Philip Berrigan

Philip
Berrigan
1923
2002

American Peace Activist, Christian Anarchist and Former Catholic Priest, on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives

Author Quotes

We see our marriage as a radical assertion of our faith. With God?s grace and the help of our friends, we hope to continue to live the Gospels? in poverty, in community, and in nonviolent resistance, convinced of the contribution of religious resistance to humankind.

When the Justice Department wants to take you down, said Hoffa, they wire your phone; they start rumors, hoping to get you killed; they threaten your friends and family, and they put a price on your head. And the media makes it look so sweet. All that good versus evil bullshit. Jimmy Hoffa didn?t read between the lines. He lived there. O.K., he said, maybe the Teamsters do have a few bone breakers, but the government uses the FBI to do its dirty work. Sure, the mafia does use hit men to make a point, and the CIA tortures, disappears, and assassinates people all over the world. Once you strip away the tinsel, said Hoffa, there?s not much difference between the cons doing time in Lewisburg, and the crooks doing crime out of the White House.

We talked about God?s law, which supersedes state and international statues. And we declared that all weapons, nuclear and conventional, reflect the spirit of murder, rather than of hope. ?Nuclear warfare,? Judge Salus replied, ?is not on trial here, you are.?

When Watts occurred, its sheer uproar and ruin was made to fit the myths and stereotypes of while

We talked about international treaties which prohibit nations from preparing for wars of mass destruction. We told the court that,

When we were tried and sentenced to prison, our children were in the courtroom. They listened to the prosecution, heard our testimony, and learned how the judicial system works.

We were convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and criminal mischief, and Judge Salus sentenced Daniel and me to serve 3?10 years in prison. Other defendants received shorter sentences. We weren?t surprised. Montgomery prosecutors pursued our case with great vigor, the judge was biased and incompetent, and the jury felt it had to follow Judge Salus?s instructions.

With periods of reflection, planning, acting, and evaluating, the assembled community sought to learn from Peter?s denial, and to confront our own. Perhaps in time, those who claim the name Christian will learn how to say ?NO!? to death and ?YES!? to life. Instead of the other way around.

We were familiar with, and had no illusions about, the judicial system. We weren?t expecting to find justice in Judge Salus?s courtroom. The judge perched on his throne, his black robe swollen with importance. And why not? He understood the game being played out in that room. He was sworn to protect the empire, regardless of what his masters might be doing, or planning to do, to all of creation. He was sworn to crush the weak on behalf of the powerful. He was there not to arbitrate justice, but to perpetuate violence.

Years before coming to New Orleans, I had passed by Georgia sharecroppers, standing quiet as horses in their humble yards. I was training to be a soldier in the United States Army, and would soon be sailing for the killing fields in Europe, so I tucked those sharecroppers? faces and plight into some mental file drawer. I had always assumed that the Emancipation Proclamation put an end to slavery; I always thought there were laws against buying and selling human beings, state and federal laws, God?s laws. According to the law, the people in those Georgia shacks, and the poor people in my New Orleans parish, were free to move into the future. Yet violence and discrimination chained them to the past. Jim Crow, their zealous and sadistic overseer, whipped them every day. Economic Servitude, their sweet-talking master, grinned and tightened their shackles.

We were not tear-gassed, clubbed, or arrested. Nevertheless, we crossed more than a symbolic line that day. We stepped out of rhetoric, into the reality of action, and the realm of consequence.

Yet it is impossible, we maintain, to measure results stemming from integrity. We act because working in a nonviolent way for justice and peace is right, proper, essential. Moreover, our actions do make a difference in people?s lives.

We were talking about revolution. Not with guns. Nor would we imprison the people who had imprisoned us. We didn?t want to kill the people who were orchestrating the massacre in Vietnam. Christ said we ought to ?Turn the other cheek,? not retaliate when someone hurts us. He told us we must learn to love, not try to kill our enemies. We wanted the church to come out of its government-supported, state-sanctioned coma. To get off the rhetorical Pentagon dole.

We work at hope, together, as a community. Without community, resistance is impossible. We gather from our community hope, strength, commitment, and the courage to continue.

Were we to live our lives again, we would do very little differently.

We must protect them nonviolently from abuse or destruction?that much is clear. We must interpose ourselves between the unjust aggressor and the victim, according to the Gospel, or nonviolent philosophy, or international law. Short of doing this, justice is lacking, love is an illusion, and human reconciliation is impossible.

What might Reverend King say if he could visit our country?s death cages, crowded with African-Americans waiting to die? If he could walk our inner-city streets again and see the legacy of crack cocaine, the gangs, and hopeless poverty? I imagine him weeping, his tears drowned out by sirens and the sound of automatic gunfire, his message of love and reconciliation smothered by fascist ideologues. Black mayors. Black Congressmen. Black police chiefs. Black generals. Black rock stars. Black film stars. Black sports stars. Some commentators argue that the glass is half empty, others that it is half full. The analogy hardly matters. We lurch toward the year 2000, dragging our bloody chains, our crimes, behind us. Millions of African-Americans are still living in poverty, captive to the ?tricks? of institutional racism, police brutality, white fear, and capitalist manipulation.

We never intended to cause pain. We met, we talked, and in time we grew to love one another. We conspired to injure no one; were resolved moreover to devote our lives to ending the genocide in Vietnam.

What the journalist is blindly and painfully attempting to discuss with Debris and Menras is freedom. Which is to say, the respective states of their souls. In another setting, where the use of abstraction eliminates threat to one?s mode of living, he might admit that truth frees one. But his life? bought, sold, imprisoned??prevents him from seeing the freedom of the two Frenchmen, freedom won because they did what they ought to have done. (Or the best version that occurred to them). The journalist was a commodity and that prevented him from seeing anything else than buying and selling. And so, he could only utter a frightened snarl: ?You were paid!?

We of the Jonah House community prayed for peace, and were jailed repeatedly for acts of divine disobedience. Our witness reflected the gospel?s vision of human life. The state?s laws protected atomic missiles, but the state is not God. The state would continue to build and deploy first-strike weapons. And people who resisted the government?s madness would be arrested, tried, imprisoned.

When friends went to prison, we would care for their children. When they left jail, we would welcome them home. If someone was upset or depressed, we would listen to their problems, give them a hug, let them know that we loved them. We tried to be a loving family, committed to the spirit and the reality of nonviolent resistance.

We possess the utmost confidence that you can judge us fairly and impartially; that you can distinguish between conspiracy and acts of conscience; between plotting and responsible discussion? discussion allowed by the Constitution which we judge a grave moral and political duty; between government war making and our peacemaking. We have the fullest confidence, I assure you, that you can distinguish between these two realities?that we have never conspired to bomb or kidnap anyone; while the government has conspired to bomb and kidnap. In fact, it has bombed and kidnapped?bombed Indochina until, as one of our pilots said, ?It looks like a lunar landscape?; kidnapped millions of Indochinese by the simple expedient of bombing them out, to forcibly relocate the survivors in refugee camps. It has virtually kidnapped millions of young Americans through its Selective Service Act?a certainly immoral and possibly illegal piece of legislation?coercing them to kill and possibly to be killed.

When he was calling for obligatory military service, Cardinal Spellman declared that ?individuals cannot refuse their obedience to the state.? The Catonsville Nine turned that statement upside down by arguing that when a government is committing genocide, citizens have not only a right, but an obligation to disobey the state. We also tried to tell the court that the Declaration of Independence is an expression of the gospels, which forbid us from waging war on anyone.

We pour our blood at G.E. in order to proclaim the sin of mass destruction. In the words of my brother Daniel, we are confronting the ?spiritually insane.? Confronting not with mere words, but through symbols. Our blood confronts the irrational, makes megadeath concrete, summons the warmakers to their senses.

When I studied in the seminary, priests were mass-produced to be silent, to be conformists, and to be patrons of the government. We weren?t allowed to read the whole range of political thought, and its applicability to the marketplace. Like most of our counterparts in colleges, universities, public schools, and seminaries, we were taught to believe in the capitalist system, never questioning how a system that poisons the environment imprisons and executes the poor, and thrives on war, could be compatible with the teachings of Christ.

Author Picture
First Name
Philip
Last Name
Berrigan
Birth Date
1923
Death Date
2002
Bio

American Peace Activist, Christian Anarchist and Former Catholic Priest, on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives