seen as its own entity, established apart from civil society, but rather as a product of civil society and thus properly subject to civil society's norms. If this is the case, shouldn't John Paul II have led the Church in a universal endorsement of the Iraq war, rather than opposing it? As someone who is opposed to war, Bourgeois would argue no. To which one would have to retort, on what basis? After all, opposition to warfare is hardly a norm in civil society. This, however, is the rationale Bourgeois essentially follows. Fair enough - it a common method of epistemology in our society. However, one has to necessarily follow this method down every rabbit trail it leads, even if it exposes the principles behind one's thought as fundamentally incoherent.