During the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Nov. 11-14 General Assembly in Baltimore, two bishops took time to share a simple supper – soup and bread – and dialogue with about 20 Catholic social justice and peace activists, including myself.
On the evening of Nov. 12, several blocks away from the Waterfront Marriott Hotel, where the bishops were meeting, Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis and Bishop John Michael Botean head of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy (diocese) of St. George in Canton, Ohio sat down with us to dialogue about war making, peacemaking, poverty and military chaplains in light of the teachings of the compassionate, nonviolent Jesus.
In the basement of historic St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Martha Hennessy, a granddaughter of Dorothy Day said, “Based on my understanding of my grandmother’s life, I would conclude that priests should not serve in the military, as one cannot serve Christ and the chain of command at the same time. Part of a chaplain’s job is to make soldiers feel OK about doing their job, which is to kill, which Christ said we can’t do.”
And Hennessy added that Dorothy Day would not have approved of the earlier bishops’ dinner hosted by the Archdiocese for the Military Services – with military recruiters lobbying the bishops to send more chaplains.
She thought her grandmother would have said the bishops are being complicit with the permanent war economy.
Bishop Botean, who during the Iraq war courageously and prophetically wrote that the war was “objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin,” said unfortunately the culture has more of an influence on the church than the Gospel.
He added, “It takes a lot of vision to see the simple message of Jesus in the Gospel.”
He said, “Our ‘yes’ to the Gospel has gotten weaker because other interests have made their way into church thinking, causing a fog around the Gospel. Since Christianity’s legalization by the Roman emperor Constantine, church and state are largely seen as one.” And sadly, the church has been defending empires ever since – “accepting homicidal violence.”
Bishop Botean said, “We need your prayers and witness, if the people lead, the leaders will follow.”
Archbishop Tobin shared an inspiring story told by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu during a speech in Indianapolis.
He said when the Dutch came to South Africa, they had bibles and we had the land. They asked us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the bibles.
But that was their big mistake, to give oppressed people the word of God. Because the word of God teaches that we have God-given worth and dignity, and that God desires our liberation from all that oppresses us.
Archbishop Tobin said the most powerful word spoken to injustice is “No!”
We asked Archbishop Tobin and Bishop Botean why the bishops during their annual meetings were not praying and dialoging about how faithful or unfaithful of a witness they were giving – in light of our highly militaristic and unjust economy – to the nonviolent Jesus who always sided with the poor and oppressed.
They said that they weren’t sure. And that they weren’t sure how to encourage this radical dialogue to happen. But they said they would try.
Words of hope from two humble bishops earnestly striving to challenge America’s war machine and system of economic injustice.
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column.