Thirty-five years ago, Bishop Maurice Dingman invited me to Des Moines. It was 1981 — exactly one year after the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and only a few months after the rape and murder of four women missionaries in El Salvador at the hands of the U.S.-funded El Salvador National Guard. I joined hundreds of laypeople, sisters, and priests in Des Moines as we rallied at the downtown Peace Garden. After our rally, we walked in silence to a memorial Mass at St. Ambrose Cathedral. Bishop Dingman opened the Mass with the words “We are one with the people of El Salvador.”
On Aug. 26, I will be returning to Des Moines for another event: the Des Moines Catholic Worker’s 40th anniversary. For four decades, this community has been an unfailing voice for peace and justice in the heart of Iowa. They have struggled daily to answer the questions that I asked the people of Des Moines 35 years ago: “Can we look at El Salvador through the eyes of the oppressed, Archbishop Oscar Romero and the four women missionaries who were assassinated there? How do we walk with the poor?” The Des Moines Catholic Worker is a voice for the poorest in our society, demanding a fair economy. They are a voice for peace, demanding an end to unjust wars. They are a voice for Catholic social justice.
The Des Moines Catholic Worker and I also have something else in common. In 2008, I participated in the priestly ordination of a woman, my friend Janice Sevre-Duszynska. I did this because of my biblically based, historically grounded conviction that women are called to the Roman Catholic priesthood. In 2012, I was dismissed from the priesthood for this act of solidarity.
In 2014, the Rev. Sevre-Duszynska celebrated a Mass at the Des Moines Catholic Worker. The current bishop of Des Moines, Richard Pates, sanctioned the community for their show of solidarity with women called to the priesthood. In response, DMCW affirmed “the equality of all people, regardless of gender, to be full members and disciples in any Church claiming to follow Jesus.”
The majority of U.S. Catholics support the ordination of women to the priesthood. At the 1978 meeting of U.S. bishops, Des Moines’ own Bishop Dingman, observing protests by advocates of women’s ordination, called for dialogue on the issue of female priests. Pope Francis himself has created a commission to study the possibility of female deacons.
On Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m., I will be speaking at Trinity United Methodist Church on “The Struggle for Peace, Justice, and Equality.” I will discuss the links between global social justice and the women’s ordination movement. On Aug. 27 at 4 p.m., I will participate in a panel at Trinity UMC on gender and the Catholic Church. On Aug. 28 at 8:30 a.m., I will attend a Eucharistic liturgy with two Roman Catholic female priests at the Des Moines Catholic Worker. All are welcome to join us as we engage in fruitful dialogue about creating a church where the priestly gifts of all people are celebrated
Thirty-five years ago, I joined the people of Des Moines in their faithful cry for peace and justice around the globe. On Aug. 26, the struggle for peace, justice and equality continues. I hope you will join the Des Moines Catholic Worker and myself as we witness for justice in our church and world.
Roy Bourgeois is a laicized Roman Catholic priest and the founder of the human rights group School of the Americas Watch. After serving as a Maryknoll priest for 40 years, he was dismissed from the priesthood in 2012 for his public support of the ordination of women. Roy is also very involved in the struggle for LGBT equality.