Harder Than War: Catholic Peacemaking in Twentieth-Century America

By Patricia McNeal | Go to book overview

7
The Berrigan Brothers and the Catholic Resistance

ON 17 MAY 1968, nine men and women entered Selective Service Local Board No. 33 at Catonsville, Maryland. The group seized records and burned them outside the building with napalm, which they had manufactured themselves following a recipe in the Special Forces Handbook published by the U.S. government. Within a few minutes the local police arrived and heard Daniel Berrigan, S.J., lead his companions in praying the Our Father as a thanksgiving for the completed action. The police waited until the end of the prayer, then handcuffed the "criminals for peace" and loaded them into a paddy wagon. The Catonsville action symbolized the high point of American Catholic resistance to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. For Catholic peace activists, Catonsville signaled a dramatic move to the Left in their resistance to war. After this action, two of the nine participants, Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip, emerged as the architects of a new political and theological movement.

The American press labeled this movement the Catholic Left or the New Catholic left1 and used these terms consistently and without distinction when describing events related to the Berrigan brothers from Catonsville in 1968 to the Harrisburg Seven Trial in 1972. The press estimated in 1972 that the Catholic Left had grown in size from the Catonsville Nine to several hundred participants and several thousand sympathizers in a church of 47,000,000 American Catholics.2

The term Catholic Left or New Catholic Left, however, was a misnomer. Within the antiwar movement there was a coalition of the Left formed by the old Left (Communists and Socialists), the new Left (mainly students led by the SDS who were against those who opposed communists and socialists), and militant pacifists (the radical wings of

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