I have been a Catholic priest for years, and, like most people I know, I have been changed by my experiences over the years.
Growing up Catholic in a small town in Louisiana, I and others did not ask why the black members of our church had to sit in the last five pews during Mass, or why our schools were segregated. Nor did we, needless to say, ask why women could not be priests.
The military was my ticket out of Louisiana. I volunteered for duty in Vietnam, which became a turning point in my life. In the midst of all the violence and death of the war, my faith became more important, and I felt that God was calling me to be a priest.
After four years in the military, I entered the Catholic Church's Maryknoll Order, was ordained, and went off to serve the poor of Bolivia for five years.
Later, during my years of ministry in the United States, I met many devout Catholic women who were also called by God to be priests. Such women are rejected based on the church's teaching that only baptized men may be ordained.
This makes no sense to me. Don't we profess that God created men and women of equal worth and dignity? Doesn't Scripture state clearly that "There is neither male nor female. In Christ Jesus you are one" (Galatians 3:28)? How can we men say our call from God is authentic, but the call women feel is not?
After much reflection, study, and prayer, I believe the exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women and our loving God, who calls both men and women to be priests. I also believe that to have a healthy, vibrant church, we need the wisdom, experiences, and voices of women in the priesthood.
The Vatican has referred to the ordination of women as "a grave scandal." When most Catholics hear the word scandal, however, they think of the many priests who sexually abused children, and of the many bishops who covered up their horrific crimes.
Pope Benedict XVI is telling priests like me to be obedient to church leaders and refrain from questioning or discussing church teachings. This presents a problem, because the church teaches us the primacy of conscience. One's conscience is sacred, because it gives one a sense of right and wrong, and urges one to do what is just. When we betray our consciences, we separate ourselves from God.
I often think about our silence in the days when the black members of our church had to sit in the last five pews. As a priest, I have learned that our silence in the presence of such injustices is the voice of complicity.
Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard we try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is not the way of God.