Dear Brother in Christ, Pope Benedict XVI,
I write to you on behalf of Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who, as you know, is facing excommunication in a few days from now, because he is following his conscience on the issue of women ordinations.
I don't know him personally, but he feels like a dear brother. I've (through the internet), heard his homily at the ordination he attended, and I've read a few articles, and his letter in response to the excommunication letter. And his words are really touching my heart, it's very healing to hear a priest speak openly about the injustice he feels is being done to so many Catholic women with a call to ministry within the Church... I'm grateful to him for his courageous witness - and I wish that all other priests and bishops around the world who believe that God wants to show the Church that this call is indeed genuine, would also dare to speak up for change. A change that would be strongly welcomed by many Catholics in our days, and especially among young people (even priest candidates in Rome, as an anonymous open letter from one of them recently shows, I'm sure you must have seen it). Besides, this is nothing new... Women served in the early Church...
Fr. Roy was ordained the same year as I was born, and he's been serving the Church all this time. Amazing thought! That's more than I've done... But I could have been a priest for many years, as I felt the call already at the age of 14. I love the Church profoundly, and would love to serve as a priest... Like so many other Catholic women. And like several of our woman Saints, among those Thérèse of Lisieux, my patron Saint, who once led me to the Church. I attended the festive ceremony in 1997 at St. Peter's Square, when she was declared a Doctor of the Church. How that must have surprised her, and made her smile in heaven! "Little" Thérèse among all those distinguished old male teachers of the Church...! I'm happy that she now has this position, since the Church must listen carefully to all its theological Doctors.
Thérèse tells us openly about her call to be a priest, a call that didn't leave her even when she felt death approaching. She handled the hosts with lots of love as a sacristan, while she thought about celebrating Mass. She asked her sisters to shave a tonsure on her head, and she united herself in prayer with the young priest missionaries she would have liked to follow. And she said that she was happy to die - so that she didn't need to suffer the pain of not being ordained at the time she would have been ordained - if she had just been a man... There are numerous witnesses who knew her who confirms this. I find it amazing that her writings haven't been censured. And they speak right into our times.
I often think that it's like the body of the Church is jumping ahead on just one leg. While she (!) could be dancing and rejoicing and move much faster and more graciously than now, showing the world who God is (both feminine and masculine), if she would use both her legs, not just the male one. It's as if the Church body has made herself crippled, although she's actually whole. She's strangely refusing to use one half of her body in ministry...
Excommunication is a similarly odd phenomena within our Church body. So odd to see her shutting off her own limbs from the powerful blood flow of the holy Communion!
And not just any limbs. It's the prophetic limbs that are often shut off. Those who were Jesus' own didn't understand him... It seems to be the same today for his followers. But they'll keep speaking until their last breath - prophets can't be silenced... This is their mission: to show the Church what's missing! To speak soft words where they're needed, and sharp words where they're required.
I'd like to humbly ask a few burning questions:
Who do you think Jesus would excommunicate?
Would He cut off living branches from the tree?
What is easier: to change a tiny paragraph in the Canon law which doesn't correspond with the Gospel message and Jesus' way of treating women and men equally - or keep hurting the Body of Christ again and again?
Where in the world can you find a mother who would stop giving some of her children food? And what mother would forbid only her girls to prepare food and serve it to their siblings? Shouldn’t the Church Mother act as good as these earthly mothers?
Excommunications are actually getting the opposite result than they probably are meant to give. Trying to get rid of one after the other will only put this matter (women ordinations) even more on the agenda. It's so much better to communicate than to excommunicate!
I've read the most recent homily by your preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. He speaks about women in it, like several times during the passed years, which I actually encouraged him to do when I once met him. I'm happy for this, because it's really needed. But I wish the urgent need for women in the heart of the Church would be as visible and clear. We need to hear the perspectives also of women in homilies. We need them serving at the Eucharistic table, as well as in the confessional. Many (both women and men) say it would be so much easier to confess if the priest was a woman... Both men and women are needed to make the priestly ministry as beautiful and complete as it's meant to be... Both reflect the image of God - together....
The wonderful Pope, John XXIII, didn't live long as a Pope, but long enough to initiate revival, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I've heard that you attended the Council as one of its most brilliant progressive theologians... You quoted Karl Rahner (who btw has written at depth about the priest-poet, well worth reading), when he said something like: "The dogma is no package, well wrapped and tightly tied up, but an open window."
I wish I could reawaken some of that youthful glow within your heart, bring fresh air through the Vatican doors, and open all the windows widely... (Well, the risen Jesus knew how to walk also through closed doors, behind which frightened apostles were sitting...!)
Now it's time to listen in deep prayer to what the Holy Spirit is repeatedly saying to the Church at present. God is calling so many women to serve... Please, consider to receive and embrace this gift...! It's for the good of the whole Church, ultimately the whole world...
And please don't let my brother get excommunicated, or any other of my brothers and sisters who dare to say what they, and so many silent Catholics, actually think! Fr. Roy is just the kind of priest that is most appreciated and needed among the faithful!
As he has spoken courageously - I can't remain silent.
I love my Mother, the Church, and say all this out of love for her...
Catholicity is all about Communion and union, so when one limb is suffering - all the others are also suffering (if they're healthy and thus able to feel compassionate). I suffer immensely by the thought of others getting excommunicated. I've spent some sleepless nights now, praying about this, actualized by what Fr. Roy is going through. And led by holy inspiration, I got the idea to ask, like Maximiliam Kolbe, the Saint, who stood right in front of a man who is now in my parish and who witnessed his words: "may I take his place?"
I wish to stand in solidarity with all those who are excluded and marginalized in our society and in the Church, I think that's what being a Christian and following Jesus is about, to rejoice with those who rejoice, and cry with those who cry, to ultimately give up one's life, and everything that one holds most dear... And the Church is my life, my home, my everything... I would never want to be without the Eucharist - that would be to starve spiritually. I imagine it's pretty much the same for Fr. Roy. But if someone has to be sacrificed to keep up the present human rules and regulations, then don't excommunicate someone who is a "father" of many... You may punish me instead...
And by now you may perhaps wonder who I am... Maximiliam Kolbe got the same question. He answered: "I'm a Catholic priest."
And I'm just a simple Catholic lay person, an artist and theologian, a priest only at heart and not through ordination. I haven't broken any single Church rule, but I've spoken freely, by inspiration and out of conscience, when asked what I believe. I feel that unity among Christians and within the Catholic Church (in spite of different opinions - we share what is most important after all: our faith, a sacred gift from God), is part of my mission, and thus I find it very hard to stand injustice or prejudices. I wish to see a renewed Church where everyone is welcome, a Church where no one is shut out... And if someone is threatened to be excluded, I must stand up for him or her.
To something else - but still connected to this. I've heard that you love cats - we have that in common! As you might have noticed, they're very free and independent creatures. But they stay where they're given food and are treated well. They're also fascinated by prayer, and come and lay down purring in one's lap during silent prayer if one allows them to... A cat I know once ended up sitting and looking intensely at my icons... I wonder what he saw through those heavenly windows...
I've also heard that sheep need no fences, they stay where there's fresh water.
And we Christians, who are drawn to the Source of Life itself, who could draw us away from it? If there's love in the Church - and Love has indeed its dwelling place among us - then there's no need for fences...
God gives us this beautiful call to freedom, and invites us to use all our gifts and talents. The Gospel yesterday speaks about these talents - everyone’s talents need to be recognized and developed. Also those of women with a call to serve. Where else should we go? Which other source should we drink from? Is it really right of the Church to bury our gifts....?
If theology at some point turns out not to correspond with what we know about God - it needs to be reconsidered and eventually rewritten. I’ve studied all the arguments against women ordinations in detail, and I’ve found that none of them is solid enough to build any teachings upon. It’s rather the opposite way - they all fall down like a pile of cards if they’re slightly touched. I thus hope you will welcome and reopen theological discussions about this in the Vatican, through inviting theologians from all over the world who has studied the question at depth - both women and men, and both those who based on their studies are positive to change, and those who aren’t, and they should all have the right to speak and vote…
I'll end this letter by a poem that I dedicated to the previous Archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke when he excommunicated my sister in Christ, Sr. Louise Lears, whom I don't know in person either (but, as you know, lives amazingly touches those of others also at a great distance). It somehow fits also in this sad situation.
With all due respect, much love in Christ, and with fervent prayers that you'll intervene to make a good and just decision regarding Fr. Roy...
Your little sister,
~ Joyous criminals ~
If it's a crime to be convinced
that women may be ordained,
then I'm a criminal too,
and you'll have to put me in jail,
where I'd be accompanied
by numerous such convicts.
If it's a crime to attend
a woman's ordination,
then, please, take me to all
such crime scenes in the world,
so I may share that heavenly joy,
before you put on
and striped chasubles
on all the attendants.
I'll then rejoice as an
unofficial prisoner chaplain
among my partners in crime.
We'll attend to those
who are innocently imprisoned,
by experts on Canon law.
And filled with God's grace
we'll sing all night long
until the prison gates
are opened by angels
so we may march out
on the bright fields of freedom,
still joyfully singing,
since God gave us a sign
that even the blind could see.
S/He Who Is
is walking with us
I've now written another letter to the Pope - about Church renewal.