A Maryknoll priest says he invited three women to celebrate Mass with him in a Minneapolis Roman Catholic church because of a growing feeling that women are treated unjustly in the church.
The action by the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, in violation of church law that stipulates only priests can be celebrants of the Eucharist, has resulted in his being barred from performing any priestly duties in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The archdiocese also has announced it is conducting a further investigation of the incident and said a possible outcome could be excommunication of those involved.
In interviews, however, the priest and women who took part in the services said they do not expect so harsh a punishment. In a telephone interview from Columbus, Ga., the priest, a longtime activist who has a history of arrests for civil disobedience, said he regretted he could not return to the Twin Cities to explain his actions during Aug. 12 Masses at St. Joan of Arc Parish. "I think if there was a hearing, I could justify what I did," he said. "I feel it was right, what I did."
But he said it was very important for him to stay in Georgia, preparing for a fast beginning on Labor Day outside Fort Benning to protest the training there of 538 Salvadorans by U.S. Army personnel. According to Bourgeois, several of the soldiers accused of the massacre last year of six Jesuits and two women also trained at Fort Benning.
He said he will be joined in the fast by Jesuit and Dominican priests, by U.S. war veterans, and by Salvadorans -- about a dozen people in all.
Bourgeois said he has the support of his Maryknoll superiors to lead the fast and protest. This protest, he said, will not involve civil disobedience, as did one in 1983. That time, he and others climbed trees at the fort and played a tape of the last homily preached by Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero before he was assassinated, and they broadcast a message appealing to Salvadorans there to lay down their arms.
As a result of that incident, Bourgeois served 15 months in the federal prison in Sandstone, Minn.
Bourgeois has been invited to be a guest priest at several Minnesota parishes. That's what he was doing at Aug. 12 Masses at St. Joan of Arc Church, long known as a "progressive" parish concerned with social justice. Feminist Gloria Steinem gave a homily there in 1978.
In the interview, Bourgeois said he had not planned in advance to invite any women to celebrate with him. But he did so when he was inspired by the Eucharistic prayer for the day and it "seemed so right. The prayer compared God's work to a mother's tender embrace, and the priest said he "felt at that moment that a woman should be reading that and not me."
At his invitation, Katie Johnson, a teacher from St. Paul, assisted him at the 9 a.m. Mass and Teresa Graham, a school social worker from Minneapolis, and Joan Riebel, a St. Paul resident who is executive secretary of a foster care agency in Minneapolis, at the 11 a.m. Mass.
The women joined Bourgeois in reading the Eucharistic prayers and each held a portion of the main host and a chalice, which they elevated during the Consecration.
After the 9 a.m. Mass, Bourgeois said, "An elderly woman came up to me, teary-eyed, grabbed my hand and said, 'Thank you, thank you for making this possible.' " After the 11 a.m. Mass, the congregation stood and cheered "in seeming acknowledgement of the risk the priest was taking," according to Graham.
Besides barring Bourgeois from functioning as a priest in his archdiocese, Archbishop John R. Roach has sent reports of the St. Joan of Arc incident to Maryknoll officials, to the Pope's representative in the United States and to other U.S. bishops. He also has asked his chancellor, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, to conduct an investigation of the incident.
"What I want to do is get a loose cannon off the streets," Roach said at a news conference.