The Rev. (for now) Roy Bourgeois

That’s Maryknoll’s Rev. Roy Bourgeois on Sunday at the annual School of the Americas protest outside Fort Benning, Ga.

Friday was the deadline for him to “recant” his support for women’s ordination or risk excommunication.

So what will happen now? And when?

Bourgeois shared his thoughts with National Catholic Reporter last night at the end of the three-day demonstration. He said:

I knew (excommunication) was a possibility, but I thought it would be a canonical warning,” he said. “The most severe I thought might be a suspension. … I love my church. I’m happy in my ministry. It’s gonna be very painful not to be able to celebrate Mass, not to go home and baptize all these little babies, to do the weddings of my nieces and nephews, not to be able to speak at Catholic churches. There is some pain, and I know it’s going to be very painful when I get the official word, when Maryknoll tells me. You see my 30 days were up Friday. And when I get the official letter it’s going to be a shock. I mean when the reality sets in.

But even deeper than the sorrow, the pain, is that peace, that inner peace knowing that I did the right thing. I followed my conscience; I followed my God. When we do that we can’t go wrong.

Here’s the AP story about the demonstration:

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) _ Demonstrators renewed their call Sunday to shutter a school on a Georgia Army base for Latin American military and government officials and say they’re optimistic the new president or a more sympathetic Congress will act within the next year.

School of Americas Watch protests each November outside Fort Benning to mark the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. A United Nations panel concluded that some of the killers had attended the School of Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who has been leading the demonstrations since 1990, said his supporters view President-elect Barack Obama as the “president who stands for peace.”

“Our movement has worked hard to get him into the White House,” Bourgeois said. “We think it is very reasonable to have a meeting with President Obama.”

Protesters also blame the school for human rights abuses in Latin America.

Obama could close the school by executive order or Congress could deny funding, a proposal that was narrowly defeated earlier this year, Bourgeois said.

“There is a good possibility we’ll shut the school,” Bourgeois said. “If we do, we’re going to gather here next year for a fiesta.”

Bourgeois has also taken on another cause. He has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican for supporting the ordination of women as priests. But as of Sunday, he was still a man of the cloth, he said.

“I’m waiting to hear from Rome,” he said.

Fort Benning officials had no comment other than to say they worked with local officials to ensure a safe, peaceful gathering.

The protesters, many of them students from as far away as Minnesota and Washington state, listened to music, speeches and marched in a funeral procession. Some, dressed in black robes, carried mock coffins while the majority lifted white crosses as the names of alleged victims of human rights abuses were read.

They cheered an announcement that the crowd had grown to 20,000. But Capt. Mike Massey of the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Department said deputies had counted about 8,500 entering the area in the morning. Most years, the group and local officials differ on crowd estimates.

Eric LeCompte, an SOA Watch organizer, said six protesters crossed a line on the military base and were arrested.

Juanita Sherba of Canfield, Ohio, has been attending the demonstrations for 12 years.

“We believe that Obama’s words are true,” she said. “He seems to be a man of conscience and I think he’s going to look into the way our government does business and truly make it a democracy again.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.