by Jack Gilroy
Halfway through the twenty-year war waged by the U.S. against the people of the Middle East, I chaired the Peace and Justice Committee at St. James parish in Johnson City, New York. One of our goals was to address the silent response of most Christian clergy to the horror of our wars in the Middle East. At one meeting, our pastor was asked why he had never spoken out in opposition to the war in Iraq. He objected strongly and said he had. “Just a few weeks ago at Mass, I saw a young man, who was to deploy shortly to Iraq, and asked the whole congregation to pray for him.”
Our pastor, a canon law expert, had close contact with the Bishop of Syracuse, Robert Joseph Cunningham, and drove the one-hour plus trip to the chancery each week to attend to issues of marriage annulments. I asked him many times to arrange for our committee members to meet with the bishop to discuss the Hancock killer drone base located a short distance from the chancery. It took four years of requests, but the meeting was finally set. I asked two Syracuse men, who had often protested at Hancock, to join us. Bishop Cunningham was courteous and kind. We asked him what he thought of the assassination base at Hancock. He said, “You need to consider the fact that the base keeps American boots off the ground.” And then, “You do know that a lot of Catholics work there, don’t you?”
There is no evidence that Catholic clergy living near killer drone bases in the United States have ever spoken to their congregations about the evil of killing anyone. Yet, our killer drone targets are individuals who have not been charged with crimes, arrested, jailed nor had a court hearing. We do know from multiple sources, including killer drone operators, that few so-called terrorists have been killed by our Hellfire missiles or bombs via drones. We also know from multiple studies (such as the American Friends report and The Intercept) that those killed by U.S. drones were not people who were targeted — many of them were children killed by Lockheed Martin Hellfire missiles (made in Florida) or 500-pound Paveway bombs, made by Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
New York Times reporter Andrew Sullivan noted on October 7, 2001 that “the religious dimension of the conflict is central to its meaning.” Among Protestant leaders, Billy Graham, perhaps the most respected religious authority in the United States, and his son Franklin Graham, said in 2002 that George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq presented Christians with a great opportunity to convert the population of Iraq from the “wicked” religion of Islam.
On November 13, 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated in an official document:
Based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature. With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that the resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force.~USCCB Statement on Iraq, 2002
This lucid message may have made it to some congregations, but apparently most U.S. Catholic bishops did not take the statement home to oppose the use of military force to their flocks. Even the millions of people around the world shouting “Not In Our Name” on February 13, 2003 did not move most religious leaders — priests, pastors, and rabbis — to urge their people not to cooperate with war promoters.
U.S. religious institutions cannot take back their terrible misjudgment — their mysterious, consistent acceptance that war will bring peace. Unfortunately, U.S. religious leaders easily abdicate their claim of loving one another by accepting big lies and righteous declarations from corporate, political and military powers.
The world will always remember 9/11 as a day of treachery. The world and especially religious leaders in the U.S. must remember a day of even greater perfidy, 10/7. The horror of 3,000 people killed and two buildings destroyed on 9/11 is far outweighed by our vengeance that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern people killed, 9 million made refugees and countless villages, cities and buildings destroyed over the twenty years of our death dealing.
History lessons are so soon forgotten. In the 1930s, there was overwhelming silence from Catholic and Lutheran priests and pastors with no small number of religious leaders embracing fascism and war. A German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, admonished his people when he said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.”
In Austria, a mostly Catholic nation and home of Adolf Hitler, a farmer, Franz Jägerstätter, from the village of Radegund, refused to cooperate with military service and was not supported by his church. Franz said, “If the Church stays silent in face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were (sic) ever open again.” Both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franz Jägerstätter were killed for their beliefs.
Were religious leaders during our 20-year Afghan-Iraq war fearful of being executed by our government or simply living fearful of not being patriotic?
This October 7, 2021 presents an opportunity for American religious institutions. Christian ministers, priests, pastors and religious leaders could gather at their respective places of worship and admit their failure to speak out. 10/7/21 could be a day of atonement.