By — Roy Bourgeois
I have been a Catholic priest for years and like most people I know, my experiences in life have changed me.
Growing up in a small town in Louisiana, as Catholics, my family did not question our segregated schools or ask why the black members of our church had to sit in the last five pews during Mass. Nor did we, needless to say, question why women could not be priests.
Joining the military was my ticket out of Louisiana. I volunteered for duty in Vietnam, which became that turning point in my life. In the midst of all the violence and death, my faith became more important and I felt God was calling me to be a priest. After four years in the military, I entered the Maryknoll Order.
In my ministry in the United States, I have met many devout Catholic women who are called by God to be priests. They are rejected because the Church teaches only baptized males can be ordained. This makes no sense to me.
Don’t we profess that God created men and women of equal worth and dignity? The Holy Scriptures state clearly in Galatians 3:28 that “There is neither male nor female. In Christ Jesus you are one.” All Catholic priests say that the call to be a priest is a gift and comes from God. How can we, as men, say that our call from God is authentic, but your call, as women, is not?
After much reflection, study and prayer, I have come to believe that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women and against our loving God, who calls both men and women to be priests. I also believe that if we are to have a healthy and vibrant Church, we need the wisdom, experiences and voices of women in the priesthood.
The Vatican refers to the ordination of women as “a grave scandal” in our Church. When Catholics hear the word “scandal” they think about the thousands of priests who sexually abused children, and the many bishops who covered up their horrific crimes.
Pope Benedict XVI is telling priests like me to be obedient to our Church leaders and not to question or discuss our Church teachings.
This presents a problem because the Church teaches us about the primacy of conscience. Our conscience is sacred because it gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do what is right, what is just. When we betray our conscience, we separate ourselves from God.
Often, I think how we, as Catholics, were silent when our schools were segregated; not questioning why black members of our Church had to sit in the back pews. As a priest, I have learned that when there is injustice, our silence is the voice of complicity. Sexism, like racism, is a sin.
And no matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against others, in the end, it is not the way of God.
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