Blessed are the Peacemakers - Ron Jacobs
pieinsky at igc.org
Sat Dec 7 13:51:24 MST 2002
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Philip Berrigan died yesterday. As a young person growing up in the
Catholic faith during the 1960s and 1970s, this man, his brother and those
like them were all that convinced me to give the Church a try. In the
long run, their inspiration was not enough to keep me in the fold, but
their moral sense guides me to this day. Philips consistency of moral
conviction and his willingness to put his freedom on the line showed me
(and many others) who saw the contradictions between the teachings
of Jesus and the practice of the Catholic hierarchy that even the Church
was subject to well-deserved criticism. Nowadays, this is not much of a
revelation, especially in light of the sex abuse scandal rocking the
American church. In 1967, it was a revelation of a very high order, what
with Cardinal OConnor blessing the mass murder in Vietnam and parish
priests blasting the rebel theologians who dared to see Jesus as a
revolutionary figure who would have challenged the Vatican if he was
I remember reading the Washington Post the day after the two
brothers and seven of their friends poured blood and napalm on the draft
board files in Catonsville, Md. My father was appalled. A military
officer and a conscientious Catholic, this act must have torn at his soul.
He was getting ready to go to Vietnam that year. Im pretty certain that
he had asked for, and received, some counsel from our parish priests and
perhaps a military chaplain or two. From what I remember of the parish
priests, chances are he was told that he must do as he was commanded. As
for the military chaplains, well, I never understood how they could be in
the military and in the priesthood at the same time. If Jesus was the
Prince of Peace, then how the hell could they be encouraging men to go to
war. There was a song that came out around that time by Eric Burdon and
the Animals called "Sky Pilot." This song pointed out that very
As for my reaction to the Catonsville action. Lets say I was
intrigued. The boldness of it proved to me that these men and women were
not wimps. After all, it required a certain amount of gall to remove
files from their storage place and destroy them in front of the whole
world. You knew you were facing some serious federal charges. In
addition, it was nonviolent. Nobody was hurt and some information that
was important to the governments war machine had been destroyed. If only
this could be done throughout the countrymaybe the entire Selective
Service system would collapse.
As I became more politically involved, I understood the
limitations of these types of acts. Moral witness had its purpose. It
stirred the moral conscience of those citizens who had a conscience.
Hopefully, it stirred these folks to take some kind of action of their
own. The downside to these types of acts is that the masters of war have
no conscience. Symbolic acts of conscience do nothing to change their
minds. This doesnt mean they do not have a purpose in any movement for
social justice. It only means they have their limitations.
As it turned out, Philip Berrigan left the priesthood. Perhaps he
too found the Catholic religion unable to support his moral convictions.
In the long run, his departure from the Church made little difference to
his public life. He continued fighting against war and the structure that
it feeds until the end.
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