Church Threatens to Excommunicate Father Roy Bourgeois, Founder of the School of the Americas Watch
Roy 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
Hard 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
TO THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, THE VATICAN
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,
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