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Pastoral stirs protest


Debate over the church’s teaching on war intensified during the final days of 2001 as Catholics in two cities protested the U.S. bishops’ pastoral “Living with Faith and Hope After September 11.” Although the pastoral places qualifications on military action, it acknowledges “the right and duty of a nation ... to use military force” and is widely perceived as an endorsement of the U.S. war on Afghanistan.

Protesters called on the church to revoke its qualified support of the war and to repent for its reliance on the just war theory.

Whether the church should strive to limit the violence of war or reject it outright as antithetical to Christ’s teaching on love of enemies is the central question propelling this Catholic debate -- a perennial debate that has taken on new urgency because of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan.

“We want to make a statement to our cardinal that we are disheartened by the bishops’ vote, which he led, which accepted the legitimate use of force in Afghanistan, even though they said, ‘with regret.’ We are asking the cardinal to revoke that decision and that vote and to say this is unconscionable -- the continued bombing -- at this scale and level,” said Suzanne Belote Shanley. She said the protesters represented a “legitimate,” pacifist point of view in the church.

Shanley, along with approximately 50 anti-war demonstrators, held a silent vigil outside Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Dec. 30, the Feast of the Holy Family, according to reports from the Boston Herald.

Several of the activists confronted Cardinal Bernard F. Law while going through a receiving line following the 11 a.m. Mass. They urged him to embrace a consistent ethic of life by renouncing all killing and opposing the U.S. war in Afghanistan, said Shanley.

As chairman of the bishops’ International Policy Committee, Law initiated the pastoral response to the attacks on Sept. 11. Its primary authors, however, were seven members of a subcommittee, co-chaired by Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon. It included three bishops and retired ambassador Anthony Quainton of the Center for National Policy.

Describing the pastoral as “a teaching document” intended to “set forth principles to guide Catholics,” Glendon defended the statement’s reliance on the just war theory. It “is a body of thinking about the use of force in response to historical circumstances,” she said in a Jan. 9 interview. “I believe we are in a historically unprecedented situation, however people come out on the morality of the U.S. response. Just war theory doesn’t give an unambiguous answer. Terrorism poses a new question.”

Pax Christi Massachusetts and Agape, a lay Catholic community in Hardwick, Mass., sponsored the witness at the cathedral. Shanley and her husband, Brayton, are co-founders of the community, which advocates nonviolence and simple living.

As parishioners made their way into church, protesters standing outside held a sign that carried the words “Would Jesus bless the bombing of the Holy Families of Afghanistan?” They distributed copies of the “Catholic Call to Peacemaking,” a letter -- signed by 1,200 people -- urging the church to “embrace the sacred tradition of nonviolence.” According to Shanley, copies of the letter have been sent to every U.S. bishop.

“The receiving line conversation was our first private face-to-face conversation with the cardinal,” said Shanley. “He responded by giving us a mini-lecture and told us we should read the catechism.”

The tone of the demonstration, however, was not adversarial. The cardinal acknowledged the demonstrators in his homily, and cathedral staff invited them in for coffee before Mass. Shanley stressed that Agape’s campaign to push the church to adopt a more pacifist position includes “dialogue with the cardinal.”

The event, covered by local media, prompted an informal news conference with Law who, as quoted in The Boston Globe, reiterated the claim that a nonviolent response to Sept. 11 was not the position of the church. “I agree with [the demonstrators] in their hopes for peace, but the church believes that in a very imperfect world, sometimes it’s justifiable to take up arms, and the bishops of the United States, in an overwhelming way, have indicated that in this particular struggle against terrorism, we were justified in doing that. There are those in the church who believe that they must conscientiously object to all war at any time. I respect people who have that position, but I would have to say that that is not the position of the church.”

Members of Pax Christi Rochester, N.Y., and St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality Catholic Worker there want the church to repent for its continued reliance on the just war position. On Dec. 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, approximately 22 people demonstrated outside the Pastoral Center for the diocese of Rochester.

“We gather at the diocesan office to call for repentance for the church’s use of the just war theory and for the support lent by the U.S. Catholic bishops to the current ‘War on Terrorism,’ ” they wrote in a letter addressed to Rochester Bishop Matthew Clark. “As Catholics and as citizens of the United States, we must admit that we are complicit in this evil, and we ask for forgiveness for ourselves and for our church.”

Like the Boston protest, the event was organized “largely in response to the bishops’ statement,” said Harry Murray, professor of sociology at Nazareth College of Rochester. The demonstration included a prayer service, biblical readings on the Feast of the Holy Innocents and a “die-in,” he said. Four participants, feigning death, lay beneath the flagpole located on the lawn of the Pastoral Center. “Their bodies were outlined in red paint,” and a litany accompanied the dramatization.

Because Murray could not identify the Afghan dead by name, he said, he listed the date, place and number of people killed for each bombing event and asked for a response of “Lord have mercy.” Five members of the group, four of whom are recipients of Consistent Life Ethic Vita Award, entered the Pastoral Center and asked to meet with the bishop. The award is given annually to Catholics “who exemplify a striving for a consistent life ethic in everyday life,” according to Jann Armantrout, Life Issues coordinator for the diocese.

Clark met briefly with Murray and Mark Scibilia-Carver and read the letters they gave him. His comments to the protesters, as summarized by diocesan spokesman Michael Tedesco, were “general. The bishop was very happy to receive them and said that he had a great deal of respect for people who are so committed to their beliefs.”

The bishops’ pastoral on terrorism was subjected to 119 amendments from 33 bishops. About half of the amendments were rejected, according to Jerry Powers, director of the Office of Social Development and World Peace for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those accepted “dealt with stylistic concerns” rather than major changes, Powers said. The document remained virtually the same as when the conference received it, he said, “which suggests that the bishops liked what they were presented with.”

But Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy of the Eastern Rite Catholic church in Boston described the statement as something “Jesus never would have published under any circumstances.”

Paraphrasing Matthew 28, McCarthy, who participated in the demonstration outside the Boston cathedral, said the church’s primary commission is “to teach what Jesus taught.” When it errs in that task, “it is the responsibility of other [Catholics] to raise” awareness. “Silence gives consent,” he noted. The demonstration on Dec. 30 was an attempt to point out to the bishops their divergence from the teachings of Christ, he said.

For Sr. Marie Dugas, standing outside Boston’s cathedral on a freezing morning in December was one way to fulfill the mission of the Sisters of St. Anne. “Our [order’s] aim,” said the 81-year-old nun, “is to set life free in any way we can. Witnessing that way to peace is one way of setting life free in some people. If they are frightened or ambivalent about the war, a witness like this could give them courage.”

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy is a freelance writer living in Worcester, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, January 18, 2002