LILLIAN ROXON, writing from New York, describes one of the most disturbing and yet one of the most exhilarating phenomena of modern Catholic social thought in the Western world '
'THE Catholic religion was as prone as any other to see some wars as "just." And for years the Vietnam War posed no great spiritual problem to the bulk of American Catholics. But now a grass roots group of pacifists is urging fellow religionists to join them in the anti-war movement and many Catholics are answering the call. With priests tooled up with burglary 'kit and intent on burning draft records "the call" has grown to embrace all man's inhumanity to man. Socially-conscious Catholicism in the United States goes back to 1933 and the founding of the Catholic Worker by the now 73-yearold Dorothy Day; but a social-conscience does not necessarily go hand in hand with a desire to upturn the Church.
Something new was started in Baltimore in 1967 with Father Philip Berrigan. Si.. pouring duck's blood over draft records. How is it going to end? With FBI agents moving in on priests and women carrying burglary tools, as happened recently? Or with an end not just to the Vietnam War but to all of man's inhumanity to man?
To say that these and other questions have been tormenting American Catholics for some time now is to put it mildly. Now with not one but two major arrests of what are clearly predominantly Catholic anti-war activist groups. the soul searching has become an overwhelming obsession with them.
What for instance can be more easily condoned in the conscience of a decent and religious man or woman— the deaths of literally thousands of other human beings or the theft of records from draft-board offices?
One man who is trying to help the American Catholic make up his mind is Gordon Zahn, author of many works on Catholicism and professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts who the other week in the distinguished periodical. the Saturday Review argued that there is nothing new about Catholic anti-war resistance.
Not only, Zahn points out, were there Catholics conscientiously opposed to killing hack in World Wars One and Two, where such a stand had considerably less popular support than it does now, but the whole basis of early Christian doctrine was pacifist until it became politically necessary to deem some wars "holy" and "just" so that God-fearing men could be persuaded to take up arms against their brothers.
Since then there has been a tradition not just among Catholics but among most religious groups of unquestioning and enthusiastic support for any war their country has chosen to fight.
What few Catholics realise —and this is why Zahn and others have found it neces sary to focus attention On it —is that along with this seeming conservatism a new kind of Catholic is emerging, questioning, rebellious, impatient. humanist and willing to give up almost anything to work for his fellow man.
The spirit that surfaced only recently in the United States with the public emergence of the Berrigan brothers has been there for a long time.
In many ways it is best embodied by Dorothy Day, founder and co-editor of the Catholic Worker since it began in 1933. It was Miss Day who brought to America the socially conscious Catholicism that was already strong in France but at that time unthinkable in the US.
Her feelings were that the Church should concern itself more closely with the problems of ordinary men and women adjusting to a politically and economically complex society. "There were never any committees around the Catholic Worker" a colleague of hers recalled. "We just went out and did things. We didn't get up big name letterheads to raise funds for strikers. We went out on the picket lines ourselves."
This in 1933 at the bottom year of the Depression was an inspiring attitude. Catholic worker groups sprang up all over the place and there was hardly a student in a theological seminary that was not affected by Miss Day's idealism and selflessness.
As one Catholic educator was to write: "It was a Christian revolution she was starting. She was opening the minds of bishops, priests, seminarians and lay people to the fact that Christianity was not a stuffy sacristy affair. She was a trumpet calling for all of us to find Christ in the bread lines, the jails, as a tenant farmer. migratory worker or Negro. We think of church history as being made by Popes and bishops. Here is a woman who has placed her stamp on American Catholicism. The seed she sowed in the thirties is bearing fruit a hundred-fold today."
The author, Father Dennis Geaney, wrote that in the Fifties. He could not know then just how much more fruit those seeds would go on to bear 20 years later. 14e could not know that as Dwight McDonald wrote recently the loneliness and eccentricity of Miss Day and her followers in the martial Forties would become the norm for the direct-action Sixties: that their long dogged insistence on practising what other Christians preached has been a major factor in radicalising American Catholics.
Today it is easy to see the fine hand of Miss Day, a nonviolent militant, in the systematic destruction of draft records which Catholic groups have been carrying out now with growing frequency. The Milwaukee 14 who in 1968 incinerated 10,000 draft files with home-made napalm were mostly Catholic priests, scholars and laymen. Their sabotage technique consists of violence restricted to inanimate objects.
Miss Day now an active 73 is completely conservative in church matters, and though it is probably because of her that 350 sisters in Los Angeles chose to leave the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent last year and form their own secular community, Miss Day was not in total sympathy with their demands, e.g., no more habits and the right to marry. (Defending clerical celibacy she points out that she sees nuns and monks as specialists in the other world who should set themselves apart from MI'S on('.) Significantly Philip Berrigan is also a traditionalist and it is an important facet of the "new" Catholic that a social conscience does not 17CCTSsarity go hand in hand with a desire to change every other aspect of the Church. Daniel Berrigan is something else. His impatience with traditional parish services bothered Miss Day but then it is on record that he in turn is bothered by some of the more "swinging" services. which serves further to underline the fact that it is not in this area that the new Cath
olics are concentrating their rebellion.
On top of all this Dorothy Day has emphasised from the beginning, and this is probably more typical than one might think, that she is a Catholic first and a radical second. So far, amazingly, the two have not conflicted. The Church has never asked her to stop what she was doing. If it did, she says, she would. But. as she told an interviewer recently, there are ways of getting around a Cardinal.
Once you have been exposed to Dorothy Day, the current activities of the Catholic anti-war resistance are a lot easier to understand. There have been 47 "actions" since the duck's blood incident in Baltimore and the Justice Department now has its own Catholic Resistance expert, Guy Goodwin.
Miss Day's reaction to the raids is somewhat ambivalent. True, the violence is only against inanimate objects now, but what next?
Bombs are not as easy to control, she says, disturbed at the idea that bombs might indeed be the next logical step. Nevertheless she did go to Baltimore in 1967 to publicly support the Berrigans, to express her sympathy for their act of "peaceful sabotage" saying: "Only actions such as these will force the church
• to speak out when the state has 'become a murderer. But we must restrict our violence to property ... We must hang on to our pacifism . . ."
The pacifism she is talking about is Gandhi's, Martin Luther King's, Pope John XXI1I's. If anything makes the Catholic peace movement vulnerable it is the internal disagreement as to where this pacifism begins and ends. When does moral violence become as had as physical violence? Is there any time when it isn't wrong to do nothing?
What, asks the new Catholic, in no little pain, can he think about a Church whose bishops" have not spoken out against the atrocities at My Lai'? Doesn't that silence make them and him accomplices to murder?
In his Saturday Review piece titled interestingly enough "The Great Catholic Upheaval" Professor Zahn comments that theoretically a citizen's arrest of Dr. Henry Kissinger had much to commend it. "That gentleman is a perfect example of the 'sane ones' described by (the late Thomas) Merton as men who will have 'perfectly good reasons, logical well adjusted reasons' for giving or obeying the orders to press the button that could bring human history to its end."
But whatever else happens, says Professor Zahn, one corner has been turned : the Catholic opposition to the war has gone beyond Vietnam to a general rejection of war and violence as a means to solve any problem, personal. national and international.