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Monday, September 16, 2013

Father Roy Bourgeois, longtime activist, to speak at Emory University tonight

Father Roy Bourgeois
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  • Father Roy Bourgeois
Eleven months ago, Father Roy Bourgeois received a letter from the Vatican that contained a message from Pope Benedict XVI. The Roman Catholic Church was asking Bourgeois, who in addition to being a man of the cloth was also a longtime activist, to recant his public support for the ordination of women. Bourgeois responded with a refusal to silence his views, which ultimately came at a great cost: he would ultimately be excommunicated from the church he'd served for 40 years.

"You can dismiss me, but you can't dismiss the issue of gender inequality in the church," he said in an interview with CL.

Tonight at 7 p.m., Bourgeois will speak about his personal experience with the Catholic Church and long history fighting for social causes, including a campaign to close the controversial School of the Americas near Fort Benning, at Emory's Cannon Chapel. The event is called "Disturbing the Peace."

"I plan to address issues of peace, justice, and equality, making connection to my own journey from the military to my introduction of foreign policy as a Vietnam veteran," Bourgeois said.

Following military service, he moved to Bolivia where he was part of a movement aimed at empowering the poor to speak out for justice and equality. Bourgeois strongly opposed the U.S.-supported dictatorship of President General Hugo Banzer. During his fifth year in Bolivia, Bourgeois was deported for attempting to overthrow Banzer. In the following years, he investigated the murders of religious leaders in Bolivia and El Salvador and found that many of the soldiers who were allegedly responsible for the killings, as well as Banzer, were graduates of The School of the Americas in Fort Benning, just south of Columbus, Ga.

"That's when I came here to Columbus, to investigate SOA and from there our movement blossomed," he said. "I'll mention some of the basics of the issue, but over 50,000 students have been trained here, learning methods of torture, combat and counterinsurgency."

In 1990, Bourgeois founded The School of the Americas Watch to peacefully protest and raise awareness about the school, which is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Located 100 miles south of Atlanta, the school provides training to military and government personnel from Latin American countries. Bourgeois says that SOAW seeks to close a school that has trained thousands of soldiers, some of whom, he says, are allegedly responsible for the murder, torture and rape of people in numerous Latin American countries. The school claims that, like any other institution, it cannot guarantee its students won't later commit crimes, but that all instruction will be conducted "in accordance with U.S. law, doctrine and policy."

"We are here in the name of peace to keep alive the memory of thousands killed by graduates of this school," Bourgeois said. "We come in the name of solidarity."

Bourgeois said that it is an honor to return to Emory. Four years ago, he spoke at a lecture series on faith at Emory, where he remembered a great student turnout and response to his message.

Following his presentation and Q&A session, there will be a dessert reception with Bourgeois at 8:30 p.m. also in the Cannon Chapel.

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