The beauty of the follow-up

ExcomBookOne of my favorite types of stories is the follow-up. Journalists love to pile on when a story is fresh and hot and breaking. But rarely, if ever, do they check back in to see what's happened after the storm dies down. There are obvious reasons for this but it's so nice when a journalist does take the work to follow-up on an old story and, further, when it pays off. Gary Stern, ace religion reporter at the Journal News in Westchester County, New York, put in a call to Father Roy Bourgeois. Here's a Stern-composed blog post about the unorthodox priest's looming excommunication from last year.

In this latest piece, Stern mentions that one of his most frequent questions from readers is about whether Bourgeois was ever excommunicated. So he gives the media-friendly priest a call and gets an earful.

After bringing readers up to date on what Bourgeois had done contrary to church teaching ("He took part in the priestly "ordination" of a woman -- something that the Roman Catholic Church does not do, recognize or condone."), we learn about how his superiors at the Maryknoll headquarters in Ossining, told the Vatican he had broken church law. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in turn, told Bourgeois he had 30 days to recant his support for the ordination of women or he'd be excommunicated. Bourgeois didn't recant. And then:

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 piece is chock full of information -- including church teaching about the role of women and Bourgeois' contention that it's outmoded sexism. We also learn about the Vatican's slow pace in making decisions. But while Stern's focus is on the ordination of females, I find the news that Bourgeois is still administering the sacraments to be much more noteworthy.

The blog Creative Minority Report noted that Maryknoll said last year they viewed him as excommunicated in this National Catholic Register article. And there's this Aug. 7 article in The Monitor, a McAllen, Texas, paper, about Bourgeois being involved with a local gathering in support of the ordination of women. He's identified as an active Maryknoll priest.

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