I am not in possession of my registration card or of a classification card. I burned them years ago.
Please send me duplicates.
Thomas C. Cornell (1)
When Tom Cornell informed his draft board that he lacked a draft card, he did so not out of a sense of civic duty or because he desired to follow the letter of the law. Cornell wrote draft officials for new documents because he found himself in a dilemma in October 1965. A leader in the Catholic Peace Fellowship, a fledgling protest organization with roots in the Catholic Worker Movement, Cornell spent the Fall of 1965 organizing fellow American Catholic activists to bum their draft cards at an upcoming public rally. All of a sudden, though, he faced the embarrassing scenario of showing up at the rally without any documents to burn. So Cornell wrote his draft board in hopes that they might kindly send him "duplicates," and in the process enable him to destroy them in a ceremony he believed would convey his religious and civic objections to the draft and the war in Vietnam.
Tom Cornell was one of a small, but growing number of American Catholics opposed to the developing war in Vietnam in the mid- 1960s. The organization with which he affiliated, the Catholic Peace Fellowship (CPF), emerged as an important locus of Catholic antiwar activism in 1964 and remained central to Catholic protest of the Vietnam War and to post-Vietnam antiwar activities throughout the 1970s, This essay explores the CPF in the 1960s and 1970s and the impact that CPF members (CPFers) and Catholic protesters in general had on relationships within the American Catholic Church and on the larger antiwar movement. While the CPF never enjoyed mainstream status among American Catholics--indeed, most Catholics maintained their support for the Vietnam War for most of the decade--the activities of the CPF constituted one way American Catholics responded to the Vietnam War and reflected deeper changes in their attitudes and relationships in the American Catholic Church. (2)
The rise of the CPF corresponded to significant changes in the Roman Catholic Church, and CPF protest in many ways stands as a measure of how Catholic lay people interpreted and adapted to those changes. The activism of the laypeople that dominated the CPF reflected a new confidence among some American Catholics following the Second Vatican Council, which met in Rome between 1962 and 1965. As this essay will demonstrate, the Council conferred greater authority on Catholic laypeople, an authority CPFers interpreted as a mandate to work for social justice in the public arena. Despite a tradition of deferring to 'legitimate authority', Catholic lay people during the Vietnam War took the lead on issues of social justice, exercising a degree of religious authority not seen in American Catholic life prior to the Vietnam War. The confidence with which CPFers publicly opposed the war and employed theological arguments against American military intervention in Vietnam marked them as players on a public stage once rese rved for Catholic clergymen. By the 1980s, the American Catholic clergy would once again dominate that stage, but for a brief time in the 1960s and early 1970s, Catholic laypeople took the lead on issues of social justice and peace. While the CPF did not singlehandedly transform the dynamics within the American Catholic Church, Catholic protest of the Vietnam War contributed to greater dialogue between the American Catholic laity and the American Catholic hierarchy and helped amplify the voices of Catholic laypeople in public debates about both political and religious issues.
Beyond its impact on American Catholic life, the CPF also warrants historical examination for the ways it can help broaden understanding of the movement against the Vietnam War. The CPF was a religiously-grounded organization with members that ranged from college students to nuns. Contrary to much movement scholarship, which spotlights student-led groups, protest against the Vietnam War was neither a generational phenomenon nor a wholly political undertaking. Heeding Andrew Hunt's call for movement scholarship that moves beyond the scope of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), this essay points to ways that Catholic antiwar protest during the 1960s contributed to the larger antiwar movement. (3) Although it by no means received the notoriety of other antiwar organizations, CPFers injected an important religious component into the antiwar coalition-a religious component that in many ways placed the organization well ahead of and at times in conflict with the American Catholic hierarchy. The CPF offered the public a uniquely Catholic critique of the Vietnam War which influenced the direction of antiwar protest during the Vietnam War and contributed to, for better or for worse, movement diversity.
While the CPF remains a relatively minor organization in the pantheon of sixties protest groups, its history can help broaden understanding both of American Catholicism and the complex era known as the "sixties" and perhaps contribute to a more diverse vision of the era's protest. In many ways Catholic historiography and sixties historiography suffer from similar shortcomings. Both Catholic and sixties scholars tend to discuss their topics in simultaneously overly-narrow and overly-broad dimensions. Both focus disproportionately on leadership which, in the case of Catholic historiography, results in clerical history, and, in the case of sixties historiography, privileges elite political intellectuals and radicals, as well as the visibly eccentric. Yet at the same time, both sets of scholars assume broad definitions of their constituencies. Few Catholic historians delve into how lay Catholics interpreted their own Catholic identity and too many sixties scholars define 'activist' simply as someone who "question ed the status quo." (4) Yet, as this essay demonstrates, antiwar protest was incredibly diverse and that diversity was not simply a product of the issues one chose to engage, but was the result of one's identity. Narrowly focusing on leaders ignores the ways that protesting impacted the lives of people who didn't wield the bullhorns, and focusing generally on the "movement" or "activists" ignores the fundamental differences in the value systems of the people that protested.
This essay highlights movement diversity by examining the ways that protesting informed and was informed by religious belief. Catholics who protested the war did so in ways and for reasons that often differed from their non-Catholic counterparts. Examining CPF protest suggests how central religion was to some antiwar protest. At the same time, Catholics seriously disagreed among themselves not just about the moral legitimacy of the war, but about what it truly meant to be Catholic. Catholic antiwar protest served as a stage for conducting this religious debate. Most importantly, however, the history of the CPF illuminates the ways that the experience of protesting transformed Catholic lay people and their church. The CPF was an organization comprised primarily of lay people, and their activities during the Vietnam War changed not only the organization's members, but traditional relationships between parishioners and pastors, as well as lay people and bishops. While historians wrangle over the efficacy of anti war protest, in the end its impact transcended the war and the 1960s. Catholic protest is less important for its impact on the war than for its impact on the American Catholic Church.
The Catholic Peace Fellowship and the Lay Apostolate
Founded in 1964 by Catholics close to the Catholic Worker Movement and to Thomas Merton, the well-known Cistercian monk, the CPF quickly became the epicenter around which American Catholics could protest the Vietnam War. (5) Jim Forest, a Catholic convert, conscientious objector, and editor of the Catholic Worker lay at the heart of the CPF. Although committed to Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Movement, Forest believed that the peace movement needed a new organization, one that could focus full-time on antiwar protest and simultaneously speak specifically to Catholics while working in cooperation with non-Catholic organizations to bring an end to war. With the help of John Heidbrink, Director of Church Relations for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a largely Protestant peace organization with a fifty-year history of peace work, Forest helped establish the Catholic Peace Fellowship even before the conflict in Vietnam came to dominate the nightly news. The organization defined itself as an "education serv ice conducted by Catholic members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation," and pursued a protest agenda aimed at raising awareness about Church teaching, uncovering the Church's long tradition of nonviolence, and highlighting the moral implications of the Vietnam War. (6) Although they received no official support from the institutional Catholic Church, CPFers considered themselves upstanding Catholics and conceived of their organization not as one in opposition to the established Church, but as a place where ordinary Catholics could work for peace within a Catholic context.
In its initial year, the CPF leadership fulfilled the organization's peace mission in relatively predictable and traditional ways, spending a good deal of time building membership, securing funding, and publicizing its existence. Because it emerged during a time of momentous change in the Catholic Church, the CPF also focused much of its early effort on lobbying the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who met in Rome between 1962 and 1965 to discuss the role of the Church in the modem world. Along with two other Catholic organizations, the American PAX Association and the Catholic Worker, the CPF worked primarily behind the scenes at the Council to secure a condemnation of the nuclear arms race and a statement legitimizing the right of Catholics to conscientiously object to war-important gains for lay Catholics who opposed the Vietnam War and faced the draft. (7) The CPF's efforts were so successful that the American-born bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, John Taylor, presented CPFer Tom Cornell with the specia lly-cast commemorative bronze medallion given to each bishop who participated in the Council. Bishop Taylor gave the medallion to Cornell as a gesture of thanks, with "the understanding that the C[atholic] W[orker] and CPF had played [the] role of invisible Council Father" at the Second Vatican Council. (8)
CPFers complemented their lobbying in Rome by arranging speaking tours for sympathetic Council bishops and by holding conferences in parishes and on college campuses around the United States to discuss Vatican documents important to peacemaking. They paid particular attention to Pope John XXIII's encyclical letter, Pacem in Teris (1963), and to drafts of the Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modem World (1965), two documents CPFers felt called Catholics to work for peace. (9) In February 1966, for example, CPFers participated in "A Week for Peace" at Saint Vincent's College in Larrobe, Pennsylvania. The week included campus-wide discussions on peace, Church teaching, and the war in Vietnam, as well as sermons and prayer sessions aimed at "elucidat[ing] a prospective premised on biblical thought, papal encyclicals and the recent Vatican Council schema of The Church in the Modem World." Committed pacifists from the CPF shared the dais with Catholic members of the American Legion who supported the Vietnam War to discuss how Vatican II might impact Catholic attitudes toward government policy. (10) Like the teach ins that cropped up around the country in 1965, CPFers spent the early months of the Vietnam War talking about, debating, and assessing the meaning of the conflict.
By building a mailing list, sponsoring speaking tours, and publishing informational brochures, CPFers hoped to introduce American Catholics to the theory of nonviolence and to what they considered to be a lost tradition of peacemaking in the Catholic Church. Their actions faithfully followed the advice of Thomas Merton, their most famous sponsor, who believed that what American Catholics most desperately needed was information. By educating Catholics about the Church's position on war--popularly known as the just war doctrine--and publicizing contemporary peacemaking documents, Merton hoped American Catholics might develop political attitudes better informed by the teachings of the Church and the example of Christ."
Merton and his fellow CPFers interpreted this type of antiwar war work in religious terms, making their work fundamentally different from secular antiwar organizations. "I am personally convinced that this is the big chance for CPF to really do something important for the Church," Merton wrote to Jim Forest. "Your more colorless and less dramatic job is apostolic: simply reaching a lot of people and helping them to change their minds." Merton advised Forest to focus the fledgling organization on "massive and undramatic apostolic work to clarify the Church's teaching and get it thoroughly known." (12) Like the apostles in the New Testament, Merton hoped CPFers …