Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who caused a dispute over his belief that the Catholic church should ordain women, speaks at Claremont Graduate
Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who caused a dispute over his belief that the Catholic church should ordain women, speaks at Claremont Graduate University about women's ordination and the Catholic Church, on Thursday. ((Frank Perez/Correspondent) )
CLAREMONT - The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who has been criticized by the Catholic Church for his support of women's ordination, discussed his views Thursday night at Claremont Graduate University.

"I really want to begin with an apology," Bourgeois said during a panel discussion.

"To all the women in the Catholic Church and also I think in society for taking so long to see this injustice. To see the root of our church's teaching all about sexism.

"No excuses, I was asleep, I think, for many years and one of the many participating in what we call prejudice. I've come to see after much reflection that in life prejudice is our greatest enemy. We learn prejudice. And we can unlearn it."

Bourgeois was part of a group that also featured Gina Messina-Dysert, visiting assistant professor in the department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University; Rosemary Radford Ruether, visiting professor of religion; and Jane Via of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Via said she agreed with the sentiment expressed by Ruether that the Catholic Church was much larger than the Vatican, which has condemned the idea of women being ordained.

"The Vatican is a tiny, tiny group of very powerful elderly, mostly Caucasian males," Via said.

"That's who they are. But the power they exert, over women and children, especially in non-industrialized societies worldwide is enormous. Women will never be able to push their way into that power structure without becoming ordained first," she said.

Via said she will not walk away from the Catholic Church despite her disagreements.

"My personal attitudes about that are that I am intelligent, articulate, I'm well-educated and if every voice like mine leaves the Catholic Church there will be no one left to speak for women," she said.

The packed audience inside the Albrecht Auditorium cheered Via's comment.

Panelists Dr. Jane Vila, Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Dr. Gina Messina-Dysert  during a discussion  about women’s ordination and the Catholic
Panelists Dr. Jane Vila, Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Dr. Gina Messina-Dysert during a discussion about women's ordination and the Catholic Church on Thursday at Claremont Graduate University. ((Frank Perez/Correspondent))

Bourgeois said the issue of women's ordination was an important one.

"Who are we as men to say to women our call is authentic but your call is not?" Bourgeois said.

"Who are we as men to reject God's call to women to the priesthood? What arrogance. And what I saw in our church's teaching at its very root was that sin of sexism. And as we all know, sexism, like racism, like homophobia and all those other forms of discrimination is wrong. It's wrong," Bourgeois said.

He said such a rule is an injustice against the church.

"And of course an injustice against our loving God who calls both men and women into the priesthood," Bourgeois said.

"What do we do? You and I when we see an injustice with such clarity. What we do know is silence is the voice of complicity. In order to sleep at night, I had to break my silence."

Church teaching holds that the priesthood is reserved for men, since Christ chose only men as his apostles. Proponents of women's ordination say there is no theological basis for excluding women from the priesthood, that there is evidence of women priests in the early church and that the Vatican's ban is purely sexist.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.