Why Baby Boomers in the Church Need to Hand the Torch to the Gen Xers Already

I’ve long been a supporter of the movement to close the School of the Americas, a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. The SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. The school trained the assassins of the 6 Jesuits from the Central American University in El Salvador.

Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois has long been at the front of this movement with the support of his community. But recently, he got himself in trouble by participating in a woman’s ordination ceremony. Gary Stern at Lo Hud, a Westchester paper, has been following the story and they assumed that Fr Bourgeois had been excommunicated by the Vatican. Fr Bourgeois disagrees.

Bourgeois told me that he has not heard from the Vatican since the fall. Not a note, an e-mail, nothing. So he is continuing to celebrate Mass and baptize babies.

“I have not gotten anything saying I am defrocked,” he said. “I continue to be a Catholic priest in good standing.”

Hmmm. Two months ago, Maryknoll’s superior general, the Rev. Edward M. Dougherty, issued a statement saying that Bourgeois had been “automatically excommunicated” when he did not meet the Vatican’s deadline to recant.

I contacted Maryknoll this week, and they were taken aback that Bourgeois disagrees.

“We are surprised and are saddened that his actions may present an obstacle in the path toward his reconciliation with Church authorities,” a new statement said. “We are still hoping that he will reconsider his position and be reconciled with the Vatican, a hope that they also have expressed.”

Seeking clarification, I faxed a note to the Vatican press office. No response so far.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would not touch this one.

UPDATE: Bourgeois recently stated after the report that he no longer celebrates mass or administers sacraments out of respect for his superiors but he maintains that he is still a priest.

In December, the Catholic News Agency, a church-affiliated organization, reported that a Vatican official promised that Bourgeois would be excommunicated after the Vatican responds to letters on the case.

Things move slowly in Rome, but Bourgeois’ priestly days appear to be numbered. If he is excommunicated, he cannot administer the sacraments as a priest or receive them.

He is actually more adamant than ever about the need to ordain women as priests.

“The exclusion of women is a grave injustice and a sin,” the 70-year-old priest told me. “This is a movement whose time has come. It’s not going away.”

A friend and I had a recent discussion about some of the issues that strong willed baby boomers who seek reform in the Catholic Church really care about and how younger Gen-Xers in their 30s and 40s react to these things slightly differently, and even moreso, the younger millennials, who react an even different way.

While many men and women in these younger cohorts might believe that women should have an ordained role in the church, they don’t get as passionate about this issue in particular. This drives the baby boomers crazy and they then see the younger generations as apathetic or unwilling to fight for justice.

And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Younger people are certainly willing to fight for issues they believe in but they also know that this takes prudence and deft skill. It also means that you need to be wise enough to know what fights you can win and can’t win and how to work within a system for EFFECTIVE change.

I’ve often said that I think that the church should consider ordaining women at least to the diaconate…

But I don’t think we should simply start ordaining them on the corner of 42nd and 8th without Vatican approval. All that does is get people angry! It’s akin to saying “I think baseball should start playing with 2 outs in a half-inning instead of 3.” Which might be a fair idea and even good for the game, but I don’t think that the Pittsburgh Pirates should start playing the games on their home field that way without the agreement of the other teams in the Major Leagues.

A friend said to me, “I’d like to see women have a greater role in the church too, but I’m not going to get all bent out of shape over it and start leaving the church. I’m willing to pray and wait for things to change or not to change. I will work to give women more prominent roles that are currently sanctioned and will praise their work, when warranted, to highlight the good that women bring to the church in these more prominent roles.”

I agree that this is a better course of action. Only then will those in authority think about listening to the wisdom that might be present. The renegade option closes the door for good conversation and paints that group with a color that screams “bitter grudge holders.” And as long as people see you that way, they ignore you as the fringe element who are focused on the extreme.

Gen-Xers don’t have time to be considered a fringe element. They are willing to seek middle ground. They are willing to listen to the wisdom of the other point of view. They are willing to keep the conversation open.

Here are people that you probably have never heard of but who all play prominent roles in the church:

Salesian Sister Enrica Rosanna was named an undersecretary of the Vatican congregation that deals with religious orders. That’s No. 3 in the chain of command, and it made her the highest-ranking woman at the Vatican.

Section chief at a major Vatican agency was U.S. Sister Sharon Holland, a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who works at the congregation for religious.

And there are hundreds and thousands of unsung women who have changed the livelihood of the church for years without virtue of ordination ever stopping them.

As someone who grew up of very humble stock I would say that women in the church should be proud of themselves for all they have done. It has not been easy for any of them. That should make them even prouder. Priests and men of privilege have done much but their road to get there has been fairly easy for them with few applecarts needing to be overturned. The accomplishments of women have much to owe to a lot of blood, sweat and tears alongside a bunch of doors that they needed to kick open in order to serve the needs of many in the church.

For them, we are grateful and proud. We stand with them knowing their contribution was no less because they were not priests.

The bottom line: The solution to maintaining the spiritual life of Catholics is not to start ordaining everyone, nor is it to even ordain more single men. The issue is that the rest of us need to step up and start making as many contributions as we can within the establishment of the church.

And there is much that we all have to contribute and we don’t need to be ordained to do it. Gen Xers get that and their time is now.

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3 Comments

  1. At a girlfriends' tea over the weekend, we discussed this same issue with similar conclusions. Seven Catholic young adult women – two who work for the Church. Thanks, Mike!

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  2. I wish I had time to reply to this fully but I am off to church for a meeting.As someone who really likes and respects you, but as a Boomer, I do disagree with some of what you say here.And if somebody is not ordained to contribute, we are going to have some real problems. That is not to say that it should be women, but it is to say that the discussion of women should be on the table.Which it might be among us but is not something that the ordained can be talking about freely.And I will end with the idea that while Bourgeois did act outside of authority, is excommunication really aptly applied here?It seems harsh beyond reason.Anyway, I think that we all need to come together and figure out how to move ahead as church in many ways.I know – how kumbayah of me. The real pity is that I left church at the age of 14, just as the Vatican II reforms were pushing through. So you can't tag that one on me, despite my birthdate.Oh so much more to say, but I will try to come back if time permits.This old gal isn't quite ready to give up the ship, I'd like us to all be on board more collectively, that's all.And I am not sure that you would really disagree with that.Fran

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  3. Hi, I'm back!I am more concerned about how we can get past the grudge part and how the younger generation can look to what us boomers might have to offer.As it turns out, the meeting I attended last night drifted to the conversation about how to attract more younger Catholics. As it happens, I am, at 51, I think I am the youngest person at the table for this particular team. (Which is not about attracting more people, but is of course concerned with it.)I might also add that I am at a huge parish, so we are not immediately concerned with empty pews etc. What I can tell you is that out of 12 people at that table (age ranges 50-ish to late 60-ish, so boomers indeed) are not at all discussing womens' ordination, the majority (if not all) would not know who the heck Bourgeois is, etc.This is not to say that they are on one side or the other, it is to say that these things are not so top of mind for them.So what am I on about? I think that there is a very vocal part of my generation, which in full disclosure I have been a part of, that does care about these things.But we are not hitting anyone over the head with it.The Bourgeois business is very much about a line in the sand for both sides I think and that is sad. (Although I hold that I think excommunication is far too extreme here, but I respectfully submit to the authority of the Church in the end. Maybe Roy will too?)And yes, there are folks of my era who can't shut up about some of these things. However, I still hold that we all need to be at the table together to focus on what is to come.And we should not be so quick to relegate things like womens' ordination or other causes to the wood pile, but rather examine how to bring those causes together for our mutual gain.Can I ever shut up? And again, on the heels of such nice words you have offered about my other work!God bless all. I will head off to face my day now!Fran

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