Father Roy Bourgeois: Refused to Keep Silent

Church Threatens to Excommunicate Father Roy Bourgeois, Founder of the School of the Americas Watch

Editor, Tikkun Magazine

RoyBourgeois2 RoyBourgeoisBenningRoy Bourgeois isn’t just any priest. He is, along with John Dear and Sister Joan Chittister, one of the most courageous Catholic voices for peace and non-violence and the founder and leader of the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW). The ultimatum and ex-communication would be effective the day before the annual demonstration of the SOAW at Fort Bennings (next to Columbus, Georgia) where the School of the Americas is housed and where it trains South and Central American police forces in the techniques of torture, repression, and counter-insurgency. We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been calling for support for this demonstration which begins on Friday and goes till Sunday.

So the current conservative leadership of the Catholic Church will now in one fell swoop be able to rid itself of the progressive Catholic who has created the most important spiritual progressive demonstration taking place anywhere in the country for peace and against torture, and simultaneously terrify other priests into not daring to question the Church’s doctrines on women.

It should be noted that the very progressive teachings of the Church against war and poverty have not served as a basis for the excommunication of any priest or other church officials who have publicly supported the US war in Iraq or Afghanistan or supported the notion of a violent war against terror. As the politically conservative forces have come to power in the Church after, and in part to undo, the more liberal spirit of Vatican II, they have used their offices in the hierarchy against those who support progressive causes, but not against those who support authoritarian and reactionary and violent causes. So, while they make their own tenth century decision to exclude women from the clergy on a pedestal of non-disputability, they leave Jesus’ teachings against violence and for social justice on no such pedestal, thus allowing priests who support economic oppression and wars an open path to challenge Church teachings or distorting how they might be applied, while preventing any serious dissent when it comes to matters of sexuality and gender.

We urge all those who feel strongly opposed to this attempt to silence dissent within the Church and to oust its most celebrated peace-priest to take the following steps:

1. Write to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the
Faith at the Vatican, Rome, Italy and protest.

2. Write to your local newspapers and protest.

3. Write to your local Catholic church and priests and

4. Write to the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, and to national news sources like the New York Times and Washington Post and CNN and NPR and let them know that the NSP [Network of Spiritual Progressives] is protesting this move against Father Bourgeois and re-affirming our commitment to equal rights for women plus our commitment to strengthen the demonstrations in Fort Benning until the training of counter-insurgency experts (a way of saying torturers and repressors of democratic movements for justice and peace) is stopped and made illegal in the U.S.

Now here’s the key: we want to communicate this message in a respectful way to the Catholic world. We are not anti-Catholic. Our organization contains many faithful Catholics. We seek to recruit faithful Catholics into the NSP, and we do not wish to give them the impression that we are challenging their entire faith. Moreover, at the SOAW demonstration this weekend you’ll be able to meet many Catholics who have anti-war, anti-violence and pro-peace and generosity perspectives–and they represent a major part of American Catholicism. So please help us communicate our outrage at the attempt to silence or excommunicate Father Roy Bourgeois. But do so in a way that indicates respect and genuine caring connection to the many Catholics who remain committed to peace and social justice but who may be afraid to speak out on this issue for fear of losing their connection with the Church (including many many Jesuits, for example, who share our progressive peace-oriented and social-justice oriented perspectives and would be part of the NSP, but are fearful that they too would be thrown out of their livelihood should they speak out clearly on these topics).

Nor is it for progressives like Roy Bourgeois merely a matter of livelihood that is at stake — these are people of faith who feel nurtured by and deeply connected to the Church, and to the teachings of Jesus, and feel that on some specific matters their Church, which they love deeply, has mistaken priorities that do not reflect the true teachings of Jesus, and they wish to correct policies that they feel are out of sync with God’s word as they understand it. This kind of dissent, of course, was what led up to the convening of Vatican II, and the ideas that manifested there were only possible because of previous dissenters in the Church finally being given a chance to have real voice. So it is distressing to the dissenters today to find that the freedoms to dispute parts of the “official teachings” that made possible previous changes in the Church’s doctrines are now being withdrawn by Pope Benedict, who himself was part of this same process of limiting dissent when he headed the same Church Office that now seeks to silence Roy Bourgeois.

Please read the materials below so that you can see more
documentation of the issues discussed here.

Rabbi Michael Lerner



Printer's 2d ed. Cover 5-11-13Hard copies of My Journey from Silence to Solidarity (now in its second edition) are available for $7.00 (which includes shipping). Place your order by contacting the author at Roy Bourgeois, P. O. Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903 or by contacting the editor. Price breaks for bulk orders are available.

This book is freely available here for reading or downloading in the .pdf format.


The fact: Bourgeois, a priest for 36 years, attended the ordination of
Janice Sevre-Duszynska in Lexingon, Ky., Aug. 9 and preached a

If Bourgeois is excommunicated at the end of 30 days, it would
come just before the mass rally and protest against the U.S.
Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., that Bourgeois
has organized for 19 years. In recent years, more than 15,000
people, many of them Catholic university students, have joined the
three daylong rally and demonstration.

Bourgeois was not immediately available for comment. The text of
Bourgeois’ letter follows.


Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903
November 7, 2008


RoyBourgeoisBenningI was very saddened by your letter dated October 21, 2008, giving me 30 days to recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or I will be excommunicated.

I have been a Catholic priest for 36 years and have a deep love for my Church and ministry.

When I was a young man in the military [serving in Vietnam], I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I entered Maryknoll and was ordained in 1972.

Over the years I have met a number of women in our Church who,
like me, feel called by God to the priesthood. You, our Church
leaders at the Vatican, tell us that women cannot be ordained.

With all due respect, I believe our Catholic Church’s teaching on
this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny.   A 1976
report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission supports the research
of Scripture scholars, canon lawyers and many faithful Catholics
who have studied and pondered the Scriptures and have concluded
that there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women
from the priesthood.

As people of faith, we profess that the invitation to the ministry
of priesthood comes from God. We profess that God is the Source of
life and created men and women of equal stature and dignity. The
current Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women
implies our loving and all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and
earth, somehow cannot empower a woman to be a priest.

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the
priesthood. Who are we, as men, to say to women, “Our call is
valid, but yours is not.” Who are we to tamper with God’s call?

Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long
we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always

Hundreds of Catholic churches in the U.S. are closing because of a
shortage of priests. Yet there are hundreds of committed and
prophetic women telling us that God is calling them to serve our
Church as priests.

If we are to have a vibrant, healthy Church rooted in the
teachings of our Savior, we need the faith, wisdom, experience,
compassion and courage of women in the priesthood.

Conscience is very sacred. Conscience gives us a sense of right
and wrong and urges us to do the right thing. Conscience is what
compelled Franz Jagerstatter, a humble Austrian farmer, husband
and father of four young children, to refuse to join Hitler’s
army, which led to his execution. Conscience is what compelled
Rosa Parks to say she could no longer sit in the back of the bus.
Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot
be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood.

Conscience is what compelled my dear mother and father, now 95, to
always strive to do the right things as faithful Catholics raising
four children. And after much prayer, reflection and discernment,
it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I
cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the
ordination of women in our Church.

Working and struggling for peace and justice are an integral part
of our faith. For this reason, I speak out against the war in
Iraq. And for the last eighteen years, I have been speaking out
against the atrocities and suffering caused by the School of the
Americas (SOA). Eight years ago, while in Rome for a conference on
peace and justice, I was invited to speak about the SOA on Vatican
Radio. During the interview, I stated that I could not address the
injustice of the SOA and remain silent about injustice in my
Church. I ended the interview by saying, “There will never be
justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained.” I
remain committed to this belief today.

Having an all male clergy implies that men are worthy to be
Catholic priests, but women are not.

According to USA TODAY (Feb. 28, 2008) in the United States alone,
nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than
12,000 children. Many bishops, aware of the abuse, remained
silent. These priests and bishops were not excommunicated. Yet the
women in our Church who are called by God and are ordained to
serve God’s people, and the priests and bishops who support them,
are excommunicated.

Silence is the voice of complicity. Therefore, I call on all
Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and all
Church leaders at the Vatican, to speak loudly on this grave
injustice of excluding women from the priesthood.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated because of his defense of the oppressed. He said, “Let those who have a
voice, speak out for the voiceless.”

Our loving God has given us a voice.  Let us speak clearly and
boldly and walk in solidarity as Jesus would, with the women in
our Church who are being called by God to the priesthood.

In Peace and Justice,
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903


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One thought on “Father Roy Bourgeois: Refused to Keep Silent”

  1. Dear Supporters of Fr. Roy Bourgeois [NCR 4/15/2011 p. 21],

    In the Roman Catholic Church, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome (abbreviation: CDF) has been entrusted with responsibility for clarifying disputed matters of belief in the Catholic Church. The CDF has consistently opposed women’s ordination. Moreover, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the man who headed the CDF for two decades is now currently Pope Benedict XVI.

    The CDF’s scriptural arguments have been formally expressed in two key documents: On the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, known by its Latin title as Inter Insigniores (15 October 1976) and a companion text, the Commentary on Inter Insigniores (27 January 1977) which treats the arguments of Inter Insigniores within an ecumenical backdrop.

    Roughly four out of five Catholic theologians who have published their evaluations of these documents have found the CDF reports to be seriously flawed both in their methodology and in their use of Scriptures.

    So what should normally happen in a situation like this? The CDF documents should be evaluated and revised by a credible international group of Catholic theologians. Honest evaluation and polite criticism should circulate on all sides among bishops, pastors, and theologians. Feedback loops should be set up. Conferences should be held offering persons on all sides the possibilities to present scriptural, theological, and pastoral arguments on all aspects of the issue.

    But no, Cardinal Ratzinger did not want this issue to be decided on the basis of open deliberation and informed inquiry. Accordingly, when he realized that the 1976 document was not succeeding in convincing anywhere near a majority of pastors and theologians, he and those around him resorted to raw power. So, currently, appointments to every vacant Episcopal chair and to most theological chairs as well turn upon this litmus-test issue (National Catholic Reporter 5/29/09 p.19-20). Meanwhile, Vatican supporters everywhere feel compelled to put pressure on all Catholics to either sing the Vatican tune or to remain silent. Even most lay persons working in church-related ministries are forced to do the same or to pay the consequences—to lose one’s ministry and one’s livelihood.

    The current Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) investigation of the Religious Orders of Women in the United States has made it plain that the impossibility of ordaining women is the touchstone issue of “orthodoxy” and that the Vatican appointed interrogators were required to discover all deviations from the spirit and the letter of the CDF’s position set out in Inter Insigniores — On the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (National Catholic Reporter 5/1/09 p.10 & 8/21/09 p.8).

    One U.S. bishop told me privately that the bishops themselves are divided on this issue (as would be expected) and that the loyal episcopal opposition is waiting for the moment when open discussion on this issue could be strategic and timely. The Civil Rights Movement, it must be remembered, began when key pastors in the Black churches of Montgomery decided to champion the cause of one woman, Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat in the bus to a White man.

    In truth, it would just take only three bishops or thirty members of the Maryknoll Order to come forward and to speak their truth against the injustice of using the ordination issue as the litmus test of Catholic orthodoxy AND THIS TYRANNY WOULD STOP IN ITS TRACKS. Such loyal whistle blowers may not even need to directly challenge the 1976 Vatican position itself. They would need only to demand an implementation of the official Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law:

    In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church. They also have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors. (canon 212, § 3).

    As for the conduct of the Vatican in this matter, one would do well to remember the cautionary words of Harry S. Truman:

    Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country [or a church] where everyone lives in fear.

    Some might think that a Vatican tyranny cloaked in the garb of Jesus can hardly be a tyranny after all. The truth, however, is just the opposite. The Vatican’s insistence that they are merely implementing the sovereign will of our Savior in this matter fundamentally distorts the person, the teaching, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the tyranny of the CDF in manipulating the drafting of Inter Insigniores followed by the calculated steps of Cardinal Ratzinger to impose it upon the entire Church without any process of open deliberation and responsible consultation is nothing short of a total disregard for the ecclesiology affirmed by Vatican II.

    Catherine of Siena, a fourteenth-century woman who would eventually be declared a Saint and Doctor of the Church, was known for her efforts to deal with recalcitrant authorities inside and outside the Church. Thus, she becomes a model for leadership and women’s empowerment in our current situation. Famously, she advised the timid and the oppressed, “Cry out as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.”


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