Conscience vs. Canon Law

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 1, 2009 | Categories: Dissent, Scandals

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, 69, a Maryknoll priest and nationally known peace activist, has been excommunicated for his participation at an ordination rite for women.  royb.jpg

Bourgeois ran afoul of Vatican doctrine by participating in the August 9, 2008 ceremony in Lexington, Kentucky, to ordain Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a member of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Sevre-Duszynska is the 35th woman to be ordained.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi said Bourgeois’ excommunication would be automatic, in other words, a latae sententiae excommunication, effective when the offense is committed. In other words, the person excommunicates himself or herself.

Excommunication is the most severe penalty under church law, cutting off  a Catholic from receiving or administering the sacraments.

Fr. Bourgeois said he was following his conscience in his participation at the ordination rite, though it was clearly against the church’s teaching on women’s ordination.

“Conscience is very sacred,” Bourgeois said in his November 7, 2008  letter to Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. “Conscience gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do the right thing…Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood..And after much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.”

James Martin, SJ, a writer and associate editor of America Magazine, noted in its document Dignitatis Humane, the Second Vatican Council   wrote: “On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with this conscience, especially in matters religious.”

Martin added that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes notes, “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

Fr. Bourgeois was impelled to follow his conscience.  He must have known by participating in the ceremony–particularly in the laying on of hands, one of the main symbols of ordination in the Catholic church–his actions would have some serious consequences.

But why did the Vatican feel compelled to enforce canon  law and excommunicate him within three months of the event?  

In comparison, I do not know of s single instance where a Catholic priest, bishop or other religious  has been  publicly excommunicated for the sexual abuse or rape of a minor.

Does that mean it’s more of a scandal for a man in good  conscience  to participate in the laying on of hands in a women’s ordination ceremony; than a man to lay hands on a child for his  sexual gratification?

Is something off here?

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10 Responses to “Conscience vs. Canon Law”

  1. Veronique Says:

    Good question indeed! It is all a matter of power! Abusing children does not threaten the hierachical system of power in the Catholic church. Women priests do. But it is a very short view of power. The moral power has been lost through the abuse scandal. Funny they do not see it. “Woe to the one by whom the scandal comes!” They see scandal in a woman beeing ordained, not in a child being abused. This is so old fashion patriarchal culture that I doubt the RC church can still offer any new moral guidance of any importance. And we do need it so much in matters of war but also of new genetics!

  2. Benny the Bridgebuilder Says:

    Apparently, even the present Pope is on record as saying you must follow your conscience even when it is in conflict with the teachings of the institutional church.

    Very confusing for the ordinary layperson.

    Perhaps it’s a mystery?

  3. Benny the Bridgebuilder Says:

    Ireland’s paper of record is not perfect, but this opinion piece in today’s paper reflects my own thoughts entirely (other than the misquote from Iran’s president regarding Israel). Thought it might make your readers smile or grind their teeth as appropriate.

    Happy New Year.

  4. Karen Doherty Says:

    Benny, I enjoyed the wry tone of the column. Human is always a lot more devastating than just pounding away. Thank you for sending along the link.

    I read in this Sunday’s paper that the crowds turning out for Pope Benedict’s blessings and preachings are getting a lot smaller. A theologian critical of Benedict, Vito Mancuso, advised him to stop “saying always and only ‘no.’ The church needs to be more humble on the role of women, sexuality and bioethics,” he said.

    I think that’s great advice for the pope. He should get a new public relations team, and shake things up a little by building some bridges to secular Catholics and others. I thought he was on the track by his emphasis on protecting the environment, but now that seems to have been an opening act to declare birth control and homosexuality as “unnatural.” Too bad.

  5. you guys... Says:

    you all have little to no grasp on what the Church is, or what or why She teaches what she does. Reading your comments make me want to bash my head into the wall…

  6. alex_sandu Says:

    what in the world..
    womand priest?..i’m a student at teology,catholic teology..and..i never head about woman priests, really, only in other religions, but not catholic..

  7. Fr.JCL Says:

    There is no dichotomy between conscience and canon law. Canon law, like the catechism and every other church instrument, helps us to understand God’s law better in order to better conform to that Divine Will. The proper dichotomy, then, for the Catholic anyway, is between canon law and sin, not canon law and conscience! Canon law safeguards conscience! We must be on guard for the enemies of religion who insist on tempting us to see dichotomies where they are not present. Some examples of which to be on guard may include “gospel vs. Christ”; “gospel vs. Church teaching”; “conscience vs. freedom”. The Magisterium represents Christ; to submit to the Church is to submit to Christ; that is true freedom. Mistrust (AND REPORT) anyone

  8. Censor Librorum Says:

    Dear Fr. JCL, using your line of thought,that the Magisterium represents Christ, where has it used Canon Law to remove a cardinal, bishop or even Pope…that covered up or tried to silence victims of clerical sex abuse, including the oral and anal rape of children.

    After all, Jesus said re: children, in Matthew 18:6: “But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    Jesus seems pretty clear on the issue.

    So, is our hierarchy not conforming to Divine Will?

  9. anta Says:

    we better ask jesus

  10. Is it Right to Intentionally Lie Because the Church says to? The Case of Fr. Roy’s assertion of Conscience over Vatican’s Mandate to Lie By Michele Stopera Freyhauf « Feminism and Religion Says:

    […] time; a mere three months after Fr. Roy participated in a women’s ordination ceremony.    In  Nihil Obstat, the author pointed out that there has not been a single instance where a priest was publicly […]

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