US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is women’s ordination worse than torture?

By Megan Sweas | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Combined with the recent sex abuse/women's ordination news, the relationship between the Maryknoll Society and School of Americas Watch seems to give the impression that women's ordination is the worse than torture.

The School of Americas Watch, which protests the military school that taught torture to Latin American militaries, is no longer being supported by the Maryknoll Society due to the SOAW's founder's support of women's ordination.

Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest, started the SOAW in the wake of the martyrdom of six Catholic priests and two companions at the University of Central America in El Salvador on Nov. 16, 1989. In 2008, he participated in the ordination of a woman and responded to Vatican inquiries resolutely supporting women's ordination. Though excommunicated, he remains a Maryknoll priest.

SOAW used to receive a $17,000 general-use grant from the Maryknolls, but this year their application was denied due to Bourgeois' connection to women's ordination. "Given Father Bourgeois' central role as the founder and public face of the SOA Watch, Society leadership has determined that it cannot continue its financial support of that organization without giving the impression that it also supports the actions of its leader concerning the issue of women's ordination," the Maryknoll Society said in an email.

"That is the only explanation we were given, despite the fact that SOA Watch is not involved in the debate over women's ordination and does not have a position on it," SOAW Development Coordinator Michael Baney said. Baney added that they are grateful for the support the Maryknolls had provided for years.

Certainly, this story speaks more to the combative culture and pressures in the church today than to any concerns about the Maryknoll Society's commitment to justice. Maryknoll father, brothers, sisters, and lay volunteer continue to work in dangerous communities worldwide. Their official comment continued: "This decision is not intended to be punitive and is not designed to put pressure on Father Bourgeois, or on the SOA Watch organization and its activities. Maryknoll continues its solidarity with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and is unambiguous in its support of the goals of the SOA Watch."

At issue with this case and many others today is the inability of Catholic groups to partner on some social good with people that aren't in 100 percent agreement with the church. If we don't all agree on the fact that women cannot be ordained, we cannot fight against torture.

The same thing has happened in the Reform CCHD Now movement. As Robert McClory points out in "The fight over fighting poverty," Catholic groups were once encouraged to seek out partnerships, even if it was with groups that disagreed with church teaching in an area not related to the work of the partnership. Now such partnerships are used to brandish groups "not Catholic."

This mentality, though, cuts the church off from the rest of the world, rendering it less influential and hampering its social mission.

It's not a perfect comparison, but I'm reminded of what Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant'Egidio, said in Pax Romana about trying to negotiate peace with terrorists: "To try to stop violence you have to dirty your hands. If you want to shake only spotless hands, go to your golf club-although even the hands there might not always be so clean."