Ashley Baxstrom:  It’s hard out there for a protestor. Occupying Oakland? Get arrested. Occupying Wall Street? Also get arrested (but don’t worry: there’s an app for that). Cornel West? Arrested (hey, twice in one week!). An almost-excommunicated Roman Catholic priest advocating women’s ordination outside the Vatican? You guessed it – arrested.

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois and 15 supporters, including three women dressed as priests, were detained in Rome last Monday (Oct. 17) as they marched toward the Vatican along the Via della Conciliazione, according to the Washington Post’s On Faith blog. The protestors were carrying a petition signed by 15,000 supporters in favor of women’s ordination.

The group was stopped by both Italian and Vatican police and Bourgeois and two women, including Miriam Duignan, of womencanbepriests.org, were arrested. Duignan said they were held for two hours and charged with demonstrating without a permit.

Rev. Roy Bourgeois and supporters at the Vatican

Bourgeois has been in trouble with the Top Man before – in 2008, after delivering the homily at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska in Kentucky (a woman), the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered Bourgeois to recant his support for women priests or risk excommunication. He faces a forced “laicization,” or the stripping of his priesthood, from the U.S.-based Maryknoll order. This July, Bourgeois was given 15 days to recant or present a defense against his dismissal; his lawyer’s August reply is reportedly still under consideration.

The Reverend’s liminal status hasn’t stopped him from continuing to voice his opinion, however. “If the call to be a priest is a gift and comes from God, how can we as men say that our call from God is authentic but God’s call of women is not?” Bourgeois wrote in an open letter to Vatican officials.

It’s a good question, that of authenticity, especially in this climate of protest. Who has the right to speak, and what are they allowed to say? As we saw in Oakland this morning, and as continues to be debated in Occupy sites across the country, the First Amendment seems a little hazy to some people. And as far as the issue of women’s ordination, the Old Boys’ Club just isn’t having it. The Boston Globe had a couple points on the ways in which the Vatican is trying to clamp down on the conversation, and how some are trying to maintain their own voices:

  • In July, the Vatican removed an Australian bishop for suggesting the church consider women priests (if by removed we mean forced him to resign for asking if he could ordain women and married men to battle the shortage of priests).
  • In 2010 ordaining a woman was listed as one of the gravest canonical crimes, on par with sexually abusing a child.
  • And this summer, over 300 Austrian Catholic priests joined an initiative “Call to Disobedience” calling for women priests and an end to priestly celibacy, among other church reforms.