The Jesuit Order has moved to the brink of dismissing Father William Callahan, a nationally known social justice advocate who supports equality for women in the Catholic Church and has helped lead the grass-roots effort against aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, the threatened priest said Thursday.
Callahan, co-director of the Quixote Center in Mt. Rainier, Md., said he received two formal letters of "canonical warning" from Father Robert Manning, the Jesuit Provincial of New England, the order's province to which the priest is assigned.
A third such letter will result in formal dismissal. Callahan, 57, who holds a doctorate in physics from Johns Hopkins University, has been a Jesuit priest for 40 years. He said he had appealed his case in an April 18 letter to Father Peter Kolvenbach, overall head of the Jesuits in Rome.
Callahan told a news conference that Manning had not revealed the charges against him but had set forth a series of five demands, including that he end his involvement with Catholics Speak Out and Priests for Equality, groups that he helped found that have dissented from church teaching on issues such as the ordination of women.
Callahan said Manning also wrote that he should "make no public statements or sign any statements critical of the church or its leadership without my prior knowledge and consent and that you not assume my permission to do so."
Manning's demands came in March 1 and April 3 letters in which he also ordered the activist Jesuit to Boston--a demand Callahan defied.
The veteran advocate of peace, social justice and women's equality issues has been most prominent in recent years in organizing Quest for Peace, a broad effort to provide humanitarian aid to the Nicaraguan people to match, dollar for dollar, U.S. government aid to the Contras trying to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
The Catholic Church in Nicaragua is divided, with much of its hierarchy, including Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, fierce critics of the Sandinistas even though many of the parish priests and laity are strong supporters of the revolutionary government.
Callahan speculated that "it is possible" some of the pressure on him is coming from Obando y Bravo by way of the Vatican in Rome.
But he insisted, "I cannot abandon my work with the people of Nicaragua and Central America. To suffer threats to membership in religious orders is nothing compared to the daily threats of violence, death and economic ruin faced by so many of the poor."
"Nor can I abandon my work for gender equality in the church or civil society," he added. "Sexism is a sin of our church that is eroding the faith of millions."
In 1980, Callahan was silenced by the Jesuits and ordered to Boston for seven months for advocating the ordination of women.