At St. Catherine of Siena Parish Center in Cayuga Heights last night, the “St. Patrick’s Four” spoke along with Sister Marilyn Pray of Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester at an event titled “Civil Disobedience and Catholic Teaching.” The Four, local members of the Catholic Workers movement, await federal trial in Binghamton this Monday for entering a local military recruitment center and pouring their own blood around the vestibule two days before the start of the current Iraq War.
The event aimed to discuss the events of March 17, 2003 for which the Four await trial, as well as the larger role of non-violent civil resistance within the Catholic tradition and the Catholic Worker movement, a group founded in 1933 and noted for its efforts to protest war as well as the unequal distribution of wealth.
If convicted, the Four face up to six years in prison and $275,000 in fines.
After a few words from Sister Mary O’Brien, pastoral associate at St. Catherine and the event’s facilitator, Sister Pray presented passages of scripture and catechism, relating the Catholic tradition to social activism for the crowd of roughly 50 people.
“Civil disobedience should be an act of awareness raising, consciousness raising. It shouldn’t be something done for ego or power or something like that. It should reveal ego, power, corruption, wrongful use of money,” she said. “It should be a revelation and a calling.”
The Four believe there is legal justification for their actions, as they explain in a press release. “At the time [the Four] went to the recruiting center, the U.S. was about to invade Iraq,” it stated. “This invasion was a violation of international law, to which the U.S. is bound through the 6th amendment and the Constitution, which says that treaties of the U.S. are the supreme law of the land and judges and public officials are bound by them. Specifically, the U.S. was in violation of the U.N. Charter which outlaws wars of aggression.”
The Four also cite the Nuremburg Principles, New York state law the provides for the violation of a law to prevent a greater harm, as well as the possibility of jury nullification, what the Four describe as “the right of a jury to rule according to its conscience.”
After a brief introduction, Daniel Burns, the first of the Four to speak, said, “I am very happy to be in a Catholic church speaking about this. This is the first time in all of this that we have been, at least that I have been, actually invited to speak to a Catholic group. So, thank you, it’s good to be home.” Similar sentiments were expressed by the remaining members of the Four: Teresa Grady, Peter DeMott and Clare Grady.
“I went to that recruiting center and I poured my own blood on the walls around it. It was an empty room. All the writings in that room were all clear, in English with proper grammar, but not one mentioned the fact that if you come in this room and you sign up you will be taught to kill,” Burns said. “If you are not defending yourself, it is a crime and a sin [to kill]. So I went in there to bring a message, a message of love and a message of the legality of the war in the Iraq to the recruiters and the potential recruits.”
“The blood on the wall was made visible by our visit, but it was there before we got there. And I only wish more people could have gone with us to do it,” he said.
Teresa Grady read from the statement the Four presented the day of their protest, which concluded with, “We find hope in these dark times when sisters and brothers around the world resist the spirit of hatred and violence, lift up prayers for peace – together with works of peace. And that is what we read as we knelt down after pouring our blood on the walls of the marine and army recruiting center, and our hope continues.”
Teresa Grady also said that the Four hope to have productive dialogue result from their actions. “We prayed even at that last second that President Bush would experience a change of heart and conscience and issue a stop to the invasion. But as we know, the president did not. And now we are two and a half years into this war and there is no end in sight,” DeMott said.
Clare Grady discussed scripture as well as her experiences as a relief worker in Iraq before the current war began, experiences which have led her to see the present conflict not as a new war, but an “escalation” of one that had already been going on.
After the Four spoke, a brief question and answer session followed.
Ithaca resident Dan O’Connell shared his experiences protesting recruiting centers in malls around his former home in Oregon. He has continued this form of protest, standing in silence outside the recruiting center in Ithaca.
John Del Gaizo ’07 thought the meeting helped him understand the Four’s viewpoint. “They looked at the Iraqi people like their own family, something that is a big part of the Catholic faith.”
“It was pretty amazing that they were able to stay so calm, so relaxed and high-spirited despite the potential consequences of their actions” he said. “I don’t feel my opinions on the war changed, but they made me feel more sympathy for the Iraqi people.”
The event was sponsored by Catholic Charities of Tompkins County as well as St. Catherine of Siena Church. Numerous events will be held by the Four during their federal trial in Binghamton as part of a “Citizen’s Trial on Iraq.”
Archived article by Brian Kaviar
Sun Staff Writer