Issue Date: December 8, 2006
Nuns' food drive rebuffed
By DENNIS CODAY
Three Dominican nuns told a judge they couldnt comply with his order to pay the Air Force for missile silo equipment they damaged in a protest four years ago because such restitution would violate their vows of nonviolence.
The judge had already rejected their offer to perform thousands of hours of community service or raise thousands of dollars for charity in lieu of the $3,082 they owed for damaged equipment. U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn said restitution had to be paid directly to the Air Force.
So last month, Dominican Srs. Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson, made another offer: They would collect $3,082 worth of canned goods and give the food to Air Force families.
The nuns had learned that families of many Air Force personnel, especially enlisted men and women, receive food stamps and other public assistance. Over two weeks in November, the nuns collected enough canned food and dry goods to fill two pickup trucks.
Platte, Gilbert and Hudson made arrangements to deliver the food to Buckley Air Force Base, near Denver, Colo., on Nov. 28, but they were turned back. Supporters of the three women said Air Force officials had initially agreed to accept the donation, but once the nuns and food reached the base, it was rejected. Base officials said the base already had more than enough donated food and couldnt handle anymore, according to the supporters of the Dominicans.
We had lots of infant formula, peanut butter, soup, food that kids need, Gilbert said. We know the enlisted parents who are offering their lives to the nation we live in have to work for substandard wages, but we werent trying to embarrass the Air Force.
The sisters opted to donate the food to the Denver Rescue Mission and insisted they were not disappointed by the rebuff. The food will go to hungry people, and we know the shelters are filled with veterans, Gilbert said.
The three women were convicted of obstructing national defense and damaging government property during a protest rally in 2002 when they cut through a fence at a silo northeast of Denver that contained a missile. They have each served between 30 and 41 months in federal prison for the action.
In early November, the nuns had asked supporters to send food donations in their names to the U.S. Attorneys office in Denver. Platte, Gilbert and Hudson tried to make an initial installment of canned goods Nov. 16, but the deputy U.S. attorney who prosecuted them, Robert Brown, told them to take it four blocks down to the Catholic mission and that only cash will be accepted for restitution.
A written statement from the U.S. attorneys office in Denver said, Donating food to help military families and others in need is a tremendously thoughtful act. We encourage people who are interested in making such donations to go directly to an assistance agency or to a military facility.
Blackburn has yet to rule on whether or not donating food to military personnel meets the direct restitution order.
The judge has said that if the three women do not make restitution, they will go back to prison.
Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Patrick ONeill contributed to this story.
National Catholic Reporter, December 8, 2006
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