Roy Bourgeois doesn’t want to be a member of the Catholic Church— at least, not the Church as we know it. “I will never be at peace being in any organization that would exclude others,” the excommunicated Maryknoll priest told an audience in suburban Boston in August.
He really needn’t worry, because right now he isn’t a member of the Catholic Church. He has incurred the canonical penalty of automatic excommunication for participating in a ceremony pretending the ordination of women. The only question remaining is whether the Vatican will formally announce his excommunication, and that seems to be just a matter of time.
He wants out. He is out. What’s the problem here?
The problem is that for all his protests about the injustice of the Church, Bourgeois insists that he remains a Catholic priest in good standing. Well, maybe not in good standing; “he has stopped wearing a clerical collar and celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments out of respect for the Church’s view that he has been excommunicated.” Yet he says he hasn’t been informed that he is excommunicated.
Do you sense some confusion here? Brace yourself for more (as reported by the Boston Globe):
“If anyone should be excommunicated, it is the patriarchy involved in this discrimination,’’ he said. “But I don’t believe in excommunication—no one has a monopoly on the truth.’’
Ordinarily, if you didn’t want to be a member of an organization, and the leaders of that organization announced that you weren’t a member, you’d be happy to accept that announcement as definitive. But something else is going on in this case. Bourgeois can’t accept the authority of the Catholic Church to determine who is, and who is not, a member in good standing; he believes that his own view should have equal weight.
When it’s not news
Fortunately Bourgeois is not quite ready to pronounce excommunications himself. (You can be sure that Vatican officials are sighing with relief, knowing that they have dodged that bullet.) But notice that in explaining his reluctance to pass that sentence, he speaks of a “monopoly on the truth.” That’s really not the relevant consideration here.
You could reject the doctrines of the Catholic Church—that is, reject the Church’s claim to speak the truth—and still accept the authority of the Church to excommunicate members. A sincere Protestant would not recognize the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church, but he could, and probably would, recognize that when the Vatican pronounces an excommunication, that’s not just “the Church’s view”; it’s a fact. Even if you don’t believe that the Church has the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth, you can still believe that the Church has the right to define her own membership. Bourgeois won’t even make that concession.
Bourgeois believes that the Church is wrong in teaching that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. Many others agree with him. What makes his case interesting is the fact that while rejecting the authority of the Church to teach, he still insists that he is a believing Catholic. He clings to membership in an organization that he denounces, an organization that has expelled him. Why?
Think about it. If he followed the logic of his own statements, Bourgeois would announce that he protests the teachings of the Catholic Church. He might, in fact, become a Protestant. Then the newspaper headline might read: “Minister of small Protestant sect disputes Catholic teaching.”
Except that if that were the headline, there wouldn’t be a headline; the story would never make its way into print. It’s not news when someone from outside the Church denies a Catholic teaching. What makes Roy Bourgeois newsworthy is the remarkable confusion of his argument. He claims that the Church is in error; he claims that the Church lacks the capacity to speak the truth. Yet he still claims to speak as a Catholic—that is, a representative of the institution whose integrity and authority he has made it his life’s work to impugn.
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