Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

When bishops said ‘yes’ to war, Ben Salmon said ‘no’

by James Dearie, National Catholic Reporter

Clad in oversized goggles, with grotesque face coverings under otherworldly gasmasks, soldiers in the trenches of the First World War seemed fully mechanized, fully dehumanized, in their attempt to survive the world’s first employment of chemical warfare on a large scale.  The industrial revolution, and the technology that it ushered in, had finally been turned from their original home in industry, to the art of war itself.

You can see the fear-inspiring uniforms the soldiers wore, along with life-size images of men in them, at the National World War I Memorial and Museum, just a few miles from NCR’s headquarters in Kansas City. In this year, the centennial anniversary of the war’s end, that old technology serves as a ghastly reminder of the ways in which warfare evolved in the 20th century. While World War I changed what war itself could be, it also began a change in how the church, both leadership and laity, thought about war, the United States, and Catholics’ role in both.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XV, who reigned from September of 1914 until his death in early 1922, pled the cause of peace, issuing an encyclical decrying war in November and calling for a Christmas truce in December. As the conflict raged on, he continued calling for an end to hostilities and even presented a plan to end the war, although his pronouncements were largely disregarded by the belligerents.

In the U.S., which stayed out of the European conflict until April of 1917, the bishops pledged the support of American Catholics for the war effort as soon as it was underway.

“Moved to the very depths of our hearts by the stirring appeal of the President of the United States, and by the action of our national Congress, we accept whole-heartedly and unreservedly the decree of that legislative authority proclaiming this country to be in a state of war,” the bishops wrote to President Woodrow Wilson after the declaration of war.

Although the U.S. reaction to the war undermined the papal position at the time, it was hardly unique. “French Catholics saw the war as a chance to unite France; German Catholics (persecuted by the state in the 19th century) participated wholeheartedly,” historian and former dean of the University of Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters John T. McGreevy told NCR.  “And the same was true for Italian, Belgian Catholics etc. This all made it challenging for the Vatican to manage tensions, especially when Benedict XV offered his own peace plan, and was then challenged by the peace plan offered by Woodrow Wilson.”

While many American Catholics shared their bishops’ sentiments and served in the war wholeheartedly, some did not.  One example was Denver resident Ben Salmon, who refused to go to Europe after being drafted in 1917. Despite the pronouncements of the leadership of his church, Salmon cited his religious convictions in a letter to the president, stating, “The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is unconditional and inexorable … When human law conflicts with Divine law, my duty is clear. Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the Army.”

At the time, it seemed that there may be “no space for someone like Ben Salmon in the Catholic Church,” Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International told NCR. “While in other traditions … there was an agreed upon root for a conscientious objector. That simply didn’t exist in the Catholic Church.”

The church had long relied on the Just War Theory to determine the morality of participation in such conflict, “which had been useful but didn’t stretch the thinking very much beyond that, which was very notable in the United States,” Dennis added…

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Nonviolence

My personal story as a Catholic conscientious objector

by Tony Magliano

As I was trying to discern what God wanted me to write about, I walked into my 16-year-old son’s bedroom to discover a military calendar hanging on the wall. It highlighted young men and women in combat fatigues, fighter jets, an aircraft carrier battle group and plenty of American flags.

I knew from personal experience and deep soul-searching that hidden behind this calendar of military glitter was centuries of death and destruction. And as I removed this calendar, I knew exactly what God wanted me to write on.

Many years ago as young man in my 20’s I found myself in the midst of U.S. military basic combat training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

While firing my M-16 weapon at life-like pop-up targets, it occurred to me the army was not training me to hit pop-up targets, but was training me to kill some poor guy like me in a far off country who got caught up in the propaganda of his own country’s war machine.

I came to realize this was all wrong. And I knew that in my desire to imitate the nonviolent Jesus, I could kill no one. …

Read the rest of this column online here.

Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 12 – Sharing the hardship of the Gospel

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Genesis 12:1-4a | 2 Timothy 1:8b-10 | Matthew 17:1-9

On 18 March, in Bolzano Cathedral, Italy, another ‘Blessed’ will be added to the community of women and men who have witnessed to Gospel nonviolence: Josef Mayr-Nusser, born in the  Austrian Tyrol in 1910. A family man, his faith was informed by the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, a movement in which he showed faithful service, and by his association with the Catholic Action movement. Following the accord between Hitler and Mussolini in 1939, he chose to stay in Italy, unable to associate with Hitler’s project which he deemed incompatible with the Gospel. He was conscripted into the SS in 1944 when South Tyrol came under Nazi control. Unable in conscience to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler, he was arrested, imprisoned and eventually sentenced to death for undermining military morale. He was transported to Dachau where he was to be shot, but with failing health and weakness, he died on 24 February in the cattle wagon transporting him to Dachau.

Almost fifty years earlier, these words were written on the walls of Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, England (used as a prison), by a conscientious objector of the First World War: “Then said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let  him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” The ‘crucifixion’ was a punishment given to some of these COs in the field in France. They were placed against posts with arms outstretched and wrists tied to cross beams. Here they would stay, in all forms of weather, for hours at a time. [Excerpted from The Way of the Cross: Reflections Drawn from the First World War Conscientious Objectors, a Pax Christi UK publication.]

Timothy’s letter today speaks of ‘sharing the hardship of the Gospel’. We can only hope, looking back at these brave people, that in their harsh sharing, in their witness to peace and Gospel nonviolence, they also experienced the strength that comes from God.

Pat Gaffney is General Secretary of the British section of Pax Christi.