February 26, 2009
The Rev. Luis Barrios, an Episcopal priest canonically resident in the Diocese of New York, was sentenced to serve two months in a federal prison after he and five others were found guilty in January of entering the Fort Benning military base in Georgia as part of a protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. He is scheduled to begin serving his sentence on March 9.
Fr. Barrios and others opponents claim that graduates of the institute, formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas, “have been implicated in some of the worst human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere.” They want the government to order the school closed permanently.
“I will not try to escape the consequences of my actions,” said Fr. Barrios in a statement he submitted to the court as part of his sentencing. “This would do nothing but diminish the validity inherent in these actions of civil disobedience,”
Fr. Barrios is associate priest at St. Mary’s Church, New York City and chairman of the Latin American studies department at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He received written assurance earlier this month from the Rt. Rev. Mark S. Sisk, Bishop of New York, that his federal conviction would not be considered conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.
“Though I may disagree with elements of your actions, I consider those actions to be a living out of your vows as a priest rather than a violation of them,” Bishop Sisk said.
In an open letter to supporters after his conviction, Fr. Barrios said that the ultimate goal of his social activism is “being able to organize the religiosity of the people, so they can reach their liberation.” He said it is his “duty to our Goddess to build a better world.”
This is not the first time that Fr. Barrios’ activism has drawn the attention of the diocese. In 1993, he was suspended as priest-in-charge of St. Anne’s in the South Bronx because of several instances of “vocational immaturity,” according to the New York Times. Last June the New York Daily News claimed Fr. Barrios had initiated more than 300 children into the Latin Kings street gang. An investigation by Bishop Sisk determined the allegation to be false. The Living Church