(Host) For writer, journalist and commentator Marybeth Redmond, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has restimulated feelings of heartache, not for the Pontiff himself, but for a friend of hers who met the wrath of this church hierarchy.
(Redmond) A heartfelt postcard arrived in my mailbox recently. On its cover – a photograph of a Catholic school girl dressed in her plaid uniform with hand raised high, as if to say "pick me." On the chalkboard behind this earnest youngster are scrawled the words, "who wants to be a priest?"
I grinned upon seeing it, but winced as well. Appropriate humor from my friend, Father Roy Bourgeois, in light of his present circumstances. On the postcard’s reverse side he had penned, "Thanks for your good support at this challenging time. You give me hope in the struggle."
In 2008, Father Roy was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s reign. Then last October, Father Roy was dismissed by his religious society of 40-plus years, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, for refusing to recant his public position on the right of women to be ordained priests. Most likely pressure from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forced Maryknoll’s hand.
I recall a lunch conversation with this humble, soft-spoken priest a few years back. We sat overlooking Lake Champlain eating crepes on a breathtaking day. Father Roy was in town to speak at the Unitarian Church atop Church Street in Burlington about his decades-long campaign to close the School of the Americas, a military camp in Fort Benning, Georgia with a history of training Latin American militias in torture.
At that time, colleagues were advising Father Roy to stay a one-issue activist, so as not to dissipate his message of non-violent protest to close the S-O-A. But his conscience was advising him otherwise-as a male clergyman-to decry sexism and discrimination against women in his own church. To Father Roy, this was a matter of justice, and silence for him was complicity. He wanted my opinion. I listened carefully as he spoke, sure I was witnessing history unfold.
Maybe Pope Benedict didn’t personally demand Father’s Roy’s excommunication, but he certainly set up and supported the system that led to the ultimate decision. I am immensely sad that this church I still call home definitively rid itself of a faithful, 75-year-old man who has trekked across this country with messages of peace and inclusion for decades. At the same time, that Catholic Church has kept in its fold cardinals and bishops who protected priests responsible for the sexual abuse of children. The irony is astounding.
I myself recall as early as 8 years old, having a compulsion to serve others, to bring mercy, to deliver words of hope – to become a priest. I was told this vocation was closed to me forever because of gender-despite my own stirrings of conscience.
This day, I tack Father Roy’s Catholic school girl postcard to my refrigerator where I can peer at it each day. In my lifetime, becomes my mantra and mission now.