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Dominicans nuns face federal charges


Three Dominican nuns face up to 30 years in federal prison stemming from an Oct. 6 protest at a Colorado missile silo. Calling themselves “The Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II,” Srs. Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte cut through fences at missile silo site N-8 near Greeley Colo. (NCR, Oct. 25) and, using handheld hammers, pounded on the silo to symbolize the act of beating “swords into plowshares,” a reference to Isaiah 2:4.

The women are being held in the Clear Creek County Jail facing two federal charges: injury, interference or obstruction of the national defense of the United States, which carries up to 20 years imprisonment and up to a $250,000 fine, and injury of property of the United States, with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, and up to a $250,000 fine. A trial is set for Dec. 16.

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver, said the total damage done was more than $1,000, which qualifies the charges as felonies. Dorschner said the office agreed to allow the three nuns to be released on their own recognizance, but they refused.

“The bond requires them not to participate in further demonstrations, and they could not promise to do that as a matter of conscience,” said Liz McAlister, who, along with her husband, Philip Berrigan, resides at the Jonah House Community in Baltimore, where Platte, 66, and Gilbert, 54, also reside. Hudson, 67, lives at the Ground Zero Community near Seattle, Wash.

The women refused a court-appointed attorney, saying they would jointly undertake their own defense, although they reserved the right to find a pro-bono attorney who would offer legal assistance.

Berrigan, himself a veteran of many Plowshares protests, said the action by the three nuns “couldn’t come at a better time” as the United States readies itself for war with Iraq.

A critic of the peace movement’s limited use of nonviolent direct action to resist war, Berrigan said the movement “has been traumatized” by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

During last week’s antiwar demonstrations in Washington, “the law was kept impeccably,” Berrigan said, “which is to say that the whole rotten mess is legalized, and people are not risking that much for truth and sanity and decency and the law of God.”

“Very definitely there’s a price to pay” for war resistance, Berrigan said, “and virtually nobody wants to pay it. But these three brave Catholic nuns are willing to pay it. ... The health of least two of them is not that robust, so they’re taking enormous risks.”

Patrick O’Neill is a freelance writer who lives in Raleigh, N.C.

National Catholic Reporter, November 08, 2002