More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony that purported to ordain a woman as a priest, in defiance of church teaching. 
The American priests’ action follows closely on the heels of a “Call to Disobedience” issued in Austria last month by more than 300 priests and deacons. They stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.
And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” After an investigation, the Vatican forced him to resign.
While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.
The Vatican has declared that the issue of women’s ordination is not open for discussion. But priests are on the front line of the clergy shortage — stretched thin and serving multiple parishes — and in part, this is what is driving some of them to speak.
“They are saying, ‘We don’t have enough priests, we’re closing down parishes,’ ” said David J. O’Brien, who holds an endowed chair in faith and culture at the University of Dayton, a Marianist Catholic college. “It’s a sign that the pastoral needs are sufficiently grave now that priests are speaking up and saying, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t just ignore the pastoral consequences of the things you do and say at the top.’ ”
Church experts said it was surprising that 157 priests would sign a statement in support of the American priest, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, because he did much more than speak out: he gave the homily and blessed a woman in an illicit ordination ceremony conducted by the group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests. That group claims to have ordained 120 female priests and five bishops worldwide. The Vatican does not recognize the ordinations and has declared the women automatically excommunicated.
Father Bourgeois, a member of the Maryknoll religious order, received a letter from the Vatican in 2008 warning that he would be excommunicated if he did not recant. He sent the Vatican a long letter saying that he was only following his conscience. The Vatican never wrote back, he said.
The Maryknolls, however, did not dismiss him, and he continued presenting himself as a priest. He is a rather well-known one, at that. Father Bourgeois, now 72, was an American missionary in El Salvador during the death squad era and has made it his ministry ever since to lead antiwar protests outside the United States Army School of the Americas in Georgia.
But now, under pressure from the Vatican, the Maryknolls have sent the first of two required “canonical warnings” that they will dismiss him if he does not recant. Father Bourgeois responded that if he recanted to save his priesthood or his pension, he would be lying. “I see this very clearly as an issue of sexism, and like racism, it’s a sin,” he said in an interview this week from his home in Georgia. “It cannot be justified, no matter how hard we priests and church leaders, beginning with the pope, might try to justify the exclusion of women as equals. It is not the way of God. It is the way of men.”
In a 1994 declaration seen as intended to end the debate, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, saying that the church “has no authority whatsoever” to ordain women. Among the reasons the church gives is that the apostles of Jesus Christ were all men, and that that has been the church’s practice all along.
Christopher Ruddy, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, said of the recent statements from the priests, “I don’t think anything will come of it.
“Some say the church’s teaching on the nonordination of women is an infallible teaching, some say it’s not defined as such. But it’s clear that an extraordinarily high level of teaching authority has been invoked on that,” said Professor Ruddy, the author of “Tested in Every Way: The Catholic Priesthood in Today’s Church” (Herder & Herder, 2006).
The statement from the 157 American priests says only that they support Father Bourgeois’s “right to speak his conscience” — cautious wording that probably enabled more to sign. The effort was organized by Call to Action, a Chicago-based group that has long advocated change in the church. It is intended to put pressure on the Maryknolls not to go through with dismissing Father Bourgeois. 

More at  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/23/world/23priest.html?_r=3&hp